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BILL DWYRE

Boxing promoters Don King and Bob Arum, together again . . . what could go wrong?

The 79-year-old masters of hype and hyperbole are longtime adversaries, but they've joined forces for Saturday's Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga bout in Las Vegas. Talk about strange bedfellows. . . .

March 07, 2011|Bill Dwyre

The carnival barkers brought the show to a place where they buy ink by the barrel.

It was Don King and Bob Arum, together again. Stop the presses. Sentimentality may dictate that we wipe away a tear.

If you know boxing, you know that these two didn't merely define the art of promoting fights, they all but invented it. Keep a hand on your wallet. If you've got a used car to sell, give them five minutes.

Speaking of cars, their visit Monday to The Times was to sing the praises of two fighters who are 50,000 miles past their warranty. Arum promotes Miguel Cotto, King promotes Ricardo Mayorga, and the twain shall meet Saturday in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand. Each characterized the boxing skill of his fighter along the lines of a Roberto Duran; descriptions of Roberta Flack might have been closer.

But that is their job, and over the years — around half a century for each — nobody has done it better. The seats will be filled for Cotto-Mayorga, people will purchase the Showtime pay-per-view and everybody will be happy, especially if Cotto and Mayorga actually hit each other a lot.

But the great reunion of these two men — each 79, each happiest when cameras are rolling, each with a history of public spats and finger-pointing at each other, and neither a grumpy old man — has only tangentially to do with Cotto-Mayorga. It has everything to do with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that boxing has failed to mine.

That would be Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather Jr., a fight worth having your pocket picked.

The politics of boxing are never simple. The politics of Pacquiao-Mayweather are a Rubik's Cube.

And this is where Arum's genius comes through.

It goes something like this: Arum promotes Pacquiao, the current jewel in boxing. The only thing close is Mayweather, who has recently spent more time in court in Las Vegas than in a boxing ring. His alleged sins are the usual boxer's fare: robbery, coercion and pushing women around.

Arum once promoted Mayweather, doesn't much like him and especially doesn't much like his manager, Al Haymon. After both Mayweather and Pacquiao disposed of an aging Oscar De La Hoya in the ring, the scene was set for the big fight and Mayweather hooked up with De La Hoya's promotion company, Golden Boy, to get it done. Things looked good. Golden Boy's chief executive, Richard Schaefer, was even quoted as saying, "We'd be idiots if we can't get this done."

But along the way, the Mayweather camp began publicly attributing Pacquiao's success to drug enhancement. To them, that may have been the usual pre-fight hype. To Pacquiao, a congressman in the Philippines with aspirations of climbing the political ladder after his boxing career ends, that accusation was slander. He sued, the fight fell apart and the case continues in the courts.

Arum accuses Golden Boy, and specifically Schaefer, of starting the drug talk and has clearly bad-mouthed them out of any part of the big fight. Monday, sitting in a roomful of newspaper reporters, he referred to Schaefer and De La Hoya as "bums." He used other terms that won't appear in a family newspaper.

If you are Arum, what do you do? You don't want to leave the doors of a Brink's truck unlocked, but you certainly will not give Golden Boy a key.

So you do the unthinkable, the unpredictable, the wild and crazy. You join forces with your old nemesis — a man you once called "a cancer on the sport," a man you once physically wrestled out of a boxing ring so he wouldn't steal your spotlight at your promotion. You do a warmup fight with him while hoping that Mayweather will see the light, and the cash, kiss Golden Boy goodbye, and sign with King.

It is classic, creative con. These aren't just strange bedfellows. This is the mongoose cuddling up with the cobra. It will be a union of no trust, no love and lots of profit. The hard-knocks street guy and the Harvard lawyer conspire for cash. Ebony and Ivory share the jackpot. The Golden Boys chase gold in their golden years.

"Bob and I promotes," King says, "and the rest of them gloats."

They are the all-time odd couple. Arum showed up in navy blazer. King, trademark hair still gelled to stand straight up like that of a man with his finger in an electrical outlet, came in his ever-present "I Love America" jacket. It is red, white and blue, with sequins and stars and with his own likeness emblazoned on the upper left, above a Barack Obama button.

He calls himself a "child of God," which is likely a departure from what police called him during incidents in 1953 and '66, in which his combatant ended up dead. The first one was ruled self-defense in a robbery, the victim departing Earth with a bullet in his back. The second ended up in a conviction, and a jail term eventually shortened to four years, when King stomped a man lifeless, continuing after the police arrived.

But that's water under the prison bridge now.

Monday, as Arum rolled his eyes, King was his usual parody of himself. In an interview session that lasted 50 minutes, King invoked the names of Knute Rockne, Otis Chandler, Ulysses S. Grant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cain and Abel, George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, Angela Merkel, Ferdinand Marcos, Julius Caesar, Susan B. Anthony, Clarence Darrow, Douglas MacArthur and St. Thomas Aquinas.

"I have a PhD in Caucasian-ism," he said.

Arum mostly invoked the names of his fighters, each, presumably, the next Joe Louis.

It is a marriage made in heaven. Or somewhere south of there.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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