“In every crowd there is a silver lining.” P.T. Barnum
Professional logicians would go mad, like blindfolded chess players, trying to make sense of boxing, its followers, and that strange hydra-headed beast, the fight media. When Bob Arum recently confirmed that Shane Mosley would be facing Manny Pacquiao in the spring, all of fistic cyberspace seemed to spontaneously combust at the announcement.
Nobody, it was howled, wants to see this fight. It is an outrage! Like the Antonio Margarito-Manny Pacquiao affair, this declaration lead first to spluttering Twitter indignation and then to calls for a boycott. To his many accomplishments Manny Pacquiao, named “Boxer of the Decade” by the BWAA, can now add the unique distinction of having consecutive fights threatened with a boycott. Of course, these threats will fizzle away at the last moment, as they did with the Margarito fight, a bout that drew over 30,000 fans and racked up over a million pay-per-view buys. These facts, in turn, raise a few questions: If Pacquiao-Mosley sells 900,000 to 1 million pay-per-view units, will it still be a fight nobody wants to see? And if Time Magazine, 60 Minutes, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times cover Pacquiao-Mosley, is that “bad” for boxing?
There are two other seemingly overlooked angles surrounding this fight. One is the fact that Shane Mosley was basically red-carpeted into the equivalent of a lottery ticket by the same people who are now against his unlikely windfall. Another twist is the inescapable truth that Bob Arum barely breaks a sweat in parting so many people from their money.
First, Mosley. Only eight months ago Mosley was among the top “P-4-P” fighters in the world. Eight months ago, prominent writers from The School of Pompous Pseudo-Journalism predicted Mosley would annihilate Floyd Mayweather Jr. In eight short months, Mosley has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse in a way usually reserved for self-destructive politicians or Navy admirals. Time and boxing, like chamber music and chainsaws, are incompatible, but the swift descent of Mosley is a creation of the media—such as it exists—the same way his ascension was based of the self-puffery of p-4-p lists of innumerable blogs and websites. The “Mosley is Great” narrative is still fresh enough to exploit by a savvy promoter.
Furthermore, Mosley is actually an improvement over Antonio Margarito, the last Boy Who Would be Boycotted. Margarito does not have the resume Mosley has, and, of course, Mosley humiliated him when they met in 2009. In fact, Mosley did everything to Margarito but keelhaul him across the Pacific Ocean. So if you backed Margarito as a viable opponent for Pacquiao, then it stands to reason that you would back Mosley as well. Reason, alas, is not a concept often found in boxing.
As for the “African-American” angle, the kind of thing only possible in the parallel universe of prizefighting, Arum did not wake up in the middle of the night mumbling “African-Americans, African-Americans” over and over again. No, that bogus plotline was supplied by the same people who are dribbling forth over this fight: the media and the “fans.” For weeks, Twitter timelines, forum boards, blogs, and websites–all negative indicators of the collective intelligence of contemporary man–were ablaze with nonsense about Pacquiao fearing African-Americans. In the cyber age it is much easier for a promotional outfit to track trends than it was 20 or 30 years ago, when the appeal of a fight was not tipped off by social network gibberish.
As for Arum, when he chose Mosley as an opponent for Pacquiao, he made a sound financial decision based on the existing alternatives. Of course, there are other reasons involved in his choice—not the least of which is hatred of Golden Boy Promotions. Not only does Arum despise De La Hoya and Schaefer, but he is probably also rankled by the fact that GBP would be paid twice, in effect, for a co-promotion involving Pacquiao and Marquez. In addition, creative matchmaking will keep Pacquiao in the news against a high profile name, Mosley, whose best days may be behind him. But the vitriol hurled against Arum over Pacquiao-Mosley probably just makes him chuckle. After all, any news is good news to a promoter, and Arum knows a box office smash is awaiting him in May.
Arum is not the commissioner of Major League Baseball, responsible, theoretically, at least, for the best interests of the game. Arum is a promoter and it is high time people understood that a promoter operates as an independent agent (unless you are inexplicably subsidized by HBO or backed by corporate dollars) who underwrites an event hoping to earn a profit on his investment. Any promoter–be it a concert producer, a renaissance fair huckster, a Monster Truck impresario–tries to make money on an event-by-event basis by staging a show people will pay for.
In boxing, the success of a PPV promotion is determined solely by the consumer. If Bob Arum truly despises the “fan,” as many believe, then why does he keep racking up monster gates and PPV numbers? Why did the highest rated HBO program in 2010 feature one of his fighters, Miguel Cotto? The three biggest crowds of the year in the U.S. also belonged to Top Rank. Where are the “fan friendly” promoters who will set up a model opposed to that of Arum? What is Arum supposed to think when the cards he promotes keep him comfortably in the black? Despite all the shouting, head banging, and dry heaves about Pacquiao-Mosley, the only way Bob Arum fails is if the fight winds up in the red. What most people do not seem to understand is this: If Arum has made an error in judgment, he stands to take the biggest hit of all—a roundhouse wallop to the wallet.
The reason Arum has been around for nearly 50 years and has turned Top Rank into the only non-subsidized powerhouse in boxing is because—gasp—he actually knows what he is doing! Competence in boxing is as hard to find as intelligence on a forum board. Good con artists, like other proud artisans, are going the way of the dodo, and the huckster element in boxing is longer as pronounced as it used to be in the days of Dumb Dan Morgan, Jack Kearns, Jimmy Johnston, Tex Rickard, and Jack Curley because today the suckers do all the work. No longer do they need to be prodded, coerced, or manipulated. Many of them are complicit in propping up the very situations they decry.
Arum sold the world Andre the Giant against Chuck Wepner, launched Evil Knievel over Snake River Canyon in some sort of jerryrigged rocket that went haywire, and rematched Ray Mercer and Jesse Ferguson after Mercer had been indicted for trying to get Ferguson to take a dive mid-fight the first time around. And what? The three-card monte dealer, the badger artist, the poolshark and his sneaky pete, the cardsharp, the eBay escrow hustler, the neat Ponzi swindler, the heavily-accented fortune teller, the Pyramid schemer–they are all on the lookout for the easy mark. When you buy a ticket to see a 32-pound rat or Wolf Boy are you really surprised to see that the rat is a dog with a phony tail attached to it and that Wolf Boy is a young man who suffers from hypertrichosis? If you are surprised, then boxing, believe it or not, really does need you, baby.