The Square Jungle: Mayweather Madness, Arum, Showtime blues and the Westside Gym
Recently denied entry into Australia because of his 2012 domestic battery conviction, Floyd Mayweather Jr. once again has cornered the boxing market for insanity. In the last 20 years or so, only Mike Tyson (who, by the way, was allowed to fight in Denmark and England despite a rap sheet that overshadows even that of Mayweather’s) has had a more surreal existence in the fight racket.
Not only did this international affair kickstart the usual penny-click grandstanding among sensitive purple proselytizers but it may also have given us some insight into the bizarre netherworld of Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao negotiations. How is that possible? Well, a man with such outlandish demands (including an on-call barber and a bottomless supply of Gummy Bears) for a celebrity tour can hardly be easy to negotiate a potential $250-million-dollar event with. In fact, if you combine the Australian kookiness with details revealed from a recent book about Mayweather, you have all the makings of a genuine eccentric. Not exactly Gerard De Nerval walking his pet lobster down the streets of Paris on a leash or Tycho Brahe hiring a dwarf in a clown suit to sit at his feet during high society dinners, perhaps, but Mayweather does have a certain flair for madness, one deep-rooted in outsized egoism.
This cockeyed megalomania marks him as, potentially, the Michael Jackson of boxing. One day, maybe, “Money” will show up with a pet chimpanzee at his side and make a fitting subject for a Jeff Koons piece or he can just disintegrate completely and become the Howard Hughes of the Sweet Science. Either way, keep his wacko outlook on life in mind whenever the Pacquiao negotiations break down and blame starts flying like shrapnel from a grenade. And if this fight is somehow signed – and some believe it will be – then you can only imagine the hard work so many have put themselves through to placate a man who wears sneakers only once before tossing them aside.
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The Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao negotiations saga is a tale told by many, many idiots. But such is the allure of penny-clicks that this relatively uninteresting story has produced enough Blogese to send standard English on a downward spiral from which it may never recover.
There have also been a few strange stories written about how Top Rank Promotions’ Bob Arum, who has been promoting since 1966, is somehow looking to sabotage Mayweather-Pacquiao. Arum did not become filthy rich by blocking big fights; he became filthy rich, for the most part, by making big fights.
The only rational reason for Arum to sabotage this fight – if you have a thing for conspiracy theories – is because Pacquiao is co-spearheading (along with Zou Shiming) the Top Rank experiment in China, a lucrative market with fewer demands on a promoter. But that logic presumes that Pacquiao becomes an instant non-commodity in the East, should he lose to Mayweather, and that may not necessarily be the case.
Still, Mayweather has repeated over and over that he will not work with Arum under any circumstances. Yes, Mayweather has a personal disdain for Arum that borders on hate, never mind the fact that Arum signed “Pretty Boy” to a generous contract after a disappointing Olympic performance, developed him and even stepped in to mediate a deal gone sour with a wrathful James Prince. But there is one detail that few seem to mention when it comes to the standoff between Mayweather and Arum: it is the fact that Floyd Mayweather Jr. operates without a promoter and has done so for years.
Since 2009, when he returned to the ring to face Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas, Mayweather has paid Golden Boy Promotions a flat fee to act as nuts-and-bolts producers of his fights. In a sense, GBP was event coordinator with a little side work in marketing. This fee, reported to have been in the $2 million range (although Oscar De La Hoya, post-Richard “Fiduciary obligation? What fiduciary obligation?” Schaefer, reportedly doubled his take for Mayweather- Marcos Maidana II), is nothing compared to what a traditional promoter would earn from a bonanza pay-per-view like Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez or Mayweather-Pacquiao. Involving Arum means giving up a significant percentage after years of controlling the profits (similarly, the enmity between Schaefer and Arum was chalked up to “personal” reasons and nary a Super Blogger in cyberspace mentioned that co-promoting a fight with Arum would have meant exposing the rather unusual business practices Schaefer specialized in to a man, “Bottom Line Bob,” who knew every trick in the book after nearly 50 years at the top). Is that the real reason Mayweather has repeatedly claimed a Pacquiao fight will not take place if Arum is involved? Or is it something a little darker?
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While Al Haymon is creating a blizzard of buzz with his Premier Boxing Champions series, his springboard over the last few years, Showtime, has seen itself devalued faster than the ruble. What does that prove? Well, for one thing, it proves HBO is far smarter than Showtime, even if Stephen Espinoza has an edge on the Network-Executives-Attitudinizing-Via-Twitter category. By giving Al Haymon the boot over two years ago, HBO brass preempted his cloak-and-dagger routine and has a clear programming strategy for 2015.
But remember, Espinoza is an altruist and everything that has occurred over the last few months has his blessing because it is for the good of boxing. That, at least, is what the Donald Rumsfeld of the Sweet Science would have you believe in any number of damage control interviews given in the wake of losing his entire roster of fighters to NBC, Spike and possibly ESPN and even Telemundo.
It’s a shame Espinoza isn’t so caring whenever he greenlights some poor vintner from Italy to get his brains scrambled in the Showtime equivalent of torture porn. Nor was he so magnanimous to his own subscribers, who have been taken for a very expensive ride over the last year while Espinoza “knew” what was coming from Haymon and still approved one mediocre bout after another. “We are not in the business of hoarding one good fight at a time,” Espinoza told the media after the Premier Boxing Champions’ specifics were announced. You can say that again, Stephen; you can certainly say that again.
If Espinoza can do his part in the labyrinthine negotiations and Mayweather-Pacquiao is made, then he will go a long way – for some, anyway – to mitigating a largely disastrous recent run for a network known primarily for a bad case of penis envy regarding HBO.
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According to reports, Andre Ward, whose only bouts on HBO so far have been against a weight-drained Chad Dawson and the unexceptional Edwin Rodriguez, wanted another soft touch from the network for his return to the ring after Roc Nation Sports freed him from the clutches of Goossen Promotions. When HBO expressed disinterest, Ward approached Showtime without much success. Apparently, it was not enough for HBO to push Ward as some sort of pound-for-pound all-star (so much so that you half expected him to pop up in a cameo role on “Girls,” with Lena Dunham maybe taking up boxing lessons and Ward playing a reluctant trainer who would rather recite verses from Deuteronomy while in the gym) but it also underwrote two mismatches and gave him a job as a rather bland ringside analyst. There is some precedent here: Sugar Ray Leonard lost his commentary gig with HBO when he agreed to fight Terry Norris on Showtime nearly 25 years ago. Of course, boxing is the last place you would expect to find loyalty but the fact that Ward was willing to approach Showtime while still an employee of HBO says a lot about the “S.O.G.”
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Last summer, the Westside Gym in Washington Heights, NY disappeared with little fanfare. But Arlene Schulman, whose 1994 book The Prizefighters is a poignant look at battered dreamers in their element, gave it a proper farewell a few days ago in the New York Daily News. In doing so, she also may have written a eulogy for gym culture at large. In her piece on the Westside Gym, Schulman lists more than 20 boxing clubs that have gone out of business over the years. Although there are still local gyms in New York City, grassroots boxing is fading—no matter what boosters and cheerleaders say.
Yes, boxing is a sport but it is also sui generis. Part of its allure is the number of metaphorical conceits out of which (too) many have made intellectual clam chowder. From existentialism to atavism to Darwinism and pop psychology, boxing is the one sport of which abstract undertones are concretized to an extent.
Ultimately, however, the sociological implications are what make boxing unique. Other sports serve as conduits for the underclass to escape poverty, urban blight, incarceration and lives of quiet desperation. But what happens in the ring symbolically mirrors the struggles of the hard lives striving to succeed. All across major cities, you could find boxing gyms that doubled as community centers for at-risk youth. But that era is over. With fewer and fewer Police Athletic Leagues, prison boxing programs almost extinct and across-the-board cuts in social services from Manhattan, NY to Manhattan Beach, Calif., the disappearance of one gym after another is troubling for more than just boxing. Young men with limitless pasts and limited futures reinvent themselves the moment they lace up gloves with intent. There will be fewer hard dreams for them to pursue from city to city…
Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to Remezcla and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization.