Friday, July 18, 2014

Top Rank and the Bad Sell

This week, Top Rank Promotions announced that Manny Pacquiao, its number-one boxing attraction, will face junior welterweight titleholder Chris Algieri in a pay per view matchup to take place on Nov. 22 in China. Let me not mince words: I hate that this fight is a pay per view. Algieri has no real following in boxing, is undersized, lacks power and has only one victory of note in his career, a highly disputed split decision victory over Ruslan Provodnikov. Were this matchup to air on HBO World Championship Boxing instead of as a pay per view, requiring no additional costs for boxing fans, it would have sat a little better with me. However, there were certainly more attractive opponents for Pacquiao than Algieri. Fighters like Robert Guerrero, Keith Thurman, Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner had no fights scheduled at the time of the Pacquiao-Algieri announcement. And even if fights were in the works for these boxers, the Pacquiao opportunity would certainly have generated more money for them than their other available options.
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum settled on Algieri for three reasons: 1. Juan Manuel Marquez didn't want to fight Pacquiao for a fifth time. 2. Arum has run out of other viable opponents within his own stable. 3. Arum refuses to work with fighters aligned with manager Al Haymon.
Thus, boxing fans will have to watch one of their favor fighters take on a lesser talent because of political considerations. If this were yesteryear, when boxers laced up the gloves four or five times annually, then a marking-time matchup like this would be more understandable. However, Pacquiao only fights twice a year and Algieri will be his second opponent in his last three whose skills on-paper will be far less than his (the other was Brandon Rios).
But who am I to tell Top Rank, probably the most financially successful boxing promotional company in the world, how to run its business? A Pacquiao fight will bring a huge site fee from the Cotai Arena in Macau. In addition, Top Rank has been playing a long game in Asia, staging several fights a year to build a nascent pay per view market in China, by far the largest population center in the world. So even if the Pacquiao-Algieri pay per view doesn't do that well in the North American market (which is the conventional wisdom), Top Rank will certainly make money on the fight and it will help the company further its strategic ends. 
A major part of Top Rank's current financial viability involves milking its primary cash cow by whatever means necessary. Through this process, the company continues to enrich itself by using dubious future Pacquiao fights to deceive boxing fans and the media. In this regard, I believe that Top Rank has operated in bad faith.
When Juan Manuel Marquez fought Mike Alvarado earlier this year, Carl Moretti, a VP at Top Rank, told the assembled media that the winner of the fight would face the victor of the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley rematch. Nevermind that contracts weren't signed or that the Marquez camp showed reticence in a fifth Pacquiao fight. Marquez refused an immediate rematch after the fourth matchup and his trainer, Nacho Beristain, was adamant about ending the series. Yet Top Rank still insisted that the two winners would face each other.
The media ran with it. That announcement drove more attention to the Marquez-Alvarado matchup. But it was all a canard. After Marquez's victory over Alvarado, the fifth fight, as many predicted, failed to materialize; boxing fans wound up being sold a bill of goods. And the major boxing media outlets, despite complicity promoting this potential fight, refused to hold Top Rank or itself accountable for Moretti's dubious claim.
Top Rank's pattern of bad-faith statements has been consistent throughout the last few years. During the lead-up to both Pacquiao-Rios and Pacquiao-Bradley II, Arum proclaimed that a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was still viable, despite years of failed negotiations and his past statements that he would no longer do business with former Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer and boxing manager Al Haymon. These suggestions by Arum were strategically made during the fight weeks, where large numbers of media members itch and scratch to fine compelling content to send back to their publications. On cue, many media members parroted this dubious whopper in their pre-fight stories.
In essence, Arum used the fiction of that mega-matchup to stoke interest for his less-appealing fights. Fine, that's a promoter's trick. However, at a certain point, these proclamations become nothing more than outright cynical untruths. Arum was exploiting sympathetic media members (either ill-informed ones or house organs) to generate revenue. After each of those fights, which resulted in Pacquiao victories, Arum made no serious attempt to reignite discussions with Mayweather, again, an easy example of the company operating in bad faith.
And it continues. Over the last few weeks, Top Rank has been very successful in stroking certain media members regarding the validity of the Algieri fight. Across social media, I have noticed a number of claims (many by those who should know better) that Algieri is the "best available" or the "most viable option" for Pacquiao. These proponents have fallen for Top Rank's spin hook, line and sinker.
Algieri only becomes viable because Top Rank refuses to do business with Golden Boy or Al Haymon (there was a recent purse bid fight between the companies but they didn't functionally work together). Again, too many boxing media members and fans have fallen victim to Top Rank's public relations or just reflexively tow the company line.
In the past, Arum and Schaefer stated that they wouldn't do business together. Fine, but Schaefer is now gone. In the lead up to Schaefer's departure, Arum told various media members that he was looking forward to working with Oscar de la Hoya and Golden Boy, yet, why weren't any Golden Boy boxers seriously considered for Pacquiao's next fight?
Friends of Top Rank would tell you that the answer is Al Haymon, whom Arum has disparaged for years (Haymon represents Matthysse, Broner, Guerrero, Thurman, etc.). Yes, Arum and Haymon rarely work together but let's look at the Pacquiao situation a little more closely: Arum holds the purse strings and the network (HBO) for the Pacquiao PPV. Arum could guarantee more money for a Pacquiao fight than anything Haymon's fighters would receive on a regular Showtime broadcast. In addition, Haymon has an obligation to his clients to offer them the most lucrative opportunities. He would be failing them as a manager if he refused to bring these types of offers to them. (Would Matthysse really turn down a figure like $2.5M?) But Arum didn't fully explore these options in good faith; thus, Algieri was selected because of expediency and his manageable financial demands.
Algieri himself is a fine enough boxer. I'm happy that he's getting the opportunity and hopefully he makes the best out of it. But as a boxing enthusiast who wants to see the best matched against top challenges, I am far from satisfied.
If Top Rank wants to devalue its Manny Pacquiao asset in the United States by having him fight overseas against lesser opposition, that's its business. But Top Rank is using bait-and-switch tactics for the sell, and that is detestable. That practice shows contempt for boxing fans and treats them with a lack of respect.
Although Top Rank will still clear money off of the Algieri fight, don't believe for a second that it wouldn't like to see 700,000 or so buys from the PPV; most likely, the company won't even approach that number. Part of the reason is the unattractiveness of the matchup, a problem created by Top Rank itself by selling more attractive options and then coming to the public with a lesser one (the bait-and-switch). Another factor is the company's refusal to explore the best possible opponents because of Arum's feelings regarding Haymon.
Today, the Top Rank brand is damaged in the U.S. market. Most African-American fighters of note have gone with Al Haymon and/or Golden Boy. Fans blame Arum as a major reason for Mayweather-Pacquiao not happening. The company has a lengthy history of placing bad undercards on its pay per views; this practice continues even as Golden Boy has put forth more attractive undercards. Top Rank's most recent two pay per views have disappointed. Arum (rightly or wrongly) is often associated with the old-line promoters who made their money by exploiting fighters  and operating outside of acceptable ethical boundaries. The company has engendered lots of ill will.
There have been a series of bad-faith decisions by Top Rank over several years (far predating the events of this article) that have slowly eroded its status in the U.S. However, its bad business practices continue. Disingenuous yarns still get spun to the media and fans. False hopes and promises remain part of its day-to-day operations. 
Arum can be a truly brilliant businessman but it's clear that his trademark cynicism has been adopted by his company’s intended consumers. Fans are now keener to the bad sell and if the company wants to remain a force in the U.S, it should start treating boxing fans with respect, instead of regarding them as stooges. Unless HBO Boxing wants to become a primary Asian broadcaster, Arum needs to continue to deliver at home. Repeatedly alienating his customers might not be the way to do it. Obviously, his American stable of fighters isn't what it was but can he still count on American boxing fans? Did it have to be this way?

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at
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