Boxing Needs You, Baby! On Arum, Pacquiao, & Mosley


“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.

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Tags: Antoni Margarito Bob Arum GOLDEN BOY PROMOTIONS HBO Manny Pacquiao Shane Mosley

  • paulmagno

    Good stuff, as usual, Carlos…As you may or may not know, I was totally against the Margarito fight although I realize that what I’m against is about as important to Arum as what his lunch menu is to me…But I honestly see the Mosley fight as a vastly more “legitimate” fight in many ways…I mean, we’d all prefer Pacquiao-Mayweather or Pacquiao vs. any number of other guys, but of he realistic remaining choices, Mosley is probably the most intriguing option…

    My question to you is…why the outrage now? Many of these guys who are doubled over in outrage over Pacquiao-Mosley, we’re on board for Pacquiao-Margarito…Case in point is Steve Kim over at MaxBoxing, who was tailgating at Cowboys Stadium for Pacquiao-Margarito, but is now outraged and calling Pacquiao-Mosley a slap in the face to the fans…I don’t get the selective outrage…

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Paul,

      thanks for checking in.

      This fight is neither here nor there for me; I’m just puzzled by the reaction a bit. As you note, with the choices available out there–Mayweather not being one of them for whatever reason–Mosley makes sense. Andre Berto is not really an option and Marquez supposedly outsmarted himself during negotiations (although who knows to what extent that’s true). So long as the Mayweather bout can’t be made, then most of Pacquiao’s fights will feel anticlimactic until some new welterweight big shot rolls around. Mosley is past his best–as was Margarito–but Mosley’s best was three times Margarito’s best and even a diminished Mosley is more of a threat than Margarito.

      I don’t follow tailgating parties, but I do respect and enjoy Kim’s work. I think Margarito got the edge in support a few months ago because of his whirlwind, tenacious style, one that made folks think the fight would be fun while it lasted. And some people weren’t sure Margarito was completely worn out, while others seem to think Mosley is completely washed-up. I’m not sure if he is or not, but I understand the “suspicion.”

  • nashingun

    pacquiao selects mosley for the purpose of not leaving any stone unturned. yes! from dela hoya, cotto, clottey, margarito and now mosley (for the reason that floyd dont want to come out and fight) the whole welter weight division is being emptied, every name challenged before pac closes his career in boxing. and if worthy enough, berto, alexander or any new comer who is credible enough for a challenge. that is how things go, and all of this fuss is just the US medias scheme to downplay this match up. and its not the right thing to do if you really are a fan of this sports. knowing mosley and pac can make a good fight, thats how everyone should look on to this may 7.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Nashingun,

      thanks for writing. Fighting ex-champions and big names is an old formula in boxing, going back at least to Joe Louis, who fought Baer and Carnera before losing to Schmeling. After the Schmeling fight, Louis got another ex-champ in Jack Sharkey. There is nothing new to this situation. It’s an understandable fight to take because of name recognition factor and economics, but the Pacquiao backlash seems to be growing. I think he’ll take on a Bradley/Alexander/Berto type next time around.

  • tqbr

    Few things:

    –I still don’t know anyone who wants this fight. But it will sell because of the FIGHTER, not the fight. People will pay to see Pacquiao fight anyone at this point. That speaks to Arum’s genius in a different way, but it doesn’t make this FIGHT desirable.

    –It’s understandable that the people who were high on Mosley after his spectacular domination of Margarito would be less high on him after his lack of quality performances (aside from one round) against Mayweather and, especially, Mora. Just because Mosley was a good fighter in 2009 doesn’t mean he is in 2011. It’s reasonable to adjust one’s assessment of a fighter based on his recent performances, and it needn’t be a creation of the media for anyone to assess him poorly now compared to how he performed against Margarito.

    –One doesn’t have to THINK Arum despises the fan. Earlier last year, he specifically said he knew what the fans wanted, and they could go f**k themselves. That’s virtually an exact quote: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/1559/lopez_gamboa_cruise_but_arum_balks_at_immediate_showdown/

    –Any news isn’t good news to a promoter. Evander Holyfield’s repeated comebacks get more play on Sportscenter than most anything else boxing-related, and you don’t see his fights suddenly selling out.

    –Just because an individual fight makes money doesn’t mean it is the best option for everyone’s bottom line. There is such a thing as a fight that does well in the box office and loses or turns off more fans than watched it; in the short-term, Arum wins, but in the long-term, he might not. (Not that he cares about such things.) There’s also the following consideration: If this fight does well, does that disqualify the potential that a DIFFERENT fight wouldn’t or couldn’t have done even better with someone other than Mosley in there?

    This lack of long-term thinking by almost everyone on the business end of the sport — about the health of the sport not being just based on what kind of money one makes today, as opposed to how much more money it might make later — is maybe the biggest problem in boxing.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Tim,

      thanks stopping by.

      Proven draws and gate attractions get some leeway in boxing–and always have–because whatever “It” factor they’re operating on is often all that matters. It was like that with Jack Dempsey, Rocky Graziano, and Muhammad Ali–who fought some of the biggest stiffs imaginable during his second reign as champ. Right now, Pacquiao is sui generis, and, as you mention, draws simply because he is who he is. But Shane Mosley is not Peter McNeeley or Freddy Hernandez. He is past his peak, for sure, but is still a better option–from the promoter’s point of view–than an aging lightweight or a fighter who drew 986 3/4 fans to a hometown title defense.

      The casual boxing fans I know are not opposed to Pacquiao-Mosley. Not that who I know should be any indicator of what happens in the boxing world at large, of course.

      As for assessing what Mosley’s has left, Mayweather is one of the best fighters of the last 25 years or so, and being dominated by him is no real indicator of Mosley’s skill level. Otherwise, lots of fighters would have been written off after fighting him–including JM Marquez, who took a worse beating from Mayweather than Mosley did. Fighting Mora is the equivalent of being rolled up in tarpaulin and being asked to corral a steer. Ironically, when the draw with Mora was announced, Mosley was considered the victim of a robbery. Now, the draw is offered up as proof of his declining skills, despite the fact that hardly anyone thought Mora deserved such a favorable verdict. I’m not saying Mosley is not faded, I’m just saying his last two fights were going to be tough to look good in.

      You don’t have to tell me about Bob Arum. He first took my money in 1986 when I went to see Hagler-Mugabi on CC at the Nassau Coliseum as a teenager. I already mentioned his “go f–k yourself” spiel on TCS nearly a year ago (in fact in an article I linked for you; I guess you never got around to reading it): The Untouchables: How the Biggest Promoters Get Away With What They Get Away With

      I’ll just post a couple of excerpts in case that link is dead:

      In a sense, the loyal fan is complicit with the drab state of affairs in boxing. If worthless pay-per-views, celebrity bouts, and outright chicanery dominate the sport, it is likely because the hardcore fan is unwilling or unable to challenge the status quo in the way it matters most: with purchasing power.

      This leads to free reign for promoters and their cohorts. What is really disturbing is that Arum needs no special skill in fleecing the public. In fact, his con is weaker than a poorly played game of badger. There is no finesse, no guile, no sleight of hand involved. Known scoundrels–Sean Gibbons, for example–have been linked to Top Rank; bribes have been paid; fixed fights alleged; FBI probes launched; and still Arum will sell you Butterbean, Mia St. John, and Antonio Margarito. Why? Because, somehow, these shenanigans are profitable. For Arum, the mark does all the work for him. But even without the skills of P.T. Barnum or Victor Lustig, Arum qualifies to have the following quote from the notorious Yellow Kid Weil embossed on his letterhead: “They wanted something for nothing, I gave them nothing for something.”

      I disagree with your “any news” point of view. As P.T. Barnum noted in his autobiography about one of his many hoaxes, Joice Heth: “….hundreds who had not visited Joice Heth were now anxious to see the curious automaton; while many who had seen her were equally desirous of a second look, in order to determine whether or not they had been deceived.” Barnum, like a boxing promoter, counted on anger and controversy to lure people to his sideshows. As for Holyfield–whose fights do you see selling out in boxing? Anyway, Holyfield is fighting because he can still generate money for the bottom feeders of the sport; if he couldn’t, no one would bother with him. And Holyfield is an extreme case, by the way, one used specifically to bolster your argument. Haye-Harrison was one of the most heaped on fights recently, but people in the UK made it a blockbuster.

      Arum’s short-term is nearly 50 years, so I don’t know what to say about him not winning long-term.

      Could another fight do as well as Mosley-Pacquiao? Possibly, but Arum doesn’t seem to think so.

      The business end of the sport, as I noted, is SNAFU because people buy into it. Plain and simple. The last “boycott” fight–Pacquiao-Margarito–generated insane amounts of money. If people are so opposed to a fight, they will stay away in droves as they did for Hopkins-Jones. I stay away from what I feel are bad fights all the time–no Fright Night Club rubbish, no “So-low Boxeo” trash, etc. I used to go to “Broadway Boxing” shows regularly, but they sucked, so I stopped giving Lou DiBella my cash. I didn’t even bother watching Mosley-Mora on PPV and watched the replay–well, as much of it as I could stand.

      As for the competitive merits of the fight itself, Mosley still punches hard and will try his best, but it is not a bout of any particular interest to me. The latter can be said of 75 to 80 percent of all boxing matches in America. If some think it goes beyond—or beneath– that assessment, then they ought to do something about it. If they want to make a statement–the only kind Arum will understand–then they should watch CSI Miami on May 7 or read a book or play X-Box.

      • tqbr

        You kind of proved my point, vis-a-vis Bob Arum and short-term over long-term. Is boxing on better footing today than it was 50 years ago? And how much more money would Bob be making now if it was?

        I don’t know what you mean about “never got around to reading it.” Odds are good generally that I won’t remember something you wrote a year ago or “linked for me” (another phrase I didn’t get). I mean that as no insult to your writing; I consume a lot of boxing writing and don’t instantly recall every single word everyone wrote. All I know is that you don’t have to “believe” that Arum despises the fan because he is on the record on that count, a quote you have produced evidence of your familiarity with. I suppose he could have been lying.

        The casual boxing fan, in my experience, doesn’t even know who Mosley is, or only vaguely does. They don’t know that Mosley crapped out from a stamina point in both the Mayweather and Mora fights and looked older and older in every moment of both fights. gave Mosley a pass for the Mayweather fight, but two fights in a row like that are cause for doubt, no? I think Mosley got robbed against Mora too, but sometimes you can win a fight and reduce your stock.

        Naturally when one presents a flat statement like “any news is good news to a promoter,” the response is to pick an extreme case. The extreme case is most likely to present holes in such blanket statements. But to use your own example: Hopkins-Jones II got a ton of publicity, most of it negative. Close to 100 media members showed up for the announcement: http://www.ringtv.com/blog/1625/the_rematch_that_nobody_wanted_may_still_intrigue_fans/

        Sometimes a fight that is a mismatch with ugly publicity does well — Haye-Harrison is a good example — and sometimes it doesn’t. Neither situation proves that “any news to a promoter is good news.” I know for a fact that there are promoters who call up reporters and bitch them out about their coverage. if the KIND of news didn’t matter, they wouldn’t bitch at all.

        • Carlos Acevedo

          Hi Tim,

          I’ll try to avoid blanket statements like “Any news isn’t good news to a promoter” this time around. At the risk of making more of your points for you, apparently an easy trap to fall into, I’ll take the bait and respond to your comments, although I have never won a cyber-space debate, ever, or even had more than one or two of my points acknowledged.

          Arum’s almost half-century run at the top of the promotional food chain may prove to be an example of long-term thinking success to some, but to you it shows how short-sighted he’s been. All right. I’ll just say that Arum has never been behind in this game over that time, unlike a slew of promoters who’ve floundered to insignificance at some point or another or disappeared altogether: Jerry Buss, Don King, Dino Duva, HBA, Murad Muhammad, Main Events, Madison Square Garden, Alessi, America Presents, Cedric Kushner, etc. The reason boxing is no longer a mainstream sport goes far beyond Bob Arum, of course, although he certainly had his hand in it. But it’s interesting to note that he was one of the major players during the last boxing explosion in the U.S. in the 1980s.

          We seem to know different casual boxing fans. But if you want to say that your experiences with casual fans are intrinsically superior to mine, I won’t kick. My guess is that if casual boxing fans didn’t know who Shane Mosley was, 1.4 million pay-per-views would not have been sold for his fight with Mayweather. Also, I’m not doubting that Mosley is past his peak, I’m merely saying that I don’t know for sure that he’s washed-up, and it puzzles me when people demand that I say such-and-such fighter is completely shot. If he lost to Mora, sure, but I’m not so knowing to presume that he’s shot, which is a specific condition.

          Hopkins-Jones II was so beyond the pale that it was immune to any publicity, good or bad. (And there were some pretty big names who came out in support of that fight, too.) This is an interesting point because if a fight is truly bad enough, I think, people will ignore it most of the time. “If people are so opposed to a fight, they will stay away in droves as they did for Hopkins-Jones,” is what I wrote. Mosley-Pacquiao does not seem to be bad enough for people (casual fans) to ignore outright despite negative press. But there are matchups that are so poor–to the public’s eye–that nothing can bolster or diminish them. I also know for a fact that promoters call up reporters and bitch them out. I’ve been bitched out by a promoter myself over the phone and I’m completely insignificant.

          Again, I’m not defending this fight; I made my point about it pretty clear in the last paragraph of my comment. It just doesn’t strike me as the kind of fight that merits outrage (especially when one considers the number of fights that do earn disgust: Pablo Sarmiento fighting last year; Donaire crushing Vargas was deplorable; and Delray Raines headlining a So-Low Boxeo card this week, etc.). But you’re entitled to your opinion and I don’t really feel the need to try to browbeat you out of it.

  • tqbr

    I honestly can’t tell if you’re getting rude about this or not — it’s the Internet and things can appear ambiguous; it SOUNDS like you are, but we have years of good relations, so I’d prefer to think you aren’t — so I’ll just make one last point and move along. I’m not interested in “baiting” you or “trapping” you or “winning” anything or proving that my experiences are “intrinsically superior,” anyway.

    “Any news is good news to a promoter” is a blanket statement. “Any news isn’t good news to a promoter” isn’t. If you said every dog was a labrador retriever, and I said not every dog was a labrador retriever, I’m merely rebutting your blanket statement. There are usually exceptions to blanket statements. Stating that is not, in and of itself, a blanket statement.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Tim,

      I’m not trying to be rude, although I am often crabby during daylight hours. Still, don’t I always say “hello” and “thanks?”

      I generally like to talk boxing, but I often find that people are more interested in one-upping than in actual discourse. I thought your first comment was rather brusque and I am leery of comments where folks basically say, “everything you wrote is wrong” and offer point by point refutations on what is essentially opinion. But, as you say, it is the internet and things can often take on a sinister cast….

      My first sentence, believe it or not, is me misquoting myself. That’s worth a laugh or two.

      • tqbr

        See, now I won’t move on, since I know we’re friends again.

        I have no interest in one-upping anyone; it’s just not in my DNA. I do like good debate and exchange of ideas, and if you change my mind or vice versa, great. I also certainly didn’t mean to come off as brusque. For future correspondence, please assume I’m not being so.

        I also also didn’t think everything you wrote was wrong — just the stuff I disagreed with. It’s the nature of writing, as you know, that people are more likely to respond when they take issue than when they think it’s all good. And there is much, much, much good in what you wrote here, and often generally.

  • p2w1

    As I guy who reads boxing blogs all the time, including TQBR and TCS, I have to say this debate is no less compelling than many of the blog posts I read.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      HI P2w1,

      thanks for writing. Yes, things always get lively whenever Tim shows up in these parts. The last time he was here he accused me of having a prehensile tail and of being an ABBA fan. I don’t know which is worse….