Boxing has changed. It is not the same sport today that your father or grandfather reminisces about from yesteryear. It's probably not the sport of choice you'd push your child into either.
Tragic stories, such as the demise of Mike Tyson, are all too frequent. Images of a shaky Muhammad Ali are remembered as much as his self-promotion and lightning jabs. Promoters taking advantage of young men by using them for monetary gains and then dumping them when they are washed up are commonplace.
Tulsa should be proud. Tony Holden doesn't fit the mold. Oh, he promotes the heck out of boxing. He just doesn't lie, cheat and backstab to gain the competitive advantage.
Holden Productions, operated by Holden himself, has run four successful evenings of top-level boxing at Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino, 951 W. 36th St. N. The cards featured super middleweight, top contender and Tulsa native Allan "Sweetness" Green.
Holden doesn't stop there. Like any good businessman's portfolio, he is diversified.
Route 66 Vintage Iron, in Miami, OK, is another one of his developments. "Oklahoma's Premier Motorcycle Museum" features one of the world's largest Steve McQueen collections.
He recently bailed Velocity out of trouble. The popular youth training facility in Broken Arrow is now called VERSUS and Holden's now the owner. Just don't ask him to demonstrate the high-tech equipment.
If it's happening at Buffalo Run Casino, 1000 Buffalo Run Blvd. in Miami, it's because of Holden. He built the casino, but since he's not Native American, he cannot own it.
Whether it's a concert or one of Allan Green's seven showcase fights, Holden Productions is promoting the shows at Buffalo Run Casino.
Of course, his family trumps all. Tony calls himself a hermit.
"I'm big time into kids sports. You always see me at the games.
My son quarterbacks the sixth grade team," he said.
Jenks, pay attention. Bryce is 12 and Holden's daughter Alecia is 16.
He takes Tina, his wife, to their lake house on Grand during the summer for a little R&R. His plate stays full on par with a lunch special from Furr's.
When he's not knee deep in one of his many ventures, you'll likely find him working on one of his classic bikes. If you see someone cruising the town on a vintage 1920s Sun Motorcycle with a leather helmet and old school goggles, it's probably him.
Miami or Miam-a
Born and raised in Miami, OK, he grew up your typical preacher's kid.
"Mom played the piano and dad preached. Hell and brimstone," said Holden of his childhood.
He bolted the scene when he turned 20. His trek landed him in Kansas City, MO.
"I started a fishing show so I could go to the lake all weekend," Holden said.
You've got to love the foresight. Fishing, water skiing, weekends at the lake? Oh yeah, and a paycheck. He spent eight or nine years there.
His show was aptly named "Grand Lake Sportsman." He lined up sponsors, secured television time and learned the ropes from national fishing legend Virgil Ward.
The show was similar to "American Sportsman." They would book celebrities, such as the cast of Cheers, to partake in an outdoor adventure.
A last-second cancellation set in motion what would change his path forever. Tommy Morrison was an up-and-coming boxer in the Kansas City area.
"Let's just try him and put it in the can and see if he gets big... That's how I met Tommy," recalled Holden. "Next thing I knew he was asking me to help him promote."
Their first show together was at Kemper Arena. Twenty thousand rabid fans packed the house. Holden ended up hospitalized after the fight, not from an errant left hook, but because he simply didn't know how to delegate.
Outside the Ropes
To say Holden has met some colorful characters along the way is quite the understatement. The small town, northeastern Oklahoma kid was now rubbing elbows with such boxing legends as Mills Lane and Don King.
Prince Naseem Hamed, Tommy Morrison, Allan Green, Zahir Rahim, Joe Mesi and Mickey Rourke are just a few of the pugilists he's promoted.
His first client was featherweight sensation "Prince" Naseem Hamed. The kid was raking in $20 million per fight.
"He was real cocky and everybody hated him," said Holden.
It's true. Hamed knew how to pepper the media and opponents with just the right amount of braggadocios. In other words, he sold fights.
The "Prince" was considered unbeatable at the time. His 35-0 record spoke volumes. He finally met his match at the MGM Grand Casino against Marco Antonio Barrera.
Hamed delayed the fight almost an hour with fireworks and an elaborate ring entrance. He was stylistic. But, his hand speed usually cashed those checks him mouth wrote.
"That was my fight," remembered Holden. "You can't change trainers for that big of a fight because you start thinking these new things instead of going back to what you usually do," he said of Hamed's first and only loss. He switched to Emanuel Steward just prior to the bout.
Hamed disappeared after the loss. He fought once more but vanished from the scene.
"Great kid to work with. Of course, when the cameras came on, he was a total turd. He knew it. He had it figured out. 'You love me or you hate me, but either way, you want to pay to see me get knocked out,'" smiled Holden.
"Baby" Joe Mesi was the number one heavyweight in the world a few years ago. Holden and Mesi were selling out venues across the nation. Madison Square Garden, Mandalay Bay, HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY, (Mesi's hometown) and Creek Nation Gaming Center in Tulsa. That's right--the number one heavyweight in the world was on display in Tulsa back in March of 2003.
Mesi suffered a brain bleed during a unanimous decision win over Vassiliy Jirov in Vegas.
"He got hit behind the head. I resigned. It was a bad deal. The family was mad at me and I was just like... I had a kid die on me," he recalled.
Yes, boxing is a ferocious competition. Deaths in the sport are not the norm. The most famous boxing fatality was Ray Mancini defeating Duk Koo Kim. Kim collapsed in the ring after the fight and never regained consciousness.
Holden promoted Randie Carver, who was a budding star from Kansas City. He compiled an impressive 23-0-1 record before that fateful night in front of a hometown crowd.
"He died on national TV. He got head butted--head butted--and all of a sudden he goes down (in the 12th round). It was a fluke. He got a brain bleed and he never came to. Nicest kid you ever met. It shattered me.
"Probably the toughest decision I made was after Randie Carver died was getting back in the game," said Holden.
He relinquished his promoting duties for eight months before jumping back into the game.
"All these fighters that I was helping were getting thrown on cards and getting destroyed. They were calling me up," he said of his decision to return to the sport.
It's hard to say what Tommy "The Duke" Morrison will be most remembered for. Actually, it's going to be his HIV test and the subsequent fallout.
This is a guy who, during his prime, stepped in the ring with heavyweights such as Lennox Lewis, "Razor" Ruddock and George Foreman (the older version). Morrison also co-starred in the awful Rocky V movie. We'll blame Sly for that misstep.
In 2007, Morrison decided to put the gloves back on. Most sanctioning bodies will not allow him to fight, so he recently headed south of the border to Leon, Mexico for a bout.
Did Holden promote the fight? No. Was he asked to?
"Yeah... I won't. When it's time for a fighter to quit, I'm his worst enemy. He's saying he was never diagnosed with HIV, which he was. I was there.
"I'm the one that told him he was positive in Vegas. I had to sit him down before the fight and tell him 'You can't fight because you failed your test.'"
Interesting side note.
"Don (King) was with me when we found out Tommy was HIV positive. I was doing that show with Don. He didn't even ask me what was going on. He had enough respect to not pry until I got Tommy home," he said.
So Holden breaks the news to Morrison in Vegas. They journey to New York to visit Dr. David Ho.
"This was a time when HIV was a death sentence. You get it and you're dead," Holden remembered.
Dr. Ho worked with Earvin "Magic" Johnson as well. He was later named Time Magazine's Person of the Year for his work in the field of HIV. He created four cocktails that have saved millions of lives.
Morrison was agreeable to the new treatment... until he got home. He started researching alternate theories on HIV and faded away.
He later went on the offensive. He claimed false-positive test. He alleged no one ever told him about his HIV positive test.
"I was getting drilled. The media was calling me and finally I said 'yeah, I told him. He is HIV positive.' He got pretty upset and never talked to me. He called me two weeks ago. It's been three years," said Holden.
He described his relationship with Morrison as brotherly. The kind of brother you love and hate. He'd always get himself into trouble.
"We've got a deep relationship," Holden said.
Sweetness and the Z-Man
Holden Productions currently has two boxers under its banner: Tulsa native Allan "Sweetness" Green and Zahir "Z-Man" Rahim.
"I don't like a lot of fighters (in my stable). Look at Allan Green's career. He is the darling of ESPN. He's the most popular fighter on ESPN. He's had more dates than anybody on ESPN.
"If I had a stable of 10 fighters, he'd have been lucky to fight twice (on ESPN). I can really put these fighters on the fast pace if I have less of them," explained Holden.
He talks about these fighters like I talk about my four-year-old. The passion and sincerity are off the charts. I can't imagine Bob Arum or Don King speaking with the same reverence about their fights, past or present.
Green ascended to sixth in the super middleweight rankings. His path to a title shot was set. Beat Edison Miranda in Puerto Rico and the table was set. Next was Kelly Pavlik and culminating with a title shot against Jermaine Taylor.
"It was all lined up there for a world title shot. He was sick (against Miranda). He lost that," said Holden. Green underwent major intestinal surgery shortly after the loss. He attributes the poor performance to his illness.
"I didn't know until I walked into the locker room before the fight. He just didn't look right. Something was wrong. He wasn't sweating. I almost killed the fight right there. The fight was over before the bell rang. End of the first round, you go back and look at it, he was shot," recalled Holden.
A loss at that level takes time to expunge from memories.
"We are right back to where we were again. This (February 29) will be his last ESPN show then I'll bring him right back to HBO," revealed Holden (See sidebar below).
The interview was just prior to the Kelly Pavlik/Jermaine Taylor fight. He correctly predicted the winner. He also thinks Allan would defeat both men today.
"I'd take Pavlik. Right now, Allan Green would destroy Pavlik. Style makes fights. I think he'd beat both of them. Jermaine would give Allan more problems than Pavlik.
"Pavlik is right there in front of you in a slugfest and Allan would give it right back to him.
"Allan Green would knock Pavlik out. I'd lay the farm down on that one," he said confidently. "The payday would be huge. Pavlik is the current 'great white hope.' Boxing always seems to have at least one."
Green is training down in Florida with John David Jackson. He was born and raised in Tulsa, and he's filled stands at Buffalo Run Casino in Miami on numerous occasions.
"Right now I could take Allan Green to Miami, Oklahoma, and sell the show out in three or four hours. Same size arena as Tulsa. He will sell out in the Joplin, Springfield area.
"They all love him more than his hometown. He's growing here. Don't get me wrong, it's coming. I don't think people realize that he's the closest thing this town has to a professional franchise. A true professional franchise," said Holden.
A press conference announcing a huge Green fight in Tulsa was attended by one--count them--one local TV station. There must have been some breaking weather or run-of-the-mill football news to cover.
By the time Tulsa realizes the prominence of "Sweetness," he'll be selling out Vegas. The "Sweetness" nickname was given to Green by Ray Leonard.
"Tulsa is not a sports town. I'll get in hot water for saying this but it's true.
"University of Tulsa basketball? Perfect example. When they were winning, you couldn't get a ticket. Now they have a bad season and you could shoot a gun in there. If Allan becomes world champion, has his first title defense, then they'll get it," he said. Of course, by then it'll be on to bigger arenas and bigger paydays.
Holden Productions recently reacquired Zahir Rahim. Top Rank promised the moon but delivered the backseat.
"He's ranked number four in the world and he's like family to me. He's a lightweight. He's planning on moving back to Tulsa," he said.
He lived in Tulsa previously. When he moves back, he'll have a job at VERSUS doing a little training in the ring. Yes, Holden added a boxing ring to the sports' paradise.
"He's by far the most talented kid I've had in my life. He's the fastest kid I've ever seen," said Holden in a fatherly tone.
Being honest in boxing is tough. Being hardcore as a boxer is a necessity.
"I've never seen a mother, father and sister on the front row watching their family member fight for the world championship," said Tony Holden.
Boxers typically come from broken homes or broken families. They need that anger, that drive. The mentality of "if you lose this fight it'll take food off of your table."
Will it BOK?
We've established Holden knows how to promote. We're in agreement on this right? He's done coast to coast, big and small, indoor and outdoor shows. Hell, Rascal Flats played at Buffalo Run Casino in front of 17,000 fans at the outdoor amphitheatre.
So Tulsa, and more specifically, the Tulsa Sports Commission must be burning up his line. Right? The BOK officials are hounding Holden at this point. Right?
"Nobody has approached me," he said with a slight grin, "and I've done probably more big arena shows than anyone in the state of Oklahoma and no one has even contacted me. The company I use is probably the largest concert promoter now too. I've never been contacted," he said almost incredulously.
He slows the conversation a bit. He chooses his words wisely. He doesn't want to belittle the efforts being made or in this case, not being made. A quick visit to tulsasports.org reveals... well... not much action.
When he was selling out the HSBC Arena in upstate New York, he got to know the arena crew fairly well. The list of acts on a weekly basis included the likes of Shania Twain and Fleetwood Mac. Mega shows.
"I said, 'You guys must be cleaning up.' He said, 'No, we're losing money hand over fist.' It's a big, giant vacuum. You don't have a prayer unless you have a major pro team in there," said Holden.
Oh boy, Tulsa's biggest fears may be realized.
Oklahoma City is trying to push through a new tax proposal to upgrade the Ford Center in an attempt to thief the Sonics from Seattle. The arena isn't quite six years old and upgrades are needed. Gimme more money!
"The first year in the (BOK Center), which I'd be interested in putting some concerts in the first year, it's going to have that honeymoon effect. Everyone is going to want to go and see it.
"After about a year, the artists are not going to play Oklahoma City and Tulsa. They are going to pick one or the other and they're going to pick Oklahoma City. I know it. I'm in this business. It's more of a population deal. The arenas are going to cost the same amount of money," said Holden.
"If I'm a promoter, I am going to go for the one that has double the population. That's a no-brainer. On the flipside, during the first year, this place is open I'm interested in loading it up because it's going to be good.
"I like the city's effort in trying to do it but I think they are going to be disappointed in the results," he said as he awaited the call.
Maybe the arena is waiting for a firm competition date. Of course, that didn't stop them from booking Celine Dion. Or does the diva book her own dates?
He loves the job Henry Primeaux and Chuck Lamson are doing with their respective teams.
"I'm pro-Drillers. I think they are good for the town," he said.
No Rhyme 'r Reason
Here are random facts that needed to be mentioned but didn't quite flow:
Tony Holden briefly partnered with legendary referee Mills Lane. They were going to promote boxers after Lane retired.
Lane, of "Let's get it on!" fame, suffered a stroke and was alone for 20-something hours while his family was out of town. He's lucky to be alive but hasn't been able to speak since.
"I've talked to his family. Super great guy," Holden confirmed.
He's had opportunities to jump into the exploding world of mixed martial arts. He's declined, although he thinks boxing is the more dangerous of the two physical sports.
The IBF, International Boxing Federation, shies away from Holden's fighters. They disagree on the weigh-in process. Weigh-in typically occurs the day before the fight. For some reason, the IBF requires a second weigh-in the day of the bout. This, he feels, compromises the safety of his fighters.
"No matter what you tell (the boxer), if they have to weigh-in again they are not going to drink as much water," he said.
A dehydrated fighter is an "at risk" fighter.
He has a fantastic relationship with ESPN and Friday Night Fights.
"We were probably one of their busiest promoters last year," he confirmed.
"There have been times when Teddy Atlas and I couldn't stand each other. He'd get on ESPN and blast me and now we're tight again," he said of his relationship with the one time trainer and current ESPN boxing analyst.
"I think Don (King) is not as bad of a guy as people say he is," said Holden, much to my surprise. "There are a lot worse promoters than Don King. He's just got a big target on his chest." Is it the do?
Allan Green has been offered title fights previously.
"I want to get up there and get more popular where we get more leverage. Instead of signing our life away to get that title fight. He can get a title fight in three months but it's got to be the right deal for him," said the calculated Holden.
He'd like to see an oversight committee take charge of boxing. Networks are currently running the show by waiving money around. A full-time commissioner such as a Roger Goodell-or a David Stern-type would be welcomed. Alas, it will never happen in boxing.
There are too many weight classes. The lack of an identifiable heavyweight champion is killing the sport. Seven-foot hairy Russians are not selling pay-per-views.
"I love it when a fighter quits a little early and has money. That's my goal. My goal is not only to get a world champion. Nothing makes me feel better than having a fighter-he's retired, he's got money, he's set up for life and has a family and not forced to go back in the ring," he said.
His claim to shame would have to be the Mickey Rourke fights. The actor-turned-boxer toured Europe fighting cans along the way. Holden and Rourke were selling out large arenas in Germany.
So if he can sell Hollywood actors as viable fighters in Europe, I'm guessing filling the BOK Center would be cake.
Share this article: