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Nonito Donaire-Abner Mares set to be latest casualty of boxing's costly promotional cold war

Nonito Donaire, currently No. 4 in SI.com's pound-for-pound ratings, is the logical opponent for Abner Mares -- but can the fight ever get made? (AP) Nonito Donaire, currently No. 4 in SI.com's pound-for-pound ratings, is the logical opponent for Abner Mares -- but can the fight ever get made? (AP)

LAS VEGAS -- One of the biggest potential fights in 2013 -- no, not Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, sorry -- is a super bantamweight showdown between Nonito Donaire and Abner Mares, who for the last two years have been steamrolling through the 118- and 122-pound divisions.

The problem with making Donaire-Mares? The usual: Top Rank (which promotes Donaire) and Golden Boy (which promotes Mares) don’t get along.

Top Rank’s Bob Arum’s solution is simple: Let us do the fight, and get out of the way.

“They can have input into the promotion,” Arum said. “We wouldn’t look to put the fight in Manila. We would give them the ability to veto a site. And they could participate in the rules meeting. But they can’t run the business. We have built Donaire up. We have put an effort into it. We have companies that have committed to Donaire like Tecate, TV Azteca, HBO. If we are talking just about money, I’m sure we can come to a solution.”

That idea, as expected, doesn’t sit well with Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer.

“The first thing is Bob should not be disrespectful,” Schaefer said. “Just because he has been [promoting] for so long, he doesn’t have that right. You need to approach this in a professional way. The silly notion of just paying [us] money and then they do it, why should we be disrespected like that?”

“I think it’s important to maximize the money for the fighters. They deserve it. I do think there are some issues that I acknowledge, Bob is right. HBO invested a lot of money in Donaire and it’s not right for HBO to not have a big Donaire fight. But Mares was built by Showtime. All of his big fights were there. They invested substantially more than HBO did in Donaire, so it’s not really right for Showtime not to have the fight either.”

Schaefer’s solution: Have both sides put an offer in an envelope, and the side with the biggest offer gets to promote the fight.

“Let’s say both sides agree on a split,” Schaefer said. “Let’s say for argument’s sake it’s 50-50. Then let Arum go to the people he works with, TV Azteca, Tecate, HBO, the Filipino TV, go and talk to them and get their best offer. I’m going to do the same with Corona, with Showtime, with Televisa in Mexico and let’s see who can get more money? He puts his number in a sealed envelope, I put mine in a sealed envelope and whoever has the bigger number wins. My side can’t blame me, and Bob’s side can’t blame him.”

“That doesn’t mean whoever has the smaller number doesn’t get their logo or their tickets or their press conference. This is not about disrespecting one another. If you want to really get it done, you have to do what is fair.”

In an interview with SI.com, Arum didn’t sound the least bit interested, particularly when it came to doing a deal with Showtime, which has had a frosty relationship with Top Rank since Stephen Espinoza, an attorney who worked closely with Golden Boy, took over as the head of sports programming.

“If that’s the case, the fight can’t happen,” Arum said. “I’m not going to strain my loyalty [to sponsors and networks] for a fight that doesn’t mean that much to me. Donaire can fight anyone. I pay him three times what Mares makes. I get $6 million per year from Tecate. Am I going to jeopardize it for a f---ing Donaire-Mares fight?”

“Understand, the people who support us don’t want to hear about these kind of nuances. Donaire delivers for them. Would he fight Mares? Absolutely. But Mares doesn’t move the needle for us at all. We would fight him, but not to jeopardize our business. And why would I deliver any fight to Showtime that’s run by a guy who worked for Golden Boy, who won’t take our calls, who tries to humiliate us and does business only with one promoter? Why would I give him any kind of strength. This guy [Espinoza] is a bad guy. I don’t mind saying it to anybody. He is a bad, bad guy.”

In an email to SI.com, Espinoza expressed a strong interest in being a part of a Mares-Donaire fight.

“Mares vs. Donaire is a very attractive fight, and I’ve already made it clear that Showtime would bid very aggressively for that fight,” Espinoza said. “I am sure that Bob and Golden Boy will want to make sure that they generate the most money for their respective fighters and will not let anything as petty as personal feelings get in the way. Anything less would be a disservice to the sport, and more importantly, to the fighters.

“It’s ironic that Bob would say that I don’t take his calls. I’ve been at Showtime for just over a year, and I have not received a single phone call from Bob Arum during that time. With respect to his comments about me personally, they don’t even merit a response, other than to say that I have never left any real offer from Top Rank, or anyone else, without a reply. Bob knows that. And given Bob’s track record and reputation, being called a “bad guy” by him is a badge of honor.

“I am judged by the quality of the programming I acquire. Showtime has been televising high profile, exciting and competitive fights all year, and I am confident our subscribers are very pleased with the quality of Showtime boxing this year. We welcome all dialogue and proposals from Top Rank and all other promoters that fit within our programming strategy.”

With so many obstacles and neither side likely to relent, Donaire-Mares will likely suffer a familiar fate: Never happening.

-- Chris Mannix

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