Any visiting Martians out there wondering what professional boxing is all about might be enlightened to learn that the hot-air press conference here on Wednesday for the Fight Of The Century lasted eight minutes longer than it is possible for Saturday night’s bout to detain us.
Midway through the 53 minutes of mainly low-grade tedium, Bob Arum, of Top Rank, representing Manny Pacquiao, managed to drag a major sporting event back to the street with some digs that would have embarrassed schoolboys arguing over a sandwich.
It was always going to be a difficult marriage between Showtime, Mayweather’s chief paymasters, and HBO, who air Pacquiao’s fights and deal mainly with Top Rank, but Uncle Bob could not resist pouring vinegar on the wedding cake.
Arum, who used to promote Mayweather for many ears, until the boxer paid $750,000 to go his own way, has been at pains to declare that the much-mentioned animosity between them is a nonsense. Nearly everbody else in the fight game disagrees.
Perhaps the funniest line of the day belonged to Arum when picking up the microphone from Mayweather’s chief executive, Leonard Ellerbe: “Thank you Leonard, you’re a real gentleman, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. It was a pleasure working with you.”
It might not be that any of that is not true, but the sentiment is laughably at odds with the fact that it took nearly six years to get this fight together.
After his Pollyanna jab, Arum got down to business. “As you all know, Top Rank has been for many years associated with HBO presenting many fights. Manny Pacquaio has been associated with HBO for many years. One thing is beyond controversy: HBO is the number one, premium pay channel in the world. And it is soon to become pay streaming channel with the launch of HBO Now.
“It’s a great, great honour for us – Manny, myself, Top Rank, Todd [DeBouef, his son-in-law and president of the company] – to be associated with HBO. HBO’s programmes are beyond compare, whether they’re dramas or comedies or documentaries. They win prizes year after year. And in sports HBO puts on the best and most important matches... great high ratings, great viewership.”
He then rattled off some of their big fights of recent weeks, and there have been plenty of good ones. But everyone knew that. And everyone knew that the only way this fight, the biggest of them all, was going to be made was if HBO and Showtime put aside their commercial rivalry for one night. Arum, however, wouldn’t let it lie.
He pointed out that last weekend’s world heavyweight title fight between Wladimir Klitschko and the American challenger Bryant Jennings at Madison Square Garden “got the highest rating for any cable boxing show in the last three years”.
Arum introduced Ken Hershman, HBO’s president who, until 2012, worked for Showtime, and the sermon continued.
He was, of course, “honoured” and also “thrilled that fight fans are finally getting their wish Saturday”. He thanked the fighters for taking “this historic challenge”, as well as the media, and hacks briefly returned to their notebooks and keyboards.
“The journey to this fight has been a remarkable one,” he said, plugging more of HBO’s boxing-related content.
Ellerbe could stand no more. He took another turn at the podium, to say, “Bob, Showtime has the biggest star in sports and the best fighter in the world,” a counter that drew wild applause from Mayweather’s entourage.
“We’ve loved every moment we’ve worked with Showtime and its staff. Stephen Espinoza and his team have brought us some of the biggest moments in Floyd’s career, and Saturday night will be no exception.”
Espinoza, the executive vice-president and general manager of Showtime Sports, took the tag and carried on, although his efforts to bring balance to the spat did little more than give it legs.
“A funny thing often happens on events this big,” he said, dressing up the room for his knockout blow. “With all the hoopla, the crowds, the big business, the promotion, some times we forget why we’re here. Some times we forget what this event is all about. For all the talk about networks and shows and documentaries and dramas and series [at this point, Arum’ stare hardened], this isn’t about networks. This isn’t about a bunch of guys in suits in New York City. This isn’t about promoters.
“It’s about two world-class athletes, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, who have been working for weeks and weeks, all of their lives really, to get to this precise moment. They’ve run hundreds if not thousands of miles, thrown hundreds of thousands of punches, all to get to this very moment.
“Nobody did that for them. No network, no promoter, no manager, no executive – no-one else can take credit for that. Don’t get me wrong: Floyd and Manny have great teams. Floyd will be the first one to tell you that his term deserves much credit for his success and that he wouldn’t do without them. And I’ve heard Manny say similar things.
“But no-one goes out and runs eight miles in the middle of the night for Floyd. Floyd does that. Nobody shows and trains in the gym for Floyd. Floyd does that. And most importantly, when the bell rings on Saturday night, nobody is going to fight for Floyd. Floyd will do that alone.”
Well, not exactly alone. The other guy, the guy who works for the other bunch of guys who are not his bunch of guys, will be right there with him throwing punches too.
Interestingly, they did not give microphone time to the two hottest heads in the room, Floyd Mayweather Sr and Freddie Roach, whose mutual animosity is as genuine as it is childish.
And how strange it was to hear Mayweather describe the warring TV beasts gathered around them as, “different media outlets”, unprecedented diplomacy from a man who seems to have discovered a sense of calm at 38 years of age.
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell in Las Vegas, for theguardian.com on Thursday 30th April 2015 01.19 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010