LAS VEGAS – The music is loud, deafening and obnoxious, and it echoes down the hallway of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The ground shakes. People cover their ears. It sounds more like a rave than a fan arrival for the boxer Manny Pacquiao, although that’s what it is.
Most 83-year-olds would dash for the exit, yank out the power outlet or yell some variation of “Get off my lawn!” But Bob Arum, while 83, is not most 83-year-olds. The music is loud because he okayed the volume.
This is his scene: Tuesday, fight week, four days away from Mayweather-Pacquiao; his quartet of Top Rank “Knockouts” dressed in the usual skimpy outfits, posing for pictures with fans; two Filipino singers belting out Pacquiao’s latest songs like any Thursday night at the local karaoke bar; AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” screaming from the speakers as Pacquiao strides into the chaos.
Arum wears a suit jacket, slacks and a smile as wide as the Strip itself.
This is Fight-Week Bob. And Fight-Week Bob is happy, in his element, holding Pacquiao’s fan rally at the Mandalay Bay because he wants to, because he can. Fight-Week Bob can take that rally, which lasted all of 10 minutes, and call it “really moving.” Fight-Week Bob can tell the crowd that Mandalay Bay is now the hotel of choice for the Filipinos who visit Las Vegas. He can say that this is Pacquiao’s way to give back. He can do all that with a straight face and never mention Richard Sturm, the MGM executive and latest Arum nemesis, a target of vitriol now squarely in Arum’s crosshairs. Mayweather-Pacquiao will take place at the MGM’s Grand Garden Arena on Saturday. But on Tuesday, by not staging any events there, Arum made his point at the same volume as the music without actually saying a disparaging word. (This week, at least.)
All of which makes more sense for those who saw or spoke to Arum before fight week. Two Sports Illustrated reporters ate lunch with him last Friday, and while he smiled and joked and told stories—the usual—he was not happy with how this promotion has unfolded. Angry Bob was out.
Angry Bob told us a story about lights. Top Rank uses a certain kind of light system for all its high-profile shows. The system is not cheap. It costs around $400,000 for one night. Arum said that Mayweather’s camp balked at paying that much for lighting, so Top Rank went to HBO, which agreed to split the cost and relieve Mayweather of any financial obligation. Arum said that Mayweather’s camp still said no.
That, Arum said, is how this promotion has unfolded. “The worst,” he said. “No comparison. When I dealt with Don King, it was a picnic compared to this. He’d drive you nuts making the deal, but once you made the deal, he wanted to count the money.”
For most bouts, even major ones, Arum said all parties come to an agreement before the initial press conference. They sign an agreement for that, too. That’s not what happened here. Arum said the first time Top Rank received any sort of communication was on April 15 (the kick-off press conference was on March 11), and that communication was very specific: Top Rank could not be a party on the contract. Only one side—Mayweather’s side—could.
The loudest salvo had been fired. Arum said Top Rank held firm. “That’s when they realized they were f------ with the wrong people,” he said.
But the squabbling continued. Over everything. Every. Little. Thing. There was an argument over who should collect and distribute the money from sponsorships, a total pool of around $12 million. An argument over who would distribute the credentials. An argument over those grand arrivals of the boxers. Several arguments over tickets, the first manifest of which Arum said Top Rank received last week. “Everything,” Arum said. “They fought us on everything. This is like nothing I’ve ever been through.”
Mayweather’s manager, Leonard Ellerbe, described Arum’s reaction as Bob being Bob—not Fight-Week Bob, or Angry Bob, just Bob. Arum said the holdup centered on tickets, which are supposed to be divided 50-50 between the sides after MGM takes its allotment (roughly one-third of the total number of tickets).
Arum feared that Mayweather’s manager, Al Haymon, had an agreement with MGM to purchase some of its tickets. His relationship with Haymon is famously fractured. The last time the two men even interacted before the latest round of Mayweather-Pacquiao negotiations was when Haymon delivered, in person, a $750,000 check to buy Mayweather out of his contract with Top Rank. Asked recently what he did with the check, Arum laughed. “Cashed it,” he said. “I mean, f---.”
Arum said Top Rank received the ticket manifest last Wednesday, and that the first version he saw was the third version that had been put together. He said he’s on the lookout to see if Haymon receives any tickets from MGM. “The only place he makes money off this fight is scalping tickets, and I cut his balls off,” Arum said.
Still, even Angry Bob never thought the fight was in jeopardy. “The liability on the MGM’s part, it was a lot,” he said. “We would have all retired and bought islands in the Philippines. It was that bad.”
That all seemed like a distant memory on Tuesday, as Fight-Week Bob did interviews while a documentary crew from HBO followed him around. He was happy about one thing—Pacquiao and the way his camp went. “He’s getting up in age,” Arum said of Mayweather. “So is my guy. But my guy looks like he has a little bit more left in the tank. Maybe it’s because I want to believe, but he looks better to me than he’s looked in years.”
Arum said the last time Pacquiao looked this sharp was before he battered Oscar De La Hoya into retirement in 2008. “I mean all fighters want to win, but it’s almost like a crusade with him,” Arum said. “I think there’s just something in him that he can take himself to another level. Look at LeBron James. Look at this f------ kid, [Stephen] Curry. I shut the g--damn game off! Then I read in the paper that they won!”
On Tuesday, Arum no doubt remained angry, but he put that aside to do what he always does, to sell his boxer and the bout. As Angry Bob gave way to Fight-Week Bob, all the chaos of negotiations faded, if only momentarily. That can resume next week. You know, for the rematch.
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