Natex Boxing Aims To Put Chicago Boxing Back On The Map
By Steven Weinberg | Contributing Writer and Photographer
Published: March 19, 2018
Natex Boxing is Chicago’s newest boxing promotion, and Frontproof Media's Steven Weinberg recently sat down with its Natex Boxing CEO, Andrew Sobko, and VP of Marketing, Alex Cervantes, ahead of their April 14th event in Northlake, Illinois, a Chicago Suburb. This will be Natex’s third show in less than nine months. Andrew and Alex were kind enough to answer my questions about being a new promotion, Chicago boxing, and Natex’s plans for the future.
Steven B. Weinberg: Thank you for meeting with me today. Tell me about Natex Boxing.
Andrew Sobko: I started the company in 2016, about one and a half to two years ago. We started in Oxnard, CA where I am a half owner of a boxing gym with Egis Klimas that used to be the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy (now the Boxing Laboratory). Many current champions train at the gym like Lomachenko, Kovalev, and Ugas, who recently won the WBC and WBO championships. So that is how I got started in the business. I then started co-promoting a heavyweight from Canada, Alex Teslenko, with Les Woods. It did not work out well, so I decided to move forward and build up boxing in Chicago.
SBW: Are you new to Chicago?
AS: I have been living in Chicago for the past seven years. I started in Oxnard because that is the focus of the boxing industry right now. Boxing is really big in the Los Angles area. So I decided to start building boxing in the Chicago area again.
SBW: How did you hook up with Egis Klimas?
AS: I have known him for about three years. We met through friends in Las Vegas, and I asked him if he could help me start my promotion company. We talked about boxers and had a really great lunch, and then I decided to give promotions a try. I came back to Chicago and did some research on how to start a boxing promotion company and just got started.
SBW: Do you have a boxing background?
AS: Yes, I grew up in the boxing industry. My father was a boxer in the Ukraine and a champion in the USSR. So, I grew up around boxing and really love the sport.
SBW: Did you have any fights yourself, how far did you go in your career?
AS: Not too far, I had less than ten amateur fights.
SBW: Chicago really has only two professional promoters, one puts on club shows, the other has a national footprint but hasn’t put on a show in well over year. Why are choosing Chicago to focus on?
AS: Chicago has been dead for the past 10 to 15 years. We want to build it up. I believe it can be the capital of the boxing industry again as it used to be many, many years ago. The competition will only make boxing in Chicago better.
Alex Cervantes: In Boxing, you get certain highs and certain lows, especially in certain cities and eras. Boxing in Chicago is now at a low. We want to take complete advantage of that and flood the Chicago market, get as much exposure as we can, and then grow outside of the Chicago market. We are just starting in Chicago. We will be competing with all of the big boys. In the near future, we will be competing nationally and internationally.
SBW: Alex, do you have a background in boxing?
AC: I do, I have an amateur background. I boxed at Davis Square Park (Chicago Park District) and then transitioned into MMA, Combat-Do, Chicago Fight Team, and the No Comment Gym.
SBW: Is this your first experience with fight promotions?
AC: Yes and no. Officially yes, but unofficially no. With Combat Do we would set up events and try and get exposure and sell tickets. This is my first professional promotional experience.
SBW: What is Combat Do?
AC: It is Master Bob Shermer’s gym. He was a big MMA promoter 10 years ago before MMA was as popular as it is today. He had two gyms but wanted to stay on the coaching side and not the promotion side, so he did not take it any further.
SBW: Natex Boxing has a show coming up on April 14 in Chicago?
AS: Yes, this is our third show. Back in October 2017, we put on our first show with co-promoter Bobby Hitz in Elk Grove, IL, which was Dmytro Mytrofanov’s professional debut. Our 2nd show was in January 2018, again with Dmytro Mytrofanov, this time in Northlake, IL. We were fortunate to have Roy Jones, Jr. as our guest.
AC: Mytrofanov is a 2016 Ukrainian Olympian; he won Ukrainian national amateur titles in 2008 and 2012, and a bronze medal at the 2011 European Championships. As Andrew said, we were fortunate to have Roy Jones, Jr. at the second event that gave us exposure on CBS, TMZ, World Star Hip Hop, and Ukrainian media outlets. It was a great success. We had a lot of company outings that night, so it turned into a networking and boxing event and was a great success. It went much better than we expected.
SBW: Tell me about your upcoming show on April 14.
AS: I am very excited about this show. We have some big names coming in that we don’t want to announce yet, but we’ll have our fighters, Chicago’s Giovani Mioletti (super featherweight 10-0), Dmytro Mytrofanov (middleweight, 2-0) will be fighting again, he will be fighting Vladimir Hernandez (10-2) who recently beat the Top Rank fighter Danny Valdivia in back-to-back fights. Our company fighter Rustam Tulaganov (light heavyweight, 1-0), a 2016 Olympic bronze medal winner from Uzbekistan will have his second pro fight (against Chicago’s Martez McGregor, 5-1), as well as some local Chicago guys to fill out the card. We have a great matchmaker, Jerry Alfano, who’s in charge of matchmaking and is finalizing the card. He has been in the business for the past 25 to 30 years.
SBW: A lot of boxing fans do not understand what promoters do. Can you explain to the readers what a promoter does?
AS: Boxing promotion is not rocket science. You just have to have a great team which helps make my life easier.
SBW: You are on the business side of things obviously, what does that entail?
AC: As far as starting from the ground up, you need to figure out which fighters are going to bring in an audience and figure out who is going to have the right connections to get to the right people. An example of that is that we were trying to get Roy Jones, Jr. In a moment we were able to meet the right person who introduced us to Roy, who then agreed to come to our January show, which gave the promotion exposure. Getting these fights and fighters don’t start weeks or months before, sometimes it takes years. From the ground up you have to start thinking about how you’re going to market fighters, as far as our demographic, where are we going to get more exposure, how many impressions are we going to get from each and every fighter, on top of that, we have to figure out if the numbers make it even worth it. A fighter can be very expensive, and the promotion will get great exposure, but we will lose out on a lot of revenue, so analytics comes into it.
SBW: When you talk about analytics, are you talking about simply renting out the venue and paying out the purses, or is there more behind the scenes that the fans do not know about?
AC: There are so many things: Put it this way, we can be happy with two fighters, have the whole thing set up, and the next thing you know, one of the fighters gets sick right before the show. We can have a contract with a venue and are about to prepare to set up the show, and then we will get a phone call, and the venue is backing out despite the contract.
SBW: Does that happened a lot?
AS: That happened to us for our last show.
AC: Does that happen a lot? In boxing, it happens more often than it should.
SBW: It sounds like you have a few fighters in your stable.
AS: We have Dmytro Mytrofanov from the Ukraine and Rustam Tulaganov from Uzbekistan. Both are fighting out of the Boxing Laboratory gym in Oxnard, CA.
SBW: They say that boxing is ethnically based and often ethnically marketed. The big shows in Chicago for the past few years have featured Polish fighters and brought in large Polish crowds. Are you planning on marketing to the eastern European audience?
AS: Not necessarily. We are about to sign some Mexican fighters, American fighters, and we are looking at talent nationally. We get multiple phone calls per week where someone says “look at this guy because he looking for a promoter.” Our lawyer represented Roy Jones, Jr., he represents Lomachenko and the Klitschko brothers, and he is based in Chicago, so through him we are getting a lot of offers.
SBW: How do you want to differentiate yourself from the other promotional companies?
AS: I think we have a big business crowd at our shows. We have a general admission side, but then we have the business audience that is able to use the event for networking, we have a lot of business owners attending, so our shows are like a business club.
AC: We reversed engineered everything. A lot of boxing promoters, especially at a local level, will try to get a fighter, build him up, and then get another fighter, and try to build him up, and then build the event, and hopefully, things work out. We have concrete numbers. We are not simply trying to build a fighter. Our fighters are already established, and they are legitimately good. By reverse engineering this, we have already setting ourselves up for success opposed to others who do not know the numbers – they are setting themselves up for a “maybe.” We are expecting 2018 to be a break out year.
AS: we are going to make some big fights in Chicago this year. We are getting offers for our fighters. We have a great relationship with the WBC and IBF.
SBW: That raises the question: you have four sanctioning bodies, with four sets of rules. You can have a fighter who is ranked by one or two bodies, and ignored by the others. How does a promoter’s relationship with the sanctioning bodies work?
AS: It works on a personal level. You have to know them and contact them and have them review your fighters. The president of the IBF was at our last show; I have received text messages from Mauricio Sulaiman from the WBC wishing me good luck with our shows. So you keep in contact with them and keep them informed of developments with fighters and the promotion as a whole. That is how you build up a fighter.
SBW: If a fighter is moving up the rankings, are you helping the sanctioning body, quite frankly with sanctioning fees, and they are helping you with advertising through the rankings?
AC: In a sense, but that is not the intention. Everyone’s credibility would go to shit if that is how the relationship was based exclusively on those mutual incentives. It would not be in anyone’s interest, and nobody would be credible.
SBW: Can you expound on how the sanctioning bodies help the promotion and how the promotion helps the sanctioning bodies?
AC: We have a relationship with a body; they get to know a fighter and his story. As he wins fights, he is able to climb the rankings which turn means bigger and tougher fights, more exposure, which means more revenue.
SBW: What is the most difficult thing you have learned about putting on a boxing show so far?
AC: It never goes according to plan.
AS: Exactly. He’s right
AC: Something is always going to change. It is not how good you are; it is how good you are with the change. It gets to the point where you have to improvise.
AS: Plus, you have to have the right fight. You can’t have shitty fights that end in the 2nd or 3rd round. In our previous show, we had a total of between 40 to 50 rounds on a five-fight card.
AC: We do not want 4 round fights. We are competing for the best, and the best don’t put in four-round fights.
SBW: You mentioned earlier that you think that boxing has been dead in Chicago for 10 to 15 years. We have a few Chicago based fighters on the national stage, Eddie Ramirez, Adrien Granados, Andrew Fonfara – is it that we have the fighters in Chicago but don’t have the promoters? Or we have the promoters but don’t have the fighters?
AC: There isn’t exposure for boxing in Chicago. Kids are playing basketball and baseball. The passion for boxing is not there, and that is why kids are not being drawn to it. There isn’t the exposure. It is a great sport that teaches discipline and many other things, and we want to get to the point where boxing is the outlet for every single Chicago kid.
SBW: If you could change one thing about boxing, what would you change?
AC: The athletic commissions (laughing). We want to make boxing more credible; we want to make people excited about boxing again by having trust in the organization. You have heard it so many times before: this judge did that, the organization did that. You are not going to hear any of that with Natex Boxing. We are going to be straight as an arrow and learn from other’s mistakes.
SBW: You bring up an interesting point about the judges – you have nothing to do with judges, the state athletic commissions appoint the judges, and no promotion has anything to do with shitty judges?
AC: Promotions have nothing to do judges.
SBW: Any last thing either of you want to add?
AS: My goal, my vision is that in the 1940s and 50s, there was a boxing event that sold out Soldier Field. I want to put on an event of that size and put Chicago boxing back on the map.
AC: Come out and see us on April 14th at the Midwest Conference Center in Northlake, Illinois for a great night of boxing.
Natex Boxing is a Chicago based boxing promotion. It will be holding “The Chicago Rumble” on April 14th at the Midwest Conference Center in Northlake, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.
(Feature Photo: Natex Boxing Promotions)