Indefatigable Arum Talks Up Pacquiao-Horn On ESPN Deal

Top Rank boss Bob Arum is at 85 still the shrewdest wheeler-dealer in the boxing promotion space, and his work ethic is in the uppermost tier among his fraternity. Proof comes in the announcement that Top Rank has placed the July 1 Manny Pacquiao fight on ESPN, expanding the army of eyeballs potentially reached to see the fighting Senator try and take down Aussie Jeff Horn, from a stadium in Australia.

This is the first time in 11 years that Pacman is off pay-per-view, Arum told Everlast on Monday, right before lunch. And, is it part of a broader package, a longer-term alliance between Top Rank and TWWL?

“I can’t get into it,” Arum told me. “But ESPN will show not only the fights, but also a two hour program the night before and will plug it on ESPN programs, and create tremendous awareness that nobody else can. They give us something that only they are equipped to give us. The premium networks can’t do it, they reach a much smaller audience. And on another network on which you have programs other than sports programs, you can’t do it. ESPN is sports!”

Arum is doing hits on various ESPN shows today, which already shows a payoff effect. No, Max Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith are not as likely to give ten minutes to a non-Floyd Mayweather boxing subject if Arum weren’t on, offering his charismatic take on Pacquiao-Horn and other fight game topics.

So, we wonder..does this signal a shift away from the paywalls, and premium cablers being the primary home for A- grade fight fare? Well, boxing fans saw that attempt being made by Al Haymon’s PBC, which sought to bring back the sport to the glory days arrangement, when big fights were offered on networks. That experiment is still ongoing, but it has to be said that the effort didn’t achieve the liftoff planners had hoped for. “This is a win-win for boxing,” Arum continued. “This not a greed thing, using ESPN to make more money. ESPN is being used and wants to be used…we will be creating awareness for the program.”

Arum said he and his crew were involved with CAA, the agency, and agents Nick Khan and Alan Gold were instrumental in shepherding. “We’ve been talking to ESPN on this and other matters for months,” Arum said. He reiterated “I can’t comment” when I asked if another shoe would drop about a longer term arrangement between Top Rank and ESPN.

So, this could signal a shift in platform usage. Yes and no, it does touch on cord cutting arguably, in that HBO and Showtime both are contending with shifts in user patterns. Of course, so is ESPN…So I think we have to see about other shoes dropping before we draw conclusions of longer range impact in placing Pacman’s next on ESPN.

Speaking of ramifications…shoes dropping…the health and wellness and relevance of the sport, at present and long-term….I asked Arum about the Aug. 26 Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor bout. How does he assess it? Could it help or hinder the sport?

“Does the sport take a hit from it? I don’t think boxing takes a hit,” Arum opined. “Anyone with a brain knows Mayweather-McGregor is not a competitive fight. It’s a spectacle. No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head to watch it. It has nothing to do with the long-term future of boxing.”

I really tried to get a sense if this show is a one -off or not. I FEEL like there’s more to come but of course don’t know. Arum spoke as though this is the start of something, if I can read between lines.

“Long term, these fights on ESPN, now your talkin! The NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl, the whole season, it’s not on pay per view. Without free TV, you’re doing a disservice to the sport. Now, that doesn’t denigrate what HBO and Showtime have done. They were the market and free and over the air wasn’t. They helped keep the sport alive. But it wasn’t the best of all possible worlds.” He spoke aout the difference in possible reach, between an HBO, or Showtime, with 30 million or fewer connections in the US, and ESPN’s breadth, closer to about 90 million homes. “We’re very enthused. I think this will work.”

And beyond Pacman, in his career home stretch, Irish Olympican Michael Conlan, with a personality which helps him get a leg up in a time when personality is needed, to help stand out, will get his fight shown on ESPN. Shane Mosley Jr (10-1) also gets a chance to shine on the ESPN stage, vs 10-0 Aussie David Touissaint and and Arum made a point to mention Jerwin Ancajas, a 24-1-1 Filipino—“they say he’s the next Pacquiao!”—who fights 25-1-1 Teiru Kinoshita on ESPN.

“It’s terrific the fact that it kicks off July 4th weekend, you get coverage Saturday, from 9 PM to 12:30,” the promoter said to close.

Then, it was time for a short break, or maybe another phoner, or three, before his next hit on the next ESPN show. “Mike and Mike” then “First Take” then “Sports Nation” then “Jalen and Jacoby.” We will see the impact this deal has only after the show unfurls. But this we know now—Arum at 85 is still pound for pound top dog in his sphere.

Michael Woods
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Michael Woods. Host, TALKBOX podcast, powered by EVERLAST; 1st VP, Boxing Writers Association of America; is my site