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Promotion blues: Top Rank's feud with Golden Boy continues to hurt the fight game

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

The seemingly straightforward process of putting together a fight between two boxers who want to fight each other in a bout the public is eager to see becomes anything but simple when the promoters involved are Golden Boy and Top Rank.

There is a chasm between the sides that is so wide that one manager who represents fighters under contract to both companies said he's never seen anything like it.

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Top Rank's Nonito Donaire is one of the world's best pound-for-pound boxers. (Getty Images)

Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer and president Oscar De La Hoya stand on one side of the feud. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum and president Todd duBoef are anchored on the other side.

"The hatred between them is very, very real," said the manager, who requested anonymity. "It's just not normal business competition. They hate each other with a passion."

A potential super bantamweight unification fight between Top Rank's Nonito Donaire and Golden Boy's Abner Mares is the latest casualty of this long-running feud.

Donaire manager Cameron Dunkin and Mares manager Frank Espinoza Sr. essentially said the same thing: The fighters want the fight and neither promoter is afraid of putting his man in the ring against the other.

The problem is trusting the other side enough to do business.

"Trying to get these guys together is like trying to solve the problems in the Middle East," an exasperated Dunkin said.

[Also: February's seven 'must see' fights]

Yahoo! Sports spoke to five managers, including Dunkin and Espinoza, who currently are doing or have done business with both sides. To a man, all five were fearful of offering blunt opinions publicly for fear of retribution from either side.

They've aligned on opposite sides on virtually every issue. Golden Boy is closely allied with Showtime, while Top Rank's allegiance is to HBO.

In Mexico, where boxing is a major sport, Golden Boy's partner is Televisa; Top Rank's is TV Azteca. Top Rank has a sponsorship with Tecate beer; Golden Boy's is with Corona. During fights, Corona ads don't air on TV Azteca and Tecate ads don't air on Televisa.

Al Haymon, one of boxing's most influential advisers, represents a slew of top-rated fighters. Most of them are signed to deals with Golden Boy. The bulk of Dunkin's business is with Top Rank.

On and on it goes.

"This isn't going to be an easily resolved issue or anything that happens quickly," one industry insider said.

For a longtime manager like Espinoza, it's a nearly untenable situation. He tried to broker the deal to get the Donaire-Mares fight done.

With Schaefer's blessing, Espinoza approached Arum about putting the fight together.

But Top Rank was committed to an April 13 date on HBO, duBoef said, and couldn't simply walk away from HBO to have Donaire fight Mares on Showtime.

"Donaire was the Fighter of the Year in large part because HBO gave him four dates last year," duBoef said. "What are we going to do, say, 'Hey, thanks for everything, HBO. Thanks for helping Nonito become Fighter of the Year. Now, we're taking him for the big fight over to Showtime.' That would have been terrible had we done that.

"We told [Espinoza] we were committed to a Donaire fight on HBO [on April 13], but we would be happy to speak to them about [Donaire-Mares] on April 14. And we still would be."

Espinoza said he believes both sides wanted to get the fight done. He conceded that the network situation is a problem in getting the sides together, but he believes that's not insurmountable.

He said Top Rank made a legitimate offer [to promote the bout], but that Golden Boy made an offer that surpassed it. Schaefer released the terms of the deal to the media, in which he was willing to pay Top Rank $3 million to secure Donaire's service for the fight.

[Also: Top Rank reaches deal with Chinese Olympian]

Arum, though, called the offer "phony" because he said the contract gave Golden Boy the right to terminate it at any time.

Schaefer was exasperated, but neither he nor Arum would meet and sit in a room to try to find an acceptable solution.

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Golden Boy's Abner Mares is an undefeated champ. (Getty Images)

"If they have a problem with the legalese, then they could mark up the contract and send it to the lawyers and have the talk about that and [work it out]," Schaefer said. "That's what you do in a contract. We made them a firm offer, $3 million to their side. Maybe Bob doesn't think the money is there. Maybe I am better at raising the money than he is. But what is the problem? If I am committing by contract to pay them $3 million to do the fight, what is the issue? If the money is not there, that's my problem. I still have to come up with it from somewhere, not them."

Despite it all, Espinoza is optimistic that the Donaire-Mares fight will occur in 2013.

"Call me crazy, but I still think we'll find a way to make this," he said. "There is a lot of stuff going on, but I have a good relationship with both [promoters]. I want the fight. Mares wants the fight. Cameron wants the fight. Donaire wants the fight. There are enough people involved in this who want it that I think eventually, it will get done."

He then chuckled nervously.

"I hope so, anyway," he said.

When it comes to Golden Boy and Top Rank, there isn't much hope of anything these days.

It's preventing quality fights and ultimately chipping away at whatever credibility the sport has remaining. It's beyond time they sat together and worked out their differences.

But with these strong-willed, frequently obstinate men having dug in their heels, don't expect it to occur any time soon.

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