By Clive Bernath: The name Lou DiBella is synonymous with exciting world championship fights and compelling television programming over the last 10 years.
Between 1989 and 2000, DiBella was senior executive at HBO Sports and was responsible for not only recruiting such big name stars as Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr, Shane Mosley and ’Prince’ Naseem Hamed, but ensured that they featured in some of the greatest match-ups the sport has ever witnessed.
As the creator of the widely popular Boxing After Dark series and TVKO, DiBella revolutionised the sport of boxing by giving under experienced fighters the chance to shine and enhance their careers. The 41 year-old Brooklyn born executive was also the first active television employee to become actively involved in match making some of the greatest fights of recent years.
After 11 long years, DiBella called time on his highly successful career, and the relative security at HBO to set up DiBella Entertainment, a full service sport and entertainment company. Though the name suggests a wide range of sports, DiBella specialises in the matchmaking, television distribution and is advisor to the boxers signed to his company.
So far, the Harvard Law School graduate has six Olympic representatives on his books including American silver medallist Ricardo Williams and bronze medal winners Jermain Taylor and Clarence Vinson.
But why would, DiBella, who is possibly the most successful sports executive in HBO’s history, want to leave such a high profile position in favor of swimming with the sharks?
“ I think that I had achieved everything that I need to accomplish,” said Dibella “I took the job as far as I could. I wasn’t gonna learn anymore, I knew how to make television fights, I knew how to programme boxing on TV.
“I’d gotten so good at the boxing that I sort of pigeon holed myself at a major television company into being a Joe Palooka, the boxing guy. And honestly if I was gonna stay in boxing I wanted to see another side of the business I wanted to expand my knowledge of the game from all sides. I wanted to see if I could make more of a difference on this side of the business, on the TV end.
“I think it was just a product of having spent a decade at one company, albeit a great company and my future there would have been very much similar to my past, meaning I think I would have been doing pretty much the same sort of things. I had taken those things pretty much as far as I could have taken them.”
During his time at HBO, Dibella, it is fair to say, made such a dramatic impact with his Boxing after Dark and TVKO series, that Boxing’s profile as the complete television package is now second to none, and is probably the single most success entity in the sport of boxing to date.
“Yes I think that’s true to say,” said DiBella. “But I think that some of the credit goes to me and some goes to the fact that I was working for the entity that had the most power in world boxing. HBO’s dedication to the sport and the dollars HBO put behind the sport is second to none worldwide. And having that combined with someone like me who’s a nutty boxing fan was good. I love the sport of boxing I’m not in the sport of boxing because of the economic potential. I’m not in the business of boxing because I love the business because it’s a sewer. I am a fan of the sport of boxing I like boxing and I like fighters. I understand fighters.
Having said that DiBella has found the last two years very difficult from the other side of the fence and admits the recent parting of the ways with undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, has really made him question his involvement in the sport.
“The last couple of years have been very difficult,” said DiBella. “You know I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons already since I’ve been gone from HBO. I’m even more jaded about the business of boxing now than I was during my 10 years at HBO I’ve already had the experience of helping a great fighter reach the pinnacle of his career.
“But unfortunately I’ve also had the experience of being shocked and taken aback and seeing that a handshake doesn’t mean anything. I’ve had the experience of already feeling knocked sideways because I viewed him (Bernard) as more than just a client, I viewed him as a friend and I was really very satisfied at what he had accomplished and thought I was part of a team. I trusted his handshake.
You see in this business you can’t even trust a written contract and sh**t because there’s a lack of honor in the business of boxing, period. And anyone who denies that is not in the business or doesn’t know the business.
I’ve never had a conversation with him (Bernard) since. He never called me to tell me, I never got a formal letter. How I found out was Don King called me and told me. He said Hopkins’ people didn’t want me involved anymore. I haven’t spoken to Bernard since.
“ The worst part was to read in a newspaper that someone had said horrible defamatory things about me suggesting that I would sell dates at HBO. So preposterous, so out of nowhere and with no semblance of reality whatsoever. And to hear about that broke my heart.
“This is a guy that thanked me before he thanked god or his family after he won the fight in the ring. I have in my home the gloves that he beat Felix Trinidad with. You know that he gave them to me as a gift. They meant a whole lot to me. What I want to know is what happened to him all of a sudden, when he hit the pinnacle of success, that turned me into someone that was no longer involved with him and turned me into someone that he now apparently considers to be a bad guy. I don’t know what happened but I guess I’ve learned a lot about trust, I do feel that, I’ve always been very pro fighter and will continue to do so because that is how I approach this business, that’s what makes me a little bit different. But that being said my eyes are now going to be a whole lot more open.
“You know I learned a valuable lesson, which is you have to be very careful about who your dealing with and don’t fall in love with anybody and think you really do know them.”