- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Before Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 and became one of the best-known owners in the NFL, he dabbled in boxing promotion, putting on a card in Little Rock, Ark., in the mid-1980s.
Now, 20-plus years later, Jones has his sights set on one a bit bigger -- the March 13 HBO PPV megafight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., the nearly finalized and much-anticipated showdown that many expect to shatter the numerous revenue and pay-per-view records set by Mayweather's 2007 fight with Oscar De La Hoya.
Jones wants to be part of it. He is pushing promoters Bob Arum of Top Rank and Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy hard to bring the fight to Cowboys Stadium, the new $1.2 billion state-of-the-art facility.
Jones has been interested in boxing since he was a boy, and boxed for fun at the North Little Rock Boys Club.
"I'm a longtime boxing fan," Jones told ESPN.com during a half-hour interview Thursday, the first time he has publicly discussed his desire to host boxing's biggest event.
Jones made it clear he wants the bout.
"It would be a spectacle," he said. "It would be one that would really put the eyes of this country on boxing."
Jones is not halfhearted in his attempt to land the fight. He's putting his money where his mouth is, offering a $25 million site fee, the largest guarantee ever put up for a fight.
"I don't know that there's been a decision made yet as we speak, but I know that we have put our hat in the ring with a significant financial commitment. I don't want to give the numbers, but it's as credible as you could imagine. You won't be wrong," he said when asked about the widely reported $25 million figure. "But I don't want to get into something that would impact fragile negotiations."
Top Rank and Golden Boy have received inquiries and offers from venues around the world, including the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which has hosted numerous Pacquiao and Mayweather bouts and appears to be the front-runner. But there has also been interest from venues in New Orleans, Atlanta, Miami, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dubai and a $20 million offer from Staples Center in Los Angeles.
One by one, they have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another, except for Las Vegas and Dallas, whose bid Jones has kept alive with that big offer and persistence.
"To use my football experience, 99 percent of your time is spent striving for something and being disappointed," Jones said. "[But] it's events like this that you strive for. You take all the hard knocks and that makes it all worth it, and that's how I feel about the fight."
When Jones built the stadium, using about $450 million in public funds, with the rest coming from his personal fortune, he wanted to host major fights as part of its offerings. Besides Cowboys games, the stadium is scheduled to host the annual AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, the 2010 NBA All-Star Game, the 2011 Super Bowl and the 2014 NCAA men's basketball Final Four, as well as high school and college football games, concerts and other events. Pacquiao-Mayweather is one of the events he covets.
"From the get-go we envisioned in our planning about potentially having significant fights," Jones said. "We have a huge Hispanic sports interest in this area, for instance, and I am well aware of their love for boxing. I do envision having significant fights of the quality and magnitude of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao."
One of the reasons is the capacity. While the MGM Grand seats roughly 16,500 for a fight, with an additional 40,000 closed-circuit seats potentially available in Las Vegas, Cowboys Stadium could hold 100,000-plus, and Jones believes he could pack the place.
Jones said his promotions department would work along with the promoters and HBO to generate an enormous crowd.
"Look at the capacity of the stadium," he said. "We could create tremendous numbers for the fight. We think that the visibility of the venue, the fact that our venue is going to be home to a Super Bowl and many big events in the future would add an element of interest to fans across the country and world that are looking at the pay-per-view and feeling vicariously what it must be like to be there with 90,000 or 100,000 people watching a fight.
"I know the NFL can't be just a studio game. It has to have the pageantry. [The viewers] have to know that there are thousands of people there creating an atmosphere. I think our stadium can add an element to the promotion. I know firsthand that HBO thinks so."
Besides drawing one of the biggest crowds in boxing history, Jones believes the stadium will add to the pay-per-view numbers.
"I think our stadium would increase public interest in the fight," he said. "We know firsthand that events can be enhanced by people wanting to come and see the venue, but I think it will also create interest in viewing the fight on pay-per-view."
Because the stadium is home to the world's largest (and, at $40 million, the most expensive) HD video board, Jones said every fan, whether they're seated in one of the hundreds of luxury suites, at ringside or in the upper deck, would have a good view of the action.
The video board is 72 feet high and 160 feet wide, and would be lowered to about 65 feet above the ring.
"You'll see the action in real time with the eight Sony digital cameras," Jones said. "You'll be able to see a sweat bead from any place. More important, you can see it from every angle. Wherever you're sitting, you'll see the action from the angle where you are sitting. The boxers will be -feet tall. It's a dramatic way to watch any event. It will be an experience for 100,000 people."
Jones said it would also be historic for the fighters.
"Here's the thing -- I know that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao would love to be part of the most-attended modern fight in American history," Jones said. "It would be quite a feather in their cap to be the substance behind that. We have the ability to make that happen. I have such respect for fighters and people who compete. Just think how it would feel for the greatest fight ever to draw the biggest crowd in modern America? That's something you tell your grandchildren about."
Jones said he talked with the promoters during the weekend and believes he has a good chance to land the fight.
"You have multiple constituencies so you don't know if you have a deal until it's agreed to, but yes, I think we are [still in the hunt]," he said. "There's tremendous value here. I think the fight has the ability to transcend boxing and the size of the crowd and facility is part of that. You build brands with brands. When you have an association with successful brands like the Cowboys and the NFL, it lifts all boats. I don't want to be presumptuous, but boxing has a chance to elevate itself. Shouldn't you look at what you can gain in your association with a brand like NFL football? When they throw the first punch in Cowboys Stadium it will inextricably be associated with the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys."
Schaefer, Arum and HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg were supposed to visit the stadium and meet with Jones last Tuesday. However, Schaefer canceled the night before, forcing the visit to be called off.
The reason, according to sources, was not because the Mayweather side didn't want the fight in Dallas, but rather because it felt the deal for the bout was not close enough to being done to warrant a visit to a potential site if the fight might collapse.
Jones said whatever the reason was, he didn't take it personally.
"Not a bit," Jones said. "I was disappointed and I had changed plans to see them, but I'll use a football analogy: You just keep plugging. We want to do this fight. I didn't pout. But I sure want them to see the venue. It's important they see the venue. I saw Pacquiao's last fight [against Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14] and that was something, and Mayweather I have seen fight. In the last 10 years there hasn't been a more competitive, interesting fight.
"It would be magical when that first bell rings. It would be something to have that fight here."
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.