On Saturday, Feb. 20, lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez went to Top Rank Promotions president Todd duBoef with a simple question: "Are we good?"
It was an inquiry made during a difficult negotiation process surrounding Lopez's mandatory IBF title defense against George Kambosos Jr. When Lopez asked the question, it appeared all parties were on the same page.
That might not be the case after what happened Thursday. Triller, a social media company with little experience promoting boxing events, submitted a winning $6 million bid to promote Lopez-Kambosos. Ryan Kavanaugh, the CEO of Proxima Media, the company that owns Triller, told ESPN that Lopez vs. Kambosos will "probably be a co-main event" on a Triller card in May paired with an "influencer-celebrity-type event."
Comments from Lopez and his team reveal a potential rift between Lopez and Top Rank, which has promoted him since 2016. ESPN is the broadcast partner of Top Rank.
"We knew what we were being offered was disrespectful, and we expected the open market would value us differently," Lopez told ESPN's Mark Kriegel. "And it showed today. The $6 million from Triller, right there, says that Top Rank doesn't value the best fighter on their roster."
Last October, Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs) upset Vasiliy Lomachenko to become a unified lightweight champion. On the heels of that, Lopez's contract was updated by Top Rank, with a minimum purse for future fights of $1.25 million.
But Lopez wanted more, and the gap in desired compensation led to Thursday's purse bid. A purse bid occurs when a sanctioning body orders a fight, but promoters can't come to terms with the fighters before a set deadline. The fight is then auctioned off to the highest bid from a licensed promoter.
On Thursday Top Rank bid $2.3 million, and Eddie Hearn's Matchroom submitted a $3.6 million proposal. Triller, which produced the highly lucrative Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. exhibition back in November, blew both offers out of the water. The outsized deal is typical of a company looking to act as a disruptor in an established marketplace.
On the surface, it's just a one-fight deal that shouldn't affect Lopez's long-term agreement with Top Rank, which has at least two more years remaining. But David McWater, Lopez's manager, sees things a little differently.
"I don't know that you'll ever see him on Top Rank or an ESPN card again," McWater told ESPN Thursday afternoon. "There's a lot of damage done here."
After Thursday's purse bid, duBoef told ESPN that the negotiation process was about how much Top Rank valued the fight against the unknown Kambosos (19-0, 10 KOs), not how much it valued Lopez.
"If you're personalizing this [by Lopez saying it was disrespectful], that's a different thing," duBoef said. "That's a naïve thing to say. But that's OK. He's entitled to say that. This isn't about us and him."
In theory, this could actually be a win-win for Top Rank and Lopez. The promoter saves money on an unspectacular mandatory title defense, and Lopez gets exposure on a platform with a younger audience. Lopez also gets the biggest payday of his career.
Although his long-term contract is still in place with Top Rank, Lopez could be planting the seed to reset the terms again or leave entirely before his contract is done.
If that's the case, it likely won't be easy. DuBoef said Lopez has "reaped the benefits" of his deal with Top Rank, and the company expects the fighter to hold up his end of the bargain.
"It's all convenient, right?" duBoef said. "It just shows they [Lopez's camp] forget very quickly.
"I have no different feelings about him. We just all tend to value the match [at] a certain price. And the next fight that comes up, we'll decide what the value of that is. And that's it."