Monday 24 July 2017

Manny Pacquiao press call cut short after promoter Bob Arum's x-rated rant

Conference call ahead of Las Vegas showdown with Floyd Mayweather ends in farce as fighter says just three words before promoter pulls plug

Manny Pacquiao spars during a workout in preparation for his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. at Wild Card Boxing Club on April 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California
Manny Pacquiao spars during a workout in preparation for his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. at Wild Card Boxing Club on April 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California
Boxer Manny Pacquiao spars with his coach Freddy Roach
Promoter Bob Arum speaks to media before a Manny Pacquiao workout in preparation for his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. at Wild Card Boxing Club on April 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California

Oliver Brown

It is a sign of the mayhem threatening to engulf the 'Fight of the Century’ that a scheduled conference call with Manny Pacquiao had to be abandoned on Monday might even before the first question could be asked.

As the feverish hype around the Filipino’s bout with Floyd Mayweather escalated to unmanageable levels, promoter Bob Arum, having clearly acquiesced to this latest circus under sufferance, described the debacle as “ridiculous”.

Pacquiao, trying to field questions from hundreds of journalists over a single line from his gym in Hollywood, had uttered all of three words before the irascible 83-year-old jumped in by shouting: “Oh, f---! Let’s reorganise.”

With the £170 million showpiece still 11 days away, the preamble is already on the verge of pandemonium. Not a single paper ticket for the fight has yet been issued, with US aggregator TiqIQ listing prices of up to £45,352 for a ringside seat.

There remains a possibility that there will be no public sale at all, such is the clamour among celebrities, sports stars and promoters’ associates to see and be seen at the Las Vegas spectacular next Saturday night. The number of press requests for accreditation is understood to exceed 16,000, more people than the entire MGM Grand Garden Arena can hold.

Already, organisers have taken the unprecedented step of charging fans $10 (£6.70) a head just for the privilege of watching the weigh-in. They sought to justify the move by citing fears that unfettered access could lead to a dangerous crush. These would seem to be well founded, given how last night’s worldwide press-gang disintegrated under the weight of its own absurdity.

The full exchanges are worth replaying in their full Keystone Cops glory.

Host (breezily): “Manny is in eighth week of training here at Wild Card in Los Angeles, not to mention the several weeks he has spent conditioning in the Philippines. Joining Manny are his seven-time coach of the year, Freddie Roach, and Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum. It’s my pleasure to introduce Bob to step up to the call. Bob.”

There is no answer.

Host (slightly on edge): “OK, erm, Freddie. Can you give us a few comments on how training is going?”

Roach: “We chatted, we had a good day. We’re starting to cut back a little bit each day and just saving a bit more energy for the fight. Pacquiao’s in great shape. We’re ready to go. We had a great training camp. Everything worked out really well.”

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Boxer Manny Pacquiao spars with his coach Freddy Roach

Host: “Manny, everybody, is the only eight-division world champion. He is not only defending his WBO welterweight title but trying to unify it when he faces WBA and WBC counterpart Floyd Mayweather. Manny, welcome to the call. I understand you went 12 rounds in sparring on Saturday. Tell us how you feel.”

Again, the only sound is uncomfortable silence.

Host (increasingly panicked, to Pacquiao): “Do you want to use my phone? I’m going to put you on mine.”

Host: “How do you feel now the fight is actually happening?”

Pacquiao: “Good, very good.”

Host (relieved): “Hey, Bob, welcome to the call!”

Bob Arum (darkly): “Yeah, I’m very happy to be on this call, which I told everybody is just ridiculous.”

Host: “OK, let’s go into Qs [questions]. I just want to make one announcement – these calls are only as good as the questions asked.”

Operator: “And our first question comes from Michael Marley of Examiner.com.”

Arum (yelling): “Oh, f---! Let’s reorganise and do this call some other time, please.”

Roach: “OK, can I go now?”

And there ended Pacquiao’s thoughts on the most restlessly awaited fight for a generation. One can only hope that he is able to detain Mayweather a little longer. We will have to wait until Wednesday evening, when he is booked to appear on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show in New York, before he is able to put more meat on this barest of bones. Even if Arum was characteristically crabby, his company Top Rank Boxing were clearly embarrassed by the farce.

“At the top of the hour, there were a massive number of calls from the media,” they said last night. “Our conference call system, which has worked for years, literally went down and we were unable to communicate with our operators. This was very unfortunate and we apologise.”

 The more revealing response, however, came from Arum himself. When contacted afterwards by hordes of disgruntled US journalists, he said the PR statement “was the PC way of doing it. What I told you was the Bob Arum way. I asked Fred [Sternburg, Pacquiao’s publicist] not to do a conference call, because I don’t believe in them and think they’re terrible. I knew they’d screw it up. I said, 'We either do it the right way, or we don’t do it. I didn’t want Manny on there having to listen to all of this nonsense.”

Every hallmark of the hoopla so far reflects the classic Arum touches: brash, strident, utterly unapologetic. Considering the Mayweather-Pacquiao duel has been almost a decade in the making – and has arguably come five years too late – it is being staged with a heavy dose of brinkmanship.

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Promoter Bob Arum speaks to media before a Manny Pacquiao workout in preparation for his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. at Wild Card Boxing Club on April 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California

Tickets have still not been released, and officials at the MGM Grand have declined to make Richard Sturm, the president of MGM Entertainment and Sports, available for comment after Arum antagonised him last year by describing him as the “president of hanging posters and decorations”.

Never in the annals of major fights in Las Vegas has the ticketing brouhaha been allowed to continue until so close to the fight. Promoters have said that fewer than 1,000 tickets would be sold at face value, but a succession of deadlines has passed and there is a growing chance that there will be none.

Read More: Floyd Mayweather: I'm better than Muhammad Ali

Tickets are displayed on TiqIQ for an average of almost £1,000, more than triple the next most lucrative fight the company has ever dealt with and 14 per cent more than the average for this year’s Super Bowl.

If a public sale is scrapped, this will mean every last ticket has been bought and divided up between the MGM Grand and promoters. The tickets will then trickle down to become the exclusive preserve of the fighters’ camps, television networks, Hollywood actors, friends and brokers, increasing the likelihood of many fetching exorbitant six-figure sums on the secondary market.

Usually, the tickets would be distributed around 10 weeks prior to a fight, allowing time for the market to settle and for fans to plan ahead with travel and accommodation. As it stands, more than 50,000 ticketless boxing fans are expected to descend upon Nevada next week.

 

 

The face-value prices at the MGM Grand were scheduled to generate around £50  million, according to Arum, but that sum could yet be eclipsed. It will be at least quadruple the total reaped from Mayweather’s 2013 fight against Saúl Álvarez, the previous record high for a boxing match.

The recipe for chaos from such an extraordinary bounty is self-evident. The sham of Pacquiao’s telecommunications breakdown last night was a far from happy portent.

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