Monday, February 21, 2011

Bob Arum: The Magician's Latest Tricks

Bob Arum is having a good month. After years of boxing getting shunned by American network television, Arum has lined up CBS to heavily promote the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight. With Nonito Donaire's performance over the weekend, Arum's company, Top Rank, unearthed perhaps the next American boxing star. Oh, and to top it all off, Top Rank's main rival, Golden Boy, might be losing another one of its big name fighters, leaving the company for the chance to be Manny Pacquiao's next victim opponent.

Arum, more than any other American promoter, is willing to buck conventional wisdom. Even at his advanced age, he is pushing the boundaries of the status quo, which bolster, his fighters, the sport of boxing and himself (usually in that order).

Having argued with HBO over the years about dates and their reluctance to buy his fights, Arum convinced Showtime to get back in the pay-per-view business after a half-decade-long hiatus. Instead of helplessly and routinely spinning the competitiveness of Pacquiao's next fight, he got CBS involved to help Pacquiao reach new, casual fans.

No mere one night stand, Showtime and Top Rank have also decided to date each other again after seeing others. Arum has fights with Miguel Cotto and rising star Brandon Rios on Showtime in the next few months.

The ramifications of these events cannot be overstated. Juan Manuel Marquez, perhaps Golden Boy's last remaining elite fighter under 40, was unwilling to fight Eric Morales. Reportedly, he wants to become a free agent so he can have one more shot at Pacquiao. According to respected boxing writer, Thomas Hauser, HBO was so incensed at losing Pacquiao to Showtime that they are doing a full organizational review of their boxing program.

Click on this link for more about the in-house drama at HBO.

If it sometimes seems as if Bob Arum is playing chess while almost everyone else in boxing is playing checkers, there is no disagreement here. These latest steps of Top Rank have been masterful. Arum is slowly and methodically defanging his opponents, one-upping his nemeses and overcoming roadblocks.

That is not to suggest that Golden Boy won't survive or that HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg is out of a job. There will be other battles to fight in the future. And if there aren't, Arum will magically invent some.

For Top Rank, they couldn't be in any better negotiating position. HBO must be scared to death of letting Donaire slip through their fingers. In truth, Showtime had the first crack at Donaire, but instead they hitched their wagon to Donaire victim Vic Darchinyan. The world is Donaire's oyster right now and everyone in boxing knows it. The need for stars and big fights will also help Arum line up additional HBO fights for Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez. Don't be surprised to see HBO debuts for Steve Molitor and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in the near future as well.

Showtime also will have a taste of that sweet Pacquiao gravy train. Barring some unforeseen disaster, All of Pacquiao's fights from now on will be heavily battled between various network and corporate interests. Again, advantage Top Rank.

Juan Manuel Marquez wants to fight Pacquiao so badly that he might even offer his services at a far reduced level. This circumstance arises after somehow Top Rank, or a back channel proxy, convinced Mosley to relinquish his equity share of Golden Boy to fight the Pac Man. There may be some uneasy conference calls going on at Golden Boy headquarters right now.

What separates Top Rank from other promotional outlets are two things: a willingness to take risks and the ability to build stars. These are not abstract concepts. Top Rank has the big bankroll, sure, but they are willing to put their boxers in their own pay per views and nurture fighters at their own pace.

Top Rank can take a Filipino American like Nonito Donaire and build him through the Filipino audience which they helped establish with Pacquiao. Top Rank understands how to identify talent, how to develop and match them, and how to forge long-term relationships with the right managers and trainers to take excellent talents to the next level.

In another prescient move, Arum has rejected exclusive network contracts for his fighters, instead retaining flexibility as opportunities develop. This allows him to individually negotiate better deals for each fight, capitalizing on momentum and demand within the boxing community.

Some speed bumps are ahead. Donaire is technically a free agent this year. He's most likely not going anywhere but Arum needs to show him some real love and affection. Timothy Bradley and Amir Khan could also become free agents this year. If either of them hit the market, huge bidding wars will commence. Both Golden Boy and Top Rank have already fired shots across the bow regarding Bradley. Expect delicious machinations (and their accompanying priceless quotes) to ensue.

Many have disagreed with Bob Arum's methods over the years and have tried to deem him irrelevant. Year after year, the elder promoter continues to prevail.

Yes, Bob Arum is a crusty old man sometimes (not necessarily endearing, like Merlin, the avuncular wizard). He can be profane. He gets in petty arguments. He has interesting relationships with facts and truth.

Although many suggest that Arum conjures magical statements from mysterious orifices, his latest bit of sorcery has handcuffed his chief rivals and may yet lead to the disappearance of others. Additionally, with Donaire, Arum has pulled another hare out of his top hat.

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