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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Manny Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton news conference is a con job

From Las Vegas -- An old wives' tale claims they once held a boxing news conference and there was actual news.

They trotted out Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton, opponents for Saturday night's next big deal in the sport. Both acted responsibly, spoke sensibly, brought no new insight to their match, and sat down.

Unless Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins or Floyd Mayweather Jr. are fighting, the lead-up show is never about the boxers and always about the window dressing.

That's the eternal charm. Boxing is the world's only honestly dishonest sport. It is the University of Con Artists, the Academy of the Slick. It is the worm of organized athletics. Cut off a piece of it here, another there, and it still keeps wiggling.

If you are a member of the media, the people who run boxing know that you know. And you know that they know that you know.

College sports, for example, yammers on about building character, when it is mostly building pros. Boxing just builds characters. It looks you right in the eye, tells you it will try to con you, and then proceeds.

Wednesday's extravaganza, in a huge ballroom at the MGM Grand, where the media messengers of this madness flocked in large numbers, included a fashion show, strange bedfellows, comments on international relations, insults and poetry, tugs at the heart strings, and the ever-present slick-selling.

This is geared to getting ink-stained wretches, Internet typists and TV talking heads in tight black dresses to gobble up the inanities of the day and dispense them to the public so the public will buy pay-per-view packages at $49.95. That's the message. The only one.

Delivering it was a long row of men on a dais, their fashion statements running from three-piece suits to sport coat and T-shirts to wind breakers and sweat suits. Pacquiao wore white shoes, pants and sport coat with a black tam. Hatton, who referred to himself as a fat, beer-drinking Englishman, wore a T-shirt and a black floppy hat.

The master-of-ceremonies duty was jointly handled by Bob Arum and Oscar De La Hoya. Arum once promoted De La Hoya. Then De La Hoya went out on his own. Along the way, they have called each other every name in the book -- to be fair, Arum more than De La Hoya -- and have kept several law firms in business. Now, it's all smiles and pats on the back.

Arum, who never met a fight he couldn't spin into a tale of monumental significance, said that this fight would be a success even though, with Pacquiao from the Philippines and Hatton from England, there is no U.S. angle.

"Americans are not xenophobic," Arum proclaimed.

One wonders how that quote will play in France.

Eventually, because it apparently wasn't preventable, Hatton's trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., was called to the microphone. He, like Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, is a former boxer. Each has accepted more than his share of blows to the head over the years, but only Roach admits that.

From the start of this promotion, months ago, they have been verbally battling. Mayweather Sr. likes to call Roach "the joke coach," and Roach likes to remind Mayweather Sr. that he got a head start on Mayweather in training careers because Mayweather was in prison for selling drugs.

What is beyond the borders of good taste elsewhere is standard fare in boxing.

This time, Mayweather Sr. tried some poetry.

"Pac-man, it's over. So stop wishing on that four-leaf clover."

"Ain't no secret. I hope you know. It's Hit Man Hatton by KO."

Roach took the microphone and wished the Hatton camp luck.

Mark Taffet, making the mandatory HBO speech (remember, pay per view, $49.95. Sign up now), gave both trainers a cleverly phrased boost.

"They are two men who are legendary in their ability to walk the walk," he said. "Now, their walk is exceeded only by their ability to talk the talk."

Taffet then announced that HBO's Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7, a new art form best described as advertising documentary, will do 24/7 Overtime Friday night. That will feature Jim Lampley interviewing Roach and Mayweather Sr., all three sitting in the ring at the MGM Grand.

Pray for Lampley.

Somewhere along the line, Arum introduced a member of Pacquiao's entourage. Before another Pacquiao fight, Arum had introduced a high-ranking Philippine official as "Governor what's-his-name." This time, he called Wacky Salud to the microphone.

Wacky was up for about a minute. He wore dark glasses and spoke in a deep gravely voice. His words appeared to be English. If this hadn't been a boxing news conference, it could have passed as an audition for a mafia movie.

Arum wrapped up the program by reminding all of how Pacquiao came from "abject poverty," and how he often sits outside his home in General Santos City and hands out food and money to people in need.

"The Philippines has the best social welfare system in the world," Arum proclaimed. "And it is called Manny Pacquiao."

The whole thing took a little more than an hour. It was jaw-dropping. It always is.


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