One sunny autumn afternoon in 2001, Bob Arum stood on the steps of San Francisco City Hall and said he feared Floyd Mayweather would go broke. The young fighter, then under his Top Rank promotional banner, had finished out one brief television contract with HBO and begun another. In two fights earlier that year, he already had grossed $3.7 million.
Yet, with a fight against Jesus Chavez upcoming that same week, Arum disclosed that Mayweather had hit him up for an advance on his $1.8 million purse.
On a different sunny autumn afternoon in 2008, Arum stood at the entrance to Mandalay Bay here and declared that Manny Pacquiao, too, could end up broke. The Filipino star was due to make $11 million that same week to fight Oscar De La Hoya. But Pacquiao then, like Mayweather today, liked to gamble. And he had a soft heart for the underprivileged in his country, to whom he gave millions.
“In the next five years, he’ll run out of money another five times,” Arum said that day. “He’ll run out of every cent he’ll make on this fight. I know that.”
A few minutes later, in his hotel suite at Mandalay Bay, where Pacquiao insists on staying before all of his Las Vegas fights, Arum’s words were posed to him for a response.
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Pacquiao said of potentially squandering all of his millions.
Years later, the specter of either Mayweather or Pacquiao going broke seems ludicrous with their May 2 welterweight fight less than three weeks away at MGM Grand Garden Arena here.
When Arum reflects on his extensive experience with both men years later, he acknowledges that earlier in the careers of both men, he thought Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs) and Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) would end up penniless.
“Yeah, for different reasons,” Arum said. “I think Floyd spent a whole lot of his money on gambling and cars, and Manny spent all his money giving to charity.”
Pacquiao, however, also had a penchant for fast games of chance and faster women.
“That was a long time ago,” Arum said. “See, Manny was always spiritual and religious, and he was very ardently Roman Catholic. And a number of years ago, he became a born-again Christian, and once he became a born-again Christian, all these vices were dropped immediately, womanizing, gambling, drinking — nothing, I mean, he is pure as the driven snow. The only vice that he has is he spends too much time, in my opinion, in Bible study.”
The Jewish lawyer chuckles at this thought from behind a massive wooden desk in Top Rank’s spacious offices in a business district near McCarron Airport here. The offices are a study in new-era European design, emphasis on open work spaces and eschewing precisely the old-school corner office with traditional desk which Arum prefers and had installed for him.
He is 83 years old and uniquely positioned to comment on both Pacquiao, who currently fights for Top Rank, and Mayweather, who was promoted by the company from 1996-2006.
The first fight he promoted was Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo in 1966, before which he had little interest in boxing until his previous job as a U.S. assistant attorney afforded him the opportunity to audit a major boxing promotion. He saw how much money could be made and changed careers.
Eight years into his second career, Arum promoted Evel Knievel’s ill-fated 1974 attempt to leap the Snake River Canyon in a rocket. Knievel, Arum claims, was afraid of dying and tried to cancel the event in the final minutes before blast-off. Arum pleaded with him, saying closed-circuit venues all over the country that would sue them all for breach of contract if Knievel didn’t jump. After several minutes, Arum said Knievel reluctantly agreed. The promoter insists, to this day, that Knievel’s premature parachute deployment was an intentional act.
Mayweather and Pacquiao each could make nine-figure windfalls for their upcoming fight.
The fear of financial ruin seems ridiculous now.
Still, Arum admits making a serious mistake with Mayweather during their years together, the mistake of an elderly white man who didn’t understand what his young black protege wanted promotionally.
Mayweather wanted Arum to make a push into the black community. Arum thought that’s what he was doing, but after seeing Mayweather’s marketing campaign in the years since the latter bought out his contract with Top Rank, the promoter admits he didn’t give that request enough attention.
“That’s the only mistake I made,” Arum said. “And it was a major mistake.
“He was after us constantly to promote him in the urban (community). Now, I thought I was an expert in that community, because I had been involved with them for so many years in the Ali days and later on. The problem was that I was dealing with people who were more contemporary to me, and he was dealing and talking about the hip-hop generation, and I never quite realized what he was talking about.”
In 2006, in their last fight together, Mayweather fought Zab Judah in his first welterweight title bout.
The entire promotion skewed toward a younger audience and made some breakthroughs by focusing on urban markets. Arum said he didn’t grasp it.
“I didn’t realize it until after he had left,” he said. “I didn’t think the Judah fight really (had a significant impact). Again, I was at the helm, and I didn’t know how to tap that audience.”
Thirteen months later, without Arum’s involvement, Mayweather defeated Oscar De La Hoya in a 2007 bout which shattered all boxing revenue records to that date.
“Later on, after the De La Hoya fight, the needle really moved for him,” Arum said.
The other major contractual twist of Arum’s time with Mayweather was a six-fight HBO contract which ran from 2001-03 after the fighter originally eschewed it in 1999 with his infamous “slave contract” remark.
Mayweather fought seven fights during that period, for set amounts. There were provisions for off-contract fights if a pay-per-view opportunity presented itself, but none materialized.
Mayweather admitted, after the fifth fight in the contract against Victoriano Sosa in 2003, that he found himself fighting carefully and not taking chances to preserve the HBO deal, which would have been voided with a loss.
“That deal was great for him,” Arum said. “It was absolutely great for him.”
Mayweather is training in earnest just a few miles from Arum’s office.
Arum said he has seen Mayweather worried about a fight two other times.
“I think they were concerned with the Corrales fight, very concerned with the Corrales fight,” Arum said, referring to Mayweather’s 2001 knockout of Diego Corrales in a matchup of unbeatens.
One year later, after Mayweather won a disputed unanimous decision over Jose Luis Castillo, mandating a rematch later in 2002, Arum said he saw it again.
“I think they were concerned with the Castillo fight, particularly the second one, after they had this close scare,” Arum said. “That’s something I never could figure out, how the judges’ scorecards were so one-sided for Mayweather in the first fight, and were not in the second fight, and Mayweather won easily in the second fight, and the first fight was questionable.”
If Mayweather-Pacquiao comes close to expectations, it also is the type of fight that could mandate a rematch, especially with the incredible amount of money the first fight is expected to generate.
Arum is uncertain whether it would happen a second time.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know, because again, Floyd would have to decide that for himself, and so would Manny.”