NEW YORK — Boxing history is littered with the carcasses of guys with more money than brains who, having watched their intellectual inferiors accumulate cash, decided that if it was that easy for some dope to get rich out of boxing, then they themselves might as well get even richer.
Whether they were financiers who fancied themselves possessed of the Midas touch (see Trump, Donald), consortiums of local banks (see Shelby, Montana), despotic third-world dictators (Mobutu Sese Seko), or embezzlers in search of a creative outlet for their ill-gotten cash (Ross Fields, a/k/a Harold Smith), since the earliest days of the sport they have shared a common experience: When the box office receipts were counted they were left holding an empty paper bag as the real boxing guys got out of town with all the dough.
A word to the wise here (not that Bob Arum doesn't know it already): Don't count on Jerry Jones being one of them.
Arum, in New York Wednesday to announce the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey fight at Cowboys Stadium, called the March 13 site “the greatest venue ever to host a boxing event,” and then went on to sing its praises in terms we hadn't heard in fifty years since another generation of Texans described the Astrodome.
On the other hand, when Arum described Jones as his “partner” and suggested that Jones might revolutionize boxing — or at least the marketing of boxing — in the immediate future, he may not have been far off he mark.
I found myself reflecting on a conversation in a bar at Caesars Palace a few days before the 1987 Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler fight. Leonard's lawyer/advisor Mike Trainer had brought Jim Troy, the NHL goon-turned-WWF marketing guru, on board in a consulting role to Team Leonard, and Troy had in turn introduced Trainer to his boss.
“Bob Arum and Don King and the rest of them had better pray that Vince McMahon doesn't get interested in boxing,” Trainer said that night, “because if he ever did, he might put them all out of business.”
Vince McMahon never did. But Jerry Jones has been thinking about it for the past quarter-century.
Madison Square Garden might be the Mecca of Boxing, but even stuffed to capacity it can only accommodate half of the 40,000 Arum and Jones anticipate to pass through the gates at Cowboys Stadium come March 13. On the other hand, the 5,000-capacity WaMu Theatre was just about the right size for the press conference.
The wording on the schedule — “lunch will be served at 11 am, with the news conference beginning promptly at noon” — pretty much guaranteed a substantial early crowd. Press conference veterans knew they could spend a leisurely hour gorging themselves on the usual Madison Square Garden fare (pausing only to throw an extra wrap or two into the briefcase while nobody was looking) before Pacquiao and Clottey even showed up.
The first sign that this might not be business as usual came around quarter past 11, when the first Debbie approached a table filled with masticating boxing writers, placed a full-color glossy photo of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in front of one, and asked him if he'd like her to autograph it.
The expression on the guy's face was the look of a man who'd just been offered a free lap dance.
Similar occurrences took place around the Garden's WaMu Theatre as other Debbies worked the room in this campaign to win the hearts and, uh, minds of the media. Batting her eyes, one Debbie even told a grizzled fight writer she hoped she'd see him in Dallas when he came for the March 13 fight.
“Boy,” he sighed as Debbie Three moved on to the next table. “Getting these cheerleaders here was a great idea!”
Yeah, but with the Cowboys out of the playoffs and Tiger Woods in rehab, it wasn't as if they'd have been real busy that day anway.
Promoter Bob Arum revealed that the initial plan had called for four Debbies to fly to New York. At the Texas stop on Tuesday it emerged that another of the Cowboy cheerleaders was of Filipino extraction. Invited to join the the Pacquiao-Clottey traveling entourage, Debbie Five raced home to pack an extra thong and was shortly on her way to the Big Apple.
“Jerry Jones is one of the shrewdest men I've ever met,” says Arum of his new partner. “He told me that even before he bought the Cowboys he'd learned that the most important number in the NFL is nine. If you can maintain eight solid allies you control nine votes. And since the rules require a 75% approval to do anything, they'll never be able to go against your wishes.”
The extension of this logic is that a guy with nine votes and five Debbies at his disposal could make for a truly formidable ally — and an even more dangerous enemy.
Jones bought the keys to the last-place Cowboys in 1989. The new owner promptly fired the iconic Tom Landry, the only coach America's Team had ever known, replacing him with his lifelong friend and former college teammate Jimmy Johnson. Four years and two Super Bowl titles later, he fired Johnson and replaced him with Barry Switzer. By ownership standards he his considered meddlesome to a Steinbrennerian degree, but justifies his extraordinary involvement by pointing out that he is also the Cowboys' General Manager, having appointed himself to that position.
How his employees — and ex-employees — feel about him may have been aptly illustrated late in the telecast of last Sunday's playoff loss to the Vikings. As the waning minutes ticked off the clock in the embarrassing 34-3 loss, the Fox broadcasting team speculated on the future of coach Wade Phillips.
“Jerry Jones,” said former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman with all the diplomacy he could muster, “is not a patient man.”
Jones appears to regard Cowboys Stadium as he crowning achievement of his career. Built as a monument to himself at a reputed cost of a billion dollars, the utramodern playpen opened for business this year. The cost alone may be be precisely why it is also being touted as a multi-use facility. A team could sell out every football game for eons and not make a dent in the debt service.
But as Jones has pointed out on more than one occasion over the years, “I didn't buy the Dallas Cowboys looking to make money. Fortunately, I already had some of that.”
Robert Kraft's $172 million offer to purchase the New England Patriots had been approved on Jan. 21, 1994. Two days later I flew to Atlanta. Jerry Jones, whose team would play the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII a week later, was there too. (O.J. Simpson, who would cover his last Super Bowl as a sideline reporter, was also there, but that's a story for a different day.)
When I ran into Jones in Atlanta he almost immediately launched into effusive praise of Kraft, who he predicted (correctly) would be a great NFL owner. At this point I was still trying to encourage Kraft to come down to the Super Bowl. He had initially been ambivalent about the idea, since he wasn't sure he'd exactly be welcomed with open arms. He had purchased Foxboro Stadium out of bankruptcy court in 1988 and then wielded the Patriots' lease like a hammer, not only heading off at least two attempts to relocate the franchise and successfully beating back an NFL-backed attempt to build a new stadium in downtown Boston, and for the previous half-dozen years he and then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue had communicated only through their respective lawyers.
I then told Kraft what Jerry had said about him.
“Gee,” he said, “that was awfully nice of him, but Jerry Jones doesn't know me from Adam!”
“I know a lot more about him than he probably thinks I do,” said Jones, a twinkle in his eye. Jerry sat on the league's finance committee, one of whose functions was to quietly vet the credentials and financial status of prospective members of the world's most exclusive club. When rival suitors for the Patriots had leaked rumors questioning Kraft's financial suitability to their favored columnist at the other newspaper about town, the NFL's stony silence had been take by some as a suggestion that the league shared that view. Jerry Jones, on the other hand, not only knew pretty much to the penny what Kraft was worth, but his politics as well. (He's a Democrat.)
“Tell him to come on down,” said Jones. And, when I relayed that message, Kraft did.
“Robert, I remember telling him just before I hung up that day, “I realize that up until now this has all been a series of business decisions, but I don't think you have any idea how much you're going to enjoy it.”
By the time of the Commissioner's Party that Friday night, Jones and Kraft might have been joined at the hip. As the pair of them staggered from table to table, the Cowboys' owner introduced his new friend to his old ones, pausing intermittently to refill Kraft's glass from the whisky bottle Jerry was clutching in his left hand. They were trailed by a somewhat anxious-looking Jonathan Kraft.
“But Dad,” the present-day Patriots' president kept trying to remind his father that night, “you don't even drink!”
That Bob Arum has also fallen under the Jones spell was evident. By all accounts the pair were on their best behavior in Dallas on Tuesday — and while Jones had to pull out of the New York trip the next day, as a gesture of good faith he did place the five Debbies under the promoter's care.
And just wait till next week.
“Jerry and I are going to Mexico together,” said a beaming Arum, who hastened to add that it would be a business trip. “Monterey and Mexico City have some of the greatest fight fans in the world — and they're all Dallas Cowboys' fans!”
There was another wonderful moment in New York when Arum introduced Freddie Roach as “the greatest trainer in boxing.” No one was arguing with the promoter's description, but it does illustrate just how ephemeral boxing's ever-shifting alliances can be.
The last time Arum promoted a Pacquiao fight in Texas — Manny vs. Jorge Solis at the Alamodome three years ago — Roach was off in Puerto Rico training Oscar De La Hoya for his fight against Mayweather and didn't fly into San Antonio until the night before the bout, leaving his assistant Justin Fortune in charge of Pacquiao's day-to-day preparations.
Arum was still furious at Roach, whom he blamed for Pacquiao's attempt to jump ship to Golden Boy. (Freddie proclaimed his innocence, maintaining that all he'd done was introduce the two, at De La Hoya's request, which was kind of like Oscar saying “I didn't do anything wrong. All I did was hand Manny a satchel full of cash in the back seat of a limo.”)
When the fight was over, Arum made out the check for the trainer's end of the purse to Fortune, who promptly cashed it and pocketed the dough, pausing only long enough to stop by the Wild Card, where he cleaned out all of his stuff and some of Freddie's.
It was one of those little twists of the knife Jerry Jones would have appreciated.
Jones had involved himself in boxing even before he involved himself with the Dallas Cowboys. In January of 1983 he teamed up with the late Pat O'Grady to promote a card at the Little Rock Convention Center. The main event saw Anthony Davis (13-1) knock out Otis (Hardy) Bates (9-3-2) to win the cruiserweight title of O'Grady's short-lived World Athletic Association.
Even as club fight shows go, that one would seem singularly unattractive, but Jones' promotion produced the largest crowd in the history of Arkansas boxing — a record that stood for more than twenty years until Jermain Taylor won the middleweight title and came back to Little Rock to defend it.
In 2010, Jerry Jones wasn't just looking to get back into boxing and he certainly wasn't thinking about Pacquiao and Clottey. He wanted to make the biggest splash possible for his new stadium, and the prospective Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight loomed the biggest attraction boxing had ever seen. Jones was so anxious to land it that he ponied up a $25 million site fee offer — a fairly ostentatious pre-emptive strike, since unlike the places he was bidding against, Jerry couldn't count on hijacking the paying customers to a roulette table on their way out of the stadium.
In early December Arum, HBO's Ross Greenburg, and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer were due to fly to Dallas to meet with Jones. Schaefer, who was presumably operating at Mayweather's direction, telephoned his regrets at the last minute, and the trip was canceled. Since the blood-testing issue had yet to surface, it was the first indication that Money might not be quite as anxious to fight Manny as he kept telling people he was.
Arum, for his part, was livid, particularly over what he considered the dismissive slap at Jones. Then, two weeks ago, after things had fallen apart with Mayweather, Arum, a lifelong Giants' fan, flew to Dallas at Jones' invitation and watched the Cowboys' playoff win over the Eagles from the owners box. By the time the game was over the two were partners.
“You know how long it took us to make a deal?” recalled Arum. “Fifteen minutes.”
“Yeah,” noted Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler. “Good thing Schaefer didn't get on that plane. Maybe none of this happens if he does.”
Or maybe that's exactly why it is happening. Those with a cursory understanding of Texas assume that football is the guiding obsession among its natives, but the truth of the matter is that while Texans do spent their Friday nights watching high school football played under the lights and their Sundays are devoted to the Cowboys, the other five days of the week are generally devoted to the pursuit of the real state game: Revenge.