By Ingming Aberia
Anyone who follows the business side of professional boxing has something to think about when Bob Arum recently said a potential Manny Pacquiao-Ricardo Mayorga fight will break pay-per-view records. The May 5, 2007 light middleweight fight between Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr holds that record at 2.5 million buys, more or less.
Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga (29-7-1, 23 knockouts) shares the ring tomorrow with Miguel Cotto (35-2, 28 knockouts) of Puerto Rico to contend for the latter’s WBA light middleweight crown. Heading to the day of the fight, Mayorga—at least on surface—has been true to form, personifying the bad guy that he has been known for throughout his ring career. In response, Cotto had not been inhibited in his show of disdain for his opponent either, who went to the extent of refusing Mayorga his part of the traditional face-off in today’s weigh-in rites. This prompted Mayorga’s “he’s a coward” remark.
The animosity between the fighters provides contrast to the goodwill between the promoters. Arum, who promotes Cotto, and Don King, who promotes Mayorga, have lately been showing fondness for each other, a scenery which radically departs from decades of bruised partnership between two of boxing’s most influential promoters who ever lived.
This early, the developing bond of coziness between the two octogenarians enjoys warm reception not only from peace makers, but also from violence-loving boxing fans. It must be noted that King appears to have access to Mayweather’s ears, and Arum himself has said that King holds the key to making what looms to be the biggest fight of the century—between Mayweather and the Arum-promoted Manny Pacquiao—happen.
It is uncharacteristic for Arum to concede with hardly any resistance, but the financial promise offered by the highly-anticipated bout is simply too large that not having the stellar role in putting up a fight this huge would seem to be acceptable. Hence what can be seen to play out in the foreseeable future is that King will be poised to take control over the on and off Pacquiao-Mayweather saga and put it back on the negotiating table.
King’s position today seems to be where Arum was when Pacquiao knocked on the doors of big-time boxing. In 2003 Pacquiao became one of boxing’s hottest properties when he unexpectedly mugged Marco Antonio Barrera in a featherweight contest. There were three featherweights of consequence at the time, the other two being fellow Mexicans Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. From the viewpoint of fan support, however, only two mattered—Barrera and Morales.
Pacquiao wanted to invade the big-money fights, and therefore had to train his sights on Morales. But he needed to get Arum’s blessings, whose company—Top Rank—promoted both Morales and Marquez. Murad Muhammad—Pacquiao’s promoter at the time—revealed in an interview that Arum would favor a Pacquiao-Morales fight only if Pacquiao agreed to fight Marquez first. The plan seemed easy to understand: He needed Pacquiao’s rising popularity to prop up Marquez. Arum also needed proof that Pacquiao’s rise to stardom was indeed on a more or less irreversible trajectory.
Murad arranged a Pacquiao fight in Manila—against Thailand’s Fahsan 3K Battery—and the mammoth crowd that saw the fight live must have convinced Arum that Pacquiao has indeed arrived, so to speak. Pacquiao did not want a Marquez fight—a Morales fight offered a much bigger purse—but had to go through it before finding El Terible. Pacquiao and Murad eventually disentangled themselves from each other’s contractual bind—and not in the best of terms; but for a time the boxer found it hard to extricate himself from the resentment that in the Marquez fight he faced a top opposition for a low worker’s wage.
The signs look similar today. It is possible that King is out to position Mayorga in the way of Arum and Pacquiao getting to Mayweather. If the script plays out the way its authors want it, Pacquiao may also find himself facing a top-level opposition (no surprise here) for a sub-standard pay. But the Mayweather bonanza just looks too big to be ignored, and the Arum-led Team Pacquiao could probably rationalize a repeat of Pacquiao-Marquez 1. Arum himself has put in his air to the floating balloon: that Pacquiao-Mayorga could beat Dela Hoya-Mayweather in the pay-per-view record for most number of buys.
But first things first. The script needs Mayorga to beat Cotto tomorrow first to get itself moving towards a desired ending. It is in for an uphill grind, however. Most fans, including bettors and odds makers, don’t give the thrash-talking Mayorga a chance. Cotto can simply spoil the fun and, in that scenario, King and Arum would have to skip to Plan B.
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Hermilando “Ingming” Duque Aberia is a sports fan and a literary enthusiast. He has written a book titled “Manny Pacquiao: Story Bigger Than Boxing.” He has a master’s degree in Development Management from the Asian Institute of Management and is a practitioner in social development work.