LAS VEGAS – There may come a day, not too long from now, when boxing fans speak of Pacquiao-Cotto in the same reverential terms that they speak of Hagler-Hearns.
The fight matches a pair of elite fighters in the prime of their careers with styles that mesh perfectly with much at stake in the bout.
That describes the 1985 middleweight title bout between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, a match that went down in boxing lore as one of the greatest slugfests ever.
It's not hyperbole to suggest that Saturday's bout for the World Boxing Organization welterweight title between champion Miguel Cotto and pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao could become another of the sport's epic battles.
Bob Arum, the septuagenarian who put together the Hagler-Hearns classic and is promoting the Pacquiao-Cotto bout on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, felt the same way prior to each fight.
It's not, however, the way you might think.
"On Sunday, I called Bob and told him we were getting great [coverage] of the fight and things were looking terrific and he just goes, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,'" said Top Rank president Todd duBoef, Arum's stepson. "And then he says to me, 'I don't want to see the fight.'
"I was astounded and I said, 'What? You don't want to see the fight?' And he said, 'Todd, I'm sick to my stomach. I like these kids too much to watch them do this to each other. I like to root for my guy against someone else. This is going to be very hard on me.' I was really amazed.
"I asked him if that had ever happened to him before. And he said, 'Yeah, I had the same thing before Hagler-Hearns.' … It's going to be hard for him to watch and see one of them, or both of them, taking that kind of punishment."
The fight will be seen by millions worldwide and has a very good chance of exceeding 1 million pay-per-view buys. It's an astounding number, given that fewer than 25 fights in the history of pay-per-view have exceeded 1 million.
That it's being orchestrated by a 78-year-old who five years ago never envisioned himself still being mobbed by media that doesn't ordinarily cover him is even more astounding.
Arum has been known as much for his explosive temper, his wild public comments and his fierce competitiveness as he has for his ability to sell a fight.
On Wednesday, as he masterfully led the promotion of the fight through the final news conference and toward Saturday's predictably violent conclusion, he was the picture of serenity. He hasn't seemed as happy and as at peace with himself as he has in 20 years.
In most of the many fights he's promoted during his Hall of Fame career, Arum has led one fighter against one promoted by someone else.
This time it's different.
Arum promotes both Cotto and Pacquiao and has had Cotto since the beginning of his career. Pacquiao was little more than a regional fighter with limited national appeal until Arum got a hold of him and turned him into one of boxing's biggest attractions.
He's brilliantly maneuvered these disparate men into a fight that has the potential to become the second-most watched non-heavyweight bout in history. Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. hold the pay-per-view record with 2.4 million sales for their 2007 fight, and Pacquiao-Cotto isn't likely to come close to that.
But that's probably the only mark out of its reach.
In 1999, De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad racked up 1.4 million sales, which at the time was the largest non-heavyweight bout ever. The Pacquiao-Cotto fight is tracking so well and there's such a palpable sense of excitement in the city that surpassing 1.4 million sales doesn't sound as ridiculous as it might have just a month or so ago.
The event Wednesday was significant enough to bring out publicity-seeking Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, who awarded the key to the city to each fighter.
As he surveyed it all, Arum used a Yiddish term, kvelling, to describe his feelings.
"I'm just so proud of these guys and how they've gotten here and what kind of people they are and what kind of fighters they are," Arum said. "There's a feeling of great, great satisfaction on my part. That's why my demeanor has been the way it is, because it just touches me to see how these kids have blossomed and grown."
Pacquiao was promoted by Murad Muhammad when Arum initially worked with him, in 2004 for his first bout with Juan Manuel Marquez. And while he instantly knew that Pacquiao was a quality fighter and could develop a solid following, never did Arum imagine that just five years later, Pacquiao would be on the cover of the Asian edition of Time magazine, would be the pound-for-pound top fighter in the world and would be one of the sport's most iconic fighters.
Nor did he waste one second of dreaming about fights between Pacquiao and Cotto or Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, which could break all financial records if it happens in 2010.
It wasn't until Pacquiao fought David Diaz for the lightweight title in 2008 that Arum was convinced that Pacquiao could not only face some of the elite welterweights in the world, but defeat them.
Diaz was a 1996 U.S. Olympian and was large for lightweights. Pacquiao had never fought as high as 135 pounds and had seemed to reach his peak at 130. Arum put him in with Diaz to see if Pacquiao could compete with the raw-boned, physical lightweight.
"The key move I made from a fight standpoint, and people don't understand this, was not the De La Hoya fight [in which Pacquiao stopped the Golden Boy in eight rounds in 2008]," Arum said. "That was luck, getting De La Hoya. The key move I made in Manny's career, without which we wouldn't be here today, was the fight with David Diaz.
"Manny was a little guy, a guy who was 126, maybe 130, and we put him in with a big lightweight like David Diaz, who he knocked out. That made it feasible to make a fight with Oscar. You couldn't go into a fight with Oscar coming off a fight with Marquez or [Marco Antonio] Barrera or any guys like that. You couldn't do that. Beating Diaz, and beating him the way he did, opened a lot of doors for Manny."
Diaz at the time believed firmly he'd defeat Pacquiao, whom he knew would be quick and was a great boxer. But Pacquiao's speed and quickness were far more than Diaz imagined.
He said Arum's ability to see the big picture is what separates him from other promoters.
"In my opinion, Bob is the greatest promoter of all time," Diaz said. "He's a man of his word. If he tells you he's going to do something, he does it. If he owes you something, he pays it. He's great that way, but that's not why I say that.
"The thing about Bob is, he knows boxing and he knows how styles go and how to make fights for guys that are quality fights and good fights but which help you to build your career and keep moving up."
Pacquiao and Cotto are at the pinnacles of their careers, but so, too, is the man who guided them to the top.
Arum has been in the Hall of Fame since 1999, but he's never promoted like he is now.
"I can see now from working with him every day why he's been so successful for so many years," said Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti, whom Arum hired away from Main Events earlier this year. "He's the kind of guy who wants input from all sides before making a decision and he's a great listener. Some people ask for your advice or your opinion, but their mind's already made up. That's not true with Bob. He considers everything before he makes a decision.
"He knows who can fight and who can't and he knows a guy you can do something with. He's like a mathematician the way he does numbers in his head and he knows if a fight is worth it or not. And despite his age, Bob is always willing to try to do new things or learn how to do something better. You don't always see that in young people but Bob has been successful, I believe, because he's never stopped learning or caring."
- Manny Pacquiao
- Miguel Cotto
- Bob Arum