I’ve been trying not to get worked up about the bumpy negotiations between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao over what would be the richest fight in boxing history, because everybody who knows anything knows that a fight negotiation is an elaborate bit of kabuki theater. But I’m starting to get worried. I still have a tough time imagining both fighters leaving about $40 million apiece on the table over as idiotic an issue as drug testing, yet for the fight to get promoted the way big fights like this usually do, they do need to wrap it up soon. And the compromise offers both sides have talked about are a bit far away for my tastes.
The bottom line is the headline: Is any of this game of chicken worth it? Let’s say Mayweather’s side is going for some psychological advantage, like the mind game it always smacked of. Is that worth jeopardizing the tens of millions of dollars that Mayweather will lose not just for this fight, but the tens of millions he stands to lose in the future when everyone rightly turns their back on this sport because Mayweather-Pacquiao never happened? Let’s say Pacquiao has taken this personally, as his threat of a lawsuit suggests he has. Should his pride stand in the way of the tens of millions more worth of charity good or political campaign bankrolling he could do? And if it’s some byzantine plot to use controversy to sell the fight, is all of this doing more harm than good?
HBO’s Ross Greenburg, who was vital to making this fight happen and insisted nothing else would do, hasn’t been able to get either side to get anything done. There was some talk of bringing in Sen. John McCain, a boxing fan and a politician with some gravitas and a reputation for striking compromise (at least for portions of his career), to mediate, but Pacquiao turned that down for reasons that have never been disclosed.
There has been some movement on the Mayweather side, largely represented by Golden Boy Promotions. They’ve dropped their insistence that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency conduct the blood and urine testing; Pacquiao’s side, represented by Top Rank has a particular distrust of USADA, thinking that the agency is inflexible and might drop a blood test on Pacquiao on the way to the ring and weaken their fighter. Mayweather’s side is open to a cutoff date for when the testing would cease, too, but thinks 30 days — the timeframe Pacquiao’s side wants — is useless, and they’re right. They still want random blood testing, and Pacquiao’s side does not seem to be down for that.
There has been virtually no movement on the Pacquiao side. Top Rank’s Bob Arum has said they’ll agree to allow the Nevada State Athletic Commission hold hearings on the need for blood testing, with both sides presenting their case for and against, and both sides would cooperate with the ruling. Arum knows that’s no kind of counter-offer, because the NSAC executive director is on the record defending its existing urinalysis procedures in the last few days. Remember how we were worried that Arum, with his bad blood with Mayweather and Mayweather adviser Al Haymon, might be bad for negotiating this fight? Yeah, that’s seemed to be the way it’s gone, because things were going more smoothly when he wasn’t in the picture and was delegating out duties. This, by the way, is what he calls his final offer. I personally think agreeing to random testing with a limited number of blood withdrawals leading up to the week of the fight would do the trick, but Pacquiao’s camp doesn’t want random testing for no apparent reason. Either blood testing is acceptable or it isn’t, and all the specific reasons Pacquiao’s camp have given for not liking it the way Mayweather’s camp has proposed it are lame or have been addressed by the Mayweather camp. I’m sympathetic to the idea that Pacquiao shouldn’t have to undergo special testing no one else ever has, but that doesn’t mean it helps their case when they pretend blood testing isn’t more effective, when almost all the expertise suggests it is.
That’s not to say Golden Boy Promotions’ Richard Schaefer has been a picture of logical behavior, mind you. This quote, from negotiations for another welterweight fight in 2008, Shane Mosley-Zab Judah, has justifiably received some circulation because of what Schaefer said in response to Judah’s demand for blood testing of Mosley:
“Whatever tests they [the NSAC] want them to take, Shane will submit to that. We are not going to do other tests than the Nevada commission requires,” Schaefer said. “The fact is Shane is not a cheater and he does not need to be treated like one.”
Of course, Mosley did get busted using steroids at least once (he says unwittingly; I say, “come on, man”) and if anyone would deserve to be treated like a cheater, it’s him, not Pacquiao, who’s never had a single evidentiary hint of wrongdoing in his career. It’s worth saying again that the thing that makes Mayweather’s camp so suspicious of Pacquiao — that he’s moved up in weight from 106 pounds to 147 pounds effectively in his pro career — is the exact thing Mayweather did, if you include his amateur career; at around age 16, both Mayweather and Pacquiao were 106 pounds, and now both fight as welterweights. Shoefly has an interesting breakdown as well of how consistent Pacquiao’s post-weigh-in weights have remained consistent as Pacquiao has grown from 130 to 147, which suggests Pacquiao is the size he is now and not the smaller man he appeared to be. Some have questioned why Pacquiao’s ability to take a punch has gotten better, or why his power has gotten better, for which I have one answer each: 1. Pacquiao blamed weight drain for why he got wobbled by Juan Manuel Marquez in their rematch at 130, and he has acknowledged Miguel Cotto’s shots hurt him, but he was “pretending” they didn’t; 2. Pacquiao’s punches might be doing more damage these days because he’s so improved technically, and because fighters who have been weight-drained for years often show an increase in power when they finally move up in weight.
This flap looked like it might spread, and still might, and probably not for the good of boxing. Timothy Bradley offered to step in to fight Mayweather or Pacquiao, but his promoter Gary Shaw insisted that he’d want blood testing for Pacquiao too. That just turned out to be a strategic mistake; sure, it got Bradley’s name in the news at a time when everyone was looking at boxing, but why would Pacquiao fight Bradley for a few mil with blood testing if he turned down Mayweather for the same reason? Bradley corrected his promoter and said no blood test would be necessary. Golden Boy still insisted any of its fighters going up against Pacquiao, like Marquez in a third fight, would demand blood tests, too. That left Pacquiao looking at Paulie Malignaggi, who’d been one of three noteworthy boxing figures (Floyd Mayweather, Sr.; Kermit Cintron; himself) hinting that he thought Pacquiao was on the ‘roids. Malignaggi, though, said he trusted the NSAC, and wouldn’t insist on blood tests. Another question: Since Mayweather has accused Mosley of continuing to use performance-enhancing drugs, should Mosley replace Pacquiao as an opponent, what side does Golden Boy take then? This whole blood test idea has really thrown a potential wrench into future fight negotiations in a way that is unhelpful.
But the flap has potential to spread in deeper ways, too. Remember when Golden Boy and Top Rank refused to do business with one another? Those were some of the worst years boxing has had, since both have the biggest stable of boxers. Part of the reason was over Pacquiao. Golden Boy still retains a promotional stake in Pacquiao as a result of the mediation that brought both those sides together, and Arum is now threatening to sic lawyers on Golden Boy over that arrangement. Pacquiao is threatening to sue Mayweather, as mentioned, which could lead to years of messy headlines as a court drama steals headlines from the thing everyone wants the media to pay attention to, which is the sport itself. Over at Ring’s website, Oscar De La Hoya is using the entity he owns to make himself look like a fool/escalate hostilities/besmirch the reputation of the Bible of Boxing, writing a blog entry where he said Pacquiao’s punches in their fight felt the same as Mosley’s and Fernando Vargas’, both fighters who are confirmed performance-enhancing drug users. Of course, De La Hoya previously claimed Pacquiao’s punches didn’t hurt at all, so he’s lying in one way or the other. Hypothetically, Oscar having a blog at Ring mag isn’t inherently bad, but he’s repeatedly used it as a soapbox to advance his promotional agenda and as much as I hate to say it, he’s definitely tarnished the reputation of that publication with his writings.
What’s so stupid about all this is that even in the best-case scenario everyone is advancing their agendas in the short term for reasons that help no one in the long term. A lack of long-term thinking has long bedeviled boxing, but there have been a few souls in the last couple years who have looked at the big picture and now all of them are wallowing in this putrid muck. OK, so let’s say this is all controversy designed to hype the fight. At what expense? For people to return to boxing in droves, they have to have confidence that fights like this — fights that people want and ought to happen for all kinds of reasons — can be made. Is a little controversy sizzle for this fight worth making people say, “OK, they signed Mayweather-Pacquiao, but it took a long, petty fight to make it happen — why waste my time getting worked up over the next potential fight, if this is the way the business is run?”
Worst-case scenario, the failure to make Mayweather-Pacquiao happen does huge damage in the long-term to the sport. Believe me, everyone’s paychecks would suffer for years to come. I’ve considered whether I’d even follow boxing anymore if the fight doesn’t happen, and I’m as hardcore a fan as you’ll find. (I abandoned baseball after the ’94 strike; I briefly abandoned the NBA after the Tim Donaghy scandal. I’m not the only one.) But individually, everyone involved loses because of this game of chicken if nobody backs off.
Arum has rightly made a fuss, with great success, that the mainstream media is ignoring all the big business — and improved business — boxing has done lately. How much egg on his face would he have if Mayweather-Pacquiao falls through?
Pacquiao says he fights to “make the people happy.” How many people would be happy if he didn’t fight Mayweather?
Mayweather said he returned to boxing after a brief retirement because boxing needed him. What, like we needed him to ruin boxing by not fighting Pacquiao?
And Schaefer has said things to the effect that if the sides can’t come together on a deal, then they must be stupid. I think we know who that would include. And he’s right.