Golden Boy, one of the biggest boxing promoters in the world, purchased The Ring in 2007, perhaps unaware that magazine readers and boxing fans are two distinct groups that rarely intersect. Add an $8.95 cover price to help cover the cost of the full-color glossy presentation and the balance sheet is already on the ropes, especially since it’s practically impossible to sell ads. That’s because Ring readers, though tenaciously loyal, tend to be middle-aged males with an alarming paucity of disposable income. The young spenders that advertisers crave are more attuned to mixed martial arts contests, which more accurately point to where our civilization is headed, and it’s not to higher ground. The owner of the media outlet that bills itself as “The Bible of Boxing” must think less about profits and more about maintaining a tradition that goes back to 1922. It’s like owning a floundering but storied ball club.
Of course, Golden Boy’s purchase posed an immediate conflict of interest. It was like CBS or Fox buying TV Guide. De La Hoya addressed the issue the day he announced the deal, pledging the magazine would “be held in an editorial trust” and operate “totally independent of any influence from me or others from the Golden Boy Companies as it relates to editorial direction or content.”
Added CEO Richard Schaefer: “If we do something wrong, we destroy The Ring value and the brand, and that means we made a pretty poor investment.”
Flash-forward to September 2011, when after four years of tension, the company broke off its tempestuous relationship with The Ring’s crew of editors and writers, sacking most of them, including the freelancers. It moved what’s left of the operation from the Philadelphia suburb of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, to its corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. Henceforth Michael Rosenthal and Douglass Fischer, who’d been running its website, an unabashed Golden Boy propaganda sheet, would also direct the magazine.
Schaefer, a former Swiss banker from a family of Swiss bankers, had apparently grown tired of dueling with the writers and editors he’d inherited with the magazine, writers and editors who dared to treat his promises as sincere. My very last column in the November 2011 issue disparaged not one but two upcoming Golden Boy fights. (Both cards did indeed stink.) I never specifically mentioned that these were Golden Boy events, but everyone knew.
The signs of this crack-up were there all along. When a publication wins a Pulitzer, owners bust buttons and champagne is served. Yet when our people won prizes in the annual Boxing Writers Association of America competition—our esoteric version of the Pulitzers—we never heard a thing from management. The pressure was always to sell the product, and the product wasn’t just the magazine. It was the whole company.
When I called Schaefer’s office for this article I was referred to Jeff Schowalter, Golden Boy’s vice president of finance. He insisted that all decisions about The Ring were made by The Ring, so he had nothing to tell me. I pointed out that editor Collins didn’t fire himself, and it must have been Golden Boy that moved magazine headquarters to Los Angeles since these things don’t happen by themselves. “What you have told me now is completely incorrect,” he responded. “Not factually correct. And that’s all I’m gong to say.” So according to him, much, if not everything you read in this piece is a fabrication.
The other major promoters, without exception, never believed Golden Boy would keep its word and play it straight, and their behavior toward us changed when the sale was announced. But even hard-boiled journalists can suspend their bullshit detectors when they hear something they want to believe, and in the beginning we believed the pledges of editorial independence. “It was a bad marriage from the start,” Collins said after the carnage. “Based on my experience, I have very serious doubts that a partnership between a legitimate journalistic enterprise and a promotional company could ever work.”