Feature Story

This fight is for Russia: Interview with Andrey Ryabinsky, promoter of the mega fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin

By Przemek Garczarczyk

Andrey Ryabinsky shocked the boxing world in April by offering $23,233,330 in the purse bid to host the heavyweight title fight between WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Wladimir Klitschko (60-3, 51 KOs) and the WBA regular heavyweight champion, 2004 Olympic gold medalist and undefeated champion from Russia Alexander Povetkin (26-0, 18 KOs). The fight between Klitschko and Povetkin is scheduled for October 5, 2013 at one of the largest sports-complexes in Moscow – the “Olimpiyskiy” Stadium. Ryabinsky’s bid, presented at the WBA’s headquarters in Panama City in April, more than tripled the bid from K2 Promotions of $7,130,000, while Povetkin’s German promoter, Sauerland Event, bid $6,014,444.

Sources close to the situation have confirmed that both HBO and RTL will be televising the event and that the selection of the Russian broadcaster is expected to be announced soon. For the Klitschko Management Group and K2 Promotions, this is a clearly a new experience to be on the sidelines for such an important and expensive event involving Wladimir Klitschko. Fightnews.com recently had the opportunity to catch up with Andrey Ryabinsky to ask him about his motivation behind his historic $23.3 million bid and the status of the preparations for the event.

What was your personal interest in making this fight happen?

The sport of boxing is my passion. I started boxing when I was in grade school and in fact I actually still box today – although it’s just my hobby now. Some people choose sports, others business — I did the latter. Throughout my life, I’ve always had this special place in my heart for boxing and that’s why I have devoted my efforts in the development of boxing rather than any other sport. I believe that I’m being guided by something bigger than me that leads us all in the right direction or calls to us. Not long ago, we got the opportunity to organize some big boxing events in Moscow. First, it started with one fight, then another and another… Today, it’s clear to everyone, that Alexander Povetkin – Vladimir Klitschko fight is an event of global importance. Definitely, the fight of the decade. The battle between these two former Olympic champions has been discussed now for quite some time and is one that is highly anticipated by boxing fans around the world; that is why, it was so essential for us to promote this fight. Russia has not yet hosted a mega fight like this. That is why I want to make it happen: the real legitimate heavyweight championship of the world, something we have never had before in Russia. It’s important to note that the agreement we have in place assures a level playing field for both fighters – terms that are fair to both guys and ensures that neither fighter will treated unfairly or allows for any tricks or cheating. This is about as open book a fight as you can get. And it’s truly is going to be a Mega Event.

Would, in your opinion, Povetkin-Klitschko ever happen without the MIC Group of Companies’ direct involvement?

In all modesty, I think it’s unlikely. This is not the first time that we’ve tackled the impossible. We love a good challenge. No other company actually managed to promote this fight over the last seven years; but we got it done. Frankly, – there’s not that many promoters out there who can compete with us and; that makes us a really important player in this field. This fight is not strictly a commercial project. I simply wanted to promote it in Moscow and I was ready to pay a lot for that. Naturally, the first question I’m being asked is: hey, why are you doing this if you’re not profiting from it? There are situations in life when you want to do something important, something crucial and big, and you want to do it in your homeland. Times when you simply want to do something for your country. I do understand that in relation to most western businesses, this looks quite strange, but for Russian business, this isn’t strange at all. Big businesses are expected to give back to their countries.

Was a $23 million bid way to secure control of this fight, guaranteeing that it will be in Russia?

My challenge was to provide a number in the purse bid large enough to lock it in 100 percent win. Purse bids are structured in such a way, that it’s completely blind; you simply bring an envelope with your number in it, and you show it – just once. If someone bids more, you lose. It was important for me to win the bid and to hold this fight in Moscow – that’s why I bid such a large amount. My bid was also designed to create a sufficient financial incentive for both fighter, so that neither of them would back out. But because the situation itself was rather complicated, we had an extremely difficult time finalizing the contracts. This is why the negotiations lasted for a total of two months. Ever since the Klitschko brothers started their own promotional company, they’ve never fought on anyone else’s shows. Their representatives definitely wanted to provide them with everything necessary and negotiated each and every little tiny detail. The three factors which allowed us to prevail were, first properly preparing for the bid, second bidding the right amount, and finally, maintaining our clear position on all of the issues. Eventually, we managed to make the impossible possible — to have this fight in Moscow. I’m happy that we wereI was able to bring a truly big boxing event here and. I do hope that Moscow will become one of the international centers for the sport of boxing.

What will be your response to critics saying that you paid too much?

What can I say… people perceive life through the lens of their own experience. People can say what they want, but our job is to focus on our objectives to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. I appreciate others efforts in counting my money. But rest assured, I’m not spending money frivolously — I’ve got a good reason for what I’ve done. Like I said before – I wanted this bout to take place in Moscow; I needed it here. This is not only investing in one fight by itself, but also, and more importantly, by investing in this specific fight, this will be the catalyst for a chain reaction of events to come. If we would just say “let’s bring together two tough guys and make them fight for $23 million” – this definitely would be too expensive. However, if we consider this fight as an asset that establishes us as a major promoter for the future, with many big opportunities ahead, this $23 million bid is definitely a bargain. When I won the bid, I was not sure about that, but now it looks like this fight is definitely going to pay off. There is a huge global interest in this event. Top fights in Russia are increasingly becoming global events and, most importantly, with them will come huge revenues. Foreign networks (HBO, Showtime, RTL, ARD, etc.) want to broadcast Klitschko-Povetkin and trust me, we’re talking about serious money here. We are talking about a strategic investment here with synergies to my other businesses that I had not even anticipated. I’m not after making a tonpile of cash on this fight because my main idea from the beginning was about hosting this event here — whatever the cost – because I have other ideas and projects on how I will make money. We build residential houses, and the profits from boxing cannot be compared to my main business – at least not so far. But still, I am convinced, that in a couple of years Russia will develop a boxing-related industry right here and if things go as anticipated, two years from now, Russian promoters will be earning significant revenues from major boxing events, and not just enough to cover our expenses.

Igor Setchin, President and Chairman of the Executive Board of the “Rosneft”, your partner in the fight, has mentioned its long tradition of supporting sports in Russia – is this the way that the MIC Group of Companies see their role in the future of the development of boxing in Russia?

During our involvement in the bid, we had no idea that “Rosneft” was even interested. When we found out, we met and decided to be partners in this project. We share all the expenses and working closely together with respect to the entire promotion. We’ve created a committee to oversee this event, with weekly meetings, and both parties’ representatives are involved in the day-to-day promotion of this huge event. Together, we’re sharing the revenue, 50/50. And if there are losses, we’ll share them as well, although I’m not expecting this. Supporting sport and a healthy lifestyle is a social policy priority for “Rosneft” and in fact, we share the same values. I can tell you that a lot is being done in Russia in the area of sports — by individuals as well as our government. And it’s good for you and for me — it’s good, that the 2014 Olympic Winter Games are going to be held in our country, it’s good that the Klitschko – Povetkin fight is going to be in Russia, it’s good that there are individuals and major companies who support it. It’s important, that fans all over the world are going to watch the greatest heavyweight bout in the last two decades, since Evander Holyfield shocked the world by knocking out Mike Tyson.

Regarding the MIC Group Companies’ involvement in boxing outside Russia, do you want to be involved in big events in the US or internationally?

If I continue to be involved in professional boxing, it is only going to be for the most important and expensive events. We are not interested in club shows or regional events – we understand, that from now on, our every move is going to be scrutinized. By putting together Klitschko-Povetkin, we have already broken into the global – not just the Russian – boxing scene. I’m really interested in boxing, and the way the sport of boxing opens up new business opportunities. We are already discussing our next projects with other major promoters. We have plans but for now we’re going to keep that to ourselves. We’ve already planned our next three steps – all equally impressive. You’ll see, its going to major hit! We have something really special in store for boxing fans around the world.

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