Game over for ‘Pac-Man’?
So what’s the latest news on Planet Pacquiao?
After his shocking upset loss to Jeff Horn, back on July 1, in Australia, promoter Bob Arum had spoken openly of setting up a rematch with Manny Pacquiao and the newly-crowned WBO welterweight champion for the fall. But Horn will now be facing someone named Gary Corcoran (someone whom the late great Bert Sugar would say isn’t even a household name in his own household) and it looks like Arum is positioning another one of his clients, Terence Crawford, to fight Horn in the early part of 2018.
And Arum, the CEO of Top Rank, believes – and rightly so – that boxing is no longer the main focus of Pacquiao’s life and he wonders if he’ll ever return to the ring.
Arum would be perfectly fine with this, actually.
“One-hundred percent,” said the veteran promoter, earlier this week. “Nobody was more delighted when Andre Ward was packing it in because he had made enough fighting and he wanted a career in announcing. It’s great. Why should these guys stay and risk permanent injury, particularly when they have the ability to get out with their health?
“So I think Andre did a really smart thing in retiring and, if Manny decides to retire – which I don’t know – but if he does, I’ll be applauding it.”
It has to be noted that, by all accounts, Ward has saved much of his ring earnings and doesn’t seem to live an extravagant lifestyle. However, Pacquiao…well, in in the immortal words of Patrick Ewing during the 1999 NBA lockout, “We make a lot of money but we spend a lot of money.”
The reality is Pacquiao has gone backward physically as a fighter, which is expected at his age (38), while building a long, hard career which has spanned nearly 70 professional bouts (having compiled a record of 59-7-2, 38 knockouts) in a career that began in 1995.
The business of Pacquiao is also no longer what it used to be. His days of pulling in a million-plus pay-per-view buys are no longer and his most recent bout was on ESPN (which certainly isn’t a bad thing, to the contrary) but his purse was subsidized in large part by the Australian government. Recently, Arum stated that, while Pacquiao wanted the Horn rematch to take place in the Philippines, it simply wasn’t economically feasible.
If Pacquiao, a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, never does box again, perhaps it’s for the best. The bottom line is boxing hasn’t been a clear priority for him for at least several years and there is clear evidence of him declining. The Pacquiao of just a few years ago would have handled Horn with ease but it was still a fight many believed he won.
Leaving now wouldn’t exactly be the worst thing.
Boxing is littered with fighters, whom enjoyed glorious primes, being embarrassed as they kept at it past their expiration date. One of them was Arum’s first client, Muhammad Ali.
“I put him in with Leon Spinks. I thought it would be an easy fight,” recalled Arum, of Ali’s first encounter with the 1976 Olympic gold medalist, who came into this contest, in February of 1978, with just seven professional bouts under his belt. “Spinks beat him and then (Ali) said to me, ‘You’ve got to get me the rematch,’ and I made him promise that if I got him the rematch, win or lose, he would retire.”
Ali went through memorable battles with George Foreman (the “Rumble in the Jungle”) and the grueling 14-round affair with Joe Frazier (the “Thrilla in Manil”) and, prior to the first Spinks fight, he went 15 hard rounds with the heavy-handed Earnie Shavers. It was clear that Ali was well into the back nine of his legendary yet taxing career.
After losing to Spinks in Las Vegas, seven months later, he defeated him to become the first three-time heavyweight champion of the world at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, and he did retire, as promised – for awhile.
“He did,” said Arum. “It lasted for a couple of years and then Don King talked him into fighting (Larry) Holmes and then he fought Trevor Berbick. That was very sad. By that particular point, when he lost to Leon Spinks, his skills had eroded but I felt that, Ali being Ali, I owed him another chance to fight Spinks, provided it be the last fight. He did promise me and I know part of the deal was $250,000 to formally vacate and we did the WBA tournament that (John) Tate won and then this cropped up.”
But unfortunately, the Holmes opportunity came up and Ali was just a mere shell of whom he used to be and had to be rescued by Angelo Dundee after the 10th round. Arum says, “At that particular time, I know Ali had no chance and was going to get seriously hurt because it’s not necessarily that he’s going to get hurt in the fight but, Ali in sparring, he would just stand against the ropes and let people wail away at him.”
(To further illustrate Arum’s point, I highly recommend the “30 for 30” on ESPN, “Muhammad and Larry,” that followed both boxers in the lead-up to this fight.)
So, if this is the end for Pacquiao, losing a controversial fight to Horn, in which he suffered relatively minimal damage, kept his faculties intact and a clear future in front of him, maybe this – by boxing standards, at least – is a happy ending, of which there are too few in this business.
Pacquiao already had his Spinks moment but it beats having his version Holmes and Berbick moments.
Speaking of ESPN and Top Rank, Arum takes the delayed starts of their boxing broadcasts on the network in stride. Their latest card from Tucson, Arizona, on September 22 was shifted around on various ESPN platforms before landing on the main hub nearly an hour into the show, due to a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, that went into extra innings.
“You’ve got to undersand; they’re doing a lot of this programming to benefit us because it gives us a great lead-in,” he explained. “In other words, the Cubs-Milwaukee game did a tremendous audience, particularly in the Midwest, and we inherited that audience when we finally got on ESPN. But they’re doing it to help us, not to hurt us.
“Now, we’re talking live sports, it’s different from what you’re used to when you have an entertainment network doing boxing because an entertainment network knows how long a particular segment is, how long a movie is. There’s no guess work. If you’re doing live sports, you’re going to occassionally run into problems: If the games goe into overtime or they’re fucking around, changing pitchers.”
The Cubs-Brewers game not only went into extra innings but there was no shortage of calls to the bullpen, which infuriated a legion of boxing fans across the country.
“So it happens but I like it because our ratings are off-the-charts,” said Arum, who said their first card of 2018 will happen on Super Bowl Weekend on February 3.
Going back to Holmes-Ali, Arum opined, “That’s a blot on the Nevada Commission because, if you read that report from the Mayo Clinic, it didn’t exonerate (Ali). It said, as a normal person, he could do his normal activities but being a boxer is not a normal activity.”
As former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor made his ill-advised return to the ring, a few years ago, the Mayo Clinic was used as a crutch to justify the insanity of his comeback.
Some things never change.
Arum says they will do 18 shows on ESPN in 2018…Showtime has formally announced Deontay Wilder-Bermane Stiverne II as its new main event on November 4 from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn…Really enjoyed the “30 for 30” on Tommy Morrison. My only critique is that they didn’t mention that he did actually box, back in 1996, in Japan, against Marcus Rhode, after his national suspension for testing positive for HIV. By the way, the main event for that pay-per-view card was George Foreman-Crawford Grimsley and included the all-NFL battle between Alonzo Highsmith and Mark Gastineau. It was one of the best bad cards you’ll ever see. If it were a movie, it would have been “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”…OK, this is the year Miami finally beats FSU, right?…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.