Al Haymon still pulling all the strings as boxing's unknown czar

Al Haymon (center) laughs during a fight. (Getty)

One of the most familiar phrases in boxing news coverage these days is, "Al Haymon doesn't speak to the media."

Boxing is going through a renaissance of sorts, and Haymon is at the forefront of it. The owner of the Las Vegas-based Haymon Boxing, he created the Premier Boxing Champions series that has brought the sport back onto network television.

PBC cards are broadcast in prime time on NBC and also appear, or soon will, on CBS, Spike, ABC, ESPN, NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network. So far, the fights have been of high quality and have gotten better than expected ratings.

The PBC's debut in prime time on NBC on March 7 became the most-watched boxing telecast since an Oscar De La Hoya card on Fox in 1998. It averaged 3.4 million viewers, peaked at 4.2 million and, perhaps most significantly, won the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic on broadcast television.

The second NBC prime time show, on Saturday from Brooklyn, was also a success, though not as overwhelming as the original show. It finished second on network television behind a NASCAR race on Fox in the 18-49 demographic.

It averaged 2.9 million viewers and peaked at 3.4 million. According to NBC, ratings were up 162 percent overall and 190 percent in the 18-49 demographic compared to the afternoon series that was on NBC from 2012-2014.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Leonard Ellerbe worked closely with Al Haymon to land the Manny Pacquiao fight. (AP)
Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Leonard Ellerbe worked closely with Al Haymon to land the Manny Pacquiao fight. (AP)

The PBC on NBC is 54 percent ahead of the rest of broadcast television in the 18-49 demographic for its two shows.

"Just to even be in the conversation with a property like NASCAR is incredible for us," said Lou Ferrer, the director of programming acquisitions for NBC Sports.

Yet some fellow promoters blast Haymon's efforts. Media has dogged him for his "time buys," as if something were wrong with putting quality fights on free broadcast television. Fans, particularly the hard-core ones, have blamed him for virtually every problem facing the sport.

UFC president Dana White, though, raved about what Haymon has done. White said the fact that Haymon raised money and is using it to put on high-quality events demonstrates an interest in the long-term future of the sport.

White has long been critical of boxing promoters for what he said has been siphoning off profits and not investing back into the business. He also criticized them for the lack of in-arena experience and said many of their "new" ideas were simply stolen from what the UFC has done.

Haymon raised a reported $100 million to fund the PBC, which White thinks is an example of desperately needed unconventional thinking in boxing.

"The product hasn't changed much at all for years and all of these [promoters] have taken and taken and not put a penny back into growing the business," White said. "I think what Haymon is doing is fantastic. He's done a few things I wouldn't do, but I don't want to criticize him because he's investing in the business and planning for growth."

Haymon advises more than 150 boxers, who in the ring after their fights on television routinely and almost comically thank God and then Haymon for their success. A popular meme among boxing fans is the hashtag #ThankYouAlHaymon.

The most prominent of his fighters is Floyd Mayweather, and Haymon's business savvy and shrewd advice played a large role in Mayweather's rise to iconic status in his sport.

Mayweather fights Manny Pacquiao on May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in a bout in which both men will make in excess of $100 million.

But Haymon is perceived to be the man behind the curtain even by those most closely involved. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, has been irate because a contract has not been completed with the MGM to host the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout.

He suggests that it is Haymon behind the strings manipulating things, causing the delays.

"This whole thing is a ticket play by Haymon," Arum said of the fact that tickets are still not on sale and a contract with the MGM is not finished despite the fight being less than three weeks away.

Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe, though, insists Arum is mistaken and said that Haymon has nothing to do with when tickets go on sale, the MGM contract or any of a myriad of other issues between the two companies promoting the fight.

Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe gestures before a press conference. (Getty)
Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe gestures before a press conference. (Getty)

Those are all his jobs as CEO of Mayweather Promotions, and Haymon is not involved in them. Ellerbe is clearly devoted to Mayweather and has given nearly 20 years of his life to growing Mayweather's brand as well as his company.

Haymon's involvement with Mayweather Promotions is routinely portrayed incorrectly in the media, Ellerbe said.

"Al doesn't have a thing to do with this company," Ellerbe said. "He's Floyd's adviser. He has done a great job advising Floyd, as he has done a great job helping a lot of other fighters, as well. He's the best at getting guys the most [money].

"But I'm the one running Mayweather Promotions. He's not involved in it. I was in [MGM executive] Richard Sturm's office for six hours last week, not Al."

Haymon, who has an economics degree from Harvard, is a polite and agreeable sort whose business strategy includes never speaking to the media.

There is a sense of paranoia around his employees when they engage with the media. They're not allowed to discuss even the most minute of details without first checking with the boss.

His mysterious ways have led to many incomplete or inaccurate portrayals of him, those close to him say.

And he's an easy target for some media members to attack since he doesn't fire back. He doesn't speak publicly when he's happy and he doesn't speak publicly when he's angry.

When he chose not to speak to the media to explain his vision for the PBC and for returning boxing to prominence via network television, it allowed some of his competitors to chip away at him.

Both Top Rank president Todd duBoef and Main Events CEO Kathy Duva blasted Haymon for the time buys.

They have argued strenuously that Haymon is making it difficult, if not impossible, for other promoters to operate by what they believe is giving the product away.

Buying the airtime instead of having a network pay a rights fee to acquire it will have a chilling affect on the industry, they said. No matter the success of the PBC, they insist, networks will no longer be willing to pay for boxing if there is someone like Haymon willing to give it away.

However, it should be noted that Top Rank landed a deal with cable outlet TruTV after the PBC had debuted.

One source with knowledge of Haymon's operation spoke with Yahoo Sports on the guarantee of anonymity because he's not authorized to speak to media. He said that even if networks won't buy fights in the future, there is essentially no difference between obtaining the money from investors or obtaining it from a television network. The fights will still go on, the fighters will be paid and tickets will still be sold.

Promoter Lou DiBella called himself thrilled with his first effort at promoting a PBC show. He promoted the doubleheader on NBC in Brooklyn on Saturday, which drew a little more than 12,000 fans with a $1 million paid gate.

Al Haymon (not pictured) has played a vital role in Floyd Mayweather's rise to boxing stardom. (Getty)
Al Haymon (not pictured) has played a vital role in Floyd Mayweather's rise to boxing stardom. (Getty)

The ratings were good, which is the case for all PBC shows. Spike's first effort, on March 13, more than doubled the ratings ESPN2 usually gets in that same time slot on a Friday night.

CBS showed a bout on a Saturday noon on April 4, attracting 1.3 million viewers, which is roughly the audience a very successful HBO card would get in prime time.

"It attracted a much younger audience and did well with a demographic that had been said had tuned out boxing," DiBella said. "In both of the shows [in prime time on NBC] to this point, the demo has done very well."

Haymon, of course, isn't available to talk about it. Or to talk about the Mayweather fight. Or to talk about anything else going on in boxing.

He's the most powerful man in the sport, but he's not going to share his thoughts with the public for any reason. Every scrap of information he provides is on a need-to-know basis only. The president of the United States is more accountable than Haymon.

Ferrer, though, isn't complaining. Known as Luis Barragan when he was an executive at HBO Sports, Ferrer said the PBC is clearly a viable property for NBC.

"Every way you could possibly look at this, the raw numbers, the key demographics, whatever, the PBC is an unmitigated success," Ferrer said. " … This is a real, powerful property for us, no question about it."

Boxing is in the midst of a rebirth, and Haymon has played a large role in it.

Just don't expect to hear a word from him about it.