It was the boxing rematch so irresistible it would be impossible not to book. It was so easy to put together that the fight community was waiting for the where and when announcement, not the if.
Then, just like that, the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury rematch wasn’t happening. Last week Fury, the linear heavyweight champ, was about to sign to fight Wilder again for his WBC heavyweight title. That is until Fury signed with promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank which has contracts with ESPN and their streaming service ESPN+.
After Fury’s signing, Arum began offering Wilder, a supposed promotional and TV free agent, a multi-fight deal. Wilder’s, co-manager Shelly Finkel, a veteran of boxing negotiations, said no thanks.
“We didn’t ask Arum to take over his career,” said Finkel, 74, in his always calm and measured response. “We believe in loyalty [with Showtime]. We’re not going to give Deontay to them. Hopefully [we’ll meet] after his May fight.”
Wilder is indeed back in the ring this May, but Mark Breland, Wilder’s co-trainer along with Jay Deas, also his co-manager with Finkel, isn’t concerned. Wilder may fight former U.S. Olympian Dominic Breazeale next. If that fight is made, Breland ain’t impressed.
“I can beat him. He can’t fight a little,” said Breland in a voice that is calmer than Finkel’s and 60 percent quieter. “He’s got no chin. That fight goes one round.”
“I hope Mark’s right,” said Finkel with a chuckle.
What made these two connect so easily from the first time they met in the early ‘80s?
“Mark understands what a fighter has to go through to be a fighter,” stated Finkel, “and with Deontay’s style, they fit perfectly.
“I’ve told him for years though he needs to talk louder.”
Breland never raises his voice because he didn’t like being yelled when he fought.
“I used to have a guy in the corner screaming at me. I’m not good with that,” Breland recalled. “I said, ‘Don’t do that. Am I losing? Then just calm down.’ Raising your voice means something’s not right.”
Breland’s work with Wilder gives him pride.
“I try to keep Deontay calm. I taught him the jab and the straight right hand,” noted Breland, not bragging about Wilder and his mark of 40-0-1 with 39 kayos. “I told him 95 percent of the fighters are scared to death of you. Just use the jab, then the right.”
Breland was himself one of America’s most decorated amateurs, about as perfect as a fighter can be. He was managed by Finkel from day one. A five-time New York Daily News Golden Gloves champ, a former World Amateur Champion, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist with a record of 110-1 and Breland went on to capture two WBA welterweight titles with a career mark of 35-3-1 with 25 knockouts.
Darryl Anthony is the only amateur blemish on Breland’s record. Breland knocked him out in his 11th pro fight.
After he retired in 1997, Breland did some movie acting in “Lords of Disciple” and two Spike Lee joints -- “He Got Game” and “Summer of Sam.”
“I enjoyed it, but I like training dogs,” said Breland, 55. “Years ago, pros listened to their trainer. Now, they got their homeboys in the corner that never had a fight.
“I like training dogs because they listen and don’t talk back.”
“I love Mark to pieces and I knew his weakness,” said Finkel, also from Bed Stuy, “and that was being too nice. Luckily we had the kind of relationship and I care about him. I set him up with an annuity back in 1984. He trusted me.”
Now Breland is free financially to do what he likes whether it’s training dogs or fighters.
“Shelly is real mellow,” says Breland. “Shelly never came with any disguise. What he said was what did.”
Being with Finkel and his connections led Breland to an advanced learning curve with some great fighters.
“I learned so much working with Emanuel Stewart,” said Breland about the late Hall of Fame trainer. Tommy Hearns was his most famous fighter. “Manny would show me things a tall fighter can do like sitting down on your punches.
“I sparred with Tommy when I was 17 and I watched him beat me up. The next day I hit him with two jabs and he said, ‘You learn fast.’”
Finkel learned fast too. After working in the music business and promoting enormous acts like the Rolling Stones, Finkel turned to boxing and has worked with everyone from Evander Holyfield, to Mike Tyson, to Pernell Whitaker, to Wladimir Klitschko.
He’s still involved in the music business with LifeStyle. He’ll be promoting the Electric Zoo at Randall’s Island this summer for the eighth year.
“I still love boxing,” admitted Finkel who took some time away from the sport. “When you have Deontay the person and the kind of person he is, it’s all worth it.
“In my 40s, I had a heart attack, but with God’s will, I’m still alive.”
Boxing today has many powers brokers, and the networks are beginning to use their muscle as well. Bob Arum is already on the scene. There’s Showtime, FOX, ESPN+ and DAZN (Da Zone).
“Right now it’s the networks with the power, but with it will come normalcy,” said Finkel, adding, “I quote Warren Buffett: ‘In a rising tide all ships go up and when the tide goes down, we’ll see who’s wearing a bathing suit.”