Boxing: Everybody blames each other for fight fiasco: High Noon in Hong Kong promised much but delivered only grief, as Harry Mullan discovered
The villains were, according to whom you chose to believe: Barry Hearn, who scuttled the show by withdrawing his boxers, Herbie Hide and Steve Collins, when their purse guarantees were not in place by the deadline of 5.30pm local time on Saturday; Bob Arum, the American who was the event's nominal promoter but who refused to come up with the cash to save it; or John Daly, the Los Angeles-based Londoner who conceived the project and sank at least dollars 800,000 of his own money into it.
The victims were the eight fighters and their entourages, their supporters, who had spent their savings on flying around the world to watch them in action, and the several thousand fans who had bought tickets to see the first - and now surely the last - world title fights to be scheduled for Hong Kong.
Daly's brainchild had been in trouble from the start, and his chronic cashflow problems became evident in a series of rows with Wembley International (who run the Hong Kong Stadium, the intended venue), the Regal Hotel, who complained that 500 rooms had been booked but not paid for, and the local boxing association, who demanded a sanctioning fee yet did nothing to protect the boxers' interests. Had they required the purses to be lodged with them well in advance, as is standard practice in Britain, Saturday's shambles could have been avoided.
The crisis deepened when Barry Hearn flew in and repeated the demand he had made when the show was first announced: that letters of credit be produced guaranteeing the dollars 1.5m due to Hide and Collins, who were defending their respective WBO heavyweight and middleweight titles against Tommy Morrison and Lonnie Beasley.
Hearn set a deadline of one minute before the boxers were due to weigh in at 5.30pm on Saturday as the increasingly harassed-looking Daly tried frantically to raise the shortfall which, according to Arum, was around dollars 2m.
When the local bankers whom he thought had agreed to salvage the show refused to advance him a further dollars 771,000 against anticipated revenue from ticket sales and American pay-per-view subscriptions at dollars 25 a time, Daly had only one card left to play. He had involved Bob Arum of Top Rank Inc, one of America's major promoters and the company with whom the boxers had their contracts, and claimed that the boxers' purses were Arum's responsibility.
'My end of the deal was kept,' Daly argued. 'I had to arrange the stadium, air fares and all the pre-fight promotional expenses, which I did, but the purses were not part of my obligation.' To nobody's amazement, Arum took a different view and declined to come up with the cash.
When the deadline passed, he and Hearn released a joint statement announcing their withdrawal from the promotion. What most hardened observers of the boxing scene had suspected to be merely an exercise in brinkmanship was suddenly a reality. Daly, mustering a degree of battered dignity, faced the press corps and the eight outraged fighters to say: 'I've tried desperately to convince my partners to keep the faith. I offered them as much security as I could but it was not quite good enough.
'It seems I was ready to take the shots, but Mr Arum wasn't'
Frank Bruno, who had been due to fight Ray Mercer, is usually the gentlest of men outside the ring, but was shaking with anger as he said: 'I feel very let down by Bob Arum and the promoters. They were supposed to be top professionals, the creme de la creme. I thought they were the business, but to be quite honest they've been unprofessional, totally unprofessional.
'To cancel a promotion just like that without consulting anyone is very serious. A lot of money has been going into this. Top Rank are big promoters and they should have dug deep in their pockets - they've made enough money out of fighters over the years.
'It's tough for all the fighters, and for the people who worked five days a week to afford to come over here and support us. It's disgusting. It's staggering.'
Mickey Duff, who plans to sue Arum and Top Rank on behalf of Bruno and his other boxer, Billy Schwer (due to challenge Rafael Ruellas for the IBF lightweight title), said: 'What kind of promoters are these? I've been in the business 45 years and I've never cancelled a show just because I was going to lose money. I'd rather cut my throat than do that.
'If there's been a more bizarre week than this in boxing, I don't remember it.'
The show has been tentatively rescheduled for 17 December in Connecticut, Arum announced yesterday.
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