Make Me A Match
Boxing Digest | March 2003
In the show Fiddler on the Roof, Hodel and Chava dream that the town matchmaker will find them husbands and then they will live happily ever after. In boxing, matchmakers utilize similar talents as the ones in the play, but with decidedly different results.
Just how does one become a matchmaker? A recent check of some of this nation’s institutions of higher learning revealed not a single course in Matchmaking 101.
All matchmakers interviewed for this article agreed on one prerequisite for the job – a love of boxing. Bruce Trampler of Top Rank was a precocious freshman in college when he became middleweight Billy Douglas’ manager. From there he met various people in the industry and one thing led to another. Carl Moretti, matchmaker for Main Events, worked in public relations for Madison Square Garden Boxing. Moretti was given increased responsibility and allowed to make matches for the four and six rounders. Once he proved capable, the assistant matchmaker lost the “assistant” title.
Matchmaking is not simply creating dream match-ups. If it was, every boxing fan that has wondered, “what if,” would be qualified. Making matches also requires the ability to negotiate contracts, and most of all, having reliable industry sources.
Most matchmakers follow the sport very carefully and are aware of boxers’ histories and recent performances. But they also rely heavily on others to give them honest appraisals of how a particular boxer looks in the ring or gym.
Even a casual boxing fan will notice that most fights consist of a “house” fighter – one who is either local or with the promoter putting on the show, versus an “opponent.” Picking the opponent is where the matchmaker’s skills come into play.
Eric Bottjer of Cedric Kushner Promotions relayed a story about how Joey DeGrandis was selected as the opponent for Virgil Hill in November. Hill’s manager paid CKP to put on the show, which was to be televised nationally. According to Bottjer, “Virgil Hill’s manager doesn’t want to spend $50,000 to bring a show to Hill’s hometown, to get him beat. To be blunt, he doesn’t want a 50-50 fight. On the other hand he’s smart enough to realize that the fight is on TV. It has to be competitive. There has to be some sort of intrigue to it for someone to tune in and watch. So you have to find a balance.”
Hill pitched a shutout and won a twelve round decision.
Bottjer estimates that 80% of the bouts are made under similar circumstances. “It would be nice if they were all 50-50, but how’s a guy like De La Hoya going to fight evenly matched fights every time? It’s impossible, especially early in a guy’s career.”
Carl Moretti said his job consists primarily of finding bouts and the proper opposition for the twenty-three boxers who fight under the Main Events banner.
Not that he’s complaining, but Golden Boy Promotions’ Eric Gomez said matchmaking is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job. You have to be on top of everything. The shows off TV, the televised shows, know who won, know the names, know the styles.”
San Francisco based promoter Peter Howes has a reputation for putting on evenly matched, exciting cards. He often handles the matchmaking duties himself. For a recent show that featured a bout for the California State Heavyweight Title, Howes traveled to Los Angeles to watch the two main event fighters in the gym and make sure they were as good as he had heard. “Charles Wilson’s mother told me that he’s ready to fight and that her boy was going to come home with that belt. Little things like that mean something. They’re indications that someone is not coming in just to collect a paycheck.”
Howes intuition was correct as Wilson defeated previously unbeaten Javier Mora in a thrilling slugfest.
Putting out Fires
Matchmakers could also be called firefighters. It seems that a significant portion of their jobs is dealing with the unexpected, which they now have come to expect.
CKP’s Bottjer said one of his biggest challenges is dealing with irresponsible people in the industry, which are all too common. “In football, you know on Sunday the 49ers and the Broncos are going to play. In boxing, until you see the guys in the ring, you can’t be sure they’ll show up or not.”
Moretti fully understands that cancellations are part of the business. He described a recent card that appeared cursed from the beginning. “We had four ticket sellers on the card for an eight bout show. All four fell through. One guy got meningitis, one broke his hand, and another had a fight with his girlfriend and stayed away from the gym. It was mix and match for two weeks. We couldn’t wait to get it over with.”
Howes of Howes Entertainment, estimates at least a 20% drop out rate on every card in boxing.
Golden Boy’s Eric Gomez once had a boxer bolt from the weigh-in. Without a word, he jumped in his car and took off. His terrifying opponent had a record of 0-1.
Labor of Love
It is apparent that these capable men could make good livings in another line of work if they desired. But despite the aggravation, it seems there’s nothing they’d rather do. The matchmakers were unanimous in agreement that the best part of their job is when a fight comes off as planned and the fans get their money’s worth. However, if you’re thinking of becoming a matchmaker, make sure you have good health insurance. The stress is enormous. Gomez said one matchmaker asked him if he had heart bypass surgery yet. “When I told him no, he said, ‘you will. We all do.’”
Hopefully, their skills at spotting talent will help them choose a good doctor, so they can get back to doing what they love, making good matches.
If only Hodel and Chava had these guys in their corner, they’d be married to rich doctors by now.