After Manny Pacquiao scored a disputed split-decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez in their second fight in March 2008, the cries were strong -- not just from the Marquez camp but from much of boxing fandom -- for a third fight to finally settle the score.
But Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, had other ideas. He was determined to match Pacquiao with lightweight beltholder David Diaz. It seemed a gratuitously defiant act: Yes, Diaz held a lightweight title, affording Pacquiao the opportunity to add a world title in a fifth weight class. But the Pacquiao-Marquez rematch sold 400,000 pay-per-views in the United States, a record for the lower weight classes, and there seemed no way a matchup with the solid but limited and little-known Diaz could possibly do better than that.
Arum, however, says he was mapping out a longer-term plan.
"I was beginning to feel what I had in Manny Pacquiao, basically because of the adoration from the Filipinos, whether in this country or elsewhere," Arum told reporters at the MGM Grand, where Pacquiao will finally meet Marquez for a third time this Saturday. "So I knew I had someone, like [Cassius] Clay, who, if I could only bring him to the attention of the general public, could be someone quite special."
Which, perhaps counterintuitively, is where Diaz came in.
"I realized the only way he could be special is if he fought higher-weight fights, if he fought guys like [Oscar] De La Hoya, like [Miguel] Cotto, like [Antonio] Margarito and not if he just limited himself to the fighters at 126 and 130 [pounds]," Arum said. "We luckily promoted David Diaz, who was a very good fighter, but nothing exceptional. And he lucked into a WBC lightweight title, and then he defended it against Erik Morales and barely eked out a win, and so I figured that that was the move. Even though it would [sell], which it did, [to] less homes than a third fight -- and it didn't do particularly well -- it wouldn't make it crazy when I could pull off the impossible and put him in with De La Hoya. As it was, after he beat Diaz, the Philippine Congress passed a resolution saying he shouldn't leave the country because he was going to get killed [by the much larger De La Hoya]. Can you imagine if he hadn't fought Diaz?"
Even so, Arum had second thoughts about the notion of putting in his young phenom with his former phenom, who had been fighting at junior middleweight and even middleweight -- more than 20 pounds higher than the weight at which Pacquiao was now campaigning -- since 2001.
"When the De La Hoya fight became possible, I had a big meeting -- I'll never forget it -- with Pacquiao in the suite at the Mandalay [Bay]," said Arum. "And I said: 'Manny, do you know what you're doing here? De La Hoya's so much bigger, so much stronger, you're liable to get hurt. There's a lot easier guys to fight. I'm telling you all of this because I want you to realize that maybe you shouldn't fight him.' And he got angry, and he said, 'I want to fight De La Hoya. I know I can beat him.' He looked at me with those steely eyes, and he really was sincere. It wasn't a question of the money or anything else. That's when I knew we had a helluva shot, and Freddie [Roach], who had trained Oscar, told us that Manny was going to beat Oscar. So we knew it internally, although Bruce [Trampler, Top Rank's Hall of Fame matchmaker], who knows fights, was leaning toward De La Hoya."
Of course, Pacquiao demolished De La Hoya in December 2008, sending the Golden Boy into retirement, and went on to defeat Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto before taking on larger-yet foes such as Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Arum admits that, in the aftermath of the Margarito fight, he realized matching the former flyweight with such relatively hefty opponents had to end.
"After he fought Margarito, when he told me how much he was hurting from those body shots -- to the public, it looked like a one-sided fight, but really, Margarito banged him around to the body, and the guy hurt him. He was in pain for a month. I thought, 'Am I crazy? I can't keep him fighting bigger guys all the time.' So he's in with Marquez now, and maybe down the road he'll fight Timothy Bradley, guys he matches up better with physically."
For that reason, Arum is dismissive of the notion of a matchup with middleweight champ Sergio Martinez, even if Martinez commits to weigh in at 150 and weigh no more than 164 on fight night. If Martinez and promoter Lou DiBella really want to make that fight, Arum says, he has an idea that is simultaneously novel and old school:
"Now, what I would say is, if you really want to fight Manny Pacquiao, you say you want to fight him at 150, let's go to a commission -- not necessarily this [Nevada] commission; maybe New York, maybe Texas -- and say, 'Both fighters want to do the fight and they want to go back to the old days and they want to do the weigh-in at noon on the day of the fight.' Once they do that, we can start talking."
As for the never-ending saga of the prospect of a bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Arum, naturally, puts the blame for the fight not being made solely on the man from Michigan.
"It's not a question of him making it difficult," Arum said of Mayweather. "He's making it impossible, because he's not making it. I thought to myself: 'OK, maybe he's got a point, even though I think it's baloney on this doping/drug test thing.' So Manny and I discussed it, and I said, 'Manny, even though they can, they're not going to go into the dressing room on the night of the fight to take blood, and if they do, let 'em take it from your ass, not your arm. So he said, 'OK, OK, no conditions.' None. And then [Mayweather]'s on [TV] this weekend, saying, 'I'll fight him, take the test.' What is he saying? And why doesn't the press take him up on it? How many times are we supposed to say that that is not an issue?"
Whether that fight does or does not happen, time for potential opponents is running out. Pacquiao's boxing career, says Arum, has a finite time remaining and a clear end date.
"Let me give you the political situation. He's now a Congressman from Sarangani. His term is up in 2013, when he will run for governor of Sarangani Province, and probably win," Arum said. "That's the end of boxing, because as a [Filipino] congressman -- like [U.S.] congressmen -- you don't work very hard. It's the truth! Some of them do, but how many days are they in session? Two days a week?
"But as a governor, it's different. As a governor, you've got to run the whole province; you're responsible for the water, the electricity, everything. So that's what he's going to concentrate on, and then in 2016, he's going to run for the Senate, which is a six-year term, and then in 2022 when he'll be over 40 years of age, that's the first time he's eligible to run for president. So that's a big, tough, political career to build up to, and he won't have time -- nor should he have time -- to spare coming over to the Wild Card, doing press conferences and so on."