November 11, 2013
When the 2012 Olympic Games in London had concluded, Top Rank had set its sights on three boxers it believed could be difference makers as professionals: American Jose Ramirez, Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo and Mexican Oscar Valdez.
But as it turned out, the Top Rank haul was plenty more. Four other 2012 gold medalists -- Zou Shiming, Vasyl Lomachenko, Ryoto Murata and Egor Mekhhontcev -- basically showed up on Top Rank's doorstep looking to sign a promotional contract.
"The four gold medalists came to us," Top Rank CEO Bob Arum told Yahoo Sports. "We didn't even recruit them."
Shiming, who had also won a gold in 2008 and a bronze in 2004, was the first to sign. But Arum received a call from Shiming's agents. Top Rank was already planning to put a fight card on at the Venetian Macao, and the idea of having a two-time Olympic gold medalist to appear on those cards was appealing.
So, Arum quickly worked out a deal. Shiming might have the least professional potential of the seven 2012 Olympians, but he's already more than paid his way. He's headlined each of Top Rank's two shows in Macau and will appear on the undercard of the Nov. 23 pay-per-view bout at Cotai Arena between Manny Pacquiao and Brand Rios.
"He's the face of boxing in China and he has a tremendous amount of value," Arum said. "He in effect opened Macau for us [with his debut in April] and that led directly to a Manny Pacquiao fight there."
Murata was next. He'd signed with the Tokyo-based Teiken promotions, but Teiken's Akihiko Honda wanted Top Rank to co-promote. So he reached out to Arum, who arranged a meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Within 90 minutes, Murata was signed.
Murata is managed by the Dentsu, the largest advertising agency in Japan and the fourth-largest in the world. Arum attended his pro debut in Tokyo in August and was awed.
"The kid was a huge celebrity in Japan," Arum said. "The week of his fight, the front page of every newspaper in Japan had pictures of him. He's huge in Japan, and he'll be very valuable to us in attracting people from Japan to Macau. He'll fight there for us in February."
Next was Lomachenko, who had a spectacularly impressive debut on Oct. 12. He knocked out Jose Ramirez (Not the 2012 American Olympian) in just four rounds and will meet WBO featherweight champion Orlando Salido in January.
There are many who consider Lomachenko among the handful of the best amateur boxers who ever lived.
Lomachenko, too, reached out to Top Rank. Arum was excited, not only because of Lomachenko's vast talent, but because the Russian boxing market is starting to percolate. Recently, Russian president Vladimir Putin allowed alcohol advertisements on boxing events on Russia 1, the country's largest broadcast network
Previously, all alcohol advertising had been banned on Russia 1, and then hurt boxing, because the alcohol manufacturers couldn't put their logos on the ring mat, Arum said.
Arum said that when Ruslan Provodnikov fought Mike Alvarado in Denver on Oct. 19, the cyrillic lettering on the mat was for a Russian vodka sold only in Russia.
Mekhontsev, a light heavyweight who will debut on Dec. 7, signed with Top Rank on Nov. 1. His manager contacted Arum and said Mekhontsev wanted to begin his career in the U.S.
"We checked it out and we were definitely interested in the kid. He can fight," Arum said. "He is an amazing talent. Again, to me, this is incredible that he came to us. We didn't go after one of these guys and yet we wound up with the four of them."
Those four, along the three Olympians Top Rank did recruit, will form the core of the company over the next several years.
Ramirez fought in Lemoore, Calif., on a benefit card on Saturday and drew a large crowd. Verdejo looks to be one of the best young prospects in the sport and Valdez has been impressive.
Arum said a lot of it has been possible because he looked beyond the U.S. borders.
"I made a conscious effort to expand the brand beyond the U.S. and Mexico," Arum said. "I felt it made sense to extend the brand to Eastern Europe, China, Japan, all of Asia. This is a worldwide sport, and other companies in other industries don't hesitate to take advantage of global opportunities. I thought we ought to do the same."
And, as a result, he landed a massive haul of talent that should keep Top Rank a major player among boxing promoters for the next several years.