Bob Arum has yet to give a tagline to his next PPV on Nov. 23, headlined by Manny Pacquiao and Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios, taking place at The Venetian Macao in China. While it looks to be an excellent match-up between two all-action fighters, he appears less interested in the fight itself than what it represents.
“The world is changing,” Arum said from the dais on Tuesday afternoon at Jing Feng restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown for the first leg of the US press tour. He was referring to his company Top Rank opening the doors to China to big time prizefighting and developing Macao as a potential threat to standard-bearer Las Vegas. This has been made possible due to the enormous popularity his top earner, the Filipino Pacquiao, has enjoyed throughout Asia, among other continents, over the last decade. But an equally important player has been a new member of his stable, Zou Shiming, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and burgeoning pro at light flyweight who enjoys hysterical, Pacman-like fame in his native China. This in a country of 1.35 billion has Arum licking his chops, even if Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong banned the sport in 1959, which was only legalized in 2001 when China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. (Committed to winning more Olympic medals than any other nation in 2008—for the symbolic import such an achievement denotes—China went after amateur boxing full-bore.)
At pressers such as this, Arum laps up the spotlight as much as any mega-star fighter. Regardless of what you think of him, the 81-year-old is a freak of nature, defying age every bit as much as Bernard Hopkins. He puts the late George Burns to shame. He acts his age only in the time it takes him to cross the room and whatever hair dye he insists on using. In other ways, he recalls the qualities of great veteran fighters; making every move count and wasting nothing, setting traps, thinking several moves ahead, with a couple hollow-points in the chamber.
An example of Arum’s verbal nimbleness occurred when he was twice interrupted while holding court by some loudly spoken Cantonese spoken over the restaurant’s PA system. Like a Borscht-belt comedian, he paused for a beat and then replied “I agree.” When it happened a second time ten minutes later, he said, “Hold the orders please,” using it as a segue-way to discuss other matters at hand. The only people present who didn’t chuckle or applaud were the two scantily-clad Tecate girls flanking him; like Madame Tussauds wax figures, their painted faces didn’t move a muscle and no plastic parts jiggled. He began to expound on the merits of the events big sponsor Tecate beer: “The fastest growing beer in America,” he reminded the crowd. He proposed a toast to all the “umbres”—then corrected himself and put more “H” into it, out of respect for all the Latinos who have made him a wealthy man—who would be imbibing the fine beverage during the fight.
Arum didn’t hold back from firing a few jabs at his rival Golden Boy Promotions, explaining how the Managing Editor of Time magazine whom he and Manny met with yesterday, said he was bored at Floyd Mayweather’s last fight at the MGM Grand. Arum explained to him that’s because other people in his business have “No pizzazz…. ‘That’s how some people do it, but not us. A Top Rank fight is a spectacular show. Between fights, dancers come in the ring! There are fire displays and great displays of lighting! A real show. People will be entertained.’” He likened his product to arguably the number one brand in sport, the NFL, who get the concept of putting on a good show.
After he was done with Golden Boy, he went after the boxing press, saying, “The bloggers don’t talk about [the show Top Rank puts on]. They don’t get it and don’t get what’s important for the future of the sport.”
“The world is changing but it is still the same,” Arum continued, steering his spiel back to where he first began today. He reminded us that the PPV will begin as they always have at 9pm EST, and will be distributed and broadcast by HBO, whom he called “the best in the business at PPV.” (Not long ago, the man who once famously said, “Yesterday I was lying but today I’m telling the truth,” spoke of “all the bullshit and phony events HBO is into these days”). As Macau is 12 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time, the televised portion of the card will begin at 9am that Sunday in China, which isn’t my idea of fun. Arum noted that all the marketing will remain the same, with a “Face Off” segment moderated by Max Kellerman and a juicy “24/7” series.
When Arum called the usually feral Rios ( on left, with Pacquiao, in photo courtesy Chris Farina-Top Rank) to the stage, a guy who could make a construction worker blush, it seemed a choir boy had possessed his soul. He was sweetly wide-eyed and epithet-free, offering only kind words towards his foe. “This”—referring to the whole tour—“is the first presser where no one talked smack,” Rios said. “Everyone has been respective.”
He admires Pacman’s achievements and can find nothing negative about him to latch on to. Three years ago, before Pacman fought Rios’ stable-mate Antonio Margarito, he joked about Freddie Roach’s well-documented Parkinson’s disease, which was caught on video. He has since apologized and, at the moment, there doesn’t appear to be a hint of discord between the two camps.
When Arum took to the stage once more and began introducing Pacquiao, he didn’t refer to him as a fighter. He spoke only of him as “a great congressman,” a veritable flower among weeds in the corrupt world of politics in that beleaguered Third World nation.
This was as telling as anything Arum had done all day. The octogenarian is all about the future. China is the future. “Bam Bam” Rios may be the future. Pacman the fighter? The 34-year-old was last seen planking on the canvas for a good ten minutes. The Bobfather is planting new seeds. The world keeps turning and pauses for no one, including Manny Pacquiao.