By Matthew Hurley: Although there is still plenty of room for criticism when it comes to the two leading candidates for “Promoter of the Year” Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. survived 2009 relatively unscathed, at least in the crazy world of professional prize-fighting. The same cannot be said for Golden Boy Promotions, which saw several recently signed prospects and veterans suffer surprising losses or bolt from the company.
The crown jewel of Top Rank is, of course, boxing’s biggest star, and “Fighter of the Year” Manny Pacquiao. In May, Pacquiao smoked Golden Boy promoted Ricky Hatton in two rounds – a fight that also produced the “Knockout of the Year.”
But it wasn’t all good news, or good fights, coming out of Top Rank. At the beginning of the year Golden Boy’s Sugar Shane Mosley upset Top Rank’s Antonio Margarito and the subsequent hand-wrapping debacle led Arum, in garbled lawyer speak, attempt to defend his fighter after the California State Athletic Commission suspended Margarito. However, once the dust settled Top Rank continued doing what it does best – developing young, talented fighters and then putting together the event of the year with the two most popular fighters in his stable, Miguel Cotto and Pacquiao on November 14th.
“I love these two kids,” he said before the bout. “I almost don’t want to see them fight because someone’s going to get hurt.”
In a compelling fight Pacquiao put the hurt on Cotto, stopping him in the 12th round. The fight garnered 1.25 million buys, the top pay-per-view event of the year.
Still, the stellar undercard Arum promised never materialized. It’s an ongoing problem that continues to plague nearly every big promotion put on by either Top Rank or Golden Boy Promotions.
Arum also had to deal with the abrupt stall and halt of middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik’s career because of a staph infection on his left hand. But Pavlik finally returned to the ring in December, stopping Miguel Angel Espino in the fifth round and is now looking forward to a more productive 2010.
The disappointing nature of the losses suffered by Golden Boy promoted fighters like Victor Ortiz, Jorge Linares and the imprisonment of hot welterweight contender James Kirkland on parole violations all coming one after the other took the wind out of the firm’s sails. The retirement of Oscar De La Hoya also signaled the end to all but guaranteed million selling pay-per-views with his name attached.
They rebounded with the California based “Fight Night Club” and the other big pay-per-view event, Floyd Mayweather – Juan Manuel Marquez, which did 1.05 million buys – a surprisingly high tally. But the fight was a dud. While Cotto – Pacquiao brought the fans to their feet, Mayweather – Marquez put them to sleep.
In the end Top Rank had to deal with Golden Boy Promotions’ near stranglehold on HBO dates and all around lesser television visibility for its fighters. But Top Rank still produced a higher level of consistency than Golden Boy throughout the year.
At seventy-eight years old Bob Arum remains the wizened old lion of boxing promoters. Since 1973 in it’s conception Arum and his company have remained at the forefront of boxing promotion. As the contentious negotiations for the proposed Mayweather – Pacquiao superfight meander on, Arum will do what he always does in these tense situations – battle for the best deal for his fighter before the opening bell rings. He’s a proven master and in 2009 there was no one better.