Saturday, May 24, 2008

Arum Rolls the Dice with Cotto and Margarito in Vegas

From left, Miguel Cotto, promoter Bob Arum and Antonio Margarito.

There's no oasis in the desert right now. Las Vegas is reeling and the chips are down.

But "Bottom-line Bob" Arum, with the help of Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, is hoping to change the taste of a once sweet economy that has suddenly gone sour.

Just how bad are the hands being dealt in Vegas right now?

Well, the company that owns The Tropicana has filed for bankruptcy protection. The stock price of MGM Mirage which owns numerous big-name casino hotels in the city has been in a dizzying free fall - down over 50% since October 2007. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Sin City casino operators have reeled back in horror as gambling revenues have crashed through the floorboards of their baroque ballrooms - plunging over 4 percent since 2008 began. The number of conventioneers is off by a staggering 10 percent.

To put this into perspective, Las Vegas has seen gambling revenues fall only once in nearly 40 years and that was in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks - and even then the drop-off was a measly one percent. Last month, the MGM Mirage, in one day, put the kibosh on 440 middle management jobs in order to save themselves $75 million a year.

What's more, by the end of 2007, ground zero in the home foreclosure mess shifted to the once booming city of neon lights. Incredibly, seven of the top 100 worst-hit zip codes in the entire country were within the boundaries of metropolitan Las Vegas. Visit any subdivision in the city and you'll see rows of vacant and foreclosed homes with for sale signs waving in the wind and tumbleweed blowing down the once pristine sidewalks that now sprout only weeds.

But this week, a glimmer of hope flickered in the desert.

Cotto exits stage right after addressing the media on a press tour for the fight.

Everyone knows it's impossible to keep a secret in boxing and despite the best laid plans of a whole bunch of people, word has leaked out that Miguel Cotto versus Antonio Margarito, long rumored to be headed for New York's Madison Square Garden or Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, is instead headed for the MGM Grand Garden and will be televised by HBO Pay Per View.

The faltering Las Vegas economy played right into the hands of Bob Arum. He sold the idea to the casino executives that they needed an event like this one to bring people to fill up empty hotels rooms, sit at bare poker tables and gobble up the food in restaurants that no longer have waiting lines that stretche out the door.

So, come July 26th, in the heart of what promises to be another sweltering Las Vegas summer, will come a barn-burner of a prizefight. And not just any prizefight. No, this is when Arum will bring one of the thoroughbreds of his stable back to Las Vegas for the big race with Margarito in an effort to force Floyd Mayweather, Jr.'s hand at 147 - which of course is where Floyd still holds the WBC belt.

Cotto, the Puerto Rican destroyer and ruler of the WBA at 147 pounds, is returning to Vegas for the first time in three and a half years. In the other corner will be Antonio Margarito, the 'Tijuana Tornado' and IBF titlist who'll be returning to the city after a two year hiatus. It promises to be one of the can't miss candidates for fight of the year and just maybe it'll help, in some small way, to relieve the malaise of a city that has seen way too much bad news lately. Besides, everyone knows there's nothing like a good scrap to draw a big crowd, make people scream and holler in wide-mouthed glee and just forget about life while someone else does the fighting.

Despite being 76 years-old, Arum is still feisty and is always looking to make a deal to put a fight together.

Arum recently said he's been interested in bringing East Coast star Cotto to a West Coast audience again to to re-introduce him to a new crowd. Cotto has fought in Vegas several times in the past, but since he appeared last his stock has shot up through the stratosphere like a rocket ship.

Cotto is now a marquee name - a headliner. Having the fight in Vegas will also allow the show to play to Margarito's Mexican-American fans in the southwest where boxing is popular among the large Hispanic population. Arum, who always has a sharp eye toward dollar signs, figures that a Las Vegas attraction will also be a stronger sell on pay-per-view.

The fight was alluded to by Arum after both men fought in Atlantic City back on April 12th. Cotto handily disposed of Alfonso Gomez whereas Margarito summarily dispatched Kermit Cintron, who again unraveled like a cheap yo-yo.

For Arum, the push for this fight to happen in Las Vegas gained legs when, at his urging, the Nevada Athletic Commission amended its Byzantine rule on the size of the boxing gloves the participants will wear. The commission relented and is now going to allow Cotto and Margarito to wear eight-ounce gloves instead of the previously mandated ten-ounce gloves. Every other boxing jurisdiction in the country allows welterweights to fight in eight-ounce gloves, and Cotto apparently indicated that he would have refused to fight in Las Vegas without the eight ouncers.

Arum is looking forward to a blockbuster promotion and claims that even though he promotes both guys he doesn't necessarily have one he's rooting for - but everyone knows Cotto is his man. Whatever the case, Arum says this: "Look, we're really proud of these guys. Top Rank fighters fight and both Antonio and Miguel are Top Rank fighters. No nonsense - they come to fight."

Margarito (right) laid a pounding on Kermit Cintron back in April.

Arum is pulling out all of the stops for this one and he's hoping to take advantage of the once fierce rivalry that existed between Puerto Rican and Mexican fighters. The press tour kicks off on Monday in Mexico City, followed by stops in Los Angeles and New York before ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico next Friday.

Of Cotto, Arum boasts, "You have to judge, but he's damn, damn good. Damn, damn good. He beat Zab Judah and beat Shane Mosley - two real fighters. No Mickey Mouse, no twenty-four sevens, no dropping f-bombs - but a real, honest working fighter."

"Both of these guys are refreshing," Arum continues, his voice rising a couple octaves. "They're what boxing is all about - honest guys who come to fight and conduct themselves like gentlemen and that's what this sport really has. It's not Floyd Mayweather and his f-bombs - that's not the sport. It's not old fighters who hang on past the time when they should retire. That's not what the sport is about. It's fighters in their prime who come to fight and are real gentlemen."

The fight taking place in Las Vegas also sets up a possible future blockbuster for Cotto (if he wins) against Mayweather, Jr. or Oscar De La Hoya, which of course are both fights that would be a natural for the recently beleaguered Vegas strip.

And Arum, ever the promoter, is already firing shots across the bow at the S.S. Mayweather, who just so happens to moor his ship in the sand of the Las Vegas harbor.

"There's one guy out there who I don't think is a fighter anymore," barks Bob. "He was once a great fighter, really. Make no mistake about it. But he's not a fighter anymore. I think Floyd probably watched Antonio and he watched Miguel and I think he's signed on for the flight to Mars."

Speaking of Mars, has anybody heard how the economy is doing up there? "Bottom-line Bob" has a few ideas.

May 2008

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great fight and Arum should be congratulated for putting it together. A "war" is what I predict. I saw Cotto/Gomez and Margarito/Cintron. The Cotto fight told me nothing since Gomez was simply outclassed. The Margarito fight showed that Margarito can fight with anyone. While I don't agree that Cintron unraveled "like a roll of toilet paper"...that's award winning boxing journalism??...Margarito did show that he is a force to deal with. Cintron connected with at least 3 bombs that would have dropped any other welterweight out there. Tony didn't flinch. I don't see Cotto being able to knock him out so...he'll have to out box him. Is he capable of that...possibly but...with the pressure Magarito will put on him...I'm predicting a later round 7-9 KO for Margarito.