By Matt Richardson
Photos: Thomas Casulli
If you’ve spent any time watching Floyd Mayweather on TV in the last six years, you’ve seen hip hop artist 50 Cent by his side. Either walking into the ring with Mayweather prior to one of his pay-per-view fights or just goofing off on an episode of HBO’s 24/7, the pair appeared to be inseparable.
The duo even had plans to form a joint promotional company upon Mayweather’s release from jail last year but when “Money” got out, a feud with 50 (whose real name is Curtis Jackson) became real and the plans and, seemingly, the long-time friendship, faded away as well.
But that hasn’t prevented Jackson from making his entrance into the sport anyway and on Friday night he will present the first card he’s been involved with from top to bottom on ESPN 2’s Friday Night Fights.
In the main event, IBF featherweight title-holder Billy Dib (Jackson’s fighter) will box Evgeny Gradovich (15-0, 8 KO’s) at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut. The telecast, which is being co-promoted by Lou DiBella, will also feature a 154-pound fight between Willie Nelson (19-1-1, 11 KO’s) and Michael Medina (26-3-2, 19 KO’s).
It’s a solid, if unspectacular, card of boxing but one that should provide a reasonable measuring stick for where Jackson currently stands in the “Sweet Science.”
“It’s been a good experience for me,” Jackson explained on Wednesday afternoon at the final press conference for the card at the Strand Hotel in mid-town Manhattan.
“I’ve had a really good reception, as far as working with the MGM Grand and Foxwoods is concerned. Making those contacts, it was a comfortable experience for me,” he said. “I think it’s them knowing that I have the ability to sell out that space. If I was actually selling tickets for a concert it may be gone in an hour, couple hours. A boxing event is different since it’s a one-off experience. It’s more exciting to me, in concept. I think when you can actually add those elements that people are attracted to for different reasons because they enjoy the actual music and festivities that’s going on, that it’ll then turn eventually into something that draws you there for just the entire experience.”
Many people before Jackson have come along and tried to change boxing, but when he spoke, much of what he said made sense.
“I think the issue with boxing matches; the only issue I think is that the card has a main event. The actual event itself should be a main event,” Jackson continued. “It’s like when you put the match-ups, the content, all the way through to the actual fight. If it’s 70 minutes of entertainment versus 36 minutes, you know that person planning to attend is getting dressed and excited. And the main event don’t start till…how many times you’ve been in the arena that’s half-empty until the main event came on when there were several fights going on prior to that? So, it’s just that element that brings people out early to enjoy the entire festivities.”
Jackson mentioned statistics illustrating the difference in youth demographics between the UFC and boxing (the former generally attracting younger viewers with the latter attracting the above-30 crowd). He said that that’s important to consider and worth changing going forward
“I think it’s taking it back to a youthful demographic and some of the things that they’re attracted to in the actual sport that have been tested and proven that work,” he said. “And maybe some of the theatrics from the WWF and maybe implementing some of the things that I’ve seen the UFC do. With the Ultimate Fighter Challenge, you’re more invested in the actual fighters because you’ve seen them grow or what their adversities are in a different way, so you know them a little more. Right now, we build our excitement around the fighters based on the fight itself. Fight by fight by fight. We don’t even know. The people that have strong personalities that bleed through – they become the biggest stars in boxing. They become the Floyd Mayweather’s in boxing.”
Whether Jackson has that with Dib, however, remains to be seen. Dib (35-1-0-1, 21 KO’s) has been known to dull U.S. audiences with his boxing skills. But on Wednesday, the Australian promised a change of pace.
“March 1st is going to be a great event,” Dib said. “This is my second coming now. I’m a completely different fighter. I’m a completely different animal and when the bell rings you’re going to see that.”
Obviously setting the hopes high for both the boxer and the promoter, Dib and Jackson already have a long-term plan in the works.
“What people don’t understand is that I’m the only Arab boxing world champion since ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed in 2001,” Dib explained. “And, unfortunately for ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed back then the Dubai market still hadn’t exploded. But right now it’s exploded and as you guys know, it’s bigger than ever. Dubai is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And they want a superstar; they just don’t know that I’m there. But now that we’ve touched base with a few people and they know that Billy Dib does exist and he holds one of the linear championships in the world of boxing, they’re all excited. So, you know, you guys are definitely going to see some really exciting things.”
For the time being, however, both Dib and Jackson will keep their passports in their back pockets and remain focused on Friday night. What happens from there, however, is unknown. For a guy who’s classic album is entitled “Get rich or die trying,” it’s unlikely Jackson will give up on boxing without a fight.
“FITTY” AND “MONEY”
So what actually is the status of the relationship between “Fitty” and “Money?” That seems to change by the attitude both men have in the moment.
“I told you, that’s like my brother,” Jackson said. “You ever have an argument with your brother? Then you know what I go through. Floyd is misunderstood a lot of times. People misinterpret his actions or why he’s doing what he’s actually doing. I know him personally. I’m around him a lot more to know who he actually is inside.”
But Jackson didn’t hold back on implying that Mayweather may not always seek out the toughest challenges. He said the recent Showtime-inked deal with Mayweather is “a good deal for him. I think if they can keep exciting enough opponents in front of him for him to continue sustaining the million views, then it all makes sense. If he starts to fight guys that don’t, then…” Jackson said he doubted “strongly,” that Mayweather would fight the alleged six times in 30 months that the boxer’s contract with the network claimed.
Jackson concluded his Q and A session with reporters by asking for a chance to turn the tables and ask a question himself: which type of fighter will go down in history – one who challenged himself and fought all the top fighters or one who “maneuvered” around them? When this writer suggested that Mayweather did once fight all the top fighters in the world, Jackson cut off the session, saying that he didn’t mention Mayweather specifically but his “ducking and dodging” is almost naturally linked to the perception of one who avoided such challenges.
DiBella said 50 would give a performance on Friday to complement the card.
There are still tickets available, with prices ranging from $200.00 to $40.00. The opening bout will begin at 7 PM ET with the televised portion to commence at 9 PM ET.
SMS Audio, Jackson’s company, which makes “professionally tuned headphones with thump enhanced bass,” is sponsoring the card.
Jackson, also promotes junior lightweight title-holder Yuriokis Gamboa and is busy securing him his next assignment. Jackson says Gamboa wants to fight lightweight champ Adrien Broner but that they tried to make a fight with the man Broner won his belt from, Antonio DeMarco. Jackson says that potential bout fell through, however, when DeMarco promoter Gary Shaw said he wanted an interim fight for his fighter before facing Gamboa. But, Jackson pointed out, “I’m only telling you the things that fall apart. I’m not going to tell you the things I’m working on because you people get in the way. Because then your opinions start flying and you make the guy nervous.”
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