Had Joseph Heller been alive, he might have written a real-life sequel to his classic book, "Catch 22," about the dilemma facing HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg.
When the Internet's most infamous commentator, Floyd Mayweather Jr., opted not to fight Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 13, Top Rank's Bob Arum was left in search of an opponent for Pacquiao, a Filipino congressman and the best boxer in the world.
Arum chose Antonio Margarito, who may be the most reviled man in boxing (if Mayweather hasn't yet surpassed him). On June 24, 2009, in Los Angeles, Margarito was caught with a hardened object inserted into his hand wraps that contained elements that are contained in plaster of Paris before an HBO-televised fight with Shane Mosley.
Margarito subsequently had his license revoked by the California State Athletic Commission, which declined to give re-license him when he re-applied last month after waiting more than the mandatory 12 months. Undeterred, Arum took Margarito to Texas, where officials there quickly rubber stamped his application, setting the stage for a Nov. 13 bout with Pacquiao at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
None of the options for a Pacquiao opponent were particularly appealing, but Arum's choice of Margarito unquestionably put the onus on Greenburg. HBO Sports won an Emmy for the brilliant 2009 documentary, "Assault in the Ring," which chronicled the story of Luis Resto, Panama Lewis and Billy Collins Jr. Prior to a 1983 fight between Resto and Collins in New York – ironically, promoted by Arum – Lewis removed the padding from Resto's gloves and soaked Resto's hand wraps in plaster of Paris, turning them into casts.
Resto, who was a huge underdog, delivered a frightful beating. When Collins' father, Billy Sr., shook hands with Resto after the fight, he noticed the padding was removed. Lewis and Resto subsequently spent time in jail and each have been banned from boxing.
Had Greenburg said yes and agreed to broadcast the fight and distribute the pay per view, he knew he would come under attack from those angered by Margarito's actions. Had he taken the moral high ground and told Arum he had no interest in Margarito, Arum would have simply either taken Pacquiao to HBO rival Showtime or he would have produced the pay-per-view on his own. In either event, Greenburg then would have had angry superiors demanding to know why he cost the company so much money.
"It was hard for me to make a decision that we wouldn't do Manny Pacquiao's next fight and set him free to go off into the TV marketplace, never to see him again," Greenburg said. "I would not be doing my job as president of HBO Sports if I tossed Manny Pacquiao aside. If I set one of the sport's biggest superstars free, it would be a moronic business decision.
"There is no illegality to this fight. There are moral issues, to be sure, but there is nothing illegal about this event."
The issue with Margarito clearly revolves around whether or not he knew that then-trainer Javier Capetillo put the object into his wraps. Arum has based his decision to campaign for Margarito on his belief that Margarito was unaware and is as much a victim as anything else.
"Not only is there no evidence to prove he knew or to prove that anyone besides Capetillo knew," Arum said, "but all of the evidence, every last piece of it, points to the fact that he didn't know."
Both Pacquiao and Shane Mosley have said they believe Margarito knew what was in his wraps. Dozens of other fighters have concurred. Margarito, however, has been adamant he didn't know and points to the fact that he thrust his right fist forward toward commission inspectors and asked them to check it when Mosley trainer Naazim Richardson complained about his wraps.
Margarito was greeted as a conquering hero by Mexican and Mexican-American fans last week when he appeared at a news conference at Cowboys Stadium to promote the fight. The general consensus from non-Mexicans, however, is of disgust and disbelief.
So Greenburg opted to chronicle the controversy in the upcoming four-part documentary series, "Pacquiao-Margarito: 24/7." The "24/7" franchise has become one of HBO's hottest properties and has been a boon to pay-per-view sales. Pacquiao-Margarito will be the ninth fight that HBO has done a "24/7." Of the previous eight, seven have sold in excess of 800,000 and five have done 1 million or more. Only the 2008 fight between Roy Jones Jr. and Joe Calzaghe didn't turn in monstrous numbers on pay-per-view following a "24/7," which did 247,000.
Greenburg knew, though, that he could not ignore the controversy, so when HBO Sports issued a news release announcing the "Pacquiao-Margarito: 24/7," it included a note pointing it will examine the hand wraps controversy.
It would be better for all concerned if it were Steve Kroft and a "60 Minutes," crew looking into it, but boxing fans can only hope that the "24/7" cameras will be able to draw out a side of Margarito heretofore not seen.
If Margarito is telling the truth and truly did not know Capetillo had loaded his wraps, he doesn't deserve the scorn he's receiving and will increasingly receive as the fight nears. But if, as many suspect, he did know, had worn the object before and lied to the commission in a desperate bid to receive a license, that needs to be told.
"Whether Margarito is guilty or innocent is up to others to decide," Greenburg said. "Whatever it is, we have to do our job as journalists and tell the truth and the story as we know it. That's what we will do. We couldn't possibly ignore it, because this is a major part of this fight. So if we're really going to go 24-7 on a fight, we have to tell the whole story, good and bad, and not just ignore parts we may be uncomfortable with."
Greenburg is a brilliant documentarian and undoubtedly will relate the pain Margarito has felt during the aftermath of the hand wrap incident to the viewer.
If he can get to the truth of the matter, regardless of what the truth might be, it would provide a desperately needed shot in the arm for boxing.