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Betting on boxing's future, AEG buys into Golden Boy

Company hopes to expand sport's appeal with its investment in De La Hoya's firm.

May 09, 2008|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

AEG, which owns the Kings, the Galaxy and Staples Center, has purchased a minority percentage of Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, it was announced Thursday, forging a partnership that is expected to not only help replenish the promoter's aging stable of fighters but also expand boxing's reach worldwide.

"The good things this means for boxing and the exciting things this means for a fighter . . . for years to come, it's a good time to be a fighter," De La Hoya said.

Golden Boy, a company De La Hoya established in 2001, is connected to about 50 boxing events annually but in need of younger stars. The popular boxer from East L.A. is promising to retire at the end of the year, while veteran former champions Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez are all coming off losses.

"The idea behind this was the need to develop the next generation," said Richard Schaefer, chief executive of Golden Boy. "If you're a young and talented fighter and you see what Golden Boy now offers . . . no other promoter can offer as much to the young kid wanting to become a big star."

AEG's financial backing and global venues should give Golden Boy more flexibility in pursuing Olympic boxers who become stars during this summer's Beijing Games, as well as other free-agent prospects, Schaefer said.

Tim Leiweke, chairman of AEG, said discussions of a possible union have been going on since De La Hoya fought Mosley at Staples Center in 2000, and Schaefer said those negotiations intensified in the last few years.

The ties began to get tighter this year after De La Hoya bought a piece of the Houston Dynamo soccer franchise from AEG. And last week, it was announced that a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of De La Hoya would join those of Wayne Gretzky and Magic Johnson outside Staples Center.

Thursday's deal also opens the door for boxing to enter new arenas, since AEG owns 30 venues, including Staples Center, Home Depot Center, the O2 Arena in London, the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the Target Center in Minnesota, Kansas City's Sprint Center and the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

In addition, Schaefer said Thursday that Golden Boy may also explore the concert promotion business.

"It's a natural extension, especially the Hispanic music side of the business," he said.

Leiweke celebrated the Golden Boy deal not only for the addition of De La Hoya to a sports-entertainment empire that includes Kobe Bryant and David Beckham but also because of his own enthusiasm for the sport. He said the new partners' goal is to schedule 100 Golden Boy events annually.

"We had to have faith in the future of boxing to do this deal," Leiweke said, pointing to De La Hoya's victory over Steve Forbes at Home Depot Center last weekend in front of an announced crowd of 27,000.

"Look at what Oscar did here Saturday night," he said. "Anyone who believes this sport is headed in a negative direction is incorrect. . . . What got us excited is [Golden Boy's] tremendous vision to grow their fighter stable, and have them maximize their careers."

Golden Boy officials said AEG, which is owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, acquired a double-digit percentage of the promotions company for an undisclosed sum, but a large enough percentage to make it second only to De La Hoya in ownership.

Schaefer said all of the AEG dollars "will be invested in boxing."

In addition to the arenas it owns, AEG is affiliated with nearly 100 other venues, such as the Nokia Theatre, that are capable of hosting boxing events. Leiweke said there are plans to double the list of AEG arenas in the next few years, with venues in Beijing and Berlin ready to open.

The Summer Games, of course, are a driving force, and could lead to AEG pitching a first pro card for Chinese Olympic boxers in Beijing, or for British boxers in London. Schaefer and De La Hoya, in fact, said they envision promotions that include a pay-per-view broadcast with bouts on three continents, and multi-fight contracts that will take boxers to AEG venues from, in Schaefer's words, "Berlin to Hamburg to London to Sydney, and to Los Angeles."

Already, plans are in place to put world cruiserweight champion David Haye's first bout as a Golden Boy fighter at the O2 Arena later this year, Schaefer said. That venue is also set to be the site of a fight next year featuring recent Golden Boy addition Ricky Hatton of England.

Ringside at De La Hoya's fight on Saturday, Dan Beckerman, AEG's chief operating officer, said his company was "definitely in conversations" to have Staples Center host a fourth fight between Golden Boy-promoted world super-bantamweight champion Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, sometime between November and the end of February.

The AEG-Golden Boy partnership could also change the complexion of boxing in Las Vegas, which in recent years has seen MGM/Mirage dominate the fight game at its MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center.

AEG is prepared for a Las Vegas groundbreaking this year on a 20,000-seat arena to be completed in 2010, which also could become home to an NHL or NBA team, or both.

Asked about the impact of the Golden Boy-AEG deal in Las Vegas, Richard Sturm, president of sports and entertainment for MGM/Mirage, said: "We have a great relationship with Golden Boy Promotions, and we look forward to many years of hosting successful events."

De La Hoya, who is expected to fight his Sept. 20 rematch against Floyd Mayweather Jr. at MGM Grand, said his final bout appears destined for an AEG facility.

"What about making your last fight the first professional fight in China, at the new AEG arena?" Schaefer asked De La Hoya at the AEG office meeting.

"We'll talk," De La Hoya said. "More than anything, I'm excited for the sport."

So excited that he'll continue fighting?

"No, that's not going to happen," De La Hoya said. "I'm done after 2008."

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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