For better or worse, the business of boxing has settled in on making only two fights a year for its biggest stars. There are a few outliers, like the Mexican junior middleweight, Canelo Alvarez, who is on pace to fight three times this year and the American super-middleweight Andre Ward, who is on pace to never fight again to spite his promoter. For the most part though, it’s two fights, which give the promoter and PPV network a shot at drumming up mega-events with a weeks-long promotional campaign, an accompanying reality mini-series and trivial lead-up moments captured on YouTube all because on fight night, both men will enter into the theater of the unexpected and reveal their destinies.
But if an elite boxer is only going to fight twice a year, those fights have to be good. The promoters owe it to their fighters, the fighters owe it to their fans, and they both owe it to the competitive spirit of that foregrounds all athletics.
So excuse me for feeling rather underwhelmed at the prospect of Bob Arum matching Manny Pacquiao this coming fall with Chris Algieri, the newly-crowned junior welter from Long Island who wrested the belt by decision from Ruslan Provodnikov last Saturday. Arum had already disclosed his desire to bring Pacquiao back to Macau again in 2014, and he doubled down by weakly committing to give the Algieri-Provodnikov winner “first dibs” against Pacquiao. No offense to Algieri, who gave the boxing world a new lesson about heart, but . . . thanks but no thanks.
There’s a whole host of guys who don’t have the initials FM or JMM who could form a more compelling, let alone more lucrative fight, with Filipino sensation than a light-punching boxer with no name and a limited game. Marcos Maidana, anyone? Danny Garcia? Amir Khan? Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, hell even Lucas Matthysse and Adrien Broner all offer more interesting fights than with the Pacman than Chris Algieri.
Even at this point, the 82-year old Arum is still trying to tap into new business and more money and sees Pacquiao as his golden goose to bridge boxing interest into the emerging middle class of the world’s most populous country. I understand that Top Rank is investing heavily in the still unrealized potential of flyweight Zou Shiming, but for the sake of the entire sport, should it come at the expense Pacquiao’s blood and sweat?
(Catering to the low-wage Chinese common man, Arum has suggested selling the fight card with Shiming and Pacquiao for $4. Can I take this opportunity to point out that boxing fans all over the world are having a hard time shelling out $60-$80 per fight and would love to buy the fight for $4 too? PPV buy numbers are trending down, which is due to a variety of factors, but the cost is certainly prohibitive to the casual fan.)
Pacquiao, god willing and the creek don’t rise, is looking at five more fights before calling it a career. Arum’s top consideration should be making these fights a series of movements that continue to rise towards to grand crescendo, giving Pacquiao a shot at the late-career glory that Arum’s former charge Roberto Duran enjoyed in the late 80’s. Even at 35 years old, he’s an elite athlete and the Bradley fight showed he’s got plenty in the tank.
As always with Manny Pacquiao, you have to wonder who is really looking out for him. It’s possible that Pacquiao feels a strong pull of fealty towards Bob Arum and may just rather blindly trust him than analyze it more deeply. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship. It has always been hard to tell if Pacquiao’s right-hand man Buboy Fernandez can play the role of advisor in protecting his friend’s best interests, but someone should.
Last year it made sense for Manny to fight the one-dimensional slugger Brandon Rios in Macau, 10 months after his devastating knockout to Juan Manuel Marquez. It remains to be seen whether Arum can lure any of the aforementioned name fighters to Southeast Asia to fight Pacquiao, most of them would greatly prefer the more neutral and convenient location in the United States. It may be a smart business decision in the long-run for Arum, but it just doesn’t make sense for Pacquiao right now.
Certainly Freddie Roach did his part in throwing some cold water on Arum’s Macau gambit, http://www.thesweetscience.com/news/articles-frontpage/18779-freddie-says-mannys-next-being-in-macau-isnt-set-in-stone telling TSS’s Michael Woods earlier this month, “They talk about fighting in China, if these big fights happen, they gotta move the location, because Marquez, Ruslan, those are big fights in America . . . if a China fight does come off, with a high quality tough-tough fight like against Ruslan, they don’t know who Ruslan is over there . . . some of those opponents are not gonna go to Macau.”
Whoever is looking out for him better do their best to keep their man interested. He lives a kind of charmed life of a boy who never grew up, is constantly surrounded by a large entourage of friends and hangers-on and is wonderfully impulsive and charismatic. He’s a man of many hobbies and distractions, whether it be politics, show business, gambling, charity work, or coaching basketball.
Being and staying a champion in boxing requires near-constant routine, discipline and focus. Twenty years into a career, the roadwork, sparring and rope-jumping has to become mentally rather monotonous. When Pacquiao wants something in the ring, he gets it. When he’s bored and unfocused, he’s just not the same guy.