Blue Chip Lightweight Prospect’s Motorcycle Accident Highlights the Need for Contractual Limitations on a Boxer’s Activities between Bouts

This past month, blue chip lightweight prospect Felix (Diamante) Verdejo, 22-0 (15 KOs), sustained injuries to his head, face, and left arm as the result of a motorcycle accident in his native Puerto Rico. Verdejo’s injuries may delay, or ultimately cost him, a possible WBO world title fight against England’s Terry Flanagan. In turn, Verdejo likely cost himself, his management, and his promoter, Top Rank, quite a bit of money and might have temporarily impaired his ability to compete among boxing’s elite. The injuries thus raise the question of whether managers and promoters should contractually restrict the activities of their boxers between fights to minimize the risk of such occurrences. A quick analysis of the need for such a contractual provision, and what penalties can stem from its violation, follows.

The “Dangerous Activities” Clause

In the collective bargaining agreement of many team sports, there are typically provisions which restrict an athlete’s ability to participate in certain activities that may render an athlete unable to perform under the terms of the agreement. Many times, the restriction may include activities such as riding motorcycles and water skiing. A well-publicized example of the violation of such a “dangerous activities” provision arose when Chicago Bulls player Jay Williams nearly died on the night of June 19, 2003 after crashing his motorcycle into a streetlight in Chicago. Williams’ use of a motorcycle was in violation of the express terms of his agreement with the Bulls. If the Bulls so chose, therefore, they did not have to pay him his salary. Boxing has had its own share of incidents that could have fallen under the auspices of a dangerous activities provision, including former bantamweight champion Fernando (Cochulito) Montiel’s 2010 dirt bike crash, and former welterweight champion Paul (The Punisher) Williams’ career ending motorcycle accident in 2012. However, outside of the World Series of Boxing, professional boxing is neither a team sport where such a provision can be imposed upon all of its participants, nor a sport where guaranteed salaries are at issue. Nonetheless, managers and promoters can still include similar provisions in their agreements with boxers.

How a Manager Can Penalize a Boxer for Violating a Restriction on Certain Activities

So what recourse could a manager have in the event that his boxer violated a contractual provision on restricted activities? The answer depends on what is promised to the boxer under the terms of a management agreement. If the boxer is guaranteed a stipend, gym fees, or some other form of scheduled remuneration under the terms of an agreement, perhaps a violation of a restricted activities clause could be drafted to result in a waiver of the boxer’s right to receive said monies going forward. Another possibility is that a violation could result in the tolling of the management agreement for the time in which the boxer is unable to compete due to the injuries sustained. A combination of both possibilities could be placed in the agreement as well, so that a manager does not have to guarantee a living to a boxer who is unable to ply his trade due to his own carelessness and violation of the agreement during the duration of his injury. An option to terminate the agreement altogether is a possibility as well.

How a Promoter Can Penalize a Boxer for Violating a Restriction on Certain Activities

Like managers, promoters could draft their promotional agreements to provide for a tolling or termination of an agreement in the event of a violation of a restricted activities clause. A promoter may also have the option of revising the terms of the agreement to provide for lower minimum guaranteed purses if a boxer were to require several comeback fights upon returning from an injury resulting from a restricted activity, or seek the return of a signing bonus (which some managers could seek as well) or advance. In sum, there is no shortage of potential remedies that either a manager or promoter can build into an agreement to make certain that their opportunity to secure a big money fight for one of their charges is not eviscerated by engagement in dangerous activities between fights.

For the benefit of his or her livelihood, the above-proposed provisions should not be a bone of contention for a boxer in a given negotiation. Think of it this way; if the boxer were a managerial or promotional free agent and was injured while engaging in activities that would typically be restricted by such contracts, he would essentially be committing professional suicide with no one contractually bound to him to help pick up the pieces of his career once he has recovered. Thus, a dangerous activities clause is really little more than a boxer’s protection against himself and his own tendencies to engage in certain dangerous activities.