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It was three in the morning Saturday on the East Coast when Bob Arum delivered the bad news. The 78-year-old chairman of Top Rank, boxing's preeminent promotional company, called a news conference in the middle of the night to tell the world that there was no deal for Manny Pacquiao to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Sadly, if there is going to be one, it almost certainly won't be until May 2011. A Top Rank-imposed deadline of 11:59 p.m. Pacific on Friday for Mayweather to accept an offer on the table for a Nov. 13 fight with Pacquiao passed with nary a peep from Mayweather or his representatives.
The deadline, Arum said, was simply the end of an exclusive negotiation period for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.
He'll begin to work later Saturday on reaching a deal for a Pacquiao fight with either Antonio Margarito, the former World Boxing Organization welterweight champion who in 2009 was suspended from boxing for a year by the California State Athletic Commission after getting caught with a plaster-like substance slipped into his hand wraps before a fight with Shane Mosley, or Miguel Cotto.
Neither fight will come anywhere close to creating the kind of sizzle and excitement that a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight would have created. Mayweather and Pacquiao have lapped the field and are the two best fighters and the two biggest stars in the world by a wide margin.
A fight between them could have sold three million pay-per-view purchases and made each man upwards of $60 million.
Pacquiao is going to have to take a significant pay cut to fight either Margarito or Cotto, which he can't be pleased about. He likely wouldn't make any more than about a quarter of what he would have made if he were fighting Mayweather, though Arum said on the call that he wouldn't discuss that until after he speaks with Pacquiao.
The possibility of still doing a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight has to be one of the primary reasons that Arum struck an unusually conciliatory tone on Saturday. He urged the media not to lash out against Mayweather for failing to respond.
He speculated that the reason Mayweather may not want to make a decision yet is because his uncle, Roger Mayweather, goes on trial in a Las Vegas court room on Aug. 2 on charges that he assaulted a female boxer he once trained.
Roger Mayweather has been his nephew's primary trainer for the last 10 years, and Arum conjectured that Mayweather wouldn't want to fight without his uncle preparing him.
"Without knowing, I am sure that there is a very, very good reason that Floyd Mayweather has for not committing to a fight at this time," Arum said, softly. "I really and truly believe that. Now I'm speculating, but one of the reasons could be the uncertainties regarding Roger Mayweather.
"People may not know Roger Mayweather is scheduled to go to court in Nevada regarding criminal charges. I know Manny would not want to go into a fight without the services of Freddie Roach. Presumably, Floyd feels the same way about going into a big fight like this without the services of his Uncle Roger."
Nobody knows, though, because Mayweather has been silent. He hasn't spoken publicly about the potential of a Pacquiao fight in months. Nor has his advisor, Al Haymon, who engaged in a bizarre negotiation with Arum in an attempt to make the fight despite the fact that neither man spoke to the other.
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HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg was the middleman. Arum would speak to Greenburg, and Greenburg would carry Arum's message to Haymon. In turn, Greenburg then delivered Haymon's thoughts back to Arum.
Arum and Haymon ultimately came to a deal. Or at least Arum said they did on June 30, when he declared that there were no outstanding issues and that the only issue remaining was whether Mayweather would fight Pacquiao in November or in May 2011.
"I never talked to anybody from the Mayweather side and I never spoke to Floyd Mayweather," Arum said. "I only spoke to Ross Greenburg, who reported to me certain things he had gotten from talking to Al Haymon."
It didn't matter if Arum agreed, or if Greenburg agreed, or if Haymon agreed. It only mattered if Mayweather agreed and, alas, not even the countdown clock that Top Rank president Todd duBoef decided to splash across the top of the company's webpage on Thursday could force him to budge, or to even speak.
Arum said the deadline related to an exclusive negotiating period with Mayweather, so the essence of the 50-minute call was that a Mayweather fight could conceivably still happen this year. Don't bet on it, though.
The promoter will speak with Pacquiao within the next several days to see who Pacquiao would prefer to fight. He'll then begin to negotiate a contract with the opponent of Pacquiao's choice. He said he thought he could reach a deal with either Cotto or Margarito within 10 days of opening talks.
He said he'd be open to a Mayweather fight if Mayweather came to him and accepted a deal before he reached terms with either Cotto or Margarito, but said that once he has a commitment from either Cotto or Margarito to take the fight with Pacquiao, a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight for 2010 would officially die.
Arum left open the door for a fight between the two in May 2011, assuming Pacquiao wins his November fight.
The whole thing had a funeral feeling about it.
Instead of seeing the two biggest stars and best fighters in the sport compete for the largest pot of money in boxing history, we'll be left with either a rematch of a one-sided fight or with a bout against a guy who was caught trying to load his hand wraps.
Listening to Arum speak on the call knowing all this, it felt like boxing's version of the Colts' middle-of-the-night move in 1984 from Baltimore to Indianapolis.
The MGM Grand Garden Arena will almost certainly be the venue for bouts with either Margarito or Cotto. Arum said he has a venue in Monterrey, Mexico, lined up if Margarito can't manage to get a boxing license in Nevada because of the incident with the hand wraps.
If Pacquiao chooses to fight Cotto, it will either be in Las Vegas or Cowboys Stadium in suburban Dallas.
As Arum ran through Pacquiao's options without Mayweather, it occurred to me that, for fans, it would be like trying to buy tickets for a Yankees-Red Sox series with the division title on the line in September and winding up with seats to a Pirates-Astros game instead. It's not a fair trade.
In boxing, it's usually the fighters who take the punches, but not seeing a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in November is going to feel like a punch in the gut for tens of millions of boxing fans who had hoped that maybe, just maybe, boxing would get it right for a change.