Behind the TKO game plan
Q&A with Chris Middendorf

Interview by Matt Thompson
Photo by “Big” Joe Miranda

For the last 20 years, Chris Middendorf has gone from managing to matchmaking fights. In the last 18 months, Middendorf has been the genius at TKO Boxing Promotions, matching up the fights and grooming an increasingly growing stable of hot, young fighters. Fightnews recently sat down to talk with Middendorf.

As previously a manager and then a matchmaker over the last twenty years, tell us something about your role here as the CEO and partner at TKO.

It is a tremendous opportunity for me. I have worked for the best and the smartest promoters in the business. From doing eighty club shows for Ballroom Boxing to the biggest shows in the world for Gary Shaw, and from years matchmaking forty shows, I think that I know what to do at any level. Now, I am working with Chet to build what we hope will be a global promotional company, exactly the way we want it to be. The first rule of our company is to treat everyone the same, whether they are the guy carrying the spit bucket for an 0-4 opponent or a world champion. I am absolutely convinced that if we are able to stick to that rule, then we will be as successful as we want to be. It seems obvious, but it is not practiced by many.

Thirty shows in 18 months and at least that many in the next 12 months is quite a work load. Will TKO just flame out after all of these shows?

I do not think so. We have a great team that understands the importance of selling tickets. They arrive in towns two to four weeks before our shows and street team, put posters up, flyer parking lots and sell tickets. They are young; know what they are doing (they better know after 30 shows) and get the job done. I work with a network of smart matchmakers across the country that helps me make the fights. The challenging part for me, is naturally making the right fights, but also working with the sites across the country.

We have the first six months of 2010 planned with sites all lined up. Now it is a matter of plugging the fighters in and moving them along from month to month. Our next show is at the Mohegan Sun and will feature Peter Manfredo and Matt Remillard each fighting for NABF titles. We will showcase some of the best young talent from New England as well as have the pro debut of a great young prospect from Alabama, Michael Finney, and a knockout artist from Dominican Republic, Francisco Contreras (12-0, 11KOs). Right after that, we will have Rolando Reyes fighting for IBF World Lightweight Title in March.

The tremendous advantage we have is that with the number of shows we can keep people busy and hopefully winning. With the talent pool we have, give us a year and we will have some champions and a lot of top contenders.

You often use a quote of Rahm Emmanuel's, Obama's top advisor, to describe your plan with the company, tell us something about that.

He said, "Never let a crisis go to waste". Boxing has been in a crisis mode for the last couple of years, and we saw a chance for us to expand across the country. Although we are not franchising, as Chet did with CD Warehouse, we have spread our shows across the country and built on the ones that we saw that we could grow. At the same time, we figured that the competition would be focused more on minding their own stores and that would allow us to come in and develop our programs. Now it does not work everywhere, but it has worked enough to keep us rolling along.

When we started, clearly the momentum was with MMA. It is obvious that that has shifted, either due to over saturation or boredom of fans, or the fact that we are delivering a good product. I feel strongly that we are entering a golden age for our sport. With the tremendous influx of technology, the future looks quite wonderful. For instance, a boxing fan gets interested in a young Indonesian fighter. Sees him in the amateur world championship and wants to follow him. We as promoters who sign guys like this will be able to offer to every fan across the country the chance to tune in over their breakfasts, either as subscribers or pay per view. Can you imagine if a young Tyson came along right now? His four round fights might sell for $4.95 and be bought by 5000 people to start, and within six fights jump to 50,000. Maybe higher. But the next great young star in the sport is going to explode into areas that we have never seen before. And he may come from Africa, Asia or Anchorage, and it will not matter. Don King made a lot of money with Tyson, but the money that will come in the future will dwarf what he made, and earn the next Tyson a fortune that has never been seen in the sport. So our major task right now is developing the delivery system so that when we sign that young star, and we will, that we can deliver him and promote him/her to the world audience

Not to get ahead of oneself, our other rule is that we must walk before we can run. We did our first show in a barn in Iowa, and we have slowly developed what we do from there. We have signed some of the best young fighters out there and are developing a pipeline to sign the young stars of the future. It is an exciting time for the sport and a very exciting time for TKO.

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