MACAU, China – As Bob Arum settled into his seat in the media room of the Venetian Resort, he could only let out a laugh. The 81-year-old Top Rank CEO has seen it all after 40-plus years of promoting boxing events.
The fracas that ensued between Manny Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach and Brandon Rios’ conditioning coach Alex Ariza had the internet abuzz on Wednesday afternoon, yet Arum didn’t seem to be the least bit excited.
“Never a dull moment,” said Arum of the incident in which Ariza was videotaped kicking the Parkinson’s Disease-stricken Roach, while Roach was recorded calling a member of the Rios camp a “Mexican mother___er.”
The incident, which took place at a public workout at the Venetian Resort in Macau promoting the HBO pay-per-view welterweight fight at said venue this coming Sunday (Saturday night in America), was more akin to Las Vegas than the quieter Chinese territory.
“It’s unfortunate,” added Arum. “It adds a lot of excitement but it’s not in the best interest of the sport because a lot of people look at boxing and they say that there’s a hooligan element in boxing. And when you have an incident like this it reinforces their belief that people who are in boxing are hooligans. It’s not very good for the sport.”
The incident has shifted the focus away from the former eight-division titleholder Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 knockouts), of General Santos City, Philippines, and former WBA lightweight beltholder Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 22 KOs), of Oxnard, Calif., who are projected to contribute a late Fight of the Year candidate despite coming off losses in their most recent bouts.
Roach and Ariza have a long history together, having worked together for years with several fighters, including Pacquiao, before splitting acrimoniously after Pacquiao’s knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez a year ago.
“Freddie just got out of hand, thought that he was still at Wild Card, tried to come and bully us and it didn’t work out,” said Ariza, who now works with Rios’ trainer Robert Garcia and his stable of fighters. “I’m not sorry, he’s not sorry. If he still feels sore about it, what can I tell you?
“I’ve been with Freddie six years so I know that’s Freddie,” continued Ariza. “That’s the way that Freddie talks. Behind all that Parkinson’s stuff and ‘I’m a nice guy,’ I know the real Freddie Roach. What you guys saw is the real Freddie Roach. Anger brings out true colors.
“I take full responsibility for the things I said and what I did. I did them; it was the heat of the moment. I’m sorry for it. Nothing I can do about it, can’t take it back.”
To avoid further incident, Arum said that he had asked Garcia to not allow Ariza to engage in any activities where he would have to interact with the Pacquiao camp, including the pre-fight checking of the gloves.
For Pacquiao’s part, Arum said that he made light of the incident during his training with Roach afterwards.
“Pacquiao laughed and he got a big kick out of it,” said Arum, with a pun that seemed unintentional but at the same time welcome. “When he and Freddie were doing mitts, after he finished, he in fun kicked Freddie like Ariza.”
Pacquiao’s tone was less playful at the final press conference later that evening, which took place at 9:00 p.m. local time to correspond with the time difference in New York.
“Let everybody finish in the ring, no trash talking before the fight,” said the 34-year-old Pacquiao, who is in his second term as congressman of the Philippine province of Sarangani. “It’s not a good example to the people who admire boxing.
“For me, anyone who has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. This is sports, nothing personal, we’re doing our job in the ring. After that, nothing personal, this is our job, to perform and to entertain the people.”
Pacquiao concluded by dedicating the fight to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, which tore through the Philippines over a week ago, killing thousands and leaving many more homeless.
Rios, 27, himself expressed concern for Filipino reporters, asking if they were affected by the storm. Rios appeared tired at the press conference, and refused to get into specifics when asked about his weight situation.
Rios didn’t address the bad blood between the camps in his speech, but rather asserted his determination to prove detractors wrong on the biggest stage of his life.
“Sunday is going to be a big problem,” said Rios, who is coming off a decision loss to Mike Alvarado in his last fight in March. “They think I’m no problem. It’s going to be a big problem. Everybody’s going to find out that when I train myself right when I’m disciplined – this camp I’ve been disciplined – when I train myself, when I work myself, you’re going to see the best out of me.
“Everybody that thinks I’m just a tune-up fight, I’m nobody’s tune-up fight. I’m nobody’s sparring partner; I’m nobody’s punching bag. The last time I believe that a punching bag don’t punch back.”
In the end, the only fight that matters is the one that takes place in the ring.
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Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.