Does anybody want $10 million?
Have you heard about the new craze in boxing? It involves saying "no" to Oscar De La Hoya -- and turning down a $10 million payday. Why is it that boxing's biggest draw has to make concessions to get his man in the ring?
Originally Published: August 25, 2008By Eric Raskin | ESPN.com
Icon SMIOscar de la Hoya, right, doesn't usually have to look far to find his opponents.Oscar De La Hoya doesn't have a whole lot of experience with rejection. Whether you're talking about the dating game or the fight game, the Golden Boy has generally been able to pick and choose his dance partners. How many women are going to give the stiff-arm to a good-looking celebrity athlete worth millions upon millions? And how many fighters are going to turn their backs on the one opponent who will be worth millions upon millions to them? De La Hoya is used to having his proposals elicit enthusiastic responses. Recently, however, he's turned into the pimply faced bookworm trying to get a cheerleader to go to the prom with him. First, Floyd Mayweather announced his retirement on June 6, just three months before his scheduled rematch with De La Hoya, giving up a payday of somewhere in the $20 million vicinity. When Ricky Hatton was approached about the possibility of filling in for Mayweather, he declined, insisting he'd already committed to a November fight against Paulie Malignaggi. It was an admirable display of word-keeping, but it was fairly shocking in this era of athletes' actions being dictated by the dollar (or the pound sterling). So Manny Pacquiao became the new top option only to turn down 30 percent of about a $40 million pie, insisting he deserved 40 percent.
Negotiations between the pound-for-pound king and the box-office king broke down and then started up again, and the fight may well happen and may well be announced this week. But even if Pac-Man comes to his senses, it won't change the shocking fact that, at least temporarily, three opponents in a row shrugged off eight-figure paydays to fight Oscar. De La Hoya's promotional partner, Richard Schaefer, took Mayweather's retirement and Hatton's refusal in stride, but he admitted the initial rebuff from Pacquiao took him by surprise. "The only other time I can remember somebody having turned down Oscar because of financial reasons, at least since 2000 when I was involved with Oscar," Schaefer said, "was Shane Mosley, who then went on to go and fight Winky Wright. We all know what happened. He could have made substantially more money, but he went on to fight Winky and he lost." You'd think no one would ever turn down a fight with boxing's supreme cash cow, a designation De La Hoya has held for most of the past dozen years. And for a while, no one did. Any fighter within two weight classes of the Golden Boy was calling him out, some of them probably willing to cut off a few toes to make Oscar's weight. And it's still that way, for the most part. Sergio Mora wants to fight him, Antonio Margarito wants to fight him -- you name a fighter from 135 to 160 pounds, and you're probably naming someone who would drop everything to make a few million against the 35-year-old De La Hoya. But somehow, De La Hoya stumbled upon three fighters in a row with assorted reasons to say no. It's a situation almost without precedent. Very rarely in pugilistic history has the sport's top earner struggled to find a foe. The closest example to this that Hall of Fame promoter and boxing historian J Russell Peltz could come up with was during Sugar Ray Robinson's final middleweight title reign, although Robinson's difficulty in getting an opponent to sign on the dotted line was largely his own doing, since Sugar Ray was a founding father of hardball negotiating.
AP Photo/Jae C. HongManny Pacquiao has held strong for a 40 percent cut of the purse.
"A proposed Robinson-[Carmen] Basilio III never happened because of Ray's money demands and I believe that's also the reason that Robinson vs. Archie Moore never happened, even though it would have been a big payday for Moore," Peltz said. "[Gene] Fullmer and Basilio hated his guts, and Fullmer had to fight for virtually nothing when he won the title in '57 from Robinson. Those guys had a lot of pride. Even if they could have made more fighting Robinson, they just didn't want to be insulted the way he could insult people. It wasn't like they weren't proven fighters. Robinson was always like that, and I guess he outpriced himself and then he wound up fighting for almost nothing and losing the title to [Paul] Pender." There have been a few other isolated incidents of fighters passing on opportunities to share the ring with massive money men, though without inside access to the negotiations, many of the details come down to speculation. For example, Kennedy McKinney was offered a dream fight against Naseem Hamed in 1998, but according to reports, the aging junior featherweight titlist wouldn't accept less than $1 million. McKinney got knocked out by Luisito Espinosa in November 1998 instead, for a fraction of what he could have made against Naz. Generally, though, the cash cows pick their opponents and the opponents gladly accept. From Muhammad Ali to Sugar Ray Leonard to Mike Tyson to De La Hoya, the money has almost always made it worth the risk for prospective opponents. It's probably just an unusual coincidence that three fighters in a row left De La Hoya hanging. But it also might be somewhat of a symptom of the changing times. "These guys turning down Oscar fights are not exactly paupers," Peltz noted. "It's not like Hatton's fighting for $200,000 or $300,000. The money is pretty incredible these days." In all likelihood, we'll learn sometime this week that Pacquiao and De La Hoya have hammered out a deal for the biggest financial blockbuster the sport can offer right now, and Oscar's brief taste of rejection will be washed away. But credit Pacquiao and his people if they get a few extra percentage points out of the Golden Boy. If they do, they can thank Mayweather and Hatton for introducing De La Hoya to rejection, knocking him down a peg or two, and perhaps acquainting him with an unfamiliar aspect of the negotiation process: concession. Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.
AP Photo/Laura RauchEven a bitter rival like Fernando Vargas didn't mind sharing the ring with De La Hoya.