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Showtime and Top Rank Slug It out over "Fight of the Century"

Who said boxing was dead?

Fight fans still bitter over the May 2015 Floyd Mayweather–Manny Pacquiao bout that was far more mega-bore than mega-brawl may at long last get the slugfest they have been waiting for. A couple of small caveats: Mayweather has ceded the spotlight to his home television network, Pacquiao to his promotion company, and the boxing ring to a courtroom.

Welcome to the rematch.

Some twelve months after the two fighters chased each other around the ring for 12 lifeless rounds en route to a Mayweather unanimous decision, Mayweather's then-exclusive television partner Showtime Networks, Inc. sued Pacquiao promoter Top Rank, Inc. for $682,754 in legal fees it says it is owed after the network hired outside counsel to defend itself in litigation stemming from the admission that Pacquiao stepped into the ring an injured fighter and, therefore, fans allegedly did not get their money's worth. (Showtime Networks Inc. v. Top Rank, Inc., No.16-cv-03904 (S.D.N.Y. filed May 25, 2016)).

Indeed, just days after the final bell had rung and less than a week after having sworn under the penalty of perjury that he did not have injuries entering the fight, Pacquiao and Top Rank released a joint statement acknowledging that the fighter had suffered a right shoulder injury during training. Soon thereafter, Pacquiao had surgery to repair what turned out to be a torn rotator cuff.

Yet if the injury made for a snoozer of a fight, it has already ignited its fair share of fireworks in the courtroom.

In the immediate aftermath of Pacquiao's injury revelation, disgruntled viewers who had paid around $100 apiece to watch the bout filed the aforementioned class-action suits against Top Rank, Showtime and other parties involved in the staging of the event. The suits generally alleged that Pacquiao was unfit to fight and that he and Top Rank had concealed the injury, with plaintiffs ultimately asserting claims for consumer protection violations, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation and conspiracy. Eventually, the

U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the viewers' suits, which involved common questions of fact, into the so-called "Fight of the Century MDL." 

Showtime alleges that, having previously signed a distribution agreement with Top Rank (that contained an indemnification clause), it approached the promotion company demanding it fulfill its contractual duty in the face of the putative class action suits. Top Rank offered the services of its own legal counsel to Showtime, but Showtime maintained that under the parties' contract, it reserved the right to "employ separate counsel and control its own defense at [Top Rank's] expense…of such Asserted Liability if, in the reasonable opinion of counsel to [Showtime]…a conflict or potential conflict exists [between Top Rank and Showtime] that would make such separate representation advisable…." This potential conflict, Showtime alleges, was supported in large part by the difference in each party's knowledge of Pacquiao's pre-fight injury: Top Rank is alleged to have concealed the injury; Showtime, having had little to no access to Pacquaio's training camp, maintains that it knew nothing at all. Showtime also claims that the parties' legal defenses and strategies were not aligned and that this created a potential conflict of interest that made Showtime's decision to employ its own counsel "advisable" and proper under the parties' agreement. Throughout, Top Rank countered that no conflict existed that would require Showtime to employ separate counsel as per the contract terms, and as such, it refused to come out of its corner to reimburse Showtime for its attorney's fees.   

Ultimately, Showtime's independently retained counsel secured a dismissal without prejudice of the claims against the network in the multidistrict litigation, with a court in California's Central District ruling that Showtime "was unaware that Defendant Pacquiao had suffered any shoulder injury at all times" in the lead up to the fight.

Its initial victory secured in the undercard, Showtime has now set its eyes and attack squarely on Top Rank. In addition to requesting indemnification plus interest of its legal costs, Showtime is seeking damages for breach of contract and a declaration that it is not obligated to indemnify Top Rank for any claims the promoter might bring against Showtime in relation to the ongoing class-action suits.

Yet if Top Rank's counterpunch statements are any indication, this has the makings of an action-packed bout capable of going the distance, with the Top Rank chairman hollering across the ring that Showtime's lawsuit was rash, particularly since the parties had begun settlement talks.

It may not be the fight we asked for, but it is the one we are getting.

At long last, let's get it on.

© 2023 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 175

About this Author

L. Robert Batterman, Labor, Management, Sports, Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm

A partner since 1974, Bob Batterman has considerable experience representing both individual employers and multi-employer groups in union relations and collective bargaining. Much of Bob’s time is spent in day-to-day contact with clients, often in “crisis” situations where a rapid resolution of union-related problems is vital.

Bob is a senior member of our nationally recognized Sports Law Group, serving as labor counsel to the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and the National Football League. He has extensive experience in collective...

Michael Cardozo, Commercial Litigation Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm

Michael A. Cardozo is a Partner in Proskauer’s Litigation Department and the former Corporation Counsel for the City of New York. As the city's 77th and longest serving Corporation Counsel, he was the city’s chief legal officer, headed the city's Law Department of more than 700 lawyers, and served from 2002 through 2013 as legal counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, elected officials, the city and its agencies.

Michael’s experience managing large litigations in both the private and public sectors provides him with unique insight into litigation assessments, risk management and...

Robert L. Freeman, Technology, Media, Sports, Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm

Robert E. Freeman is a Partner in the Corporate Department and a member of the Sports Law Group and Technology, Media & Communications Group.

Rob began his career as an intellectual property litigator before shifting the focus of his practice to intellectual property-related transactions. Today, he helps lead a team of media, sports and entertainment attorneys representing clients such as Time Warner Cable, Discovery Communications, the WTA, the Orlando Magic, Scripps Networks, Armstrong Cable, the PAC-12, Insight Communications and CBS Sports. Rob’s work for these clients...

Howard Ganz, Sports, Employment Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm

Howard Ganz is co-head of the Sports Law Group and former co-Chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department.

Howard represents and counsels clients with respect to a wide variety of labor and employment matters, such as employment discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, defamation, breach of contract, discipline, and large-scale reductions-in-force. His litigation experience has run the gamut, from single plaintiff lawsuits to major class actions, in federal and state courts in New York and elsewhere. The clients Howard has represented include the National...

Wayne D. Katz, Finance, Sports, Attorney, Proskauer, Law Firm

Wayne D. Katz is a Partner in the Corporate Department, specializing in the sports industry.

Wayne's experience includes the representation of the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League in their various corporate matters, including team ownership transfers and team financings. Major transactions he has worked on for the leagues include the NBA’s purchase and sale of the New Orleans Hornets; the NBA's grant of expansion franchises to Toronto, Vancouver and Charlotte; the NHL's grant of expansion franchises to Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and Minnesota; the NBA’s $...