You can call Bob Arum selfish if you want. You can call him spiteful or temperamental or honesty-impaired. Some might even suggest he’s downright evil.
But you’d better call him a genius while you’re at it. Say what you want about the 79-year-old Hall of Fame promoter, but the man has made a career out of thinking two or three moves ahead.
And sometimes, genius gets rewarded in unintended ways. Arum made the deal to bring the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley pay-per-view event to Showtime primarily because there were direct business benefits for his company, Top Rank. But the move had a significant side effect: It shifted the conversation among the serious boxing observers away from the negativity surrounding what looks on paper like a non-competitive fight and toward the positivity over network television giving boxing a look for the first time in half a decade.
If you really want to give Arum credit for being a genius, you can speculate that he knew this business move would change the attitude toward a fight that needed a little repackaging, and that’s why he closed the deal with Showtime/CBS on this specific occasion. That seems a stretch, however. Although RingTV.com was not able to get a direct comment from an executive at Top Rank for this article, two boxing insiders offered confirmation that this was more “happy coincidence” than “diabolical plan.”
“I know for a fact that Bob has been talking to (CBS President and CEO) Les Moonves about doing this sort of thing for years, literally years,” said fellow promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events. “I remember having meetings with Bob four or five years ago about doing exactly what he’s doing now. This is not something that he came up with to deflect publicity, I’m sure of that. Now, if you want to speculate about whether he would have gone to Showtime and CBS with a bigger fight, that I can’t say. Maybe because Pacquiao-Mosley isn’t quite as big as some other fights, it may have been the perfect opportunity to experiment with this.”
“This is something Bob and (Top Rank President) Todd DuBoef have wanted to do for a very long time,” echoed noted publicist Fred Sternburg, who works with several promotional companies and handles Pacquiao’s P.R. “I guess CBS seemed to be the most logical move because they owned Showtime, but I think if it was another network stepping up, say ESPN and ABC, or NBC and USA network, it still was going to happen because Bob and Todd believe in the value of broadening the audience with the exposure that terrestrial TV brings to all of this.”
So it’s fair to say this bold business decision was not intended as a timely masterstroke of public relations spin.
Nevertheless, it has functioned as such.
When Pacquiao-Mosley was first broached as a possibility, the hardcore fight fans voiced their opposition passionately. When Arum ignored that and made the fight anyway, the negatively flowed from nearly every keyboard.
But in the past two weeks, since the Showtime bombshell dropped, the cries of “mismatch” have all but disappeared, replaced by fascination with the implications of HBO losing its vice grip on the PPV industry, of the soap opera nature of Showtime dramatically one-upping it rival and of network TV again dipping its toe in the pugilistic pool.
“I think a lot of hardcore fans would have passed on ordering Mosley and Pacquiao, saying, ‘I’ll wait a week, I know what’s going to happen,’ or ‘I don’t really want to see Shane in this situation again right now,’” said promoter and former HBO Sports executive Lou DiBella. “But now those hardcore fans, a lot of them are going to say, ‘I want to see how Showtime produces this show, and I want to see how involved CBS is.’
“This move has shifted the tenor for the hardcore fan, for the freak, the nerd, the superfan that goes on all the web sites back-to-back-to-back every day. It’s an important distinction from the casual fans who didn’t necessarily object to the fight. For those people, this move is about raising awareness, and Bob is banking on the fact that he has two fighters with name recognition, and CBS and its various marketing arms will get the message out.”
All along, while he was “deciding” which opponent Pacquiao would fight in May, Arum repeatedly insisted Mosley’s name was all that mattered to the casual fans who ultimately determine whether a pay-per-view will be a smash hit. At the time, it seemed highly debatable whether Mosley really had much of an edge over Juan Manuel Marquez in that regard. But now that CBS is involved, Mosley makes a lot more sense. Specifically, an American fighter who speaks English and has an easily identifiable nickname like “Sugar Shane” is a more natural fit for the CBS-watching middle-American couch potato.
Even if all that CBS airs are a few commercials for the fight and one half-hour episode of Fight Camp 360, the fact that CBS penetrates four times as many homes as HBO makes the issue of what appeals to the lowest-common-denominator casual sports fan highly relevant.
“I’ve always believed it’s great for our sport if people hear about it in places they don’t normally hear about it, like on CBS,” said Duva. “Even if people don’t buy this one fight, at least they are being exposed to the sport and they are considering it, which is something they haven’t been doing for a long time.”
Arum distracting the hardcore fans from the questionable quality of an in-ring matchup with external factors is not unprecedented. How much extra publicity did the Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey fight get last year because Top Rank put it in Jerry Jones’ spectacular Cowboys Stadium?
That stadium in Texas was a storyline that was milked right up until the fighters entered the ring. With the Showtime/CBS move, it feels more like a temporary distraction. As Sternburg said, “It may just be this week’s byproduct.”
Eventually, the boxing media will get back to talking about the merits and demerits of Pacquiao vs. Mosley. And inevitably, the demerits will be addressed more loudly because that’s what happens when one fighter is this heavily favored to beat the other.
But at least when that negativity resurfaces later in the promotion, Arum will be able to shout it down with talk of how he has shifted the paradigm and shaken up the sport. And he’ll be right.
Yesterday he was lying, today he’s telling the truth. But all seven days of the week, he’s a brilliant businessman who knows exactly what he’s doing.
• The “biggest stones in boxing” award has to go to Tomasz Adamek, all 217 pounds of him, for agreeing to fight a Klitschko without even knowing which one it will be. While he waits, it looks like Adamek will tune up against Kevin McBride, another opponent who, like Michael Grant, can simulate the Klitschkos’ size at relatively low risk. “Every choice we’ve made the last two years was preparing him for a fight against one of the Klitschkos,” Duva said. “Tomasz and his trainer wanted to have a certain number of fights to get used to the heavyweight division and prepare for when that day came. That was always our goal – not just to get the fight, but to win the fight.”
• The Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander fight was clearly not everything fans hoped it would be, but let’s not allow that to detract from the credit Bradley deserves for his performance. He fought well and was winning clearly – if not spectacularly – against a world-class opponent, and while his head-clash tendencies are troubling, he wasn’t the one who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) continue. There’s no point in a rematch; bring on Bradley vs. Amir Khan to crown a singular champion.
• Regarding the ending of the fight, is there any reason the doctor had to stop it so quickly? If Alexander was complaining of his eyes burning and having trouble opening them, why not treat it like any other accidental foul and give him five minutes, then halt the fight if he’s still having problems?
• Silver lining at the Silverdome: After all that hand-wringing, the choice of venue did not end up embarrassing the sport at all. Whatever the number of empty seats, you couldn’t see them on TV.
• Questionable grammar aside, Chris Arreola is the leader in the clubhouse for Quote of the Year with “I’m ugly, and I don’t want to get any more uglier.”
• Here’s one for the “Tough Questions” segment on the next episode of Ring Theory: Would you rather get punched by Arreola or get kissed by him?
• Speaking of Ring Theory, if you haven’t heard last week’s episode featuring special guest Nigel Collins, you can still access it here. As we explain in the opening minutes of the show, we’re moving to a subscription model starting with the next episode, and while everyone has a right to spend their money how they choose, there are two groups of people with no excuse not to subscribe: people in the boxing business whose employers will reimburse them, and people who were willing to throw away $30 on the Evander Holyfield-Sherman Williams pay-per-view. Seriously, if you hate money that much, you may as well send it our way.