LAS VEGAS — Bob Arum has seen the future of boxing, and it is him.
Actually, it isn't him, but he will still cash the checks and run the news conferences and say the wonderfully outrageous things that have kept reporters sprinting to their keyboards for 46 years.
Arum is founder and chief executive of Top Rank Promotions, same as he has been since he promoted his first fight for Muhammad Ali in 1966. He was a Harvard-educated lawyer back then and the fight he promoted was also the first fight he ever saw. As a young lawyer, he had run an investigation that resulted in an accused figure committing suicide. That made Arum pause to ponder the value of his life work and decide to go into something less scurrilous.
So here he is, turning 81 Saturday, the same day he will promote yet another big-money, big-hype fight, Manny Pacquiao versus Juan Manual Marquez.
Wednesday, Arum was at his delightful best, running a big news conference in a big room at the MGM Grand Hotel, with all the usual suspects saying all the usual things. Except Arum, who referred to this fight — the fourth between 34-year-old Pacquiao (35 in nine days) and 39-year-old Marquez — as something "turning out to be the most spectacular event in many years."
That apparently meant they are selling more tickets and pay-per-views than expected. With Arum, as with most of boxing, "spectacular" is in the eye of the beholder.
Still, as much of a yawn as Pacquiao-Marquez 4 may be in the real world, it offers a good opportunity to step back and pose the question of what comes next. Pacquiao, a Philippine congressman, is increasingly coy about his future, and his entourage for fights these days seems to consist of an increasing number of politicians. This will be his 61st fight, going back to January, 1995, when he fought at 106 pounds and was grateful for a purse that provided his family with a few days of meals.
He is the star. He still floats the public's boat. But after him, boxing — not just Top Rank's stable, but all of boxing — could float for a while into deeper irrelevance. That Pacquiao-Marquez 4 is even being staged, despite hyped revenge, past questionable decisions and the desire to get closure to a controversial series in which Pacquiao has won close decisions twice and had a draw, speaks volumes.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez will fight next year, but both are somewhat damaged goods.
Arum, when asked his preferences given carte blanche, searched a bit before pointing to remaining boxing star power in Wladimir Klitschko, followed by Andre Ward and Sal (Canelo) Alvarez. He was rating, not attempting to steal, because all three fight for other promoters.
He was also quick to erase any hope about the long-desired Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. match, saying, "That's not going to happen," and adding, "Al Haymon [Mayweather's advisor] is just dangling Mayweather" as a vehicle to other business interests.
That means boxing may soon face a real void.
Where have you gone, Butterbean? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you …
Arum sees the glass half full. He likens the possibility of a down period to the period from 1976 to 1980. The closed-circuit boxing business boomed until '76 and then went dead until 1980, when it returned with Sugar Ray Leonard against Roberto Duran. According to Arum, that was No Mas for Duran and plenty more in the days ahead for boxing.
"It could be this period we are getting to will be a blessing," he said.
Arum said the increased exposure of network TV on boxing in that four-year, no-closed-circuit period, made the public hunger again for something big. That was Leonard-Duran, and it was big enough for him to take the risk again on the more-profitable closed-circuit format.
Closed circuit is mostly in the past. Pay per view is the pot of gold now, but you need good fights to use that format. Arum said that interest is much more easily generated now, through technology. He said Top Rank has invested heavily in that, partnering with baseball's highly successful MLBAM (Major League Baseball Advanced Media).
He said that is being led in his company by his stepson, Top Rank President Todd Duboef, and Executive Vice President Lucia Mckelvey. Top Rank will sell an app for this fight for those who want to watch on phones or tablets. It will stream Friday's weigh-in and that will end up on the huge screen in Times Square in New York City. Soon, it will sell subscriptions to its website, from where a fan can buy Top Rank fights and also see special infrared analysis of each punch and how much damage it is doing.
"It tracks the heat," Duboef said. "The more heat, the more color shows and the more damage the punch has done."
Arum, at the age where Twitter and Facebook make his eyes glaze over, nevertheless knows new revenue streams when he sees them. And he sees plenty in technology.
"No other company in boxing — few other companies anywhere — have the edge we have in technology," he said.
That, and a top boxer with top appeal, will keep Top Rank living its name.