Last night I was asking a friend about Bob Arum's unpopular plan for his biggest star in Manny Pacquiao to fight an unheralded nobody this November and he summed it up by saying, “Boxing is stupid, it's awful.” I pressed him, “But why? Why is this fight being made?” And like all boxing fans not related to the opponent Chris Algieri, he shrugged before repeating, “Boxing is stupid.”
While the business of boxing might be stupid, but Bob Arum is not, so what gives? If nothing else, this decision is a clear message to boxing fans that Arum isn't concerned about pleasing loyal boxing fans, he figures you'll follow anyway. He's looking for new fans, whether they're residents of Algieri's Long Island bedroom suburb or of a Chinese factory town.
The prospect is nothing more than a calculated low-risk/high-reward gamble on Arum's part, as he doubles down on the Pacquiao's popularity in Asia in the hopes of creating a new market in the slowly growing Chinese middle class. With Pacquiao's career winding down, he's hoping he'll be able to use this fight to broker something bigger for Algieri down the road. Losing to Pacquiao won't kill his earning potential, not after Arum's constructed long introduction of his good-looking and well-spoken fighter to the American public.
Besides, there's little risk involved for Arum and Pacquiao in Macau's favorable tax environment. Algieri is a rangy, pecking boxer that probably can't hurt the Congressman, and if PPV numbers are underwhelming Arum could always make a better fight in the spring of 2015 and boxing junkies will all return to the fold anyway.
Boxing is stupid.
And the reward could be immense. As an educated white kid from the suburbs with manners who is looking to enter medical school, Arum knows he has a possible Great White Hope on legal PEDs, a story to sell to mainstream America.
The Top Rank boss put on the show in Omaha last month, where the hometown lightweight Terrence Crawford dazzled 10,000 fans who had never been to a fight and many of whom couldn't tell you the difference between a cruiserweight and a Carnival Cruise. He knows that it's not boxers that sell fights, but boxers' stories. It's the reason movies about boxers historically kill at the box office disproportionately to movies about more commercially successful sports. Arum is looking for new money and can't wait to serve his fighter to the American public on a press conference platter.
“I think Chris Algieri is a terrific fighter and a big talent. It's almost like a return to Gene Tunney,” Arum blustered to the press when announcing the fight.”He's a college kid, he's articulate, he could be a medical doctor. Give me those kind of guys in this sport. I see him as the reincarnation of Tunney. I thought he deserved the victory, absolutely. He neutralized Provodnikov after the first round.”
It's funny for Arum to compare Algieri to Tunney, the guy who was unable to knock Jack Dempsey out in two fights and won a controversial decision due to the infamous “long count,” because to many, Algieri had no business winning his decision over the harder punching Ruslan Provodnikov. But like Tunney, he did enough to some people, and like Tunney he betrays an education; which is somehow still shocking to so many people that a boxer could be intelligent, nearly 100 years after sportswriters whipped themselves into orgies describing Tunney's training camp bookshelves.
Again, we're left wondering who is looking out for the best interests of Manny Pacquiao. Boxing has allowed Pacman to become an international celebrity and opened the door for a political career that could one day see him being elected president of the Philippines, an office that's been inherently corrupt. Fighting a 30 year old light welterweight white hope may be a safe play, but it's hard to see it paying off. I often get the impression that Manny is too childlike, too superstitious and too trusting for his own good, that he'd be an easy mark for more devious men to borrow influence from.
If Pacquiao wants to finish his career where it started and where it took off, he'll have to push his team to get him the fights at the top, otherwise, his legion of supporters will begin to look elsewhere. Perhaps, as Arum is hoping, they begin to look towards Long Island.