Boxing promoter Bob Arum has never been one to pull a punch when it comes to… (John Gurzinski / AFP / Getty…)
LAS VEGAS — We went to write about Manny Pacquiao versus Timothy Bradley and SignGate broke out.
It was Wednesday, this was boxing, and so the anger, hatred, rips, finger-pointing and innuendo were not unexpected. Nor, if you write a sports column for a living, unwelcome.
For big fights here, they always have a large press conference on Wednesday. The norm is a large stage, fighters and teams strung along each side of a podium, and a half-dozen skimpily clad Tecate girls, featuring plastic-enhanced smiles, etc.
The proceedings usually go one of two ways.
If Floyd Mayweather Jr. is fighting, you will have trash-talking, bravado and lots of verbal strutting, much of which would qualify as slander, if anybody took it seriously. But it's boxing, so nobody does.
If Pacquiao is fighting, it is usually cordial. Also somewhat less entertaining and newsy.
But then there is Bob Arum, Pacquiao's 82-year-old promoter, who takes care of all of that. There are axioms in life. One of them is never mess with the IRS. Another is never miss an Arum press conference.
Arum is Don King with a college degree and a logical flow to his bombast. If Arum were promoting tennis or golf, he'd either be bankrupt from the lawsuits by now or long-ago fired. When there is controversy in his sport, he is a moth to flame. He is as soft-spoken as a hand grenade.
SignGate began to take shape earlier this week, when Arum went to lunch at the MGM Grand Hotel, which he had rented for Saturday's Pacquiao-Bradley fight (at the MGM Grand Garden Arena) and saw, among other things, a 20-story mural of Mayweather on the side of the building.
For those who have the common sense not to follow boxing closely, Mayweather fights for Arum's hated rival promotion company, Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy. They like each other like Michigan likes Michigan State. They also both use the MGM venue for big fights.
Mayweather's main promoter, in conjunction with Golden Boy, is Al Haymon, also less than a dear friend of Arum. They like each other like Duke likes North Carolina.
Mayweather's next fight won't be until May 3.
So, Arum went in, had lunch, and chewed on the situation over salad. Before the croutons were gone, he was told his car had been towed away from valet parking after being hit, presumably by accident, by a top MGM lawyer. When Arum went to get his car, he ran into a top MGM entertainment executive, who, he said, apologized for all the Mayweather posters instead of Pacquiao-Bradley posters and told him what his hotel had done was "totally inappropriate."
In addition to the big mural, there are three-sided, hanging signs all over the casino, two of the sides promoting the Mayweather-Marcos Maidana fight and the third side promoting Pacquiao-Bradley.
The volcanic explosion of Mt. Arum held off until the press conference. Then it began spewing when Arum, the master of ceremonies at these things, introduced MGM's president of entertainment, Richard Sturm, as "the president of hanging the posters for the wrong fight."
And it was game on.
Sturm, perhaps hoping to beat the traffic so he could get home and pack his bags for a vacation paid for by his severance, ignored the rip and spoke the usual boilerplate about the greatness of both fighters. Smartly, he did not mention the name Mayweather, or we would have been witness to a murder, not a staple of the sports beat.
Arum finished with a flurry, just like he hopes his fighters will.
He ripped the MGM, pouring salt in the wound by comparing it, obviously unfavorably, to Las Vegas Strip hotel competitor the Venetian, which is "making $500 million a quarter."
That jab was more tactical than random. The Venetian is owned by Sheldon Adelson, Arum's current business partner in his quest to increase his Top Rank Promotions revenue by holding fights in Adelson's Venetian Macao casino.
Arum ended with a vague reference to people "paying people off" to get fights, calling that "Frankie Carbo tactics." Carbo was a Mafia mobster who once owned a piece of Sonny Liston and spent much of his life in jail for being a Mafia mobster.
"If what I said was incendiary," Arum said, "I'm an old guy and I apologize."
Later, when asked one on one to expand on his rant, he wasn't apologetic. Arum said that MGM officials "had to be out of their minds" to do what they did and treat his fight the way they have. He said that it was obvious what was going on, that the Pacquiao fight was a closely contested 2-1 odds fight (favoring Pacquiao) and that MGM needed to sell tickets "on my back" for the 12-1 odds Mayweather-Maidana fight (favoring Mayweather).
Along about then, a young TV innocent with nice hair interrupted to ask Arum if he thought MGM had done what it did "on purpose."
"No," Arum snarled back. "They did it by accident."
A response to all this was requested from MGM officials. After several hours, none was forthcoming. Apparently, the president of hanging the wrong posters had become the president of silence.