By Eliot Stott
Ultimately viewed as a thankless task by many, the art of matchmaking is an essential part of the business side of the sport that we all love. Known well by perhaps ‘hardcore’ fans as well as those who work in the sport, you couldn’t blame matchmakers for perhaps feeling underappreciated for getting a limited amount of praise whilst other key players outside of the squared circle (such as promoters and managers) are given consistent praise & exposure.
Hours spent on the phone or writing emails, the idea of a good matchmaker to some is picking the correct opponents at the correct time for the fighters in question. Without any control over what actually happens once the first bell of a fight rings, the reputation of a matchmaker can take a long time to create but can diminish within a few minutes in the eyes of some.
So welcome to the life of world class matchmaker Roberto Diaz. Matchmaker for Oscar DeLa Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions.
Speaking from Los Angeles, Roberto remained upbeat despite the COVID-19 situation. ‘So far so good. The world is in a difficult place at the moment but I’m doing good. I just hope that neither of us have to experience anything like this ever again.’
In regards to boxing, Roberto remained upbeat when giving his take on how the pandemic.
‘One of the problems is that we really don’t know how long this is going to last. We’ve been able to get out some fighters in the past few months and will continue to do so but the message to everyone has been to stay in shape as opportunities will become available.'
Apart from some exceptions, behind closed doors events are still a reality for fighters in the US as well as the UK. Given his vast experience in the sport & having been involved in so many big nights, I was interested to see Roberto’s opinion on how a fighters mindset may change without any fans in attendance.
‘I’m actually interested to see how much of an effect it has on fighters. There are those who before the pandemic will have fought at either shows with a small attendance or early in the night at a big show where the vast majority of the crowd haven’t arrived yet.
'There are also the high end guys who although will have fought in front of sold out crowds over the past few years, will most likely have had the experience of fighting in front of little to no crowds in empty arenas in during the early stages of their careers or as an amateur.'
Despite being interested to hear of Roberto’s views on how COVID-19 is affecting boxing, I was keen to get off the topic that we’ve heard so much about in and out of the sport since March.
Moving on, I was desperate to hear more about Roberto’s line of work, the biggest difficulties that he faces in the industry as well as anything that a typical boxing fan may not expect him to have to deal with.
‘You could say that the easiest part of my job is thinking of fights that could be made whereas the hardest part of my job is making those fights due to the number of obstacles that come about.
Whether it’s a manager who doesn’t agree with the amount of money on the table or a trainer who doesn’t like how tall the opponent is, there may be more stumbling blocks than fans may be aware of. Believe it or not, family members who don’t work in the sport can be the biggest barrier when it comes to getting fights made.
Then of course the obvious issues of which fighter gets to walk first, what gloves are going to be worn etc which can take some time. If we’re able to agree on everything, we’ll announce the fight and both fighters will go into camp.
I must say, one of the most frustrating things about boxing sometimes from my position is that it’s not a team sport. If you’re playing football or basketball and someone gets injured they get replaced – in boxing, if a fighter gets injured (which considering how hard training camp is can happen quite easily) all of a sudden the fight doesn’t go through and a lot of hard work can go wasted.’
‘To be truthful, until the bell rings, you never truly know that a fight’s going to happen.’
Whilst listening to Roberto’s talk about the obstacles that his career entails, I was reminded of a fight that many British boxing fans including myself had waited years for but had never materialized.
Although the fight that everybody in the country is talking about at the start of 2021 is the undisputed Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury contest, the fight that was talked about endlessly for at least a couple of years was Joshua vs Deontay Wilder.
Whilst Roberto wasn’t directly involved in the attempt to make the fight, I was interested to get his views on why the fight was never made and whether he was able to offer any inside gossip.
‘Deontay started his career with Golden Boy so I know him pretty well. I must say that there was a huge amount of interest in the States on that fight due to the punching power of both fighters as well as the fact that they were both undefeated at the time that talk of the fight was at its peak.
Going back to what we were discussing earlier, I think that the fight couldn’t get made due to a range of disagreements but most importantly a split was never agreed or close to being agreed from what I recall. I believe that both fighters were told that they deserved more than they were being offered – Joshua because of the attendances that he brings and Wilder because of how many defenses he had made with the WBC belt on the line. If you want to debate over who deserves more, I’d edge with Joshua due to what he brings to the table plus the fact that he was holding more belts at the time.
However, after saying all of that if both parties were desperate to make the fight they should have just agreed on a 50/50 split. That’s been the outcome with other major fights over the years. Personally, I think there’s still a chance that we could still see the fight in the future.
My message to anybody involved in the negotiations of these mega fights would be that boxing wins when fights of a certain magnitude happen. Using Hagler-Hearns as an example, people refer back to what a great fight it was rather than the fact that Tommy Hearns got knocked out so early in the fight. The same would have happened with Joshua – Wilder I feel.
Speaking from personal experience, fights that never got made that stick out to me are Ricky Hatton vs Juan Manuel Marquez & Miguel Cotto vs Marquez also. I won’t go into it too much but certain members of each fighter's team didn’t want to make the respective fights so they ended up not happening.
At the end of the day it’s about legacy and daring to be great, those that choose not to do that, won’t be spoken about in 30 years time.’
With Roberto being on a roll, I didn’t have to ask him about the flip side of my previous question. Clearly having formed a relationship with British boxing great Ricky Hatton, Diaz didn’t hesitate to reference ‘The Hitman’s’ unsuccessful comeback against Vyacheslav Senchenko as an example of bad matchmaking.
‘Ricky had come off a long lay-off so I had a couple of opponents in mind, one being current promoter Dmitriy Salita. He wasn’t accepted as those involved wanted a bigger step-up in opponent so Senchenko was selected.
Incredibly, the arena that night was sold out before an opponent was announced so those die-hard Hatton fans weren’t that interested in who he was facing, they just wanted to see him back in the ring.
Whilst I touch on that night, I must say that the atmosphere was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The band, the chanting was just incredible throughout the night.
The fight however proved to be too much for Ricky who was a step out of touch against a former world champion who had been active unlike himself. Whether if he had gone up against a less game opponent he would have gone into the mix with the top contenders in the division again, I don’t know.
Perhaps I’m being a little selfish but what I really wanted to see was the Hatton nights in Vegas again. Those were incredible nights and I’m not convinced we’ll see something like that again.’
Moving from one British boxing character to another, due to Roberto’s residency in the US I was keen to get his opinion on promoter Eddie Hearn given the amount of fight nights ‘Fast Car’ has had in the States over the past couple of years.
‘Considering he was an ‘outside’ promoter before he came over here, I think that he’s done very well. Saying that boxing is a worldwide sport so if you can put on good shows in the UK, you should be able to put on good shows in the US also.
We’ve worked with him previously on both Linares vs Anthony Crolla & Kevin Mitchell fights which were all great so as long as he wants to match the best against the best boxing wins which is what I want.
In order for boxing to win, at Golden Boy we’ve always been willing to work with the biggest promoters and/or boxing companies in the world whether that’s Don King, PBC, Frank Warren, Top Rank or Eddie Hearn and we’ll continue to do so.
Finally, after speaking to Roberto for almost an hour I sensed just as much enthusiasm for the sport as I was expecting prior to our call. Simply, I asked Roberto if he considered himself ‘addicted’ to boxing.
‘I call it more of a passion. I love what I’m doing and as a matchmaker you have to love it due to the amount of yourself that you invest into the sport. Emotionally it takes a lot out of you whether it’s being let down constantly or seeing the talent that a young fighter go to waste but having the passion for what you do always brings you back to it regardless of what you have to go through.
In a job like this you see everything whilst expecting the unexpected so that perhaps makes things easier when things go wrong whatever they may be.’
As someone who’s travelled the world watching the sport that he has a passion for, I rounded off the interview by asking Roberto where he most enjoys going to watch fights.
‘Las Vegas has to be up there. There’s nothing like a Vegas fight week although by the time it gets to Sunday I want to go home!
I’ve been all over the states, in Asia but I’d say that the best atmosphere that I’ve ever witnessed has been from Manchester. I remember telling Jorge Linares who’s been around the world himself that the atmosphere for his first fight with Crolla was going to be the loudest that he’s ever heard and he didn’t believe me!
Japan also deserves a mention – I was in awe of their culture as they were so respectful of the fighters whilst the fight was taking place whereas before the fight the atmosphere was up there with the best.
Each place has its reason for being special. I’ll never forget the first time I went to Madison Square Garden – Muhammad Ali fought there several times and he’s my idol.’
I’d like to thank Roberto for his time as well as his stories that he shared for this interview.