MADISON SQUARE GADDEN BOXING, INC.
430 F.Supp 679 (N.D. Ill. 1977)
CROWLEY, DISTRICT JUDGE. Madison Square Garden Boxing, Inc. (MSGB) brought this action against Muhammad Ali (Ali), the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, for breach of contract to fight Duane Bobick (Bobick) in Madison Square Garden. MSGB seeks damages and injunctive relief'. The document sued upon was executed on November 25, 1976 and called for Ali to fight Bobick on a date during the period from February 1, 1977 through February 28, 1977. .
Ali, as heavyweight champion of the world, successfully defended his championship in September of 1976, in a contest with Ken Norton. That contest was promoted by MSGB and held at Yankee Stadium in New York, New York, pursuant to a Fighters' Agreement executed on May 13, 1976 between MSGB and Ali, not signed by Ali but signed by his manager, Muhammad.
Shortly after the conclusion of that contest, Ali, while in Istanbul, Turkey, held a press conference and, as he had on several past occasions and would again, announced his retirement from boxing.
Teddy Brenner, president and matchmaker of MSGB, continued contacts with Herbert Muhammad (Muhammad) even after Ali's announced retirement. Brenner attempted to find out if Ali was going to box again. He told Muhammad that Ali had been a great champion and had beaten every challenger except Bobick. Brenner told Muhammad that a contest between Ali and Bobick, the current "white hope" would be ideal. Muhammad, having received some criticism that he had been forcing Ali to fight, refused to make any commitment for Ali, but told Brenner that the decision to fight or not to fight was Ali's.
In mid-November of 1976, Brenner was attempting to arrange a contest between Bobick and Norton. Norton's
manager was in California, so Brenner and Eddie Futch, Bobick's manager, flew to California to conduct negotiations.
On November 16, 1976, when negotiations for the Norton-Bobick fight reached an impasse, Brenner told Bobick's manager that he thought he could arrange a fight between Ali and Bobick. Futch expressed some skepticism that the fight could be arranged so Brenner placed a call to Muliaminad. Futch said to Muhammad "Teddy tells me there is a possibility that Muhammad (Ali) may box again." Muhammad replied, "There is always a possibility." After this call, Brenner told Futch that if Norton-Bobick couldn't be arranged, Brenner would fly to Chicago.
[After a week of travel and negotiations] Brenner called Muhammad in the late evening hours of November 24 and told him that everything was arranged. Muhammad told Brenner that it wasn't necessary for him to come to Chicago but that he should go straight to Houston. Muhammad assured Brenner that he would advise Ali that
Brenner was coming.
Armed with the document which is the subject matter of this suit, Brenner, in joyful anticipation, flew to
Houston and arrived in the early morning of November 25th. He met with Ali and Ali signed the agreement.
Exhausted from what one of counsel has called his "Odyssey", Brenner mistakenly inserted the date of November 24th on the agreement.
He then called Muhammad, told him he was in Houston and he was dead tired. Because it was Thanksgiving, Muhammad told him not to come to Chicago, but to return to New York and send Muhammad a copy.
On November 29th, Brenner heard that rumors were circulating that Ali would not fight. The next day he saw a newspaper article that indicated that Ali would retire. The publicity director of Madison Square Garden then told him that he had received official word that Ali was not going to fight. Brenner, Burke and McCauley then agreed to announce that the Bobick-Norton fight was going to be held in late February or early March.
Ali, at the request of the Garden's publicity director, telephonically participated in a press conference where he simultaneously announced his retirement and helped to promote the Norton-Bobick contest. Although Brenner has had several conversations with Muhammad Ali since then, they never talked about boxing. Brenner didn't want to sacrifice a friendship and as far as he was concerned the matter was "over and done with."
However, this complex story did not end here. On or about December 16, 1976, Aluhammad wrote to Burke
and Brenner and advised them that Ali was prepared to fight Bobick. . . . He also stated that if MSGB was committed to the Norton-Bobick contest Ali would fight Bobick within four months after that contest.
Muhammad stated that if an agreement wasn't signed by December 24th, the payment of the $125,000.00 would
Be returned. MSGB never responded to this letter, and on January 25, 1977, the $125,000.00 [an advance for training expenses] was returned to and accepted by MSGB.
Ali's claim that there was no breach must fail. When Ali again announced his retirement, it was clearly a
Stated intention of his refusal to perform and was at least an anticipatory breach of the contract, and MSGB would have had the right to sue for that breach.
Since MSGB did not bring an action at that time it is necessary for the Court to examine its conduct to determine if the contract was then mutually rescinded or abandoned.
MSGB, after receiving notice of Ali's then intent to retire, took no action to enforce this contract. On the contrary, the Norton-Bobick contest was reinstated and Ali's aid was solicited and accepted to promote that contest. Brenner felt the matter was "over and done with". This sentiment of Brenner was reinforced by the MSGB's subsequent conduct by accepting the return of the $125,000.00, and its failure to respond to Muhammad's letter ol December 16, and its failure to bring this action until after the time for performance expired. Considering all of the circumstances and the conduct of the parties, there was mutual abandonment of the contract.
Accordingly, the defendant has established his defense of abandonment and judgment shall enter for the defendant and against the plaintiff.
An order shall enter accordingly.