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Mike Coppinger discusses the most influential figures in boxing today

The Athletic reporter talks about a recently published list and the business of boxing.

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Mike Coppinger has emerged in the first half of the year as the man, the top newsbreaker, in the boxing media business.

The former USA Today writer, now with The Athletic, did a hit on the Everlast Talkbox podcast (32:06 mark), and told us he started in 2009 as an intern at the newspaper.

He joined The Athletic, along with Lance Pugmire and Rafe Bartholomew (37:34), in May. The fight game writer studied at George Mason, and boxing was his favorite sport, so he decided to go all in and be a boxing journo.

Coppinger told us that he breaks news this way: it isn’t, he said, via a “news fairy.” He recalled that when he broke a story on Top Rank aligning with ESPN, and the TR people wanted to know who leaked. Nah, it often isn’t who you think it is, he said.

“A delicate song and dance — it’s a lot of cross referencing information,” he said. Coppinger hears one thing, asks someone else if it checks out, and asks another person to corroborate. There is more than one source, he told us.

Coppinger said that at his first bout, as a college student, he was told by a vet boxing writer to “pick another sport, because there’s not a lot of spots, and I’m not going anywhere.”

He persevered, because he enjoys this sweet and savage science.

This week, he dropped a story to The Athletic, the 25 most influential people in boxing. At No. 1, he had Al Haymon, the mysterious bossman who works the phones and sees who he wants to see, when he wants to see them, but keeps that circle small. Coppinger said he’s talked to Haymon twice in his life, and “he walks very quickly” when in public, so he’s not been able to interact as much as he would like.

We talked more about the list — he told us his No. 3, Nick Khan, could actually be No. 1.

Khan is with CAA, and Coppinger is repped by them, though by a different agent. He explained more deeply why Khan could slot above Haymon.

“Nick Khan touches so many different entities in boxing,” he stated.

”The 25 most influential figures in boxing, taking into account how much power they wield at the moment, how convincing they are at the negotiating table and, overall, just how much they mean to the fabric of boxing,” is how Coppinger explained this mini mission.

Here’s part of his take on Haymon:

“When you think of Haymon, power comes to mind, but also mystery. He’s long held a hard-and-fast rule of avoiding any and all interactions with the media. The Harvard graduate was formerly spotted ringside, but now he’s resorted to watching PBC bouts in the dressing room, better to avoid detection. He moves in the shadows and sees no reason to be quoted, lest his statement be turned against him. Surely there are benefits to Haymon’s policy, but also plenty of drawbacks, too. His events lack a strong, singular voice to drive narrative the way other promoters on this list concoct storylines surrounding fights. PBC often announces events less than two months out, despite the deals being completed weeks earlier.”

So, you get a sense how the writer has elevated his station in the sport. There is a boldness in the messaging, and a clarity and cohesion in the thinking that has been responded to.

Coppinger did consider putting more fighters onto the list, he thought of maybe adding GGG and Manny Pacquiao to the 25. He explained why he put aide Sean Gibbons on the stack, rather than Manny himself.

And what about having Dana White on the list; the UFC boss made No. 21, and doesn’t even really do boxing yet.

”I thought Dana was a must, I had to have him somewhere on the list,” Coppinger said.

He talked to White at their last UFC event, and will drop a story fleshing out some plans White says he has for boxing. White, he shared, said he’s just about ready to dive in for a long haul, not a quick hit. Some are looking to exit, and he’s not, so it reads as though maybe White is looking for the perfect timing slot to hop in.

At 45:05, we chatted about the money UFC fighters make — and don’t make — as compared to inside boxing. Coppinger noted how the UFC cards are traditionally more stacked, with more even-steven faceoffs.

“Right now we’re in the best bull market I’ve ever seen in boxing,” he related to Everlast. “I think the market is going to course correct at some time.”

Maybe a White might spread the wealth a bit better, with the top end guys not soaking up such a lion’s share. In UFC, the top slotters do not get the goodies that the boxers do. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out when and if it does — could White’s entry force a resetting of the market, or will he have to adjust to the norms in pay inside the boxing sphere?

My three cents: I must recommend you do pony up and pay for a sub to The Athletic for boxing coverage. Good work must be well funded, and their model speaks to that. Coppinger, Pugmire and Rafe are, indeed, doing good work, and I think my outlay is well spent.