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De La Hoya-Pacquiao and the Business of Boxing
Manny Pacquiao: photo by Holger Keifel
By Thomas Hauser
It’s hard to know how future generations will evaluate Oscar De La Hoya.
Oscar is more than a name. He was once a very good fighter, but that time has come and gone. He has lost four of his last seven fights. One can argue that he hasn’t beaten an elite opponent since a split-decision victory over Ike Quartey on February 13, 1999. Since then, De La Hoya has defeated Oba Carr, Derrell Coley, Arturo Gatti, Javier Castillejo, Fernando Vargas, Yori Boy Campas, Felix Sturm, Ricardo Mayorga, and Steve Forbes. That’s nine wins in a decade. Yet during that time, Oscar has become a boxing legend as a consequence of his status as a marketing icon.
Fighters are paid for their marketability, not their ability (although the two are often related). De La Hoya was the right man in the right place at the right time. Initially, the sweet science embraced him as “the anti-Tyson.” Then he benefited from the absence of a true heavyweight champion that the sport could rally around.
There have been slips. In 2001, after besting Bob Arum in an ugly court battle, De La Hoya boasted of defeating “one of the biggest Jews to come out of Harvard.” And he was stung by the embarrassment of the now-infamous fishnet photos (Oscar contests their authenticity) that exploded upon the public last year.
But for the most part, outside the ring, De La Hoya has been boxing’s consummate politician. Every word from his mouth seems carefully chosen to maintain his image and commercial viability. One wishes at times that he would strip away the layers of varnish and reveal the “real” Oscar. He seems, at his core, to be a good person.
Meanwhile, with the guidance of Richard Schaefer (CEO of Golden Boy Enterprises) De La Hoya has built a financial empire. And he has continued to fight; both for financial reasons and because it’s an affirmation of who and what he is.
Over the years, De La Hoya has engaged in nineteen pay-per-view fights that have generated the staggering sum of US$698,400,000 in PPV revenue. On May 5, 2007, he was beaten by Floyd Mayweather Jr in a bout that engendered 2,400,000 pay-per-view buys with a domestic gross of US$134,000,000. Those numbers exceeded anything in boxing history.
Thereafter, Oscar announced his intention to fight three times in 2008 and retire at the end of the year. The plan was to face Steve Forbes in May followed by a rematch against Mayweather in September and a farewell extravaganza in December.
“There’s going to be no 2009,” De La Hoya said during an April 2008 conference call. “I want to have these three fights and go out like a champion. I know it’s the last time I will step inside the ring in December.” One month later, Oscar declared, “There are no thoughts whatsoever about fighting after 2008. I’ve given Richard the marching orders. I have prepared everybody. This is my last year in the ring. There’s no dinero that will bring me back, no amount of moolah.”
De La Hoya-Forbes took place as planned. Then, in June, Mayweather announced his “retirement” from boxing. That led to cancellation of the proposed September fight and sent Team De La Hoya scrambling to find a big-money opponent for December.
The first option to be considered was Manny Pacquiao. Initially, the negotiations went poorly. De La Hoya wanted the contract weight to be 150 pounds; Pacquiao (who had weighed 129 for his junior-lightweight title defense against Juan Manuel Marquez earlier in the year) would go no higher than 147. Oscar wanted the bout to be contested with ten-ounce gloves; Manny preferred eight-ounces. And De La Hoya wanted as much money as he could get, while Pacquiao wanted as much money as he could get.
On August 13th, Schaefer and Bob Arum (Pacquiao’s promoter) confirmed that Oscar had given in on the issues of weight and gloves but that negotiations had broken down over the division of revenue. Team De La Hoya was seeking a 70-30 split in its favor. Team Pacquiao would go no further than 60-40.
Meanwhile, Oscar was telling the media, “I want to go out with a big bang. I want to show everybody around the world that boxing is alive and well. I want them to say, ’Look at this big event.’”
But De La Hoya was tap-dancing around the issue of why he wouldn’t fight Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams, or Miguel Cotto.
“Margarito had a great win against Cotto,” Oscar acknowledged. “That’s wonderful for him. I wish him all the best. I just feel personally that Margarito has some unfinished business to take care of against Paul Williams. We cannot forget about Paul Williams.”
Okay; so fight Paul Williams.
That didn’t work either. Williams wasn’t “a big enough name.” Or maybe he was too big in stature. And Oscar had once said that he wouldn’t fight Cotto because he’d promised his wife (who is from San Juan) that he’d never fight a Puerto Rican.
Margarito spoke for many when he declared, “What happened with ‘I want to fight the winner between Cotto-Margarito?’ What happened with ‘I’ll fight anyone?’ I hear nothing but excuses. ‘I can’t fight Antonio because the Mexican people will not like me.’ Oscar needs to stop deceiving the people. He cannot continue being dishonest to the fans.”
But those who wanted to see De La Hoya fight Margarito or Williams (or even Cotto) were missing the point. Oscar didn’t want to end his career with a “KO by.” And because of the size differential between De La Hoya and Pacquiao, a fight against Manny was perceived as giving Oscar a built-in edge. Thus, on August 21st, Golden Boy sweetened the pot by offering a 67-33 revenue split and Team Pacquiao accepted.
De La Hoya announced the fight (slated for December 6th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas) in an August 28th conference call. “Manny Pacquiao is considered the best fighter in boxing today,” he told the media. “And I always want to fight the best. These are the kind of events that get me fired up. To this day, I say to myself, ’Can I really beat the pound-for-pound champion?’”
The fight was styled “The Dream Match.” A six-city promotional tour began at the height of the electoral battle between Barack Obama and John McCain. That was appropriate because the marketing of De La Hoya-Pacquiao had all the earmarks of a national political campaign.
The October 1st kick-off press conference was held on Liberty Island in New York. Standing near the Statue of Liberty, Richard Schaefer proclaimed, “With the global economy crumbling and the world financial system on the verge of collapse, we all need a moment to dream.”
HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg helpfully added, “HBO is going to make sure that everyone in this great land of ours knows about this fight.”
Not to be outdone, De La Hoya declared, “As the son of immigrants, being able to announce this fight at the Statue of Liberty, America’s greatest symbol of freedom and opportunity, is a dream come true for me.”
Then a question was put to Oscar: “You’ve chosen a very patriotic tone to market this fight and you have a great deal of influence in the Hispanic community. Will you stand up publicly for what you believe and tell us who you’re voting for in this year’s presidential election?”
Later in the press conference, De La Hoya was asked about the quality of the pay-per-view undercard that would be aired with the main event. “I promise you,” he answered with sincerity in his voice. “We’re going to have a really great undercard.”
One can make a case for the proposition that De La Hoya’s recent outings have become like the fights Mike Tyson had late in his career in that Oscar’s level of achievement no longer justifies the extensive media coverage that he receives. That said, De La Hoya-Pacquiao was backed by a wave of press conferences, press releases, advertisements, and other marketing ploys that added up to what Richard Hoffer of Sports Illustrated called “the single most cynical promotion of [Oscar’s] era.”
In 2006, De La Hoya had sought to woo Pacquiao away from Bob Arum by giving Manny a briefcase filled with US$300,000 in cash over dinner in a private room at a Los Angeles steakhouse. Pacquiao signed a promotional contract with Golden Boy that night but later had second thoughts. After ugly litigation, a settlement was reached. Top Rank (Arum’s promotional company) retained rights to Pacquiao (although since then, Golden Boy has received a percentage of Top Rank’s profits from Manny’s fights).
With that history, Oscar proclaimed, “This fight is very personal for me. I respect Manny Pacquiao as a fighter but not as a man. When we looked into each other’s eyes and shook hands, I felt we had a deal and he betrayed me. Where I come from, you don’t do that. Your word is your bond. He’s going to pay for that on December 6."
The promotion also sought to capitalize on friction between De La Hoya and Freddie Roach. Roach has trained Pacquiao for nineteen fights over the course of seven years. In 2007, he trained Oscar for the Mayweather fight.
“I learned a lot during that eight-week period with Oscar,” Roach said. And Freddie claimed to have learned more when De La Hoya fought Steve Forbes. More specifically, the trainer maintained, “Oscar’s skills are slipping badly. He can no longer pull the trigger. His best years are behind him.”
“When Oscar read Freddie’s comments,” Richard Schaefer said later, “he was like, ’What the hell is that?’ Oscar feels challenged now. He honestly feels that Freddie and Pacquiao have been disrespectful. Oscar will show them how he can pull the trigger. Pacquiao is being Freddie Roach’s puppet, and Oscar wants to teach a lesson to them.”
Oscar claimed to be similarly aggrieved, declaring, “Freddie Roach didn’t train me properly. I went into the Mayweather fight as a one-dimensional fighter. When Freddie trained Bernard Hopkins, he told him after the loss to Joe Calzaghe that he had to retire. When he trained Israel Vazquez, he told him [after the loss to Rafael Marquez] ‘you have to retire,’ He trained me, and now he’s telling me I have to retire. So you have Hopkins beating Pavlik without Freddie; Israel beat Marquez without Freddie. And now I’m going to beat Pacquiao without Freddie. I’m going to destroy his pupil.”
Roach took the assault in stride, saying, “The game plan we had for the Mayweather fight was working well in the early rounds. Then Oscar abandoned the game plan; we ended up losing the decision; and about a month ago, he started blaming me for the loss. But he’s always blaming somebody, so he can blame me for this one too.”
A press conference was held to announce that Nacho Beristain had been hired as De La Hoya’s trainer for the Pacquiao bout. Then Angelo Dundee was brought into camp as a much-heralded adviser. The world was told that Oscar was eating deer meat and kangaroo meat (“This diet is very effective,” he said). One half-expected a press release announcing that De La Hoya had broken his training regimen to enjoy a couple of Tecate beers (“I know I shouldn’t drink when I’m training. But Tecate is the lead sponsor for the fight. And Tecate tastes so good, I couldn’t resist.”).
[The deer-and-kangaroo-meat quote is real. The Tecate beer quote isn’t.]
Then, in the midst of it all, De La Hoya reversed course and revealed, “I have no plans to retire. My reflexes and speed are still there. Physically and mentally, I can still compete at the highest level. I’ll continue to fight as long as I can do it.”
That declaration elicited less-than-universal joy. In some parts of the boxing world, “Oscar fatigue” was setting in. Matthew Hurley voiced the thoughts of many when he wrote, “Every De La Hoya smile, every pose, and every utterance looks and sounds rehearsed. Even when Oscar grits his teeth and tries to come off as angry and intense, you can’t entirely take him seriously. His presentation to the public and the media is immaculately calculated and ultimately hollow. No matter how well-packaged the image, there is a residue of phoniness encapsulating it. The litany of Oscarisms over the years makes each archived interview interchangeable from year to year and fight to fight . . . “This is the hardest I’ve ever trained in my life . . . This is my life. This is what I do. This is who I am . . . Now I’m actually really focused because this fight is so important to my career . . . This trainer is the greatest trainer I’ve ever worked with. I’ve learned so much.”
Meanwhile, Pacquiao was readying for battle.
Manny is unpretentious and confident with an aura of innocence and little artifice about him. His journey to boxing’s upper echelons contrasted markedly with Oscar’s. De La Hoya came out of the 1992 Olympics as boxing’s “Golden Boy” with million-dollar signing bonuses dangled in front of him. Pacquiao turned pro in his native Philippines for a handful of pisos at age sixteen. Six years passed before he fought outside of Asia.
Pacquiao today is the most famous person in the Philippines and the idol of a nation. De La Hoya is perceived as living apart from the people. He is a celebrity who seems torn between the divergent worlds of East LA, chic LA, and Puerto Rico. When Manny wins, there is unbridled joy throughout his native land. When Oscar loses, there are few tears in the barrios of East Los Angeles.
Pacquiao is “one of us.” People light up when they see his face. He stirs passionate adulation.
“You have to understand,” Bob Arum explained shortly before De La Hoya-Pacquiao. “An entire nation of ninety million people is focusing on Manny’s every move. It’s the most important topic of conversation in the Philippines. The Senate and Congress in the Philippines are going to close this week. They won’t have a quorum because senators and congress people are flying over here in tremendous numbers. Nobody that I ever promoted was as popular as Muhammad Ali, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t one country, almost as one person, rising up and making it such a national issue as they do for Manny. Some of these stories in the newspapers about Manny and how much the Filipino people love him are so beautiful, they make you cry.”
Arum professed optimism with regard to Pacquiao’s chances against De La Hoya. During a November conference call, the promoter promised, “We’re going to shock the world, because Manny is going to not only defeat Oscar but knock Oscar out.”
Later, in a more reflective moment, Arum observed, “You don’t put somebody in a fight that you believe he can’t win just for money. I would not have allowed this fight to happen if I didn’t feel in my heart of hearts that Manny could win. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to win.”
Freddie Roach also thought Pacquiao would win. “We’re going to break this guy down and win each round one at a time,” the trainer said. “That’s our goal. We have to get past Oscar’s jab. That’s going to be our toughest opposition, and we’re working on that. I’ve got some great sparring partners with better jabs than Oscar. We’re going to fight the whole time and just burn him out. And if Oscar tires like he normally does, we’ll stop him. Manny is already a great fighter. This is going to be the icing on the cake.”
Pacquiao’s biggest edge was thought to be speed. There was also the fact that Nacho Beristain was the sixth trainer that De La Hoya had worked with during his pro career. In that regard, Arum opined, “I think it’s very difficult when you change trainers as frequently as Oscar has. It’s the same as a football team where the coach changes every year or two and there’s flux in the organization and they can’t get used to a particular system.”
And most significantly, Oscar was getting old. Critiquing his performance against Steve Forbes, Steve Kim wrote, “De La Hoya not only didn’t look as good as he has in the past; he looked as though he has regressed physically from May 2007, when he was defeated by Mayweather. His reflexes weren’t quite as sharp. He only showed brief moments of the explosion and acceleration that marked his prime. He never really came close to stopping a guy who was about ten pounds past his optimum weight class. Don’t let the HBO and Golden Boy rhetoric fool you. The De La Hoya of 2008 is not even the De La Hoya of May 5, 2007.”
Still, the consensus view was that Pacquiao was the perfect opponent against whom Oscar could rebuild his reputation as an elite fighter and make tens of millions of dollars in the process. Yes, Manny was faster. But De La Hoya had a significant edge in size and, with that size, power.
No matter how the bout was packaged, Pacquiao would be fighting above the weight class that was best suited to his pound-for-pound standing. Oscar’s previous nine fights had been contested in divisions that were 19 and 25 pounds heavier than the highest weight class that Manny had ever fought in.
The October 18th encounter between Bernard Hopkins and Kelly Pavlik (which the heavier Hopkins dominated) had put weight differentials between elite fighters in perspective. “Oscar and Pacquiao will be competitive until Manny gets hit,” Bernard predicted. “Then Manny will feel something that he’s never felt before and he’s not ready for.”
De La Hoya was coming down slightly in weight for Pacquiao. But that didn’t seem to bother Oscar. “What I found out,” he said toward the end of the pre-fight build-up, “was, what was I doing at 154? What was I doing at 160? This is where I feel comfortable.”
Freddie Roach was steadfast in maintaining, “I don’t think the size is that big a deal. If a guy has a height advantage or a reach advantage, Manny has the style to take that away. He’s aggressive, he comes forward. And when you get close to a guy with long arms, it crowds their punches.”
But Roach conceded, “Things are easier said from the corner than done in the ring.” And the prevailing view among the media (this writer included) was that Pacquiao had been seduced into an ill-chosen fight by the siren call of money and glory beyond the once-unimaginable heights that he’d already attained.
De La Hoya-Pacquiao, critics said, would be “David without a slingshot against Goliath” . . . “A con job; not a fight.” It was suggested that “The Dream Match” be re-titled “The Final Rip-Off” or “The Golden Fleece.”
“It’s a promoter’s fight; not a fight fan’s fight,” said Steve Farhood. “And that’s perfect because Oscar is now a promoter more than a fighter.”
“The people who run boxing have rendered world championships meaningless,” complained another insider. “Now they’re working on weight classes.”
Still, the odds were remarkably close. De La Hoya opened as an 8-to-5 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book. Initially, the online bookies had Oscar favored at 3-to-1, but that gap quickly narrowed. Thereafter, the betting line consistently favored De La Hoya, but only between 3-to-2 and 2-to-1. People kept waiting for the “smart” money to come in on Oscar.
Expectation and reality are two different things. The smart money was already coming in. But it was coming in on Pacquiao.
Throughout fight week, Manny was gracious and polite. He posed for photographs, signed countless autographs for fans, and resisted the “Mexicutioner” label that the promotion sought to pin on him as a consequence of his victories over Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Juan Manuel Marquez.
“To me, it’s nothing personal,” Pacquiao said. “It’s my job to do my best in the ring and beat my opponent. It’s a big responsibility for me. Millions of Filipinos will be rooting for me and watching this fight.”
When asked about the war of words between De La Hoya and Roach, Manny responded, “I don’t have a comment about that. I’m out of that. That’s between my trainer and Oscar.” But when pressed, he added, “For me, I would never blame my trainer if I lost.”
One day before the fight, Pacquiao weighed in at 142 pounds (about what was expected). Surprisingly, De La Hoya tipped the scales at 145 (two pounds beneath the 147-pound limit). At the stare down following the weigh-in, Manny was wearing high-soled shoes while Oscar was in his stocking feet. That made them look closer in height than the four-inch differential between them.
The assumption was that De La Hoya had dried out considerably more than Pacquiao to make weight. One night later, just before the fight, Oscar got on the “unofficial HBO scale.” He had gained only two pounds. That was strange.
Meanwhile, the fight-week buzz in the media center was as much about marketing, ticket sales, and pay-per-view buys as it was about the fight.
Boxing’s economic model is more vulnerable than that of other sports in the face of today’s economic crisis. Most sports (such as baseball, football, and basketball) draw on a local fan base for their live gate. By contrast, the people who attend big fights get on a plane, spend several nights in a hotel, and shell out sometimes-exorbitant sums for tickets. Fans can watch the World Series and Super Bowl on television for free. Boxing’s big events are on pay-per-view.
Two weeks before De La Hoya-Pacquiao, the November 22nd fight between Ricky Hatton and Paulie Malignaggi at the MGM Grand had posed a troubling wake-up call. Half of the tickets went unsold. On November 23rd, there were empty seats on planes leaving Las Vegas and it took less than five minutes to go through airline security checkpoints. That “never” happens on a Sunday in Las Vegas.
Thereafter, Richard Schaefer observed, “De La Hoya-Pacquiao is still the big one, but we have to redefine ‘big.’”
There were two means of definition. The first was ticket sales.
When tickets for De La Hoya-Pacquiao were initially allocated, there was a feeding frenzy. Everyone remembered the ticket-scalping that had accompanied De La Hoya-Mayweather and everyone wanted to make a killing. Seconds after going on sale, tickets for De La Hoya-Pacquiao sold out (or so it was announced). The live gate would be just under US$17,000,000, placing it slightly behind the US$18,419,200 generated by De La Hoya-Mayweather.
But the truth was more complicated. One source says that tickets for De La Hoya-Pacquiao were allocated as follows:
(1) The MGM Grand = 5,500 tickets.
(2) Top Rank = 5,000 tickets (Pacquiao bought 1,000 of these and was given thirty more. Another 1,500 tickets from this allotment were set aside for sale in the Philippines).
(3) Golden Boy = 3,500
(4) Sponsors = 350
(5) HBO = 150
(6) Public sale = 1,500
Then problems arose. The MGM Grand’s high rollers didn’t respond to invitations as expected. The hotel lowered its criteria as to who constituted a “high roller” and still had tickets left, which it started packaging with deluxe rooms at prices below market value.
Some of the people who’d purchased tickets from Golden Boy and Top Rank had been acting as brokers. The tickets they’d bought were non-returnable. But the resale market was soft and they couldn’t re-sell them at face value. Those tickets, too, started selling at a discount.
Next, the reneges started coming in. The WBC had ordered eighty tickets but declined to follow through on the purchase. According to Arum, when WBC president Jose Sulaiman arrived in Las Vegas to attend the fight, Golden Boy, Top Rank, and the Nevada State Athletic Commission all refused to credential him. Sulaiman had to buy his own ticket and sit several dozen rows from ringside.
On fight night, Las Vegas was surprisingly quiet. Cars flowed freely up and down The Strip. Some gaming tables at the MGM Grand weren’t even open. Ten minutes before the bell for round one of De La Hoya-Pacquiao, there were blocks of empty seats in the arena. And they didn’t belong to high rollers who had yet to filter in.
The second measure of economic success was the pay-per-view tally.
Sources say that, when De La Hoya-Pacquiao was first signed, HBO thought that it would engender a minimum of 1,500,000 buys. Arum (who had guaranteed Pacquiao US$11,000,000) needed one million buys to break even. But it wasn’t long before optimism was replaced by an unsettling fear that pay-per-view sales would be weak.
Pavlik-Hopkins on October 18th and Joe Calzaghe vs. Roy Jones Jr on November 8th were back-to-back pay-per-view disasters that averaged roughly 200,000 buys. Part of the problem was the slumping economy. And part of the problem was piracy.
Internet piracy has evolved in recent years from delayed “resampling” to the live streaming of pay-per-view fights. Host sites post URLs that offer one-click access to content free of charge. Under the Federal Communications Act, a host site is required to have a “takedown” tool to deal with illegal content. But it takes time to effectively utilize the tool, and the law offers “safe harbor” to host sites as long as a takedown tool is in place.
For Calzaghe-Jones, HBO had forty “takedowns” on one site alone (Justin.tv). And more significantly, new sites sprang up on fight night like mushrooms in the dark.
HBO hired two outside companies to combat Internet piracy as it related to De La Hoya-Pacquiao. During fight week, a command center monitored sites that it thought would facilitate theft. On fight night, the center sought to shut down sites that illegally showed the pay-per-view card. But it was clear that Internet pay-per-view piracy had caught up with digital technology.
As for the fight; Jerry Izenberg wrote afterward, “Manny Pacquiao won one for everyone who was ever told he was too small to play with the big boys; for every kid who ever gave up his lunch money in the schoolyard because he was told not to mess with the bully; for everyone everywhere who was told ‘no, you can’t’ when something deep inside him whispered, ‘I think I can.’”
The maxim that most people were quoting before the fight was, “A good big man beats a good little one.” It would have been more appropriate to prophesy, “A great fighter in his prime beats a fading old one.” What many thought would be akin a man beating up a boy turned into a young man beating up an old one.
On this particular night, Pacquiao was a boxer-puncher and De La Hoya was neither. Oscar was in the wrong place against the wrong opponent at the wrong time. Forget about his not being able to pull the trigger. He didn’t even have a gun.
In the opening round, the difference in height and reach between the fighters was obvious. So was the fact that De La Hoya’s reflexes and legs were shot. After a relatively cautious opening stanza, Pacquiao became more aggressive; circling, attacking, darting in and out, staying off the ropes, and attacking again with a left-hand lead that was effective throughout the fight. Manny won on the inside and he won on the outside. His speed and southpaw stance gave De La Hoya fits.
By round three, Oscar’s face was puffing up. His punches were tentative and his jab had become little more than a pawing stay-away-from-me flick. The beating accelerated in round four. By round six, Pacquiao was defiantly trading shots. In round seven, he battered De La Hoya around the ring, outlanding him 47 to 7. Forty-five of those blows were calculated by CompuBox as “power punches.” Each judge scored the round 10-8 in Manny’s favor. Oscar wasn’t saved by the bell. The bell simply prolonged his suffering.
After eight rounds, Nacho Beristain stopped the bout with De La Hoya’s consent. Oscar lost every minute of every round and was thoroughly beaten round-after-round. Pacquiao outlanded him 224 to 83 and, more significantly, connected on 195 of 333 power punches.
“You were right,” De La Hoya told Roach when the carnage was over. “I don’t have it anymore.’’
After the fight, Arum was ecstatic. De La Hoya-Pacquiao was the biggest installment in the ongoing war (sometimes cold, sometimes hot) between Golden Boy and Top Rank, and his guy had won. The victory gave him back much of the leverage he’d lost when Bernard Hopkins beat Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto was defeated by Antonio Margarito.
“I’m walking on air,” Arum said. “The only other time I felt like this was when George Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer. You can believe me or not, but this wasn’t about personal vindication. I was really emotionally invested in Manny winning. It was big because it was against Oscar, but I have no hard feelings against Oscar.”
Of course, later in the evening, Arum added, “At Top Rank, we develop fighters. We’ve been doing it for years. Golden Boy steals fighters that someone else has developed. All Richard Schaefer knows how to do is get TV dates from HBO and maybe make a site deal. Golden Boy doesn’t know how to develop fighters.”
Manny Pacquiao is now the face of boxing, and Arum has him. You’d better believe; Schaefer knows when Top Rank’s contract with Pacquiao expires.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao’s win is good for boxing. He’s not unbeatable. He and Juan Manuel Marquez were separated by only one point after twenty-four rounds. But Manny has become a complete fighter; possibly the best fighter ever to come out of Asia. His victory over De La Hoya was the sort of performance that one puts in a time capsule to define a fighter. He’ll be hard to beat at 135 or 140 pounds.
And he’s a nice man. “The best thing for me about fighting,” Pacquiao says, “is to make people happy.”
In other words, Manny likes the happiness he brings to people; not just the adulation he receives as a consequence of winning. He gives boxing an exciting new face at a time when the sweet science needs one.
The challenges ahead for the business of boxing are enormous. De La Hoya-Pacquiao was the last big fight in what has been a lousy year for the sport. Television ratings dropped. Pay-per-view buys nose-dived. The heavyweight division is still a mess. Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto (who were supposed to lead the next generation of superstars) lost.
Most likely, pay-per-view piracy on the Internet will continue to grow. Combating it is a labor-intensive job; and right now, the pirates are winning. As host sites emerge in countries that don’t recognize U.S. and British copyright law, the problem will worsen. For the tide to turn, new service companies that view combating piracy as a profitable growth industry need to emerge. It’s possible that, in the absence of new technologies, De La Hoya-Pacquiao (which HBO claims engendered 1,250,000 buys) will be one of boxing’s last blockbuster pay-per-view shows.
There also might be fewer big fights in Las Vegas in 2009 than has been the case in recent years. The high rollers didn’t come in like they were expected to for Hatton-Malignaggi and De La Hoya-Pacquiao. If the casinos stop buying tickets for their high rollers, Sin City will become a lot less attractive to promoters.
It’s possible that Arum will use Pacquiao as the key to constructing a working relationship with CBS and Showtime (both of which are Viacom subsidiaries). If that happens, the economic landscape of boxing could change; particularly if Pavlik, Margarito, and Cotto are thrown into the deal.
And oh, yes. De La Hoya-Pacquiao showed once again that big fights don’t need belts.
As for Oscar; the best service he can perform for boxing now would be to retire from the ring.
There are those who say that De La Hoya’s career as an elite fighter ended a long time ago. Whether or not he fights again, it’s over now. Still, one can envision Oscar marketing a “farewell” bout against a lesser opponent like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. One can hear the story-line now.
“Something wasn’t right against Pacquiao. I was drained by the weight. It was that damn oyster I ate on Friday night. I can’t end my career on a fight like that. My dream is to fight at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. I want a huge event there to leave a lasting impression all over the world. Fighting there would be a dream come true. I want one last big fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. I took the banner from his father. Now the whole world will see whether I can take the banner into retirement with me or if the son can seize it back.”
Oscar would be well-advised to follow the example of his assistant trainer, Daniel Zaragoza. After a 1997 knockout loss at the hands of Erik Morales, Zaragoza (a champion in his own right) retired with the acknowledgement, “I didn’t have it tonight, and I won’t be any better tomorrow.”
As for De La Hoya’s legacy; it is what it is. His record is devoid of that one glorious night when he prevailed against a great fighter in his prime. In too many moments of truth, he came up short. Four of the six fights he lost were fights that, arguably, he could and should have won.
Still, Oscar has fought honorably for two decades. And with all the glitz and hype that accompanied his career, casual fans who cheered him on might have overlooked the essence of a prize fight. In the ring, there’s no make-believe. The show is unscripted; the violence is real. Every time that Oscar De La Hoya stepped into the ring as a fighter, he was honest and on his own.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (“The Boxing Scene”) has just been published by Temple University Press.