Commentary

Cowboys Stadium the right fit for fight

Updated: March 12, 2010, 8:36 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- They say everything is bigger in Texas, and Top Rank promoter Bob Arum thinks big.

So it seemed only natural that Arum, along with his new best buddy, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, would get together to put on a fight at Jones' spectacular $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

That is where welterweight titleholder and pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao will face former titleholder Joshua Clottey on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $49.95) in a fight Arum considers one of the crowning achievements of his storied 44-year career as a boxing promoter.

The reason is simple: location, location, location.

Pacquiao-Clottey is certainly a significant fight just based on the involvement of Pacquiao, boxing's biggest worldwide star. But the stadium also plays a major role in generating interest.

"Much of the buzz is because it's at Cowboys Stadium. Of course, it's Manny Pacquiao, but it's also Cowboys Stadium," said Bill Caplan, Arum's longtime publicist and a boxing lifer.

Said HBO senior vice president Mark Taffet, who runs HBO PPV, "I've been involved in nearly 160 pay-per-view events since 1991 with HBO PPV. This is the first pay-per-view fight we are doing in a stadium, so it's a totally unique experience for us. From a business perspective, as you know, Pacquiao-Clottey is called 'The Event,' so there was very specific recognition about the importance of Cowboys Stadium and what we believed that this stadium was bringing to the table."

That's exactly what Arum hoped for when he talked to Jones about getting away from the same old, same old casino fights.

"I am really, really excited," Arum said. "You get stale doing the same thing over and over again, going back to the casinos to put on these big events. With this event going to a fabulous, fabulous stadium like Cowboys Stadium, we're bringing the fights to the people. I think boxing can once again establish its place among the major sports in this country as it is in so many places in the world."

Promoting fights in major arenas is not new for Arum, but it's been awhile. And now he is happy to return and do it at Cowboys Stadium, where a crowd of 45,000 is expected.

"He's been promoting for 40-something years, and this really gets his juices flowing," Caplan said. "It recharges Bob's battery. It's huge in a business way and in a psychological way for Bob. The interest and the enthusiasm never ends if you do new things."

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Ali and Cleveland Williams
AP PhotoBob Arum promoted the first fight at the Houston Astrodome; Muhammad Ali defended his heavyweight title against Cleveland Williams in 1966.

Arum promoted the first fight at the Houston Astrodome, then considered an architectural marvel, when Muhammad Ali defended the heavyweight championship against Cleveland Williams in 1966.

"That building just blew me away. I had never seen anything like it before in my life, the suites, the amenities, there was nothing like it in the world," Arum said. "Now it's 44 years later and I'm back in another part of Texas. Cowboys Stadium is the most phenomenal building I have ever been in. Words really can't describe it, from that big screen [the stunning $40 million HD video board 72 feet high and 160 feet wide] to the restaurants to the electronics. It is something really, really special. So it is a really great honor for me to be the first one to do a fight at the Astrodome and the first person to do a fight in Cowboys Stadium. I love that. … It's just thrilling."

Besides opening the Astrodome to boxing, Arum also promoted what turned out to be the final fight at old Yankee Stadium when Ali defended the title against Ken Norton in 1976.

Two years later, Arum promoted the first fight at the Superdome in New Orleans, where Ali regained the title from Leon Spinks in a 15-round decision in front of more than 63,000 fans.

Arum's last major stadium fight came in 1998, when he brought Oscar De La Hoya's mandatory welterweight title defense against Patrick Charpentier to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. That fight, a massive mismatch, still drew more than 40,000, in large part because of the exotic location.

And on June 5, Arum will promote the first fight at the new Yankee Stadium, where junior middleweight titlist Yuri Foreman will defend his belt for the first time, against Miguel Cotto.

Arum considers the Cowboy Stadium fight a significant part of his legacy, on par with those other major events.

"There are certain milestones that you have in your career that you look back on that were very significant," Arum said. "Doing the first fight in the Astrodome, the last fight at the old Yankee Stadium, doing the first one at the Superdome. Those are significant. This to me is equally as significant, opening up this magnificent facility to boxing."

Perhaps it is more significant because of how long it has taken him to return to a major stadium. For the past few years, he has talked almost incessantly about putting on a fight in a stadium. He talked about it so often without it coming off that he began to sound like the boy who cried wolf.

Arum had talked with officials of the San Francisco Giants about hosting a fight, but it went nowhere. Same with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He also continually floated the idea of a final fight at old Yankee Stadium before it closed without pulling that off. Then when the new stadium opened, he was at it again, finally closing a much-discussed deal with the Yankees last week for Cotto-Foreman.

"I tried both places [San Francisco and Los Angeles], and the people I was dealing with wanted to do it on my dime and wanted me to pay the cost of doing one of these fights, which made it economically not feasible," Arum said. "But Jerry is paying me to come here and he will get his costs back. And the Yankees are giving me a guarantee and then they get their costs back, so it is economically feasible to do it in both places."

Promoting Pacquiao-Clottey at Cowboys Stadium became a reality when Arum got together with Jones, who has landed several major events for his lavish facility, including last month's NBA All-Star Game (which drew more than 100,0000) as well as a future Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four.

Arum and Jones, a boxing fan, originally hoped to bring the Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight to the stadium Saturday. However, the Mayweather/Golden Boy Promotions side rejected it, despite a record $25 million guarantee from Jones (who put up about $6 million for Pacquiao-Clottey).

Mayweather and Golden Boy insisted the fight take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which has long been where most of boxing's biggest fights take place.

[+] EnlargeBob Arum, Manny Pacquiao, Joshua Clottey, Jerry Jones
Chris Farina/Top Rank The MGM Grand's loss became Cowboys Stadium's gain when Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey landed in Dallas.

When Pacquiao-Mayweather imploded, Arum matched Pacquiao with Clottey and needed a site.

"When it fell apart, I felt bad because the MGM was expecting that fight," Arum said. "So I called [MGM executive] Richard Sturm and I said, 'That fight's off, I'm sorry. But Pacquiao is fighting Clottey and we'd like to do it at the MGM.' And they told me, 'Sorry, the date's taken.'"

The MGM had set the date aside for Mayweather to fight an alternate opponent, although it never came off because he instead wound up signing to fight Shane Mosley on May 1, still at the MGM.

Arum was infuriated that the MGM had picked Mayweather over Pacquiao. He said it forced him to rethink things.

"Once I heard that, I said you have been a fool for them all these years because you can't rely on them, you can't rely on anybody, and even though you live in this town [Las Vegas], you have to increase your horizons," Arum said. "And I called up Jerry Jones. We made the deal, and after I did that I said, 'Hey, this is the way to go.' Then as soon as I knew the Yankees were interested, we went there for Foreman-Cotto."

Although Arum was angry at the perceived snub by the MGM, he said it was the kick in the butt he needed.

"Like everybody else in boxing, we let ourselves get into a rut," Arum said of his company. "And instead of being innovative and trying new things, we did the convenient thing, which is to do these fights in casinos, where you certainly don't have to put the same effort into them. They're easier, whether it's Atlantic City or Las Vegas. Kelly Pavlik fights, boom, Atlantic City. All the other fights, Las Vegas. It was a pattern we got into. Cotto fights, Madison Square Garden. So a lot of that was repetitious. A lot of the reason it was so repetitious is it was easy.

"We're all human, we're all busy and we tend to do what is easy, not what is innovative and not what means more to the sport."

Jones is glad Arum sought him out. He envisions his stadium as a possible site for any major fight and wants to compete with Las Vegas.

"I wanted that fight here between those two fighters [Pacquiao and Mayweather] worse than my next breath and so I was willing to wait as long as I needed to wait to have them join me," Jones said. "Bob was real sensitive and made it clear that the circumstances were not a negative about the stadium or my interest in it. It was more about just getting a fight done. I am glad I went through it because it made me ready for the Pacquiao-Clottey fight. It was like, 'Put me in, Coach, I'm hot.' Somehow and someway, we wanted to have Manny fighting here, and here it is."

There have been several major fights in venues other than casinos in recent years. New York's Madison Square Garden, Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Toyota Center in Houston and FedExForum in Memphis all have hosted major fights. But they were the exception to Las Vegas.

"This is much more exciting than [a casino fight]," Arum said. "I love Las Vegas. I live in Las Vegas. Tickets are limited by the size of the arena, and they generally go to the high-rolling casino customers. Here, the sales pitch is for the public. There is no casino buying tickets for people to bring them in to gamble.

"I have not in many, many years -- since the Astrodome opened -- had a situation where the venue plays as big a role as the fighters in selling the event. I certainly believe that going to these large venues and moving big boxing matches around the country will certainly help in branding the sport of boxing and making it what it always should have been, a major sport in this country. I love Las Vegas, but you cannot be a major sport if all of your biggest events are in one city where people have to come from all over to attend the event. The Super Bowl wouldn't be as important or as big if it was held in the same city every year."

Arum said he has a handshake agreement with owners of the New York Giants to put a fight in the new Meadowlands stadium in the spring. He also said he and Jones are talking about doing two or three events at Cowboys Stadium each year, including a Hispanic-themed card later this year.

"There was a comfort zone in [Las Vegas]," Arum said. "I could stay home and my office was two blocks away. But then this situation happened [with the MGM] and I realized that what I was doing was because I was lazy. What MGM did forced us to rethink the situation."

Taffet has worked alongside Arum on numerous fights since they did the first HBO PPV in 1991, the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman heavyweight title fight. He said Arum's focus on returning to a stadium is no surprise.

"Bob always challenges us to come up with new and better ways to do things on every aspect of the promotion," Taffet said. "Bob himself continually looks for new ways to do things. So we accepted this assignment in that light, and I give him credit. He's been in the sport for decades, and he still has energy and the determination to continue to do things in a new way and in a better way."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.