Dave Tiberi: Dominating Delaware’s Boxing Scene

Champs Management intends to turn First State into a boxing mecca.

From left: John Sobieski, Dave Tiberi, Ray Robinson, George Beer, Kevin Wilson

DT: What’s the latest with Champs Management?
Tiberi: There are a lot of good things that have happened since we last spoke. We promoted a number of great fight cards here in Delaware. We’ve promoted at Dover Downs, the Chase Center and the Bob Carpenter Center. It’s neat because I remember from when I was younger, the hunger of Delaware fight fans to have good, local fights. To be able to bring sanctioned championship fights to Delaware was always a dream of mine. Of course, my partners have a strong business sense of how to really put a good plan together, from an economic development end, a tourism end, to be able to attract a good crowd. We’ve had great success. Our fighters have done well. As a team, Champs Management, with the fighters that we’ve signed, we’ve actually won six sanctioned regional titles—it’s the title right under the world title—which is really unheard of. For a management group, we’re really like rookies. My partners put a really strong business mind behind what they do. It does make a difference because the fighters trust that they have good people behind them. My four partners and I, we wanted to make a splash because we’re all Delaware business guys. All of us do work in Pennsylvania and Delaware. 

DT: Let’s talk about your fighters.
Tiberi: Our top fighter is from Philadelphia. Ray Robinson, a welterweight, is the first guy in history to win three titles in a row. He won the NABA title, which is the World Boxing Association’s big title. He won the USBA title, which is the International Boxing Federation’s big title. And then he won the NABO title, which is under the World Boxing Organization. So, we’re really excited. For a management group that is less than three years old, to be able to produce six major sanctioned titles is very impressive.

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DT: How have you been able to succeed so quickly?
Tiberi: I think our approach is a little different. Boxing is very fractured. Boxing is one of the only major sports internationally that does not have an actual commission. So a lot of rules are bent. There are things that go on. My partners—Frankie Vassallo, president of Fusco Enterprises; George Beer, president of Delaware Valley Development Company; Kevin Wilson, president of Architecture Alliance; and John Sobieski, president of Sobieski Inc.—that was one thing in our management group that all five of us committed to, that we were going to do what was right, not only by the sport, but by the fighters. And that’s opened a door. We’ve developed relationships with the sanctioning bodies. We’re in dialogue now with major promoters. So we would work with the promoters and create opportunities for our fighters for HBO, Showtime. I think the next few years, the team knows how to build a business. You’re really building a business the first couple years. These guys have learned the ropes. I think ultimately, all five guys do it because they have a passion for the sport of boxing. To be able to invest in somebody’s life and watch them grow—not only in the ring, but outside the ring—is a pleasure for me. It’s neat to be back in the sport that I was in since I was 5 years old, but have four other guys right there who believe in the same thing, which is, Let’s put good fights on, but at the same time, let’s give the fans what they want. Let’s make sure that when they come to a fight, that they have an experience. 

DT: What’s next?
Tiberi: We’re under negotiations with a major promoter for Ray Robinson. Right now, Manny Pacquiao is the champion in the WBO. Ray is No. 8. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the champion in the WBC and Ray is No. 10 in the WBC. Why that is important in the sport of boxing is, any time that you get placed in the top 10 in any of the sanctioned world bodies, you’re a phone call away from a world title shot. Ray is in position to do some big things, so we’re under negotiation there, which is going to be a really neat thing for Delaware. The fans have really embraced what we’re doing. To be able to go to the Chase Center and sell out and see people in the city at 2 o’clock in the morning dancing and having fun … to me, that was just the greatest thing. Because you hear a lot about the negative things that go on in the city. This is the kind of thing, in my mind and heart, that really infused hope. There’s some good things going on in the city that people don’t know about. This happened to be boxing. I think we could be a destination in the city for entertainment, not only boxing, but music and so on, because the local fans are hungering for it. What I really foresee on a local level is to continue to look at the opportunities in the market and say, what would our next steps be? What time of year? Because we were doing a fight card about every three months. We do know that the local fans are enjoying it, but at the same time, it’s allowing us to build the local fighters up. We’re looking at another fight card in September or October. 

DT: Last time we talked, you mentioned possible TV deals.
Tiberi: That’s one of our big pushes with the dialogue we’ve had in the past is to bring a major fight to Delaware. A lot of that has to do with the fighters that you have, that TV is attracted to. And I firmly believe that we have the best welterweight in the world. And that’s the toughest division in boxing right now. Right now, the sanctioning bodies know how good he is, so they put him in the top 10. And he beat a Russian champion, so I really believe Ray is going to be one of the guys. Delaware has become his second home. He’s from Philadelphia. He’s fought his three titles in Delaware. I can foresee an opportunity here with the TV networks, plus showcasing our local talent. Delaware would be a great spot. ESPN has been to Dover Downs a number of times. We’re looking at that and saying, Let’s take this a step further with Showtime and HBO. 

DT: Your brother, Nick, has done a nice job of putting these bouts together
Tiberi: One area I didn’t touch on is the integrity of the fights themselves. We’ve had very few knockouts, which is a big favorite to the fans because that means we’re doing competitive fights. We do our best to put competitive fights on. We don’t force the fights on the fighters. They never come back to us and say that we pushed it on them. And it makes for a fight because you have two guys going in, or two women, that know they accepted that fight and they’re going to fight their heart out because they really believe they can win.

DT: I was reading Ray’s bio and it states that he will take on any fighter at any time. Is that the smart way to do it?
Tiberi: The one thing about Ray is he respects the role of the managers. And I’m tickled he feels that way because he is that confident. He trains in a gym with the top fighters in the world. Our job as a management group is he lets us ultimately work with him to make that decision. So, Ray will fight anybody. But he’ll say, “What do you guys think about this fight?” And then it’s up to us to evaluate the style and everything else and see if it’s a good fight for our fighter. Ray knows, I mean he fought the Russian at Dover Downs and it was just an incredible fight. The boxing media was giving rave reviews on it. No one was going to fight him, but we took it knowing that it was going to catapult us up in the ratings. We knew that if Ray didn’t come with his A game, he would have lost the fight. He has been a pleasure, and I can’t say that about every fighter. He doesn’t complain. It’s beautiful when you have a partnership with a boxer because I’ve been in the ring. I’ve been in the locker room. So I know the feelings and emotions that you go through. He’s at the top of his game now, so he’s hungry for the big fights.

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DT: What makes this guy special?
Tiberi: That’s a good word. Ray is special because to be able to have character in the boxing ring is one thing. But the biggest MO in boxing for years is Mike Tyson’s a thug. To have a guy, where if you met him on the street, you met him at the mall, you’d say, “I wonder what this guy does for a living?” He’s always smiling. He’s happy. He’s a good-looking guy. He’s articulate. And he says, “I’m a professional fighter. I’m a national amateur champion and I’ve won three titles.” You would say, “No.” What makes him special is outside the ring, the way he carries himself. I’ve never had a fighter do this. I used to do the same thing, so I look for these things. At the Chase Center, it was 11:30 at night, and Ray wiped down, threw some cologne on and came back into the arena until the last person got to shake hands. That’s what I used to do. I appreciated all of you guys coming from Delaware. To have the appreciation of people getting behind you and sincerely meaning it … usually a management group wants to program you. Do this. Do this. Do this. Ray does things that he initiates on his own. Especially in the sport of boxing, we need more Ray Robinsons featured and highlighted because when he talks to the kids, the kids just gravitate to him because he talks about being raised in Philadelphia and how tough it was. But he also talks about the hope. Listen guys. Life is not easy. Ray is 28 years old. He’s the perfect age right now—top 10 in the world. He’s everything that you look for to be the champion. Now he’s got to take that next step and get the title and then we’re going to have our next champion from Delaware.

DT: So we can adopt him as a Delawarean?
Tiberi: That’s what I told him. We were teasing because Bernard Hopkins lives here. Michael Spinks lives here. And Jeff Chandler, the former lightweight champion out of Philadelphia, lives here now. So Delaware has become a breeding ground for retired fighters. And so I told Ray, “You’ve done something no Delawarean, not even myself, has ever done. You’ve won three major titles and you did it in Delaware. If anybody deserves the key to Delaware, it’s you.” I told him these Delaware fans are buying into you. They like you. And he committed. Me, as a fighter being born and raised in Delaware, I did a fight at William Penn, where I graduated from. I did Delaware Park. I did my best to come back home. I can understand if Ray were to say, I want to be in front of my own people. But he appreciated Delaware’s support. So we’re excited about that—that the Delaware family has really bought into that and really support him.

DT: What’s been your biggest impact on Ray?
Tiberi: When he and I are in the locker room before the fight, I know the emotions. I know the feelings. The days before the fight sometimes can be the most intense times because you’re battling weight. The emotions are high. Did I do everything I could to prepare for the fight. And all of these things go through your mind. I just want to be an all-around role model in his life. I know guys in my life I looked up to, who were good, disciplined boxers. And that really helped me because I watched how they carried themselves. When I’m in that locker room, I want Ray to see somebody solid, stable. Somebody that’s focused like he is. I always say a Bible verse to him: Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I say, “Ray, you can do this no matter what.” The impact I think I mostly have on him by being there is psychologically. The mental. The physical. What your body’s going through. How to prepare. He comments on it once in a while. He’ll say, “Yeah, Dave. You did this. You can appreciate it.” To me, it’s allowed me to look at my own career and say this is the kind of guy that I would want to be a champion. And at the same time, our paths cross at the same time and it seems that he’s really appreciating the commitment that I’ve given to him. I think there’s a win-win situation here. Also, for selfish reasons, I do a lot with kids. It sounds kind of odd, but I look at Ray as a guy, for selfish reasons on my part, that is going to go into the community and do the right thing. He likes working with kids. He is already committed to help people. And that’s my DNA. So to have somebody so much like myself is a win-win situation. Ray and I have had some deep conversations and our relationship has continued to grow stronger and stronger.

DT: Who is better—you, in your prime, or Ray?
Tiberi: (He laughs.) What’s funny is, a fighter that’s fought top fights like Ray … most boxers I’ve met, you have one of these guys who say, You know what? I would take on the challenge. But I’ll tell you what—one thing about Ray Robinson. I don’t care if it’s in the gym watching him spar or the regular fights, he is one of those fighters that you have to study extra weeks, because he’s so awkward. He’s left-handed. He can punch. Think about any sport. Somebody who keeps you off-balance with curveballs or anything else. It just keeps you frustrated. So, Ray is one of these guys, he moves quick. Bam. He hits you. Bam. Bam. But he can also punch. So you also have to be careful of his power. So he would be one of these guys that really would be a challenge for me to study that much harder. Because in some fights, there’s patterns—you watch guys lift their shoulder, you know you go for their left hand. With Ray, I would have to study harder. I’d say on paper, it would be a fun fight. It would be exciting because I know that I’ve met my match when it comes to discipline. I met my match when it comes to conditioning. Because I know that Ray would make me push 10 times as much as I usually push, and that’s really hard. On paper, you’re not going to get a direct answer out of me (he laughs), but I’ll tell you who would benefit the most: The fans would see an awesome fight. 

DT: So you don’t see a Rocky V scenario, where you come out of retirement to fight your protégé?
Tiberi: (He laughs.) I enjoy my role right now. And Champs, my partners, enjoy our role. We have conference calls and they’ll want updates on the fighters. Right now, we are putting a tremendous amount of effort into Ray. Sometimes, the guys will tease me because I feel that intensity. I really do. But it would never get to that point. I’m 47 years old. I fortunately had to make a decision many years ago to say, Am I going to be able to live with myself because I love this sport so much, that when I left that I could stand firm and never come back? Now it’s reliving it a different way, but I’ll let the Rocky movies stand on their own, and I’ll go ahead and enjoy the management role. 

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