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…About That Arum Rant Vs. HBO On RING

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Golden Boy matchmaker Roberto Diaz, part of the dynamic duo with Eric Gomez, was in NYC this week, counting down to the Saturday night clash between his guy, 175er Vyacheslav Shabranskyy at the MSG Theater, in a bout that will screen on HBO.

Diaz talks while Slava listens at Wednesday presser. (Woods pic)

Diaz got a point for being candid, acknowledging that Sergey Kovalev…

Kovalev listens a question from Radio Rahim. (Woods pic)

…has to be the favorite against his 19-1 Ukrainian, because his resume demands that. But, Diaz continued, “It will take a very, very special fighter to come back from where he was, but he is a special fighter. So, at that point you give him a little bit of an advantage because he’s been there before, so that’s why I see, the timing is perfect. A lot of people say Kovalev quit in the second (Andre Ward) fight, but it only gets easier (to quit) after that, once you’ve done it before, once you’ve done it once. We’ll find out…I love the timing on it.”

We touched a bit on the promoter/platform wars which continue to play out. They’ll flare up here (De La Hoya vs. Arum, De La Hoya vs. Arum, Haymon proxy versus Arum, lately Hearn vs. Dibella), then simmer down, then flare up again with a new royal rumble. This week, a hubbub arose when Top Rank’s Bob Arum took out the trusty grenade launcher and fired a few bombs at HBO bossman Peter Nelson.

Nelson, from February 2016 (Woods pic)

Now, Arum is Arum, he has a four-decade track record of this sort of wordplay. This one was a Bob Gibson brushback, felt a touch more personal than political, arguably, as he labeled Nelson “incompetent.” The HBO gang took the high road, with the estimable Ray Stallone keeping his suit unruffled as he offered “we’re not gonna roll into the gutter and rumble” no comment to writer Mike Coppinger. Arum really went hard: “I just think he’s not competent,” Arum said to Coppinger. “They need professional people over at HBO. It’s a great network, they have great entertainment, but they have a guy who is running their sports department who has no experience and who is an amateur. He’s the kind of guy who thinks he’s smarter than everybody else. Unless it’s something I’m not seeing, I cannot fathom what this guy is about. I cannot fathom what he’s up to.”

The affair had me pondering these days, and how it’s a sign of the the times when these stories get traction, because this is what gets read. People like drama, us versus them, or them versus them, they like a good beef…and guess what though…they always have. You don’t think?

Get back into archives and ask around… the beefs the execs du jour had with the Wallace Matthews’ and Mike Katz,’ now those were tiffs. Those guys threw gallons of ink at people they deemed wretches, and those were the days of print, baby. Once it went to print, it stayed around, and it lingered…there was no easy delete button, or the ability for an editor to smooth things over by removing an incendiary passage. Dirty laundry, it’s always been the preferred talking point for the mass market, one could argue.

One point that Arum made was that he didn’t think much of the programming slate in this end of year flurry by HBO. Diaz touched on that subject a bit. Basically, his counter-point was this: let’s talk after the fights. You can believe that Shabranskyy isn’t on par with Kovalev, and this is a restore the lost luster matchup. But, Diaz said, let’s see how the fight plays out. If this one is a stink-bomb, or if Sadam Ali gets rubbed out and looks out of his depth badly against Miguel Cotto on Dec. 2, then bring it on, have at me. I told him I agree; I didn’t proclaim Jeff Horn versus Manny Pacquiao to be a stinkbomb, I waited to see how it played out, didn’t assume that Pacman mid 2017 would be THAT MUCH better than Horn, no Hall of Fame talent at his top plateau. I let it play out…Same thing for Mayweather versus McGregor..I always said, going in, I hope it’s entertaining…I wish for that…and it was, to many of us.

“Right now, in today’s time, we got away from a lot of journalists, and to a lot of bloggers. And unfortunately, they’re new boxing fans! And look, nobody should be judging Miguel Cotto, who’s fought everybody,” Diaz told me.  “If he chose to fight whoever, so be it. You’re not going in because of this, you’re going in because of THIS, last chance to see a legend! Nobody should be criticizing Sadam Ali for daring to be great….I agree with you, Michael, on this …wait til the end.”

He said he too told people to wait and see how Mayweather versus the MMAer unfolded, and he too was entertained by it. “I said then, ‘if the fans walk out getting what they wanted, then it’s good for boxing.’”

Don’t kick the corpse before the damn thing is dead, basically, is his message.

“You can’t knock a kid like Sadam Ali for saying, fuck yeah, Miguel Cotto,” Diaz said, reminding us all to be patient…let it play out…don’t assume that late 2017 Cotto is THAT MUCH BETTER than Sadam Ali.

Diaz and me batted around that Arum rant, then. “Bob’s a Hall of Famer, he’s entitled. He’s put on some of the greatest fights, that one of the reasons I’m involved in boxing,” Diaz told me, and “I used to see his fights as a little kid. Bob’s Bob! He’s going to say whatever! ‘Yesterday, I was lying, today I’m telling the truth.’ But you know…let’s watch the fight on Saturday. I don’t see the possibility of it being a stinker. Because for both fighters, it means so much for their career. Kovalev loses, that’s retirement. Shabranskyy loses, it’s gonna take awhile, because he’s not 21, 22, to even be back on this stage. It means so much to both fighters. You got a Russian and a Ukrainian, and right now because of what’s going on between the countries that means a lot, there’s pride involved, a hunger! Just knowing circumstances, it gives it that extra motivation. It’s like when two Mexicans fight, it’s like when two Mexicans fight, ‘I can lose to anyone else, but I can’t lose to you!’ …As long as the fans walk out happy and excited then boxing wins. So for Arum to trash it right now…Watch the fight and then talk about it. And if it was a stinker, hey, I’ll accept it, take all the criticism in the world. But I don’t see it happening, I see a fun, exciting fight and I find it very difficult to see it making the 12 rounds, either way.”

My three cents: Diaz summed it up. Bob was being Bob. It is to be presumed, to not hear such trash talk would be surprising. You might miss it when it’s gone. Bob is old school, he protects turf with the bite of a pitbull that even Cesar Millan can’t break. Business is personal to Bob, so sometimes he edges to the line and then kicks the margin, Earl Weaver style. HBO, they are like the commissioner’s office, they don’t kick dirt back at Earl…And by now we know, that disappoints Bob, he likes to get his trousers dusty or even muddied, and he enjoys finding worthy adversaries who are also keen to joust. Don King was always suited upDana White never turns down a flame war. It’s Bob being Bob. But I’d not be surprised if the HBO public response were it offered, would be along the lines of what Diaz and I both said…let’s see how things play out.

Often times, more often than you think, perceived mismatches play out tighter than you expect they will. And they don’t think their Dec. 9 offering is mere counter-programming, they think, I think, it will be better bang for the buck than the ESPN/Top Rank (Loma vs Rigo) production.

Oh, and if the HBO fights don’t dazzle, Diaz will hear about. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, Arum will be telling…well, we can’t say whether an opinion is a truth or a falsity til after events play out…but, he will be Bob and that means he will be offering his opinions, Brooklyn style, filter-less, and some dust and mud will fly, and there will be dry cleaning bills.

Boxing, still the red light district of sports, diluted yes, diminished in mainstream relevance, OK, but still populated by American originals, plying their trade with a pit bull’s passion and manic intensity. We are, still, the sweet and often savage science, in and out of the ring.

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About Michael Woods

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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