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“My father-in-law is bit of a wheeler dealer as well, so I could always deal with people and do deals, I learnt it early on and made a few quid as a teenager,” said Frank Warren’s Events Manager Andy Ayling when looking back over his career for BoxingScene.
“The one talent I do have is an eye for a good deal, and indeed a bad one. I’ve had that knack since I was a kid and can close a deal. Frank says I’m a negative thinker, I think of the downside. It’s an office gag, but if you deal with the worst case scenario, you can’t go wrong. If two sides can’t get together then I tend to find middle ground to ultimately get it done.”
During his two decades in the sport, the Brighton-born, Brentwood-based fight figure has developed an eye for the finer details. This was especially true when Mike Middleton arrived in the U.K. as the sacrificial lamb for Audley Harrison’s professional debut in May 2001 (Middleton lost by first-round TKO). The American P.I. did not have any British representation; he was put in touch with Ayling, who soon spotted a flaw in his fight contract.
“I’ve got no academic qualifications, but I’ve been to the University of Life and that’s better than any degree in my book,” he said. “I can write, read and see problems in contracts quite easily. With Middleton, he was managed by a guy we were friendly with. I got a phone call from Mike saying his manager had given him my number so I could look at the contract for this fight—I told him to fax it over. Ex-fighters, Jess Harding and Colin McMillan did the contract. It was straightforward, US$5000 to fight Audley, a crap purse for a main event on BBC1 against the Olympic Heavyweight Champion.
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“However, it contained a clause that was antiquated and has since been taken out. It was one of the leftovers from the old [Mickey] Duff days saying that if the fight was on TV the boxer is entitled to 21.4% of the net television revenue. It was a purse bid thing from years gone by, when television was a privilege and not a necessity. When you did things voluntarily, you always struck that clause out. They hadn’t and therefore there was an upside to the $5k purse. I told Mike he was due 21.4% of the TV money on top of his five grand, he was happy.”
Once they were told about the TV money, Audley and his team tried to excise Middleton’s right to the 21.4%. “Mike told me they were trying to get him to sign a new piece of paper to waive that right, I said: ‘Why you want to do that’, and he said they were coming to his hotel with it,” stated Ayling.
“We sent a driver over to his hotel and kidnapped him, basically. They’d put him in a terrible cheap hotel in Wembley and left him there. We put him up in a nice Marriott in Hertfordshire. Ernie Fossey [Warren’s matchmaker at the time] took him to the gym and looked after him.
“Ernie tried to turn him into a fighter in less than a week, showing him how to throw overhand rights to try and get lucky. He was a nice bloke but poorly schooled club fighter nonetheless. After Ernie had finished with him he’d have been a mean fast bowler!”
“What they were doing wasn’t right,” he continued. “At the time, McMillian was spouting on about boxers’ rights—the PBA [Professional Boxers Association] and all of the rest of it—when this was the biggest abuse of all, trying to sweet talk a fighter into giving up a purse on the basis of their ‘mistake’ and only paying him $5k in the first place. We stuck to our guns and got him from $5000 to around $55,000 net of tax”
Ayling knew that extra pressure would be put on Middleton come fight night. “I knew what was coming, they were always two steps behind,” he said. “The PBA had started, but no one had ever actually joined it as far as I knew. My mate Jim McDonnell, who I remained close with since the Matchroom days, was still listed as the treasurer of the PBA, Barry [McGuigan] was the chairman and Colin McMillan was the secretary. I rang up Jimmy the night before and asked if he was still the treasurer, he said: ‘I suppose so’. I told him I needed to join Mike up to it. I went round to his house with 25 quid and got a membership card.
“On the night, they were threatening to put someone else in. I said if that’s what they’ve got to do then that’s what they’ve got to, but we’d sue for breach of contract. I got them in the back room at Wembley. There was the BBC Head of Sport, McMillan, Harding and their legal team, including Jonathan Crystal, a man I have the highest respect for. All these bigwigs with just myself and Robert Warren [Frank’s brother] in the opposite corner.
“Steve Bunce and John Rawlings were summoned in as witnesses so there could be no excuses if the fight was scrapped. I said: ‘Look, all we’re asking is what the TV money is and what Mike’s percentage will be’, but they wouldn’t tell us or show us any contracts. All we wanted to know was how much the fighter was being paid.
“Robert Smith [of the BBBofC] was there, but they were all trying to skate around the issue so I said, knowing I had a trump card up my sleeve: ‘This kid needs some representation, he needs someone from the PBA—Colin can you represent this boxer?’ He said he couldn’t do it, so I said you’re the boxing union, you have to. Colin said: ‘Yes, but he’s not a member’. I said: ‘He is, he’s member number zero zero one, and here’s his card so represent him’. He wouldn’t represent him, so we said they might as well fuck off then.
“You had Colin, the manager of Audley and head of the Boxers’ Union, who couldn’t represent someone because of a conflict of interest. It all became ridiculous, but highly amusing watching them all squirm. The clock was ticking, they needed a boxer and behind a locked door Mike was warming up all the time because these people hadn’t sussed that if Mike didn’t box, if he didn’t leave his dressing room, he’d be in breach of contract—we wasn’t going to let that happen. One thing led to another and the money was paid. To add insult to injury, we thrust a CD in their hands five minutes before the fight with Mike’s ‘chosen’ walk in music: Money for Nothing by Dire Straits.”
On the night of the Mike Tyson versus Williams fight (a fourth-round KO win for Williams in Louisville in 2004), Ayling once again earned his corn. Ayling stuck like a limpet to Chris Webb, the show’s promoter, to ensure that Williams took his advance in hard cash from a promotion that had clearly failed to generate enough money to cover the purses.
“It wasn’t a very good purse anyway, but it was a gamble and if you get lucky you might just hit the jackpot, Frank and Danny fancied the job big time,” he said. “This guy was supposed to give us a cash $40k advance when we arrived in Louisville, but was avoiding the issue and I’d chased him around for three days.
“Sure enough, I smelt he wasn’t going to pay up as he was dodging us like a jackrabbit. It was pissing down with rain all weekend—the heaviest I’d seen in my life—and this guy made every excuse to avoid getting Danny’s dough.
“On fight night I waited around along with our US colleague, Sterling McPherson, and we saw him coming before he saw us. I went one way and Sterling went the other, a classic pincer movement. We trapped him in the corridor and asked where the money was. He was only a little guy, but Sterling grabbed his collars and lifted him up to our level. His little legs were dangling off the floor.
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“He didn’t have it, basically, so I asked where the Box Office was and he told us. I went into the Box Office with Jay Larkin of Showtime, who had by that time guaranteed us the money just to get Danny out the dressing room on time. I was in the Box Office with Sterling and we literally counted out nickels and dimes. I can see Danny walking out on this monitor, which was about the size of the Satnav in your car, but I thought: ‘I’m not leaving here without his money’. By the time I’d counted what little there was Danny had done Tyson.”
“I probably got a worse view than anyone watching at home, but it was nice to be there albeit soaked through with pockets filled with change and soggy dollar bills—that’s all Danny got from the Louisville promoter,” he added. “Frank paid him the rest out of his own pocket.”
This wasn’t the first time Ayling and McPherson had trouble with small-time U.S. promoters. He said: “We ran a show in San Antonio, Texas in the early days of Shobox. For three days this local promoter invited us to dinner, to his home, to some dodgy club in San Antonio that he owned and showed us every tourist attraction going.
“All seemed well until the end of the show when I went to his office to sort the payments and takings out. He turned around and said: ‘You didn’t really expect me to pay you? You’re in my town now, boy, and I run things round here”—he was like Boss Hogg, a ten gallon hat and a two pint head. With that said, he got in his car and drove off. Sterling and I, along with our accounts girl Olga Brooks, jumped a cab and used those famous words ‘Follow that car’. We chased this fella all the way back to his home, where sure enough he paid up.”
Ayling has seen big name fighters come and go. He said: “In my opinion Naseem Hamed was possibly the greatest fighter this country ever had. If he had stayed on track and with [former trainer] Brendan [Ingle], I really don’t think even [Marco Antonio] Barrera would have touched him. I remember thinking that the only person that would beat Naz would be Naz, and I was right.
“He was something unique. No fighter has even been worth as much commercially as Naz without being a heavyweight—he was an exceptional talent and a promoter’s dream. We used to get TV sales and sponsorship from countries where they still point at aeroplanes. That kid was a phenomenon. I don’t think we will ever see his like again.
“If Naz hadn’t have jumped ship then maybe, just maybe, Ricky [Hatton] wouldn’t have got the attention he did, the same way Don King put all his efforts behind [Julio Cesar] Chavez when Tyson moved on,” said Ayling. “Ricky worked hard, the public liked him and he became a star, so good luck to him.”
Working with “The Hitman” brought Ayling into contact with Billy “The Preacher” Graham, Hatton’s trainer. Both men have admitted that it wasn’t always an easy ride, but there is a mutual respect on both sides as well as a shared appreciation of the other’s qualities.
“Me and Billy are alike. I had fallouts with him sure, but he tried to do the best for him and his fighters. I was trying to do the best for us and our fighters, so every now and then there’d be an inevitable clash. I never had a massive fallout with Billy, but we had words many times.
“I’ll tell you what, though, he’s a good trainer, a good tactician and he was all for his fighters. If Billy had a problem he met you and told you what was on his mind. He didn’t speak to anyone else, go to another promoter, go around the houses or get a mate to do it, like many do now. He’d pick the phone up, you’d have five minutes shouting at each other and come to a solution, but he wasn’t a back stabber. Ricky should have stayed with him, just as Naz should have stayed with Brendan.”
Ayling is close friends with Eubank, so he was in the opposite corner to Graham when Eubank twice took on Graham’s cruiserweight charge Carl “The Cat” Thompson (L12 and RTD 9 respectively for Thompson’s WBO title), who Ayling was a big fan off: “His power was awesome”. Perversely, the gruelling defeats to Thompson finally cemented Eubank’s place in the hearts of the British boxing public.
“Chris is eccentric, awkward and demanding, but he’s got a good heart and is a decent person who has done a lot for me over the years,” he said. “I can’t say a bad word about him. He’s always been there for me and vice versa. If I had a problem, I know I could phone him and he’d help me out, and so would [Eubank’s trainer] Ronnie Davies, and it works the other way too.
“I saw him transform from a little bit of playacting to actually living it (his eccentric public persona). At first, he’d have a bit of a laugh with it. If many fighters today had an ounce of what he had—the media nous and understanding—it’d be good for the sport. If tickets weren’t going or a show needed a push he knew what to do. You didn’t have to coach him.
“He was always late for press conferences, but the comparison is that Nigel [Benn] was always late for press conferences too. Nigel was an hour late for a press conference once and back then—when Colin Hart [of The Sun] and the rest led the press pack—they wouldn’t put up with that. If the press conference was supposed to start at one and the fighter couldn’t be bothered to get there then they’d go, and that’s what they did on one occasion.
“The difference with Eubank is that he’d actually ring you at one o’clock and ask you to tell the assembled press that he’s running late because he had to get the Rolls Royce cleaned in Brixton, he was having his shoes cleaned or any old nonsense. They’d wait because they knew they’d get a double page spread out of him once he got there. He was a dream but sometimes infuriating.”
Eubank teamed up Ayling and Warren for the fights with Calzaghe and Thompson. The move yielded a hat trick of defeats; it also exposed a raw side of Eubank’s in-ring persona.
“When I worked for Frank, Chris came over when he fought Calzaghe [L12 in 1997 for the WBO 168lb title] and people realised that he wasn’t a Prima Donna—this guy could fight. It’s funny, it takes that for the British public to get on board, that Bruno mentality of giving everything he got even though he was losing. He lost three times in succession and got more public support than he ever did when he was winning.
“It was emotional for me when he got beat by Thompson the second time, I knew he wouldn’t fight again after that. It was like seeing your big brother getting beat up in school. I picked his gloves up from the dressing room floor afterwards and kept them as a souvenir. It was nice to be able to give them to Chris Junior just before he turned pro, I felt he should have them. I didn’t like it much when he got beat by Steve Collins either, but Steve is now a good mate and I’ve forgiven him! I was always drawn to Eubank even when he was in the away corner. I’d end up in his dressing room looking after him. It was a brilliant time.
“British boxers wouldn’t be earning the money they earn now if it wasn’t for him. He turned the tide, he said: ‘That’s what I want and that’s it’, and he used to say to Barry [Hearn]: ‘You keep me happy and I’ll keep you smiling’. Give him the purse he wanted and he’d work his arse off on a show.”
Ayling is back in the Eubank business these days. Chris Eubank Junior has joined BoxNation’s ranks. “I really rate the kid, not just because of who is, I think he can fight and has the X-factor too,” he said.
“I watched him in the amateurs at Brentwood and wanted to do a deal when he turned pro, but the lure of Channel 5 won the day. I don’t think they realised what they had and shouldn’t have just showed highlights.
“Dealing with Steve Foster Jnr., Steve Collins Jnr., Eubank Jnr. and Kevin Hodkinson after working with their dads makes me feel old, but I won’t turn into one of the bitter old farts I had to deal with early on, I promise.”
It all comes around again. The circle closes. With his ability to keep his head during boxing’s daily stresses and strains, Ayling is certain to be a fixture in the sport for many more years.
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Click on the following link to read Boxing Monthly Editor Glyn Leach’s contemporary account of the Harrison-Middleton fight: http://www.boxing-monthly.co.uk/content/0106/two.htm