Promoter Kevin O’Sullivan Interview: Boxing and Insurance in New York State

By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent

 

Promoters Kevin O’Sullivan and Felipe Gomez head up New Legend Boxing in New York State. In a Real Combat Media exclusive, last month O’Sullivan, a top American promoter and matchmaker, granted an exclusive interview to discuss the state of boxing in New York State and its future in the light of legislative insurance changes. O’Sullivan is listed as the co-matchmaker with John Beninati for the scheduled Barclays Center card in Brooklyn, New York, scheduled for January 14, 2016. The Barclays event is co-promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Lou DiBella, which will feature a nine bout card with three main event world title fights, including James DeGale versus Badou Jack for the unified World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation World Super Middleweight titles.

 

The January 14, 2017 Barclays Center event will require 18 million dollars in traumatic brain insurance for all 18 male and female participants in the nine scheduled bouts, health insurance and accidental death insurance for each fighter, plus liability insurance for the event. The event will be telecast on USA Showtime and United Kingdom SKY.

 

Last month, the New York State Legislature passed new legislation requiring professional boxing and Mixed Martial Arts promoters to have one million dollar insurance policies per fighter per event for traumatic brain injury insurance. Since that time, the UFC is the only MMA group to hold an event in New York, in Madison Square Garden. That event earlier this year required 26 athletes in 13 pro bouts to each have a one million dollar insurance policy for the event in case anything went wrong. Nothing did, but the UFC had to pay $1650 per fighter for the brain trauma insurance in New York, for the event in order for it to proceed. These figures did not include the standard 50 thousand medical and 50 thousand accidental death insurance policies per fighter, which usually cost promoters approximately four thousand dollars per card. All total, the UFC had to pay 50 thousand dollars in in insurance for the November 12, 2016 Madison Square Garden UFC event to take place.

 

More scheduled events in March 2017 in New York State will also require extensive insurance policies as well for the events to take place. Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman are schooled to fight their WBA Super and WBC World Welterweight title unification match on a boxing card at Barclays Center on March 4, 2017. Promoter Bob Arum has a Top Rank boxing card scheduled at Madison Square Garden on March 17, 2017.  Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs will unify the WBA Super, WBC, IBF and IBO World Middleweight titles at Madison Square Garden on a USA HBO Pay-Per-View Madison Square Garden card scheduled for March 18, 2016, which will also feature a WBO World Cruiserweight title defense by Oleksandr Usyk.

 

Robert Brizel: “What can we do to say boxing and MMA in New York. Kevin, how long have you been a boxing promoter?”

 

Kevin Sullivan: “We’ve had the New Legend Boxing Company for ten years (Kevin O’Sullivan, Felipe Gomez, Wilson Naranjo and James Foley have often been associated in professional boxing events together). We’ve been doing shows for about five years, under New Legend Boxing, as well as with Dibella Entertainment.”

 

Reader’s Note: BoxRec online lists 18 events promoted or co-promoted by Kevin O’Sullivan between March 2011 and September 2015, 14 in New York City, and one event in the Dominican Republic.

 

Robert Brizel: “I’ve spoken with Lou DiBella about the insurance situation in New York State. Any insurance policy issued has to state the terms of the insurance. I covered Lou DiBella’s seven bout Ford Amphitheater Coney Island Brooklyn boxing card with Errol Spence and Heather Hardy on August 21, 2016, the last boxing card held in New York State before the new insurance regulations went into effect. DiBella Entertainment gave a great show! MMA (suddenly) gets approved by the New York State Legislature, and in the same bill, professional boxing and MMA both require one million dollars traumatic brain insurance, 50 thousand medical insurance and 50 thousand accidental death insurance per fighter, per event. When you heard this (new insurance development), what was your reaction? Did you believe it was true?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Well, we had heard a rumor it was coming down (going to happen) for a while. As far as the basic medical coverage for the boxers, I would not so much argue with that. It was a low number we always took care of.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Now they say, a million dollars per fighter per event. What does that mean?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “In professional boxing, it used to be ten thousand dollars per fighter per event for regular medical (coverage). Then they (New York State) raised the figure to 50 thousand dollars per fighter per event. That was an increase in medical insurance to protect the boxers (in event of injury in the ring). On top of that, they have now added a one million dollar insurance policy requirement per fighter per event for traumatic brain injury.”

 

Robert Brizel: “So how much does it actually cost to insure and cover a professional fighter (boxing and MMA in New York State) right now?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “You can’t get the insurance.”

 

Reader’s Note: The UFC did get such a policy for their event at The Garden after this interview

 

Robert Brizel: “You are saying the million dollar policy is on top of the standard ten thousand?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Well, it used to be ten thousand. Now it is 50 thousand. They (New York State) raised that, which is fine, the insurance costs covered by the promoter. On top of that, they now require a million dollars.”

 

Robert Brizel: “But how much money in insurance money will boxing and MMA promoters actually be paying? Or is it nobody knows”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “It can be a ridiculous amount of money. The 50 thousand dollars is what the policy costs. It is not what it is for. The six thousand to seven thousand dollar insurance policy cost per show will go up.”

 

Robert Brizel: “So you are saying the promoter in New York State will have to have a million dollar insurance policy per fighter per event on top of the 50 thousand medical and 50 thousand accidental death policies per fighter per event?”

 

Kevin Sullivan: “And then, you also need your general liability insurance policy for the event itself.”

 

Robert Brizel: “You also need a (fight card) security bond.”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “You need a general liability policy in case someone was to get hurt if the stage collapsed, or something was to happen at the venue, an accident in the bathrooms, a fight broke out, something like that. That is a separate policy on top of the other policies: accidental hospitalization; medical; and death policies for the boxers; (and now) you need a traumatic brain injury policy, which is a million dollar policy per boxer; and then you need general liability for the venue itself.”

 

Robert Brizel: “What are the promoters saying now? Are the promoters trying to lobby the New York State Legislature to change the rule and lower the (insurance) amount?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Promoters are trying to work on it from many different angles. One, in Albany, they are working (with the New York State legislature regarding the insurance amount requirement) to see if they can get some sort of reduction of what’s being required. Second, they are also working with the insurance companies to see if they would write such a policy (for traumatic brain insurance-the policy has been written once since this interview for MMA, as previously stated) and what would the policy (if issued for a boxing or MMA event) actually cost.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Right now, do you think this whole thing was caused by Magomed Abdusalamov’s injury? (after losing a bout at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 2013, exposing New York State and the New York State Athletic Commission to liability). Abdusalamov did not pass away, and his family is suing over the medical expenses incurred from his brain injury. Do you think that’s the reason behind the (legislative) change?”

 

Reader’s Note: After incurring a traumatic brain injury and surgery, since 2014 Magomed Abdusalamov has recovered to the point where he can recognize family members, understand what is being said to him, and answer coherently in short sentences in a low voice. He lost 75 pounds from his 231 pound frame, but has gained more than half of the lost weight back. Russian businessman Andrey Ryabinsky funded Abdusalamov’s nearly $500 thousand dollar rehabilitation state at Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital in Haverstraw, New York. Abdusalamov still had medical bill debts of over 800 thousand dollars. He can move his left arm and leg, but remains paralyzed on his right side after the brain damage put him in a coma for weeks, and he suffered a series of strokes. Charities such as Ring 10 continue to help Abdusalamov. In March 2014, the family filed a lawsuit for unspecified damages. The lawsuit is still in progress. Abdusalamov is lucky to be alive.

Kevin O’Sullivan: “I think that could be a reason why they refuse to lower what was passed in the New York State Senate. From my understanding, this (new brain trauma insurance) law was part of the MMA bill. Somebody requested this (the insurance add on to the bill). In that, there was wording regarding the New York State Athletic Commission. Technically, Albany oversees that, and has the ability to adjust that (million dollar) number up or down, for the insurance, what’s actually going to be required. I think they (Albany) doesn’t wait to reduce it, because if they do get sued again for any reason, this policy pretty much protects the state.”

 

Robert Brizel: “There’s no way they (New York State, and the New York State Athletic Commission) can settle the Abdusalamov incident because he didn’t pass away. Therefore, it’s an ongoing thorn in their back. It appears David Berlin and a number of other commission officials were dumped by the governor’s office. What happens now?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “New York State has an acting commissioner and an acting executive director for now.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Do you think MMA is also in trouble. The UFC sold for billions. Do you think they can afford to pay for insurance on this level to bring MMA to Madison Square Garden? Do you think MMA is in a better position to take over (the ticket and television market for) competitive sports in New York State? Does this mean the end of boxing in New York and the rise of MMA? What happens now?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “I think eventually something g is going to have to give in New York, because (otherwise) you are making a sport (professional boxing) obsolete. Just like New York at one point did not have MMA, and all of the other USA states were profiting from it, now New York has MMA and it has lost boxing. They gained one sport which is much more profitable, but they lost something which is part of New York (sports) history. New York is taking all of the little guys, local fighters who have big crowds come out for local promoters. A lot of these small promoters cannot afford to take out this expensive insurance in New York.”

 

Robert Brizel: “You have fighters signed to New Legend boxing. What happens to these fighters now? Are you going to fight your fighters in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or other venues?”

 

Kevin Sullivan: “Yes. You have to try to keep them busy wherever you can keep them busy. Wherever we can get them the opportunity (to fight on a card outside of New York).”

 

Robert Brizel: “Have you or any of the other promoters considered lobbying the New York state Legislature directly to try to bring about a change in the new insurance law before the end of the 2016-2017 legislative year?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “New York promoters have gotten together and discussed various ways. Lou DiBella and Joe DeGuardia. They wrote and coordinated a letter trying to get the changes done. I believe they have the support of all other boxing promoters in New York State. They are trying to do something.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Do you think the New York State legislature is going to budge on this? What are your initial reactions?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Hopefully, somebody (in Albany) will take a look at the situation.”

 

Robert Brizel: “What boxing cards did you have planned? What is on the table, and what was taken off the table?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Lou DiBella has a bunch of shows. I know they moved their Broadway Boxing series to Foxwoods. Felipe’s cards with me became too expensive. For us to go back to Resorts New World Casino in Queens, between the costs of the venue and the insurance costs, it’s impossible.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Does the cancellation of many boxing cards in New York have an effect on the contracted boxers to stay with their promoters? There was an expectation there was going to be many local boxing shows in New York.”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “I think it is going to hurt some (area) fighters, because this (New York City and New York State) is where you promote yourself and build your fan base and support. As you start to get better (as a fighter), you improve, your record improves, then you start to branch out, then you start to pick up more and more fans. You can find another state, and you can still have people come and follow you, it’s hurting our local guys.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Where will New Legend Boxing, Kevin O’Sullivan, Felipe Gomez, Wilson Naranjo and Kevin Foley do their shows?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “We (as a team) don’t really have a game plan until matters (in New York State) are resolved.”

 

Robert Brizel: “If things don’t resolve themselves, where will your team go to do boxing shows next?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or even the Dominican Republic.

 

Robert Brizel: “Do you think the costs will be higher for New York boxing promoters to do their boxing events in another state?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “The only thing is you are losing your ticket sellers and your fan bases (when you do your shows away from your home area).”

 

Robert Brizel: “How long can the fan base of New York area fighters be maintained in the face of this whole (period of) change?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “We hope the insurance issue gets resolved sooner rather than later. The longer it goes, the better the chance of losing steam, keeping people remembering what’s going on (in the boxing world), when people get used to going to other states (to see boxing shows) or just watching boxing on TV.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Have you and Felipe and the team discussed other options for moving your fighters? Do you think you just might move your fighters on somebody else’s boxing show?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Absolutely. We’re there. We’ll deal with the opportunity with other promoters to move our fighters (if it comes to that).”

 

Robert Brizel: “Has the insurance situation created a lot of stress, aggravation and tension on the part of New York boxing promoters? Do you think they were very affected or startled by it?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Yeah, because you are facing promises and contracts with fighters you are struggling to keep. You have to keep your fighters happy. Not only that, you have to maintain a business relationship with the people you are doing business with. It hurts them. The guys that do the video work. The guys who set up the rings. The guys who do your transportation. Of course you deal with it. Everything.”

 

Robert Brizel: “The relationship with all those people becomes strained, and if it is not resolved, it becomes damaged.”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “It affects everyone.”

 

Robert Brizel: “What are the fighters saying about what is happening in New York?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “Well, they are all asking when they are going to be fighting. Most have been active through the August 2016 period, so the situation is not too bad. Come the beginning g of the year, if they don’t have fights, then it is going to be a problem.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Do you think that the way the New York State Legislative Bill was worded was deliberately designed to bring MMA up and push boxing out?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “I think it was more designed to eliminate competition with MMA, and that’s what subsequently happened.”

 

Robert Brizel: “Boxing didn’t expect that to happen. MMA has megabucks, and can afford the insurance, and boxing can’t. We’re going to have the TV, we’re going to have the monopoly on contact sports, we’re going to run New York, and the boxing people will just be pushed out. You think that was part of it?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “I don’t know if that was the intention of the new legislation (in favor of MMA over boxing), but that was obviously the result.”

 

Robert Brizel: “If you could, how would you fix boxing in New York?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “They (the legislators) would have to sit down and help the promoters to secure insurance companies who are willing to write the policies so that we have an insurance company in New York State who is willing to underwrite the boxing insurance policies. We (as promoters) have reached out to insurance companies who used to write the policies for boxing in New York, but as yet no insurance company has yet issued an insurance policy to a New York State boxing promoter, which is affordable and is what the state is looking for.”

 

Robert Brizel: “I certainly hope boxing picks up in the future. DO you think by the end of the current 2016-2017 legislative session in New York something will happen, that the promoters and the New York State Legislature will have made peace with each other?”

 

Kevin O’Sullivan: “I would hope so.”

 

Robert Brizel: “I would hope so too. Kevin O’Sullivan, thanks for interviewing with us at Real Combat Media, and keep us posted of boxing developments in the near future.”

 

Boxing is scheduled to return in New York after a five month hiatus on Saturday, January 14, 2017, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Floyd Mayweather Promotions and DiBella Entertainment will present a nine bout USA Showtime card of action packed boxing, with matchmakers Kevin O’Sullivan and John Beninati. Hopefully an insurance policies will be in place for the fighters and the event, and boxing fans will enjoy an evening of world class entertainment New York is famous for.

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Robert Brizel - Head Boxing Correspondent
Robert Brizel - Head Boxing Correspondent
Robert is the Head Boxing Correspondent for Real Combat Media Boxing since 2013. Robert is also a photographer and ringside reporter for the RCM Tri State region which includes NJ, NY and PA. Robert conducts exclusive interviews, provides historical boxing articles and provides editorial ringside coverage of major boxing events. You can contact or follow Robert on Facebook and by email at robertbrizel@realcombatmedia.com.