Bob Arum Sees Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao as Economic Symbols


By Ivan G. Goldman

There’s more to the May 2 super-fight than which combatant fights harder or faster or moves with greater cunning, says Bob Arum. Although virtually no one speaks of it, the May 2 Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather battle raises political and economic issues that he maintains are quite relevant to the state of the world today.

Bob Arum
Photo: Esther Lin/Showtime

Arum, a Harvard Law grad who remembers the Depression and World War II, stood his ground inside the small but celebrated Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles. It was crowded with media people waiting to witness Pacquiao’s open workout and snag some interviews along the way.

I watched as Arum answered the same questions over and over for broadcasters who all needed an exclusive shot of him interacting with them. He pretty much gave identical replies to almost identical questions about who’s going to win, why, and how this monster event compares to other super-fights that he’s been part of.

He answers these questions everywhere he goes and often picks up the phone and answers them all over again. I knew that as Manny’s long-time promoter Arum, 83, was making an awful lot of money from this extravaganza. Still, I sympathized with him.

Finally I shouldered my way in, complimented him on his patience, and promised to ask only one question: Is there something he’d like to talk about that no one ever asks him? He lighted up.
“I’m more interested in the cultural issues involved,” he said eagerly. “It’s something that needs to be discussed. There’s Floyd’s lifestyle – which he’s entitled to live. After all, it’s his money. And then compare that to Manny and all the charities he supports with his money and his efforts. There’s an essential difference there.

“You know, people talk about the one percent – the executives and others with their yachts and mansions and all that come with them. Or you can spend some energy on trying to help somebody unfortunate.”

It’s been well-documented that his fighter, a former street kid who’s been a member of the Philippines Congress since 2010, contributes much time and money to charitable works in his country. It may even be too well-known because he’s considered a soft touch for anyone with a sob story.

A tremendous mass of cash sloshes around the coming welterweight showdown, quite possibly a half billion dollars. Even though the purse split is 60-40 in Mayweather’s favor, Pacquiao could well draw $100 million from it.

A kind of madness has seized the extravaganza. Prime tickets on the secondary market could reach or even exceed $100,000. Earlier, with invitation in hand, I had to push through a polite but determined crowd and talk my way past a series of sentries to make it up the stairs and inside Freddie Roach’s gym. You get the feeling they’re talking about this fight from Albania to Zanzibar.

As I spoke with Arum ,some of the media people were forming up downstairs in the private gym Freddie had built for Pacquiao so they could no doubt ask Manny the same questions they’ve asked him for quite some time.

Mayweather, who didn’t grow up with any silver spoons either, had endured the same experience the day before in Las Vegas.

Arum tried to draw meaning from it all. He referred back to the one percent. “God forbid, don’t tax them,” he said facetiously. “But there’s another point of view. You can improve things like Medicare and help people so they can live more decent lives. And I think that’s what this fight’s all about.”

Floyd, who’s been atop the pound-for-pound list since he scored a split decision over Oscar De La Hoya on Cinco de Mayo in 2007, travels with sacks of cash. He’s been known to throw currency into a crowd so he could watch ordinary citizens scramble for it. He enjoys showing his collection of fabulous cars on TV.

Mayweather formed a charitable foundation for tax purposes, but an investigation by the Nonprofit Quarterly found only a miniscule amount in its coffers made it to charity cases.
I pointed out to Arum that the piles of money Pacquiao distributes amounts to a kind of one-man foreign aid program, transferring wealth from high rollers in Macau and Las Vegas to his underprivileged countrymen. Arum bristled. “And what’s wrong with that?” he asked.

Nothing, I replied, noting that his Las Vegas purse will be subject to a 36 percent U.S. income tax.

Arum likes to refer to the 1971 Fight of the Century in Madison Square Garden, which he promoted. It was known for its cultural and political ramifications because Muhammad Ali had refused the draft and Joe Frazier was seen as representing the pro-war faction, though he harbored no such beliefs.

There were also cultural distinctions in 1987 when Sugar Ray Leonard faced off with Marvin Hagler, Arum said, because Leonard “was sort of a yuppie and Hagler was seen as a blue-collar guy.”

But at a time when the super-rich hire lobbyists and publicists to defend their privileges and U.S. student loan debt is $1.6 trillion and climbing, yes, there may very well be, as Arum insists, symbolic ramifications to the lavish spectacle less than three weeks away.

New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman’s Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag was released in 2013 by Potomac Books. Watch for The Debtor Class: A Novel from Permanent Press in spring, 2015. More information here.

Leave a Comment

More Columns