The Lessons That You Can Kick Free From Boots’s Lawsuit

The Lessons That You Can Kick Free From Boots’s Lawsuit

A Quick Look at the What Boxers and Their Management Can Learn from the Recent Ennis v. Now Boxing Promotions Lawsuit

 

Earlier this month, ESPN’s #3-ranked welterweight, Jaron (Boots) Ennis, 31-0 (28 KOs), inactive since a July 8, 2023 knockout victory over Roiman Villa in an IBF interim world title bout, filed a lawsuit against his promoter, Now Boxing Promotions (“Now Boxing”), in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The lawsuit asserts three (3) causes of action for: (1) a judgment declaring that Ennis’s promotional agreement with Now Boxing is unenforceable, (2) breach of contract by virtue of Now Boxing’s failure to meet the bout minimums promised in the promotional agreement, and (3) injunctive relief, so that Ennis can be allowed to compete in professional boxing contests promoted by others.  In filing this lawsuit at a time where Ennis is widely regarded as the potential future of the welterweight division, Ennis appears to be looking to relieve himself from the type of inactivity that has plagued many top boxers before him who have found themselves inactive at a time when they should regularly be competing in order to continue climbing up the ladder towards boxing glory.  The question is thus begged what lessons other boxers and their management can take away from the issues raised in Ennis’s lawsuit. A quick look follows. 


Go Beyond the Name and Reputation of the Promoter

Before he passed away earlier this year, Now Boxing was owned and operated by Cameron Dunkin, a long-time boxing fixture who had turned to promotion after many years as a top manager.  While it is not known to author what led Ennis to sign with Now Boxing, if it was because of Dunkin’s lengthy and successful history in boxing, Ennis certainly cannot be faulted. Having said that, whether it is Dunkin, or Oscar De La Hoya, Don King, Bob Arum, or Eddie Hearn, boxers and their management should always make sure to go beyond who is offering the promotional agreement and take an in-depth look at both what is actually being offered, and whether, based on all available information, they believe the promoter can realistically be expected to deliver on what is being promised within a given promotional agreement.  


Demand Purse Figures in the Promotional Agreement

Ennis alleges within his Complaint that the Agreement “places no obligation upon [Now Boxing] to perform a task (pay [Ennis] a specific amount for a bout in which [Ennis] participates), which is the very essence of the [Promotional] Agreement and basis of the bargain [between Ennis and Now Boxing].”  While it may be ideal for boxers to not have an express maximum purse in their promotional agreements, a contractual minimum purse per bout should be a material component of any such contract.  An important intangible of a promotional agreement is to provide peace of mind to the boxer entering it that he or she can both expect to compete a certain amount of times per year and be compensated at least a negotiated minimum amount per round/bout, subject only to such things as how many scheduled rounds a given bout has, whether a bout is for a title, what channel or streaming service the bout may be appearing on, and whether the promoter wins or loses a purse bid. 


Police the Activity Level

The Second Cause of Action against Now Boxing alleges that it wholly failed, “without excuse,” to provide Ennis the requisite number of bouts promised in the promotional agreement despite him being ready, willing, and able to compete.  At all levels of the sport, it is important to negotiate with a promoter the desired and realistic level of activity that the boxer wishes to have and/or the promoter represents that it can provide.  And once that level is agreed upon, it is important that the boxer and his/her management team regularly make sure that either the minimum number of bouts per year is met/on track to be met, or that the boxer otherwise has sufficient remedies in place for any shortcoming in the guaranteed number of bouts.  As stated above, an important intangible of a promotional agreement is to provide peace of mind to the boxer entering it that he or she can expect to compete a certain amount of times per year.  


Understand What Triggers Extensions of a Promotional Agreement’s Term

The Complaint against Now Boxing further alleges that the promotional agreement “is vague and ambiguous insofar as it grants to [Now Boxing] the unilateral right to extend the Agreement if [Ennis] either challenges for or wins a World Title of certain specified sanctioning organizations.”  Promotional agreements typically include provisions that allow the promoter to the extend their terms in the event that a boxer has either achieved a certain world ranking from a given sanctioning body, is a mandatory challenger for a recognized world championship, or is the world champion of a recognized sanctioning body.  While each of these provisions are understandable, especially for promoters who may be signing a boxer early in his or her career and thus will be investing a lot money into building them up, it is nonetheless important for a boxer and his/her management to understand such extension triggers and raise any concerns that they might have about them when the agreement is being negotiated.  While some extension provisions may be understandable and acceptable, others may feel like inappropriate overreach by promoters, especially if it seems that a given provision could be triggered too easily and not necessarily at a time when a boxer is either making any real money or has truly passed any noteworthy career goalpost with the promoter’s guidance. 


Negotiate the Ability to Stay Active Outside of the Promotional Agreement

Ennis’s third and final cause of action against Now Boxing seeks injunctive relief that would prevent Now Boxing from: “1. Contacting and/or threatening or discouraging any person or entity from entering into any agreement with [Ennis] for [Ennis’s] participation in professional boxing bouts pending the outcome of the instant lawsuit; and 2. Taking any actions to prevent [Ennis] from participating in professional boxing bouts pending the outcome of the instant lawsuit or making any attempts to seize[,] garnish[,] or otherwise interfere with payments which [Ennis] shall receive as consideration for his participation in professional boxing bouts pending the outcome of this lawsuit.”  It is not unheard-of in promotional agreements that a provision be included whereby a boxer would be permitted to compete on a show that does not involve the promoter in the event that the promoter alone cannot meet the requisite activity level.  Alternatively, even when such a provision is not in a promotional agreement, other options may be available to allow a boxer to take a fight that is not on his or her promoter’s card, such as by agreeing to hold a certain amount of the boxer’s purse in escrow pending the outcome of any legal proceeding related to a boxer’s inactivity, or simply a one-bout agreement to pay the promoter a certain amount of money in exchange for allowing an outside bout to proceed. 



In the end, at a time in American boxing history when ready access to well-financed, regularly scheduled television and/or streaming opportunities is arguably becoming less and less, it may now be more important than ever to keep these above lessons from Ennis’s experience in mind when negotiating and policing one’s promotional agreement.  And at the same time, it may also be more important than ever for promoters to be honest with themselves, and in turn their boxers, as to how active they are able to keep their stables going forward.  Otherwise, Boots will be far from the last boxer with his boots on the shelf, instead of in the ring for regular bouts. 

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Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Paul S. Haberman LLC with questions on any legal, regulatory, or contractual issues that you may encounter in the individualized sports world. 

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