Closed-door policy won't benefit boxing

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

The most significant news to come out of Bob Arum's bizarre 3-in-the-morning conference call on Saturday, that essentially announced nothing, was when Arum confirmed what many in the boxing industry suspected was already occurring: As best he can, he's going to keep all of his fights in-house.

That means he isn't going to match Manny Pacquiao, his star attraction, against Timothy Bradley, who is promoted by Gary Shaw Productions, or Paul Williams, who is with Goossen Tutor Promotions. Both are ranked in the pound-for-pound Top 10 and have combined to win 65 of the 66 professional matches they have fought.

No matter, though, Arum said in his middle-of-the-night conference call to report nothing. There will be, he insisted, "no free rides" for other promoters. If Pacquiao fights someone not promoted by Top Rank, the promotional company Arum founded nearly a half-century ago, it will only be Floyd Mayweather Jr.

That's mighty big of him.

He'll co-promote in the one fight in which he'll make tens of millions of dollars, but that's where he'll draw the line. He's not going to share the bounty with the likes of Shaw, Dan Goossen, or Lou DiBella by making fights the public – his customers – might want to see.

"We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building up our fighters and publicizing them so they are pay-per-view attractions, losing money a lot of events [in the process]," Arum said. "The other promoters don't really promote their fighters. They take money from HBO or Showtime or a little Indian casino and they think they're doing the kid a big service. I'm not going to give them a free ride on the work we have done.

"Paul Williams is a tremendous fighter, a great fighter. But he hasn't been promoted correctly. He doesn't have any following, can't sell any tickets. Nobody is financing the pay-per-view fight. On an HBO fight, HBO pays the money. I'm the one that's financing the pay-per-view and I don't want to give anyone a free ride."

It's true that, by a long margin, Top Rank is the best promoter in boxing. Arum can make a big event out of rubble better than anyone.

Top Rank's website, which only recently was a cluttered, disastrous mess, is sharp and modern and takes advantage of the latest Internet technology. Inspired by the success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Top Rank president Todd duBoef has made a point to enhance the in-house fan experience at his live events and that is markedly better now than it was 18 months ago.

Top Rank has developed strong international television partnerships, which provide its fighters with greater exposure and generates more income. Ultimately, that leads to higher purses for its boxers.

All of that is laudable, but it's growing Top Rank, not the business of boxing, and that's the problem with Top Rank's stance.

Keeping the fights in-house is always better for Top Rank, because Arum will keep all the profits and will have the winner no matter what. Since Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto are both promoted by Top Rank and are the two men under consideration to be Pacquiao's Nov. 13 opponent in the likely event there is no Mayweather-Pacquiao bout, Arum is in a no-lose situation.

He'll earn millions from the promotion and, in the off-chance there is an upset, will make substantially more for the rematch. And while a Pacquiao loss to either Cotto or Margarito wouldn't outright kill a fight with Mayweather, it would make it exponentially harder to make and certainly would remove much of the luster for it.

Goossen, who once worked as a vice president for Top Rank and has been frequently critical of his one-time boss since leaving more than a decade ago to form his own promotional outlet, said Arum's modus operandi has long been to try to control both sides of the equation.

"When Bob was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he did an interview and he talked about regretting what he had done to boxing, and how he and another promoter [Don King] had failed to make fights that the people wanted to see," Goossen said. "But he's doing the same thing now. He knows he has both sides if he goes with Margarito or Cotto and he knows neither of them have leverage to squeeze him for more money.

"If he goes with Cotto, Cotto is going to be happier than hell to get the fight and he'll make a hell of a lot more than he did for fighting Yuri Foreman. Margarito, how is he going to ask for more money? He's not in a strong position and he'll take pretty much what Arum tells him to take. Then, Bob has both sides and he can't lose."

Boxing fans, though, can lose, particularly if a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight doesn't happen. And you can forget about three million pay-per-view sales and $60 million purses if Pacquiao, Mayweather, or both, lose before they eventually meet.

What makes it astounding that Arum is going ahead with plans to make either a Pacquiao-Margarito fight or Pacquiao-Cotto II is that there is no demand for either bout. Pacquiao destroyed Cotto in November, stopping him in the 12th round of their fight at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. It's hard to see how things would change in a rematch.

Margarito was decimated by Shane Mosley on Jan. 24, 2009, the night he was caught trying to load his gloves. At a hearing the following month, he was suspended for a year by the California State Athletic Commission.

After being dominated by Mosley – who was subsequently dominated by Mayweather – Margarito has fought one time. It was a decidedly less-than-inspiring performance against Roberto Garcia on May 8 in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Even if he looked like the next coming of Sugar Ray Robinson, however, Margarito doesn't deserve to fight Pacquiao given the hand wrap situation and his own poor performance.

Margarito should be licensed in the U.S. and allowed to fight, even though he was given a ridiculously light penalty for the heinous offense he committed, but that doesn't mean that Arum has to use him, particularly in such a high-profile event.

Arum's deadline for Mayweather on Friday was patently ridiculous because, even if Mayweather wanted to fight Pacquiao on Nov. 13, his personality is such that he is not going to abide by anyone else's deadlines.

He's going to fight when he's good and ready and he'll announce it on his terms, not Arum's.

Of course, Mayweather could be classy and make a statement about his intentions to the fans who have made him rich beyond his wildest imagination, but he continues to choose not to do that. Speaking to Associated Press reporter Tim Reynolds at a charity basketball game Sunday in Miami, Mayweather declined to discuss boxing. He was willing to talk about basketball, but who cares what he thinks about basketball? On the topic of a Pacquiao fight, he was maddeningly mum.

"I'm not really thinking about boxing right now," Mayweather told Reynolds. "I'm just relaxing. I fought about 60 days ago, so I'm just enjoying myself, enjoying life, enjoying my family and enjoying my vacation."

He owes his fans, and the sport, far better than that. He didn't have to be definitive, but he could have said whether or not he wants to fight Pacquiao and give at least some sense of when he plans to get back into the ring.

Still, Arum knew long before the deadline countdown clock was placed on Top Rank's website last week that there was no chance of a Mayweather response. And, despite his words, Arum was fine with that.

Arum would rather not put up with Mayweather or his advisers, whom he dislikes intensely. Whatever efforts he's expended to get the fight made are because he knows how badly the public wants it and, more significantly, because of the enormous amount of money there is to be made.

A Pacquiao-Williams fight, or a Pacquiao-Bradley fight, wouldn't be remotely as big. There is intrigue in those fights, though, that doesn't exist in either Pacquiao-Margarito or Pacquiao-Cotto II.

There aren't a lot of great options for Pacquiao if Mayweather doesn't fight him, and vice versa.

Making an honest effort to make the best fights, regardless of who promotes them, is all that Arum's many loyal, paying customers ask. That goes for all fights, not just Mayweather-Pacquiao.

Keeping everything in-house is better in the short term, but it doesn't help grow the sport.

Arum's overriding concern shouldn't be about what is best for Top Rank, but rather what's best for his customers and what's best for boxing.

The healthier boxing gets, the better Top Rank will do. The UFC has a closed-door promotional policy, but mixed martial arts a relatively new sport that was created that way from the ground up. Boxing operates dramatically differently and there's no changing it now.

In boxing, opening the doors, not closing them, is the best way to improve the sport's health.

A healthier, more financially robust sport will benefit all.

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