Everyone has their favorite culprit in the blame game for how each side walked away from an estimated total of $200 million and gave the sport of boxing and its fans the Abner Louima treatment. But I'm of the view that there's plenty of blame to go around. Everyone involved -- Top Rank, Golden Boy, Mayweather and Pacquiao -- is tarnished by this, and deserves deep, lasting scorn for it.
In an angry moment last year, promoter Dan Goossen said the practices of Top Rank boss Bob Arum were partly to blame for the long tailspin boxing had endured. Arum does a lot of things well, but it’s easy to see what Goossen means.
Toward the end, Arum always seemed more interested in prosecuting his personal grudge against Mayweather and Mayweather’s manager, Al Haymon, than anything else. What’s more, I never thought Arum was all that interested in having Pacquiao fight Mayweather. He has a tendency to milk his hottest commodities for years – see Juan Manuel Lopez – by avoiding putting them in risky fights that fans want to see, and I think he wondered whether Mayweather was worth the risk. Those two factors combined to make it so that when the fight hit the rocks over random blood testing, Arum appeared as if he’d rather rant and rave than work out any kinks.
His behavior was, for lack of a better word, hysterical. He kept making strange excuses, like saying Pacquiao was scared of needles, when Pacquiao’s body is covered in tattoos. (I am scared of needles. I have no tattoos.) He seriously misrepresented the other side’s positions on issues, fueling an unproductive war of words in the media and degenerating to name-calling, like saying Mayweather was a “coward.” He blamed the fight’s cancellation on insinuations from Mayweather’s side that Pacquiao was on steroids then turned his attention to making a fight with… Paulie Malignaggi, who’d insinuated that Pacquiao was on steroids. He kept acting like blood testing to detect performance enhancing drugs was a scientific hoax, when the consensus was that urine testing in conjunction with blood testing would catch more things than mere urine testing. And if the message he wanted to send was that cheating is beneath his side, it’s hard to fathom how he reportedly wanted to put Antonio Margarito (license revoked for loaded gloves) and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (likely to be suspended for testing positive for a banned substance) on the Pacquiao-Clottey undercard. For someone with a reputation for a fearsome intellect, none of this was the work of a smart businessman who cares about his customers.
Arum was doing some heroic work earlier this year when he castigated the media, in particular The New York Times, for ignoring boxing. But if the Times called, how would he defend his sport when he had a hand in killing the fight everyone in the world wanted to see more than any other? The Deadspin headline on this picture featuring Jerry Jones with George W. Bush read, “Just Two Horsemen Short Of An Apocalypse,” but in another picture, John Madden was hanging out with the Jones team, and you know who else was there? Arum.
When Golden Boy started out, they talked a lot about doing things differently than other promoters, but everyone knows by now they’ve taken opportunities to do things the usual way. Their performance at one point during the negotiation in particular bordered on the thuggish.
Golden Boy boss Oscar De La Hoya used his blog on Ring magazine’s website to strongly suggest that Pacquiao was on steroids. Pacquiao’s punches, he said, felt like Shane Mosley’s and Fernando Vargas’, two boxers who without a doubt used actual PEDs against him in fights. Never mind how two-faced this was – early in 2009, De La Hoya insisted Pacquiao’s punches never hurt him, and I didn’t believe it when he said it – but consider how disgusting it is to make a claim like that out of nowhere. Compounding the horribleness is that he added another layer of tarnish to the publication he now owns – the self-described Bible of Boxing, and a publication with airs of integrity – by doing it. Doug Fischer recently defended De La Hoya’s blog to friend of the site Alex, saying that of course De La Hoya is advancing his interests as a promoter on his website, so what’s the big deal (he actually invoked the idea of Dana White writing a column on UFC.com or Oprah Winfrey writing a column in O magazine – I guess Ring doesn’t aspire to anything more than “house organ” any longer, if those publications are his point of comparison)? And, he said, Arum could have a blog on the website if he wanted, too. Except: 1. Arum doesn’t. And if one promoter is frequently offered prominent placement on Ring’s website to attack other promoters’ fighters, how fair is that? and 2. If any mainstream newspaper owner in the United States had a regular and prominent forum for advancing his own private business interests in the pages of his publication, he’d be ruthlessly criticized, and he’d deserve it.
It’s interesting in yet other ways that in that blog entry, De La Hoya invoked Mosley. Mosley is one of his business partners, and I wonder how thrilled he was about being used as a pawn in this debate. More importantly, Golden Boy’s Richard Schaefer in 2008 explicitly rejected a proposal that Mosley endure blood testing, arguing that Mosley was clean and state commission regulations would suffice. Why Mosley, a confirmed cheater, shouldn’t have to undergo tests that Pacquiao, for whom there is zero evidence of cheating, would, is hard to fathom. Mosley isn’t the only fighter Golden Boy promotes that the company has thrown under the bus – Golden Boy owns a small promotional interest in Pacquiao, too, and by undermining him and insisting no Golden Boy fighter would deal with Pacquiao without a drug test (I wonder what they’d do for Pacquiao-Mosley?), they’re hurting their bottom line. And for whom? Mayweather? Why? Mayweather has openly stated his desire to crush Golden Boy when he gets his own promotional company up and running, and he’s unreliable in other ways – they went to bat for him, and they came up empty-handed. Schaefer himself comes off as a pretty smart man, unencumbered by the extreme swings of emotion that rule the temperamental Arum, but this all was pretty stupid.
Because Pacquiao usually is such a “good guy,” many are inclined to wash his hands for him of any guilt in the fight falling through. But Pacquiao is no innocent in this.
I don’t remember the last time Pacquiao didn’t turn into a complete prima donna during fight negotiations. He’s always making demands – catchweights! better purse splits! – and turning into a baby when he doesn’t get his way. This time, when someone made a demand of him – Mayweather wanting random blood testing – his refusal to accept it was the moment the fight became in jeopardy. It must be noted that Pacquiao’s team at first accepted random blood-testing, since trainer Freddie Roach said there would be no problem with Olympic-style drug testing, which by its nature involves random blood withdrawals. The official reason for rejecting the proposed blood tests, so far as I can tell, is that he was “superstitious,” owing to him feeling drained after giving blood two days before a showdown with Erik Morales. OK. But the last offer on the table from the Mayweather side was 14 days, and we know for a fact that Pacquiao had blood withdrawn 24 days before the Hatton fight, and he wasn’t drained then; would 10 days have made that much of a difference? Then, Pacquiao made the fight yet more unlikely when he filed what looks to me like a frivolous defamation lawsuit that I expect to be thrown out in short order, complaining about things like Mayweather saying they have good PEDs in Pacquiao’s home country of the Philippines. So what. Man up. Life’s hard. Sometimes people are going to insult you. They may even insult your country. Get over it and do your job, which is to fight.
There’s been a lot of talk about how non-Filipinos don’t understand this “uniquely Filipino pride” that was at play, and I don’t doubt it was a factor. But while Pacquiao talks about fighting for the people of the Philippines, the fact remains that he allowed his wounded pride at being accused of cheating to take precedence over the $40 million or more he would have gotten from this fight, which would have bought a lot of flood relief for “the people.” And he definitely misjudged the culture of America, where many more people than before look upon him with suspicion because so many excellent U.S. athletes have later been busted for using PEDs. I want to be clear that I have no reason to believe Pacquiao is on any PEDs, nor do I think it’s a good thing for a society to assume someone is guilty for not agreeing to invasive tests. But if Pacquiao was concerned about his reputation, the fact of the matter is that he’s done some harm to himself by not agreeing to blood tests that might have vindicated him. And if it turns out that Pacquiao avoided this fight because he did have something to hide, he ends up the biggest villain of them all.
If I blame anyone above all others, it’s Mayweather. If he hadn’t introduced this blood-testing regime proposal, the fight happens. It was a wholly unreasonable request. Mayweather should know better than anyone that a 16-year-old fighter can rise from 106 pounds to 147 pounds by the time he gets into his 30s and still be great, because like Pacquiao, he did it, too. The only evidence Mayweather had was the suspicion of his shady dad, which isn’t worth a damn. Even if Mayweather truly thinks Pacquiao is on steroids – and Mayweather seems to think lots of people are on steroids now, like Mosley, for whom there also is zero evidence of ongoing PED abuse – I’m not sure what he’s so worried about. He’s said many times he can beat Pacquiao with ease, because Pacquiao sucks, basically. If you can make $40 million easily beating someone, steroids or no, why not just do it?
Ascertaining the true motives of Mayweather in any affair is nigh-impossible. But here’s what I think most likely happened: Mayweather wasn’t all that interested in fighting Pacquiao (I’ll get to why in a second); he posited the drug-testing idea as a win/win for himself; if Pacquiao walked away, he could say once again that he wasn’t the hold-up in making a fight happen – it was the other guy; if Paquiao accepted the fight, he’d come in angry and reckless, and Mayweather will have scored one in the head games department; and if Pacquiao won, even if he tested negative for steroids, there’d be enough of a cloud hanging over Pacquiao that Mayweather would have an excuse for losing; but when it came time to negotiate and either set aside the blood testing and fight or hold firm on his demand, egomania won the day, since Mayweather thinks he’s so very, very important and everyone should bow down to his whims. How cynical a ploy is it to mount a campaign that hinted Pacquiao was a big cheater for any one of those reasons, let alone all of them? Very.
If Mayweather wanted to avoid Pacquiao, it would very much be in character. He clutches at and cradles his undefeated record like Gollum and his ring, thinking, falsely, that his “0” makes him superior to all other fighters. Of course, it’s easier to have a “0” when you avoid challenges. Since 2003, Mayweather hasn’t fought one person who could be considered the best opponent in his division. He inhabited the junior welterweight and welterweight ranks when numerous pound-for-pound top-10 fighters have crossed through them over that time – Kostya Tszyu and Ricky Hatton at 140, Miguel Cotto, Mosley, Margarito and Paul Williams at 147 – and one way or the other, whatever the motives, he found a way not to fight them when they had no trouble whatsoever fighting one another. Now we can add Pacquiao to that list. I’ve called Mayweather a “joke” as a fighter, and I don’t mean his skill level – I mean this kind of repeated refusal to confront the top challenges or some facsimile thereof, as the trial balloons from his team of fighting Saul Alvarez or pug Matthew Hatton next (and, only marginally more defensibly among recent options, Nate Campbell and Paulie Malignaggi) point toward. When Mayweather returned to the sport in 2009 after a brief retirement, I said it was both a blessing and a curse. Right now, it’s looking all curse.
HBO was supposed to put all its might and muscle into forcing Mayweather-Pacquiao, but if it’s had any impact at all, I’ve missed it. I’m guessing the reason why is that Mayweather and Pacquiao never worried that they’d be welcomed openly back into the bosom of the industry giant. It’ll be interesting to see how they come down in the March 13 duel over that date from both sides.
If Arum wanted to prosecute his grudge against Haymon, there have been reports as well that Haymon wanted to needle Arum in all of this. Despite defending Mayweather’s health and safety from marauding steroid addict Pacquiao, he has shown no such sympathy for another of his clients, Andre Berto, in advance of Berto’s May 30 fight against Mosley.
Boxing’s passionate fans make the sport fun, but if the blindest Mayweather fans and blindest Pacquiao fans hadn’t taken the side of their fighter so unconditionally, and instead had put pressure on the pair to fight, maybe both sides wouldn’t have gotten so entrenched. I wish boxing fans counted fewer zealots amongst their ranks. They may have gotten screwed by all this, but they sure helped themselves get screwed.