Blame an attack of conscience, and black Twitter, for the TKO of the “celebrity” boxing match planned between George Zimmerman and the rapper DMX, the promoter says.
In his first interview after canceling the fight on Saturday, Damon Feldman, owner of Celebrity Boxing, told The Root he felt surprised and overwhelmed by the opposition on social media and worried that going through with it would “haunt” him. The Philadelphia-based promoter, who has put on numerous bouts involving the famous and the infamous, from Tonya Harding versus Paula Jones to Rodney King versus. a white ex-cop, said the risks of “getting involved in some type of racial war” and offending people were too great, even for him.
“It just started eating away at me,” Feldman says. “I looked at my kids, and I just had a change of heart.”
Feldman says he had previously known few details about Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012 or his acquittal by a Florida jury last year. As the outrage piqued particularly on Twitter last week, Feldman said he decided to look up news coverage of the killing.
“The more I read the story, it was just too much. I felt like it was going to haunt me, to be honest with you … It was like a ghost hit me,” he says.
Feldman says he told Zimmerman about the cancellation in a voice mail message left Saturday. He says Zimmerman had been “excited” about the fight and had told him boxing was “a passion.”
The plan, the promoter says, had been “to give what the country wanted—for Zimmerman to get his [expletive] kicked. That’s why I wasn’t [initially] really worried about the backlash.”
He says he walked away from “a million-dollar payday,” yet acknowledged he wasn’t certain he could attract a big pay-per-view audience for a fight that would stream on the Internet. Feldman says Zimmerman and DMX each would have been paid a percentage of pay-per-view sales.
The fight was scheduled for three rounds on March 15. Feldman says he received about 15,000 requests to fight Zimmerman.
On his Twitter feed, Feldman said his decision to cancel was influenced by conversations he had with some African Americans who helped mobilize opposition. One of them was Washington attorney April Reign, who declined to discuss with The Root the details of her phone call with Feldman. Reign came up with the Twitter hashtag “stopthefight,” which drove a Change.org petition that drew more than 100,000 signatures.
Janet Dickerson, a Los Angeles-based public relations executive who started the Change.org petition, told The Root she was “inspired” by the effort and “what it says about the ability for social media and online advocacy to galvanize people around an important issue and have their voices be heard.”
Feldman says Zimmerman had been getting in shape for the bout: “He told me he was training for about nine months … he always wanted to try it, to get a chance in the ring.”
That’s quite a change from six months earlier, when Zimmerman’s attorneys told a jury he was the furthest thing from an enthusiastic fighter. They argued he’d been the victim of an attacking teenager, in Trayvon, and had to shoot him in self-defense. They had Zimmerman’s fitness trainer testify that he couldn’t spar in the ring because he was “still learning how to punch.” On a scale of one to 10, the trainer told the jury, Zimmerman’s boxing skills were “a .5.”
The idea for the fight was Zimmerman’s, Feldman says. He adds that Zimmerman had signed an agreement for the fight but that DMX had not. He says the rapper Game been first to volunteer to fight but “outpriced” himself by asking for “a few million dollars.”
Game, who has a tattoo of Trayvon on one of his legs, has denied asking for money and said, “I’d whoop George Zimmerman’s [expletive] for free.”
By early Sunday morning, Feldman’s website www.wxent.com still was advertising the match.
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.