By Jake Donovan, photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank
The matchup has been criticized, and such seems to be the case for any Manny Pacquiao event over the past couple of years that hasn’t featured Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the other corner.
It doesn’t help matters that this weekend’s stand-in – former three-division champion Shane Mosley – is one-year removed from a lopsided loss to Mayweather himself, and not looking much better in a controversial draw with Sergio Mora four months later.
The undercard took a considerable hit midway through the promotion when Humberto Soto decided that he was no longer contractually obligated to take orders from Top Rank, thus pulling the plug on his highly anticipated rematch with Urbano Antillon.
But whatever you have to say about this weekend’s pay-per-view headliner between Pacquiao and Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (Saturday, 9PM ET, Showtime PPV), it can’t be said that efforts weren’t made to reinvent the wheel.
It remains to be seen how much the show will benefit from the involvement of CBS, but at the very least it’s the only fight in more than a decade that can even ask such a question.
Ratings for its April 30 prime time edition of “Fight Camp 360 – Pacquiao-Mosley” didn’t exactly set the world afire – in fact, it came in last for its Saturday evening time slot. But it was still an idea worth exploring, and breaking new ground for the sport, as was the case when ads – as well as the premiere episode of the Fight Camp 360 series - ran throughout CBS’ extended coverage of NCAA basketball’s March Madness tournament
The network’s involvement proved to be the deciding factor in convincing Bob Arum to bring Pacquiao across the street after having spent most of the 21st century on HBO and its pay-per-view arm, growing from a fighter to the sport’s most popular active fighter thanks.
However, it’s not where the Hall-of-Fame promoter stopped in his efforts to bring old friends back to the sport.
The most anticipated event of the year to date will be preceded by an ESPN2 Friday Night Fights telecast that also airs live from Sin City. Much like the big show on Saturday evening, this particular card will be presented by Top Rank.
It’s hardly uncommon for a promoter to stage a regional-level show on the eve of a blockbuster event. Top Rank itself has tapped into its own resources in the past, utilizing the output deals in place with various networks to offer fight fans a primer while further promoting its centerpiece attraction.
There’s a different feel to the approach this weekend, as Top Rank offers its first show on an ESPN-owned network in more than a decade.
Once upon a time, Top Rank was the chief supplier to ESPN’s Friday Night fight series, with its Top Rank Boxing on ESPN series lasting from 1980 through 1996.
Since then, the Las Vegas-based company hasn’t been so quick to lend its talent to the Worldwide Leader In Sports. However, the ice began to thaw in late 2009, when Top Rank was in serious talks with ESPN about once again doing business.
It’s taken more than 18 months to bring that idea to reality, though not because progress was slow in getting the two entities to reunite .
The truth is that Arum doesn’t like – or need – to rush into any venture. It’s what has made his company the most successful empire in the sport today, outlasting his peers and picking off nearly all of the new kids on the block.
As a result, a wider audience than usual will get a good look at one of the best young prospects in the game today, as rising featherweight Diego Magdaleno makes his debut on the Deuce. The undefeated Vegas fan favorite takes on battle-tested Gilberto Sanchez-Leon in the 10-round headline attraction at the Mandalay Bay.
That so much is happening in Vegas this weekend is yet another example of Top Rank turning to old friends to create new business.
It’s been more than a year since Pacquiao has played Sin City, and his absence has been massively felt at the box office.
A string of Fight of the Year contenders surfaced in the last couple of months in 2010, including a trio of bouts that played the desert town in a span of six weeks – Juan Manuel Lopez’ injury stoppage of Rafael Marquez; Juan Manuel Marquez’ off-the-canvas knockout win over Michael Katsidis; and Amir Khan’s to-hell-and-back thriller with Marcos Maidana.
All were fights to which boxing fans craved with a passion. None featured a gate worth mentioning.
In fact, the combined total of all three events still pales in comparison to the sold-out crowd that will be on hand when Pacquiao defends an alphabet title against Mosley this weekend.
A feeling out process – both on the Vegas boxing scene and Showtime’s foray back into PPV – was offered with Miguel Cotto’s 12th round stoppage of Ricardo Mayorga. The show didn’t set box office records, but drew a respectable crowd for a show in which not very much was at stake in the grand scheme of things (alphabet hardware aside) and also allowed Showtime to ensure that all of the kinks would be worked out ahead of the May 7 event.
In essence, the show served its purpose, as the hard push for this weekend immediately followed.
While the fight itself has come under fire, the buzz has not suffered in the slightest. The presence of a truly big Vegas event is already being felt, with massive turnout on hand for fighter arrivals earlier this week. The anticipation will only grow, with a concert like atmosphere expected for Friday’s pre-fight weigh-in – all of that in advance of the town’s first sold-out boxing event in more than two years.
On the one hand, you can argue that any promoter can almost afford to go on auto-pilot with a superstar like Manny Pacquiao and still expect strong results.
The other side of the coin is that nobody else has been able to do for Pacquiao’s career what Top Rank has accomplished – and that’s even with the growing criticism over opponent selection in the past couple of years.
Two years ago, it became about Pacquiao breaking new ground, picking up titles – legit and alphabet – in two more weight classes, entering the history books in the process. Last year, it was about introducing the sport – and its biggest attraction - to the nation’s most spectacular sports venue, and vice versa.
This year – and this weekend, in particular - has been all about bringing old friends back into a sport always in need of a breath of fresh air.
Some will call it a new spin on an old matchup template. Those who care about the sport’s future call it long overdue thinking outside the box – even if part of it entailed peeking into a box full of tricks that always worked well in the past.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .