Ortiz case could have major ramifications

Victor Ortiz is a charming young man with a gregarious personality and a brilliant smile. He also happens to be one of the most gifted boxers in the world.

Shelly Finkel, one of Ortiz' co-managers, describes a story about him that would warm even the most hard-hearted person. Finkel speaks of a kid who grew up in poverty and who, at 21, has accepted the responsibility for the care of his brother.

That boxing promoters would battle over his rights is hardly surprising. He has a chance to become one of boxing's biggest stars in the next five years.

But Ortiz' decision to file bankruptcy last year and, further, as part of the bankruptcy to void his promotional agreement with Top Rank, has not only left bitter feelings on all sides, but at least raises the question of whether a promoter will ever be willing to invest in the development of a young fighter again.

Bob Arum, the Hall of Fame promoter at Top Rank, erupted at a Dec. 4 news conference when Golden Boy Promotions chief executive officer Richard Schaefer was speaking about Ortiz and his upcoming fight.

Arum took the opportunity to berate Finkel in front of a room filled with the world's boxing media, calling him a creep, among other vitriolic names.

More than a month later and following a successful appeal to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Arum's feelings still aren't assuaged.

"He is a despicable, horrible human being," Arum said of Finkel several days after U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow overturned an earlier court's ruling that allowed Ortiz to break his promotional agreement with Top Rank as part of his bankruptcy. "There is not an ounce of any kind of semblance of human compassion in him."

Ortiz, who filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 2, 2008, signed with Golden Boy in May and landed a $150,000 signing bonus.

He told the media after joining Golden Boy that he was unhappy with Top Rank because he felt the company didn't pay attention to him and that things were clearly better with Golden Boy.

But insiders in the boxing industry and in the media gave Top Rank kudos for the way it had maneuvered Ortiz and pushed him to the brink of a championship shot.

Even Schaefer, who signed him once the bankruptcy judge declared Ortiz a free agent, acknowledges the job that Top Rank did with Ortiz.

"Bob did an excellent job with him," Schaefer said.

The issue, though, is far greater in Arum's eyes than the point of who gets to promote Ortiz. Top Rank and Golden Boy are negotiating a settlement and, as Schaefer said, "I tend to be able to get deals done with Bob and I feel we should be able to find a way to work this out."

Ortiz isn't the first boxer who has voided a promotional contract he didn't like as part of a bankruptcy filing. Ex-light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, current lightweight champion Nate Campbell and super welterweight contender Ishe Smith are among the more prominent of the others who have done so.

Given that Arum fulfilled all aspects of his contract with Ortiz, he said he couldn't see how he could sit by and let Ortiz leave for his chief competitor without a fight. Not doing so, he said, would threaten his business.

"I thought that what they did was threatening to destroy the business of the sport," Arum said. "It would prevent promoters from putting money into the development of fighters, after a fighter was being developed or was developed. When a promoter did nothing wrong and lived up to all aspects of the contract, if he has that contract pulled out from under him, who would ever spend money investing in young fighters any more?"

Top Rank is, along with Golden Boy, one of the two most dominant promoters in the game and is, along with Don King Productions, one of the two most powerful ever.

Among the stars that Top Rank has promoted over the years are Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

One of the reasons for Top Rank's success – in addition to Arum's savvy, wealth and pugnaciousness – was its ability to identify young prospects and develop them into successful professional attractions.

Top Rank president Todd duBoef is fond of saying, "We don't chase the money; we create the money."

It is essentially code meaning that Top Rank prefers to develop its own fighters and build them into stars as opposed to signing already established fighters.

Among the active fighters that Top Rank has signed as amateurs and built into stars are middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik and former welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, each of whom has been with the company from the beginning of their career.

Arum credits his matchmaker, Bruce Trampler, with not only being able to spot talent but also with understanding how to nurture those young boxers and help them advance the right way.

Even De La Hoya, who now is president of Golden Boy, gives Trampler much of the credit for his rise into one of the great successes of his generation. Trampler chose the proper matches at the proper time for De La Hoya, challenging him while allowing him to learn the game.

By the time he was ready to fight for a world championship, there were few styles or types of fighters that De La Hoya hadn't seen.

"Developing young fighters plays to our strengths, because we're very fortunate to have a guy like Trampler," Arum said. "He has a great knack for doing it. Nobody in the history of this business, I don't believe, has ever done it better. And we've got a knack for doing the right things promotionally.

"The problem with doing that is it takes time and money and you're not always right. This is a strange business. The reward comes when you do it with someone like Oscar, or with Kelly Pavlik, or with Cotto, and they win a title and become a success. But we'd be a fool to pour that kind of time, money and effort into developing a fighter if the fighter is just able to void our contract without us having done a thing wrong."

To buttress his point, Arum said he declined to discuss a contract for Campbell with manager Terry Trekas when Campbell, who was in the midst of a promotional agreement with Don King Productions, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Given that Campbell had not alleged any breaches by King, Arum said he wouldn't even talk with Trekas.

"Campbell may be a hell of a fighter, but I don't care," Arum said. "You can't do this."

Finkel said he wasn't managing Ortiz at the time Ortiz filed for bankruptcy. He purchased Ortiz' management rights, along with partner Rolando Arellano, away from Cameron Dunkin.

Dunkin has a close relationship with Top Rank and it promotes many of his fighters, including Pavlik. Finkel, though, tends to work solely with one promoter and these days is almost exclusively signing his fighters with Golden Boy, though he has two fighters (Mike Alvarado and Vanes Martirosyan) who are with Top Rank.

Finkel said he spoke to duBoef after the initial bankruptcy ruling made Ortiz a free agent and offered Top Rank a chance to re-sign him at what Finkel said was fair market value. Top Rank, believing it had a valid contract, declined and Ortiz agreed to a multi-fight deal with Golden Boy that included a $150,000 bonus.

Finkel said Ortiz' bankruptcy was legitimate and said it was not a ruse designed simply to allow him to break his promotional contract.

Court records show that Ortiz had income outside of boxing of less than $20,000 combined in 2006 and 2007.

"This is a kid who was trying to do the right thing and take care of his brother and was really in a horrendous situation financially," Finkel said.

There are stories too numerous to mention like Ortiz' in boxing. Many boxers have salvaged a life for themselves and their families by literally fighting their way out of poverty.

But if promoters are less inclined to spend money on them as young fighters for fear of losing them later, those stories will be fewer and everyone will be a loser.

"When you build someone up and you spend time and money and you put him into position and then you lose him, I can understand someone who would be upset at that," Schaefer said. "I can't argue that I wouldn't feel the same way as Bob if it happened to me.

"There are risks for fighters and risks for promoters. I'm not a lawyer and I don't profess to know all the legal consequences of this, but from a promoter's point of view, having a fighter being allowed to break free of his contract while he's in bankruptcy would jeopardize the model that has worked for so longer for promoters."