It appears that ESPN lead boxing writer and columnist for the past two decades and one of the top insiders in the sport, Dan Rafael, is out of a job after failing to have his contract renewed.
While there has been no direct confirmation from either Rafael or the network, there are certainly compelling clues that he is no longer part of their coverage, where Rafael has been since 2005.
First, Rafael has removed all mentions of ESPN in his Twitter bio and taken down the pinned tweet that has been at the top of his feed for several years, which commemorated his first column for ESPN.com, when he came aboard with them in 2005.
Rafael has become their biggest source of coverage of “The Sweet Science” and is one of the top two or three boxing insiders, who consistently had stories and information first for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports.” He was also recognized by the Boxing Writer’s Association of America with the Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 2013.
The apparent non-renewal timing matches up with Rafael and ESPN announcing back in April of 2018 that he had agreed to a multi-year extension to stay with them. It’s not clear whether the contract ran completely out in recent days or weeks, or whether ESPN is exercising some kind of a clause to get out of it?
If they are exercising such a clause, that may include paying Rafael a sum of money, etc. in severance or it may not pay him anything.
We talked more about Dan Rafael’s exit on the Big Fight Weekend podcast with featuring Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza and BigFightWeekend.com’s Sr. Writer, Marquis Johns here:
Further, another clue is Sports Business Daily reported on Monday morning that due to the Coronavirus pandemic, top ESPN on-air and online talent we’re being asked to voluntarily, for now, to take 15% pay cuts to try to help save lower-level employees from being furloughed or outright terminated:
BREAKING from @Ourand_SBJ: @espn has begun asking 100 of its highest earning commentators to take a voluntary 15% pay cut amid financial strain brought on by the #COVID19 pandemic. More details below (open)
— Sports Business Journal (@sbjsbd) April 13, 2020
SBJ received confirmation of ESPN making Monday calls about the voluntary cuts from numerous of the talent and their agents. ESPN senior executives have already agreed to take such a pay cut, as an attempt to mitigate their losses from no live sports programming currently taking place during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Back to Rafael, ESPN had used him in the late 2000s and early 2010s on their televised boxing coverage, especially from huge pay-per-view events. However, he has been seen less and less on anything t.v. or online video in recent years.
Some of that naturally occurred, when the most popular and prominent division, the heavyweights, became dull and boring with no U.S. fighters contending, much less holding any of the titles. That’s until Alabama’s Deontay Wilder captured the WBC version in 2015 and went on to defended successfully 11 times, before losing to Tyson Fury earlier this year.
The interest in the U.S. in boxing had only begun to pick back up in recent years.
An ESPN spokesperson confirmed Monday afternoon to Michael Woods of NYFights.com that Rafael’s contract was not renewed,
“Dan Rafael has been an important part of our boxing coverage for almost two decades and we thank him for the many contributions he made to the coverage of the sport during that time. We wish him success in his next chapter.”