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Mayweather vs Pacquiao: Bob Arum speaks candidly about negotiations and cultural impact

"They wanted to freeze us out and make it their event. The problem is, they don't know what they're doing. They couldn't sell sponsorships. We sold all the sponsorships, which I mentioned today. Record amount. We did the deal on the closed circuit, which they opposed. Every single deal for television rights, we did, not them."

Have you enjoyed this process? There seems to have been enough reconciliation to make it go forward, but a lot of sort of digging at each other along the way. How has this process been for you?

"It's been a very hard promotion because of a lot of nonsense, and a lot of infighting, and people making alliances with other people. But, you know, when you've been through a horrible situation, and now you're approaching the finish line and you can see the end, you relax and you're happy. And you don't really realize until you think about it how horrible the situation was that you went through."

When you say "horrible," you mean the power struggle? You mean the terms that were actually agreed to? What was so bad about it?

"The negotiations of terms between the two fighters and the two promoters, that took longer than usual, but it was a negotiation. Once that deal was signed, the other side tried to use its relationship with MGM to get around what we had negotiated and signed. For example, the contract between the promoters said that both companies have to be signatories to the agreement with MGM. And they had MGM take the absurd position that they didn't want my company, Top Rank, to be a signatory. Stuff like that.

"Or, let you give me an example. We like at our fights to do spectacular lighting, on the grid and so forth. It makes it more of a significant event. Like the UFC does. When we proposed it, and they asked the cost, Showtime asked the cost, we said it would be around $400,000 to do that. They came back and they said, no, it wasn't worth it, and they didn't want to spend the money.

"OK, that's a legitimate position. You want this? Too much, in my opinion, OK, I respect. So then Todd duBoef, who's President of my company, speaks to Richard Plepler, the chairman of HBO, and he says, 'No, damn it, we want this to look great.' HBO and Top Rank agreed each to pay half. So now we went back to Showtime and said, 'Hey, great news! We can do this and it's costing you nothing.' And Showtime said no, we don't want you to do it."

Just to be spiteful, or--?

"Just to break our balls. It's the truth. And you can ask Showtime, why did you turn down the extra in-arena stuff that Top Rank and HBO was willing to pay for itself? To enhance the peoples enjoyment of the event."

Would they respond, 'Well, because we have a different aesthetic for how the shows are supposed to look than HBO or Top Rank'?

"No, because what they're doing is putting a garden variety nothing in the hands -- you know, yeah, there'll be cameras, they'll cover the fight and so forth. But it's not that spectacular experience that people like, and if it cost them nothing and didn't interfere with their production, why would they say no?"

Let's talk about that press conference for just a moment. Was it intentional, it had to have been, when you got up there and talked about how great HBO is? Not that it's factually incorrect, but that you made it a point to say it? That you made it a point to say how great Mandalay Bay is? When you went in there, did you think, 'I'm going to make sure I get this point across, because I haven't had that kind of voice through this process'?

"Well, yes and no. Because what I was saying about HBO, I really meant. I think HBO is very supportive of what we were doing. And they were fought tooth-and-nail ridiculously by Showtime, so I thought I could say that. And as far as Mandalay Bay, remember, MGM, this hotel is one part of the MGM company. So is Mandalay. I wanted people to understand that whatever problems we had with people here at MGM, the people at Mandalay couldn't be nicer, have gone out of their way to be hospitable and so forth. And I felt I owed them that."

Is there any possibility that what's happened has created any future environment where working with Showtime or Mayweather Promotions can happen again? Is there any kind of major circumstance where you can say, there can be more détente, the Cold War can be let go of?

"You never say never, and having been through this experience, we will know how to prevent it from -- the bad part from reoccurring. In other words, if there's a rematch and we say, 'OK, we'll do it, HBO and Showtime, but you Showtime, you're not gonna be able to do this, you're not gonna be able to do that,' to interfere with the good presentation of the event.

"You see, one of the things that happened here, is they wanted to freeze us out and make it their event. The problem is, they don't know what they're doing. They couldn't sell sponsorships. We sold all the sponsorships, which I mentioned today. Record amount. We did the deal on the closed circuit, which they opposed. Every single deal for television rights, we did, not them. So in effect, we co-opted them and took over the promotion. They were like fighting a gorilla against us, as silly as that may be."

There has been a little bit of pushback about the rest of the card not being that great. Why was there not as much effort to make a huge main event for this one? Was it just because of the size of the main event?

"No, because each company was permitted to do one fight which they paid for themselves to be on the televised undercard. We selected a title fight by Vasyl Lomachenko, who I believe is perhaps now in his fifth professional fight, maybe top five boxers in the world. And I wanted to showcase him, and he's fighting a real tough Puerto Rican guy. So I wasn't necessarily interested in some name against some name, I thought this was a great opportunity that the public see Lomachenko.

"Now when it came time for their fight, they took Santa Cruz, who is a very good fighter, and they put him with some guy who's lost two out of the last three fights, or whatever. That was their business, and that was their call. That was not something I had a veto over."

Let's talk about the main event. You've been promoting for decades. I wouldn't say where does this rank, but what is the closest thing to this that you've experienced in boxing?

"I've done and been involved in some major, major events, and this is major. Ali-Frazier first fight, whole country stopped, the world stopped, big political ramifications. Ali had opposed the Vietnam War, everybody called him a traitor. Now a number of years later, everybody is saying, hey, maybe he was right, you know? So that was a whole discussion in the United States and around the world. But we didn't have any distribution, because we had to use closed circuit to go to theaters and arenas, and we could only service 400, because telephone company lines were limited. There were no satellites. But that was huge.

"And then later on, when Leonard fought Duran. That was a huge fight with the Hispanic community and Sugar Ray Leonard, and it did fantastic business, but it was the closed circuit era again, so you were limited. And then later on in the 80s, we had Hagler and Hearns, and Hagler and Leonard, and those were major events. In the 90s, we had De La Hoya and Trinidad.

"Now this event has a number of advantages. One, we're in the social media era, and everybody is tweeting and instantaneous communication. So everybody is paying attention to the fight. We have 100 million homes in the United States who can buy the pay-per-view. We have millions more in the UK, Germany, Australia. It's a whole different world. But the attention to this fight is blowing me away, it really is."

Would you say it's fair that there's not the same kind of political considerations, but the financial impact here is beyond compare relative to the sport of boxing's history?

"There is no political implications in the fight, but there are cultural implications. There's one fighter who's very, very good, no taking away from him, who really represents, by his own admission, ostentatious consumption, with all the cars and all the doodads. That's not bad, because it also helps the economy, because the people have to build the cars, service them. And the other fighter is caught up in this genuine belief in God and the belief that he's here to do good for humanity. And in an athlete, it's really surprising for somebody to be so dedicated to God-like things. People ridicule Tim Tebow--"

Well, Tim Tebow is no Manny Pacquiao, if we're just talking skills, though.

"No, but as far as his religious beliefs are concerned, they are akin to what Manny Pacquiao's are."

There's a lot to look forward to, it's a grand event, it's a boon for the sport of boxing. The ticket sales thing was kind of interesting to me, though. Not the 500 that eventually got released and all that, but it's a weird dynamic, right? Because the gate is 70 million-plus, so it's two guys in the ring who are millionaires, fighting for other millionaires. There's not gonna be a lot of, like, true, hardcore boxing fans in the audience. Is that a regrettable thing?

"It's regrettable that in this world there is the one percent and the 99 percent. The one percent keeps making more and more money, and spending it lavishly, because money means nothing. Money is a cheap commodity. So everything is out of proportion. For the other 99 percent, they're working hard to put bread on the table. Something is fundamentally wrong in that system both here in the United States and other places in the world. But hey, I ain't runnin' for office."

(Interview transcribed by Scott Christ.)

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