By Ivan G. Goldman
In the popular welterweight division, the plot sickens.
Manny Pacquiao extended his promotional contract with Bob Arum, and Floyd Mayweather sent out word that he’ll fight again on Sept. 13. He hasn’t read off the name of the lucky lottery ticket holder, but it won’t be Pacquiao. Mayweather says he’ll never do business with Arum, and there could be other business obstructions we don’t even know about.
Photo: Chris Farina/Top Rank
The fight the public wants the most – the one that would generate the most dollars — won’t be fought. Period.
Maybe the best way to understand it is to liken Mayweather to the Miami Heat and Pacquiao to the San Antonio Spurs. Now let’s say they win East and West respectively – but that means, alas there won’t be any championship series. Why not? Well, you see, a Heat player announced he can’t stand a guy in the Spurs business office and won’t play against that particular team. Besides, they play for competing networks.
Would fans be understanding and patiently wait for another season that might or might not lead to an NBA championship series? No, NBA fans just aren’t that stupid. They’d gravitate elsewhere – to college ball and to other sports that aren’t so crazy. If any of them migrated over to boxing they wouldn’t stay long because they’d find déjà vu all over again.
Photo: USA Today
Oddly enough, professional boxing has managed to keep going anyway. And if you judged its health by the amount of money being collected by a few top fighters and the squads of functionaries around them, you’d say everything is hunky dory. Mayweather, generally considered Number One pound for pound — although that assumption looks less certain – remains the highest-paid athlete in the world.
But dig a little deeper and you uncover an entirely different world down there. “There’s no middle class in boxing,” an old guy told me years ago. Either you’re living in a mansion with dozens of Bentleys in the garage or you’re driving to the next card in an oil-burning jalopy with three bald tires. Even some of the fighters on premiere networks Showtime and HBO have to keep their day jobs to pay the rent. Ditto for their trainers.
Only a tiny portion of the millions generated by big pay-per-view fights trickle down to the professional prizefighters busting their butts in gyms after working construction all day. On a good night they might get a free T-shirt from some beer distributor. In many cases these guys accept fights knowing almost nothing about their opponent. They figure they’ll deal with whoever’s in front of them because they want that payday.
Some of what we’re seeing in the sport these days is less like prizefighting and more like trying to interpret signs from the regime in North Korea.
Singling out members of the other guy’s entourage as an excuse to avoid the fighter is nuts and not the act of a true champion. When did we hear Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, or Thomas Hearns ever make such a reference? And the corporate war between Showtime and HBO facilitates such behavior.
We don’t even know how closely Pacquiao is tied to HBO. He could have some kind of rock-solid contract over there, as Mayweather apparently has with Showtime. Details are sometimes dribbled out but mostly kept confidential. Executives from the two networks, even if they wanted to sit down together and make some temporary trades, would probably run afoul of antitrust statutes.
Oscar De La Hoya, who says he wants to get some of his Golden Boy fighters into the ring with Arum’s Top Rank fighters, will need a crack team of lawyers. He’s raised the idea of Pacquiao versus his Canelo Alvarez, for example.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao and Mayweather will continue looking, for the most part, at entirely separate lists of potential challengers. Boxing is entering an era that prevailed in professional football before the AFL and NFL teams merged, when the Giants and Jets, for example, could never compete against each other. What a stupid system that was.
` Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in 2013 by Potomac Books, a University of Nebraska Press imprint. It can be purchased here.