Juan Manuel Lopez was the star of a news conference on Wednesday before the hard-to-impress New York media. On Saturday, the Puerto Rican knockout artist will headline a pay-per-view card in Atlantic City, N.J., when he defends his World Boxing Organization super bantamweight title at Boardwalk Hall against Olivier Lontchi.
HBO had no interest in the bout; neither did Showtime. In most cases, with most promoters, that would mean that no bout would occur. A young fighter like Lopez, who is searching for a defining fight and needs to stay busy until he finds it, depends upon fights like these to develop his game.
But without interest from either of the major premium cable networks, Lopez would, in most cases, be idle this week and lose a valuable development opportunity.
Top Rank's Bob Arum promotes Lopez, however. For nearly 50 years, Arum has played by his own rules. He had no outlet to televise the bout and so he created one himself. While awaiting a match against one of the established stars at super bantamweight, Lopez gets a chance to stay busy, learn the intricacies of life as a world champion and earn a paycheck.
It's an opportunity few, if any, others would have provided him and it's why, at 77, Arum remains the standard by which all other promoters are judged.
Arum's card on Saturday will attract only modest numbers. It's priced at $39.95 on pay-per-view and doesn't have one must-see fight. It's also wedged between broadcasts on HBO, featuring a main event of Victor Ortiz against Marcos Maidana, and Showtime, featuring a middleweight title bout between International Boxing Federation champion Arthur Abraham and Mahir Oral.
The beauty of the way Arum operates, however, is that he doesn't let another company, which doesn't have his best interest at heart, dictate what he does. If you take HBO's money, you agree to HBO dictating to you.
Arum and his staff, though, know far better than HBO what's best for the development of his fighters and for his company, so Arum doesn't put himself into a position to being dictated to by the network.
Arum determined Lopez needed to fight. He couldn't land a bout for him against either Israel Vazquez or Rafael Marquez, the division's top names, so he kept him busy in a fight that Lopez should win by knockout.
It won't be long before Lopez is one of the game's top attractions. He's talented, powerful and charismatic and Arum will soon have his choice among the premium cable channels when he's pitching fights. But on Saturday, he's gambling because the fight is not compelling, Lopez is still not widely known and the possibility exists that Arum could wind up losing a lot of money.
He takes that risk, however, because he believes in himself and in his people. He knows that matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman are peerless. Trampler made it to the World Boxing Hall of Fame – and it's outrageous that he's not in the more prestigious International Boxing Hall of Fame – largely based on his ability to develop fighters into stars.
Trampler has been largely responsible for two of Top Rank's primary promotional successes, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Don't, however, get the idea that it's all Trampler. Arum is so astute he recognizes a star long before anyone else.
Manny Pacquiao was a top fighter who had won multiple world championships by the time Arum had even heard of him.
But Arum was able to recognize that Pacquiao had the star qualities that so many others lack, even though he was largely anonymous outside the Philippines when Arum first became aware of him.
"A couple of years ago when Golden Boy and Top Rank were fighting over him, I flew to the Philippines and I told the press there that Manny would become the No. 1 attraction in boxing," Arum said. "I just looked at Manny and I knew this was a guy who could do extraordinary things. But everyone thought I was nuts.
"He had an incredibly passionate following in the Philippines. But I knew the people in America would take to him when they got to know him. Americans view him as exotic, not like the average American kid. The whole story, leaving home after his father ate his dog and all that has gone on, builds that aura around him and I knew people would be attracted to him."
Since joining with Arum, Pacquiao has not only become the pound-for-pound top boxer in the world, but he's also morphed into the game's biggest box office attraction. He's so big that the game's biggest stars are beginning to fight him.
Arum is closing in on what will be a scintillating bout on Nov. 14 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas between Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, one that could surpass 1 million in sales.
Shane Mosley, the World Boxing Association welterweight champion who once was briefly the pound-for-pound king, is so desperate for a fight with Pacquiao that he's making his own company look bad.
Mosley, who is one of the owners of Golden Boy Promotions, said in interviews that the Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez fight that Golden Boy was promoting had sold fewer than 2,500 tickets when it was postponed earlier this month.
The official reason given was that Mayweather injured his ribs, though there has been no doctor's report issued or any details provided about when, where and how Mayweather was hurt.
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer was incensed when reports surfaced about poor ticket sales and denounced them as vicious lies. But then Mosley, in campaigning to get the Pacquiao fight instead of Cotto, essentially called his partner a liar by claiming sales of around 2,300 tickets.
Arum, of course, had to chortle over that precious bit of irony.
He's built Pacquiao into the game's biggest box office attraction. When Pacquiao was in New York earlier this month to accept the Fighter of the Year Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America, he made stops at the offices of Time Magazine, the New York Daily News and the New York Times.
He received a huge ovation from the largely Puerto Rican crowd at Madison Square Garden, which was there to watch Cotto defend his WBO welterweight title against Joshua Clottey.
Pacquiao has become so big that Cotto, a guy who has twice sold out Madison Square Garden, will gladly accept no better than a 60-40 purse split in order to land the fight. It's all due to Arum, who outworks, outthinks and outpromotes rivals half his age. The only bad news is that he's not going to promote forever.
When he is gone – and that time doesn't appear to be coming any time soon – boxing will have a void that it may never fill.
- Juan Manuel Lopez
- Bob Arum
- Manny Pacquiao