Hand in glove with a lot of money

By Ayon Sengupta

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The cash-rich World Series of Boxing will have an Indian franchisee too. The 12-city league to be played on home and away basis, much like the Indian Premier League, will have three more clubs from Asia. Confirming India’s position WSB’s Chief Operating Officer, Ivan Khodabakhsh, said from Lausanne: “We have a franchisee from India among the eight selected so far. We are still ironing out the terms of agreement with the selected franchisees and expect it to take some more time before we can come with a more formal announcement.”

Khodabakhsh, however, refused to divulge the name of the Indian corporate house, which must have shelled a minimum of US$ 10 million to win the bid (a lot less than Mukesh Ambani’s US$ 111.9 million for the most expensive IPL team, Mumbai Indians).

“The negotiations are at a very sensitive stage and so no further details can be given as of now. We will make a large-scale public announcement soon after the formalities are completed,” he added. “But our initial response has been good and we expect the franchisees to be sold at a much higher rate than the base price.”

The WSB draws heavily from professional boxing, with the fighters taking it to the ring without any protective gear, and is expected to draw heavy crowd and money. The 12 teams – four each from Asia, America and Europe – will fight it out in an inter-continental series across various weight categories.

All teams will have at least 10 boxers with a maximum of three foreign imports along with a pool of reserves to tide over any eventualities. A boxer is expected to earn anything between US$ 30,000 to US$ 300,000, an amount unthinkable in today’s amateur boxing.

WSB will have three phases – a regular season of league matches between franchise teams, a play-off series and finally individual championships for each weight class. The championships will feature boxers from only five weight categories – Bantam (54kg), Light (60kg), Middle (75kg), Light Heavy (81kg) and Heavy (91kg).

Indian Boxing Federation Secretary General Col. P.K. Muralidharan Raja welcomed the move and said it will promote the game in the country. “The last few weeks have been very exciting as our meetings with all the corporate houses have been very fruitful. We were surprised to see so much interest in boxing,” he said. “We had six to seven offers but ultimately AIBA and IMG zeroed in on the best. I can assure you that the owner will go all out to promote the event across the country.”

Citing it as a red-letter day in Indian boxing, Col. Raja added: “This event will help the boxers earn a living from their sport. And it comes at an appropriate time when Indian boxing is going through a great phase. I expect at least 10 of our boys to make the cut for the initial 100 shortlisted pugilists who will be drafted in by the teams after a bidding process.”

Commenting about the bidding process, to be held at the end of the World Championship in Milan in September, Khodabakhsh said: “The first 100, picked by the WSB selection panel, also include Indians and AIBA would soon make them available to the Indian Boxing Federation. The pool would be increased to 200 shortly so that franchisees have reserves to fall back on.”

Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Kumar too expressed happiness and a desire to play for the Indian club. “Ideally I would like to play for the Indian team but if there’s a better offer from any of the foreign franchisees I will surely give it a thought,” he said.

Meanwhile, the home base for the Indian team has not been selected yet and Col. Raja said the federation will try to span it across the country for a wider appeal.

“Although it is supposed to be a city-based league and the final authority lies with the franchisee, we will suggest that they make it more widespread,” Col. Raja said. With money and muscle power making a heady mix, WSG is sure to make an impact in the country come September 2010.

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