Saturday, July 19, 2008

Arum Risking the Jewels in Top Rank's Crown

Promoter Bob Arum is making tough fights for the three best fighters in his stable of stars.

Make no mistake about it, Miguel Cotto, Kelly Pavlik and Manny Pacquiao are the three shining jewels in the crown of Bob Arum's Top Rank.

And surprisingly, the ageless 76 year-old Arum, not normally known as a risk taker with his meal tickets, has decided to go all in.

First on the roulette wheel is the unbeaten Miguel Cotto who will go in tough against Antonio Margarito on July 26th at the MGM Grand. It’s Cotto’s most serious challenge and there is no certainty that he will come away the winner.

"I promote both of these fighters...They are both terrific fighters," said Arum of Cotto and Margarito. "The one thing I take pleasure in is that the battle of these two guys are in the biggest fight in years and in a fight that is attracting a lot of attention. Bob Arum will be sitting at ringside with the outcome having absolutely no affect on me – that's how I like it."

Rolling the dice next is undefeated middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik who will fight Bernard Hopkins on October 18th at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on HBO Pay-Per View.

Arum admitted the fight against Hopkins was not his first choice and he has criticized Hopkins in the past for hanging around the sport too long and for making boring fights. But with few marquee opponents to choose from and with HBO forcing his hand, Arum claims he was left with no other viable alternatives.

Finally and perhaps most surprising of all, Arum might risk the crown jewel and bet it all on Manny Pacquiao against - stop the presses - none other than "The Golden Boy" himself, Oscar De La Hoya. Were that fight to come to fruition it would be a surety to take place on December 6th also at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

The biggest risk is of course Pacquiao, who would be fighting De La Hoya at somewhere in the neighborhood of 147 pounds, though Pacquiao has never officially fought at a weight more than 135 pounds. The risk for Pacquiao is that Oscar is simply a much larger man who once won an alphabet soup title belt at 160 pounds.

Could Pacquiao defeat De La Hoya? The fight may become a reality.

Once the rumors began to emerge that this fight was a realistic possibility and not just some sort of Internet hoax, the idea of pitting two of the sports biggest draws in the ring with each other suddenly began to not seem so preposterous after all.

It especially helped when Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's esteemed trainer and who also trained De La Hoya in his fight against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. said he believes Manny would run right over the top of Oscar.

"Oscar needs someone to fight and my feeling is that 'someone' should be Manny," said Roach, from his Wildcard Gym on Vine Street in West Hollywood. "Manny could take the fight as long as Oscar gets down to 147. I wouldn't tell Manny to take the fight if I didn't think he could win it - but Manny can win it - no question about it."

Many boxing fans are still trying to get their head around the prospect of a De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao mega-fight but Arum claims that he and Richard Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, who are closing the deal for Pavlik vs. Hopkins, have had serious discussions about The Golden Boy vs. the Pac-Man.

“The decision that has to be made by Manny Pacquiao is, number one, if Oscar decides he would like to fight, whether Manny feels that is a winnable fight, because Oscar is bigger. And secondly whether the financial remunerations are appropriate,” Arum told a Filipino radio station on Friday.

“Until I sit with Manny and find out Manny’s financial demands and find out what percentage the revenue we can get from a De La Hoya-Pacquiao fight everything is really premature. The point is that we are not discarding our other options as this whole process goes on.”

Arum and De La Hoya will have to work hard to close the deal for a Pacquiao fight.

One of the other big factors in a potential De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao bout would be Oscar's age and recent level of inactivity. De La Hoya will turn 36 in February, and has been a part-time fighter who has fought a sporadic schedule over the past several years. Pacquiao on the other hand, has been active and has faced the best opposition that has been available. Along the way the little Filipino spitfire has become the most thrilling fighter in the entire sport as well as the name atop most pound-for-pound rankings.

One thing is for sure, an Oscar vs. Manny match-up would become the fight that Oscar wanted for the final fight in his career. De La Hoya told me personally in 2007 that his final fight, "Would have to be a mega event."

A fight with Pacquiao would certainly be that. It's also a risky bet for Arum.

In another surprising turn of events and something that nobody saw coming - Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik will face 43 year-old Bernard Hopkins in October in a catch-weight fight at 170 pounds.

Once again, it's a fight pitting Arum's Top Rank against De La Hoya's Golden Boy. The only fight for Pavlik that could have been bigger was against Joe Calzaghe, but the Welshman turned that fight down in favor of a September match with Roy Jones, Jr.

When proposed fights for Pavlik against Sergio Mora, Paul Williams, Allan Green and others fell apart for one reason or another, the one holding the Pavlik lottery ticket was the old man from Philadelphia.

At first glance, a Pavlik vs. Hopkins fight seems like a certain win for the youthful Pavlik.

But Hopkins, although he showed some of his age in his recent 12-round close decision loss to Calzaghe, still demonstrated that he is crafty and has much of the guile and moves that could make the night very difficult for the younger, less experienced Pavlik.

From left: HBO shot caller Ross Greenburg, Arum and the middleweight champion of the world, Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik.

Styles make fights and Hopkins has the type of eclectic mix of power, dexterity and deft movement that will likely throw the less fluid and less imaginative Pavlik off of his power punching game.

As Calzaghe found out in the first round of his fight with Bernard - the old man still has some tricks up his sleeve and he’s also not afraid to put them on full display when he needs them.

Both the De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao and Pavlik vs. Hopkins fights pit youth against age. Boxing is a young man’s game and more often than not, youth is served, but both of these fights have intriguing possibilities and the intangibles are endless.

The best hope for both Pacquiao and Pavlik to win is to use their youth to their advantage and really push the aged De La Hoya and Hopkins to their physical limits. Pacquiao and Pavlik are both aggressive fighters with good power. To win they need to use that youth to their full advantage and make the old guys work. If both guys set a fast pace and don’t fall into traps, they could use speed, quickness and power to finally send De La Hoya and Hopkins out of boxing on losing notes for good.

What is most surprising about this week’s developments concerning Pavlik and Pacquiao is the sudden turn of events.

It looked for all of the world like Arum was going to put Pavlik in against a soft touch or a smaller man who fought their best as a jr. middleweight or welterweight. Pacquiao seemed destined to go in against Humberto Soto in a fight that nobody was looking forward to seeing.

But suddenly and rapidly, like a bettor going for broke, Arum has managed to pull not one - but two- aces from the deck.

Just like that - Miguel Cotto, Kelly Pavlik and now Manny Pacquiao - all three of the jewels in Arum’s crown - and all of them going for broke.

July 2008

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