EL CAJON, CALIF. — To the uninformed, it may look easy to become a boxing promoter. Sign a couple of talented fighters, make a few empty promises and bring a wheelbarrow to carry away the profits.
Such naivete draws chuckles from the giants of the promotional business, men such as Bob Arum, Don King, Oscar De La Hoya and Dan Goossen. They know what a cutthroat business it can be.
But nobody is chuckling these days over a group of newcomers who have avoided many of the pitfalls of their fellow novices and rapidly become a force in boxing.
In business just under three years, the promotional organization owned and operated by the Sycuan band of Native Americans already has five world champions and several interim champions among their stable of fighters, including World Boxing Council welterweight titleholder Carlos Baldomir, who will face Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Having a ton of optimism has helped the Sycuans. Having a ton of money in a seemingly bottomless vault has helped even more.
But most of all, what may help the Sycuans survive in a business where so many promoters have fallen through the ropes is staying power.
What's a little setback when you've been around for \o712,000 years\f7?
The Sycuan band traces its roots back to 10,000 B.C., to the San Dieguito Paleo Indians who lived in the Rancho Santa Fe area.
The Sycuans are part of the Kumeyaay tribe, which has lived in the area that is now San Diego County for thousands of years.
Nearly a century after President Ulysses S. Grant, by executive order, created Indian reservations around the country, Native Americans, bolstered by the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, began to exert their new power to create shining jewels on the land where once there had been little more than dust.
Until the mid-1980s, the Sycuan reservation was one square mile where the people lived in trailers, often depending on government food packages for sustenance.
Legalized gambling changed all that. It started modestly enough with bingo two decades ago.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled tribal governments had the authority to establish gaming operations independent of state regulations.
Guaranteed their sovereignty and aided by legislation and voter-approved propositions, the Sycuans, along with many other tribes around the country, have come a long way from bingo, building state-of-the-art, Las Vegas-style casinos with everything from roulette to poker, encircled by rows and rows of slot machines.
"Sovereignty is the most important thing we have," said Glenn Quiroga, Sycuan tribal treasurer. "With it, our land can never be taken away."
Today, the Sycuans have used income from their gaming operations and other enterprises -- income that averages more than $20 million a month -- to increase the size of the reservation to 2,000 acres, and to build on that land two championship-size golf courses, an executive course, a hotel complete with tennis courts and a casino that would fit right in on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Sycuan band is hardly the first Native American group to get involved in boxing.
Confident that they could demonstrate their ability to prosper in a high-stakes enterprise such as boxing promotion, the Sycuan tribal members also were smart enough to realize they needed someone with expertise in spotting boxing talent. They picked Scott Woodworth, a former employee of Arum and King and a former manager/promoter of heavyweights Terry and Orlin Norris and several other fighters.
"I told them when I got involved," said Woodworth, "that they could host fights at their venues, as so many others do, or they could become promoters. It would cost them a lot of money, but they could control their own destiny."
The Sycuan band and the Seminole tribe in Florida are the only Native American groups to become promoters rather than hosting fights, as do many others at sites ranging from the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut to Pechanga in Temecula.
Woodworth said even he didn't think the Sycuan operation would do this well this fast.
"We started in January of 2004 with a five-year plan," he said. "Did I think we would have five world champions in less than three years? Yeah, in my dreams. We have been blessed."
Yet for all their success, said Quiroga, the stereotypes remain.
"For such a long time, we were considered the lowest members of society," he said. "People still ask, do you live in tepees? Do you ride horses?"
The bold boxing venture is part of tribal chairman Danny Tucker's formula for breaking down those stereotypes.
"We can't shoot bows and arrows anymore," Tucker said. "We have to use our hearts and our minds."
The Sycuan boxing operation, said Quiroga, bolsters the image of the Native American band as a serious and responsible entity, both in San Diego County and the boxing world.
"We're not a fly-by-night company that's here today, gone tomorrow," Quiroga said. "We are here forever."
And have been here almost forever.