For years, the biggest obstacle to a Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao superfight has been the fighters' management—Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, in particular.
Arum, who promoted Mayweather from his debut just up to the point where he was reaching superstardom (including a joint appearance on HBO's Arli$$), fell out badly with his former charge after Mayweather hooked up with his current manager, Al Haymon. The two have stubbornly refused to do business since Mayweather bought his way out of his contract in 2006. Last Friday, though, Arum told the New York Post that the negotiations for what would be the richest fight in boxing history are moving along smoothly and that he expects everything to be done shortly. This makes it very strange that Arum is apparently trying to sabotage the megafight.
That may seem unlikely, but what other conclusion could one draw from Arum's loaded suggestion to the Post that the delay making the fight is because there existed "a question as to whether Floyd really wanted to do the fight or not"? Make no mistake, Arum may be loose-lipped, but he's not a fool. He knows that his comment can only be interpreted one way, as a charge that Mayweather is afraid to fight Pacquiao. And with Floyd and his tender ego still holding all the negotiating power as the reigning pound-for-pound champion and pay-per-view king, it's the sort of comment that can only hurt Pacquiao's chances of getting the fight he's lusted after for years.
Moreover, Arum seems to have completely jumped the gun. After Arum's comments led to a since-retracted TMZ report that the fight was officially on, subsequent reports clarified that, even in the most optimistic scenario, any deal will take at least another week or more. That might seem like an innocuous enough mistake, but in the context of these negotiations, it isn't. With the public decidedly more apt to blame Mayweather than Pacquiao for holding up the fight, creating a false public expectation that a deal is done only serves to increase the pressure on Mayweather's side to sign the deal quickly or risk being viewed as dodging Pacquiao (or, worse, backing out of an agreed-upon deal). Even Mayweather, who had been oddly cordial with Pacquiao of late, quickly took to social media to attack the rumors as "lies." While Mayweather didn't mention Arum by name, no one else has spoken out, and it's obvious that Arum's comments have irked the champ. Why would Arum do this?
Well, Arum certainly doesn't need any more money. He's 83 years old, worth several hundred million dollars, and, other than being briefly eclipsed by Don King in the 1980s, has been the most successful promoter around ever since since he promoted Muhammad Ali in the 1970s—an exciting time for both men.
But, at the same time, Arum has had trouble remaining on speaking terms with his most successful fighters. As he did with Mayweather, Arum took Oscar De La Hoya from being a handsome Olympian to being the biggest draw in the sport—and, as happened with Mayweather, the two men had a terrible falling out. De La Hoya formed his own promotion company, Golden Boy, which eventually sucked up almost all the major fighters who weren't signed with Arum, and refused to do business with his former boss. He even promoted each of Mayweather's past 10 fights, including the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight that reigned as the largest box office success in boxing history until the fight between Mayweather and De La Hoya's prodigy, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, in 2013. The feud between De La Hoya and Arum, dubbed "the Cold War," ended only recently, with elements loyal to Mayweather leaving Golden Boy rather than patching things up with Arum.
Feuds between boxers and their promoters are fairly common, although no feud has ever resulted in more missed opportunities than the one between Arum and his ex-charges. In 2006, Arum offered Mayweather what would then have been a record-setting payday of $8 million to face Antonio Margarito, but Mayweather declined the opportunity and
made substantially less opted instead to fight the middling Carlos Baldomir. The feud between Arum and De La Hoya blocked dozens of lucrative fights, and of course, nothing has been more costly in terms of dollars foregone and bad publicity for the sport than the repeated failures to make the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Now, finally on the verge of getting ink on the contract, here is Arum again, refusing to stay out of the way, and making comments that threaten to reignite the ego battle that has scuttled this fight on at least two previous occasions.
So, what does Bob Arum really want? If the fight is made, he'll make a few million bucks, but what does that mean to a guy who already has hundreds of millions in the bank and a life expectancy of five or six years? On the other hand, making the fight would mean conceding a number of victories to Mayweather: he would be getting the lion's share of the purse; the fight would be happening on his cable network; the fight would be happening on his chosen date (not coincidentally, a date Arum wanted for one of his other fighters); and, most likely, the fight would result in a victory in the ring for him, which would elevate his legacy while diminishing that of Pacquiao, a man Arum has called the best fighter he's ever seen. It's fair to say that even in his younger days, when Arum's mouth and ego squared off against his wallet, they triumphed more often than not. Now, in what in all likelihood will be his last chance to be involved in an event that captivates the public at large, does Arum want to wind up his career conceding every significant negotiating point to a man he hates and doesn't respect? A man he views as the ungrateful Anakin to his Obi-Wan?
Make no mistake. Floyd Mayweather is not afraid of Manny Pacquiao, and Manny Pacquiao is certainly not afraid of Floyd Mayweather. Both men want, and in Pacquiao's case need, to be part of yet another record-setting payday. And, to their credit, both men are saying and doing all the right things to get the fight made. The only one involved in these negotiations who doesn't seem to want this fight to happen is the person who needs it least, Bob Arum. He's also the last person seemingly still fighting his hardest to prevent it from happening.
IronMikeGallego is a longtime boxing fan and occasional contributor to Deadspin. He can be found on Twitter @ironmikegallego or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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