TKO Gets off the Canvas
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (Oct 21, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing

Tonight at the Martins Valley Mansion in Cockeysville, Maryland, TKO Boxing, in association with the Jonathan Ogden Foundation, presents their the third annual installment of “An Evening Ringside,” a card which will raise money for local charities and local high school athletes in the Baltimore area. This is TKO Boxing's first show since July 2nd in Ontario, California that featured a nationally-televised main event between Demetrius Hopkins and Mike Arnaoutis.

In the aftermath of that show at the Citizens Business Bank Arena, their checks started to bounce like Spaldings and a growing list of fighters and managers became justifiably disgruntled and rumors and reports ran rampant that TKO was down for the count. They had gone the way of Harold Smith, Josephine Abercrombie, Bostick Boxing and America Presents.

Well, they haven't gone the distance, just yet, but they haven't been TKO'd either.

"TKO isn't going anywhere. We're here to stay," said their president, Chet Koerner. Asked to explain their lost summer, he told Maxboxing, "TKO is the age old example; we over-expanded. We bit off more than we could chew and we have recapitalized the company and we've realized the mistakes we made and we're moving forward."

Like many other failed outfits of the past, TKO came in with big dreams and a vision of changing the business. Lots of people have come into this realm with the best of intentions till they find out that the boxing industry is a jungle, one that is not easily survived or navigated. As Bob Arum once said about the failed upstarts of the past, "The desert is strewn with bleached bones."

Was TKO naive or misguided about their mission statement?

"Maybe not so much the boxing business; we just over-expanded," insisted Koerner. "We signed too many fighters and too many shows and we didn't focus on what was important to us- which is 'the Hometown Heroes to World Champions' and we just got caught up in the market and the market took a downturn. We over-extended; we made some mistakes."

But during this stretch, were they ever going to close up shop?

"TKO was never going to fold up," Koerner stated. "It's going to be here forever. Every person we owed money to, we paid and we're moving forward. All those rumors are completely bogus and not true." Not helping matters was that during this period of time, Koerner kept silent and was about as hard to reach as J.D. Salinger. He explained of his low profile, "The problem with the boxing world is if somebody takes a sh*t in Los Angeles, somebody in Miami knows about it. I wasn't going to address things that were untrue. What TKO does is we put our heads down; we do our business; we had to take care of business, take care of people we owed and that's what I did."

There seem to be a particular glee that TKO was seemingly going the way of Enron or the Titanic. "Absolutely," agreed Koerner, who had a theory why that was, "because TKO is flat-out a threat to the old guard."

To be honest, many in the business consider it a minor miracle that TKO is even doing this show. Chris Middendorf, CEO of TKO Boxing Promotions, admitted, "There's no way that one doesn't [think that]. Even if you're working for just about any promoter these days, you gotta have moments where you question the future of the company. It's a cruel, hard world out there. For us, because our business was selling tickets, doing as many shows as we were doing, we weren't really aware of the oncoming wall until we hit that wall. But once we realized what had to be done, it's just a matter of figuring out how to do it and get back on track."

But the question is, will prospective boxers and their representatives trust TKO in the future? One of the fallouts of their recent travails was the loss of a significant amount of young talent that was eventually moved to Golden Boy.

"Well, keep in mind we are in the boxing business and we're at a moment in the boxing business where there are fewer opportunities this year than there were two years ago," pointed out Middendorf. "So I think if you have a fighter and you want them to fight, you're still going to take the call. The show in the summer, everybody got paid. It was just a timing situation and now that we've got it all on track, it won't ever happen again."

So as the long as the checks clear (eventually), is it as simple as forgiving and forgetting?

"Unfortunately, we got caught in a bind and some people weren't paid on time," admitted Middendorf. "But they all got paid. We straightened everything out with the commissions we worked with. Nobody had to cash a bond of ours or anything like that. And so I think people are willing to forgive and forget. It's just a matter of us going back and rebuilding a track record of doing what we say what we're going to do."

As for rebuilding their bridge with various venues and casinos that they had worked with in the past, Koerner says, "We didn't have to repair any relationships. They just asked me if the rumors were true or untrue and because of my personal relationships with the people like the Commerce Casino, the Ogden Foundation- I have a personal relationship with him [Jonathan Ogden]- I told them that the rumors weren't true and we're moving forward."

Asked what Koerner would do differently, his answer was, "I think one of the biggest problems TKO had is we had some serious, serious success and I didn't know the boxing business as well as I thought I did. So we hit a few home runs early on and we thought it was going to be easy and we just overextended. So if we had to do it over again, yes, I would walk before I run."

The card tonight is headlined by Leo Santa Cruz and Alantez Fox. As for restocking their stable, Middendorf insists, "We'll rebuild it, no question. The one thing that we were doing right was, we were signing the best young fighters and having them fight frequently and have them fight the right guys and develop. And so we're basically been stuck for four months and now we're going to gear up to start doing it again. Not every promoter knows how to attract and sign first-rate talent. And some of them aren't even interested in developing a young fighter and taking them from their pro debut to 20-0. That's something that I've always been interested in and done. That's something that TKO was doing and we'll get back to doing that."

In terms of moving forward with their upcoming schedule, Koerner says, "2011, in the first quarter, we already have four shows booked and we're going to have releases coming out on them soon. We're going to do shows next year and the future and we're going to be here forever. We're just not going to do as many and we're going to go after markets that are profitable where we can build on what the company started with, which is 'Hometown Heroes to World Champions'"

"We're going to do a show in Houston before the end of the year," said Middendorf, who says that they now have changed up their philosophy a bit as it relates to venues. "What we've been working on for the last couple months is just setting up our 2011 schedule and recognizing that it may be hard to sell tickets- which is what we do best now- at anytime. I think that probably more than half our shows will be casino-based, where we have some support and we'll still be selling tickets; it'll be under the aegis of a casino. It will be easier and we'll be more protected in terms of our exposure on each show and we got deals with four or five casinos to do shows quarterly and we're working on two more proposals today for casinos that want us."

OK, but first things first; they need to get this upcoming show up and off the ground- and then everyone paid in a timely fashion. Again, walk before running...

"It's a black-tie affair. They will auction off some pro football memorabilia and all the profits go to charity," explained Koerner. "Jonathan [Ogden] and I are very, very good friends and he's looking to expand into other markets. So it's a great night out where people can come out, see a bunch of good fights, have a nice dinner and give to charity."


Talked to Ricardo Williams (remember him?) on Monday; he is one of the chief sparring partners for Antonio Margarito in Oxnard as he preps for Manny Pacquiao on November 13th. He says he will be fighting on the Paul Williams-Sergio Martinez undercard in Atlantic City on November 20th. I'll have a full feature on him coming up...By the way, Margarito looks in great condition physically right now...I wonder what Jack Tatum would think of these NFL rules disallowing certain forms of tackling?...Speaking of which, maybe it's just me but I'm not taking these James Harrison retirement threats all that seriously...Can we just say that this was one of the most underrated songs of the 80s ( Bryant will shoot a bit better during the regular season, right?...For the record, in my opinion (which isn't always that humble), Ogden is one of the top five offensive tackles to have ever put on the pads. What a draft the Ravens had in 1996; they drafted both he and Ray Lewis in the first round....

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