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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Jerry Jones Smells Title: King of the Ring

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- When you get past the Botox and the BS, when you ignore a run of futility that has produced merely one NFL playoff victory in 14 years, the new conclusion about Jerry Jones is quite flattering. Seems he's one hot mess as a stadium promoter and huckster, much better at luring human bodies to his shimmering, $1.2-billion colossus than producing championships in the new millennium as owner of the Dallas Cowboys.

I'm beginning to believe he could book a cockfight at Cowboys Stadium and attract 60,000 fans, the vast majority of whom would be thrilled to observe the proceedings on the 72-foot-high, 160-foot-wide, hi-def video boards. What Jones is doing -- between sellouts at football games and concerts and attracting a stupefying 108,713 to the NBA All-Star Game -- is creating a mystique at his cathedral that heightens the magnitude of prestigious events and athletes. The eyes of the stadia world are upon his crib, and while we await Super Bowl XLV next February in this concrete wasteland between Dallas and Billy Bob's Honky Tonk in Fort Worth, Jones first will attempt to pull off the unthinkable.

The man is trying to save boxing.

You know ... boxing, the old-man sport that preceded mixed martial arts, Octagons, Kimbo Slice and Brock Lesnar.

Very wisely, Jones has wrapped his promotional skills around the charisma of Manny Pacquiao, whose talents as an elite, pound-for-pound force are matched by his charms as a smiling, crooning entertainer who will just as easily run for Congress in his native Philippines as he'll belt out -- earplugs, please -- "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You'' on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night TV show. Jones wasn't interested a few years back when Bill Parcells, then coaching the Cowboys, suggested he invest financially in a Filipino fighter whose career was about to take off. But as a boxing fan who once promoted a fight card in Little Rock, Ark., where only 2,500 fans showed up that night in 1984, Jones was too savvy not to jump on Manny Fever when he needed immediate events to generate revenues to recoup the massive construction costs. Remember, Arlington voters and the NFL itself funded the project to the tune of a half-billion dollars. And Jones, a billionaire, supported his end of the deal via loans. With only 10 Cowboys home games a year, he had to become that fast-talking Arkansas oil man again, lest he allow the stadium to become a red-ink-bleeding elephant.

In Pacquiao, he has his fan-friendly, cash-generating machine. Jones was willing to shell out a $25-million site fee to outbid the competition on the one blockbuster fight left on the planet -- Pac-Man vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- and when that epic collapsed under the weight of Mayweather's lame accusations that Pacquiao wouldn't agree to blood-testing because he used performance-enhancing drugs, Jones still paid $7 million for a Manny compromise: his Saturday night fight against Joshua Clottey, called "The Event.'' About 45,000 fans are expected to sell out the boxing configuration, centered around the famed Cowboys star at midfield, and expect that figure to swell if Jones sells standing-room-only tickets as he did at the NBA All-Star Game and routinely does for Cowboys games. With promoter Bob Arum estimating a pay-per-view audience of 700,000, well, Jerry Jones has struck gold on a fallback fight that includes a challenger known only to boxing aficionados.

"This is going to be big time. This is the first fight ever in this stadium, and to have an individual like Manny Pacquiao fighting here is everything I had hoped would be a part of this stadium," Jones gushed. "I'm going to over-deliver what it means to fans to be involved in this stadium. That does enhance the competition, help the sport. You don't want to deal with anything but the top. Manny Pacquiao transcends everything, including himself, not only as a great athlete but as a great person.

"It's like the Super Bowl.''

It isn't even close to the Super Bowl, of course, but let's not douse Jerry's high. "It says everything I want,'' he said. "We want big fights here. We're going to make this one of the most interesting fights to view that's ever been. I really think that we could be a special place for fights.... It's a very logical way to introduce our stadium to the world and lift its aura. We write checks like that around here all the time."

Yes, they do -- and to no avail since the Cowboys' glory days of the 1990s, when they won three Super Bowls in four years. No one ever has doubted Jones' ability to attract attention and buzz, which seems like so much needless hot air when the Cowboys fizzle every year. But he's already won the Pacquiao game, managing to enhance the legend of the WBO welterweight champion by marketing him in tandem with America's most compelling arena, with apologies to the new Yankee Stadium, which is a close second and booking boxing events itself. "I have never had an experience where the venue has played such a paramount role in the promotion," said Arum, who has promoted fights in too many venues to count. "It has helped us sell the tickets, helped us get the publicity. I have never, ever seen anything like this place. It just blows you away." Despite claims by Team Clottey member Kwaku Gyamfi that "Manny is going straight to the hospital after the fight'' -- and, thus, wouldn't be able to perform a medley of songs for fans at a post-game party in the Texas Rangers' ballpark -- few doubt that Pacquiao will dismiss his taller, bigger opponent with hand speed, footwork and guile. This is clearly about enjoying The Manny Experience, not about whether he'll lose the title.

"I'm inspired to give a good show, to do my best," said Pacquiao, who appeared at a news conference flanked by two Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. "To impress the people, you have to make your best effort. I want people to be very satisfied with my performance."

"There's no stage big enough for Manny Pacquiao," said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer. "He loves it, and I love it. He's going to perform for the crowd. He'll entertain all 45,000 fans. He'll entertain everybody."

The end game for Jones is a Pacquiao-Mayweather spectacular, assuming the parties stop squabbling long enough to make history happen. Mayweather refuses to even mention Pacquiao's name as he prepares for a May 1 fight in Las Vegas against Shane Mosley, saying the other day, "I'm in the check-cashing business, baby." That tells me neither fighter will pass up the biggest payday in boxing history, despite Pacquiao's disgust that Mayweather has soiled his otherwise spotless reputation with steroids-related potshots. "We're not happy with his remarks and Manny really wants to fight him in the future because of the remarks he made," said Roach, who is fighting Parkinson's Disease. "Manny, sometimes when he's shadowboxing, he shows me how Mayweather fights and how he'll take care of the problem, and I've never seen that before. He's trying to ruin our reputations and so forth, but we want to fight him and we'll knock him out."

"We don't have to be geniuses to know what they were trying to do: They were trying to get into Manny's head so that he would be discombobulated," Arum said. "Mayweather against Manny is a no-contest, no contest. Manny would wipe the ring with Mayweather."

Instead, they have to settle for Manny wiping the ring with Clottey. "People were looking forward to a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, that's clear. But Manny has a huge, huge fan base," Arum said. "Every sports fan knows Manny Pacquiao. Our job is to present Joshua Clottey as he is, a bigger guy, a stronger guy, a guy who has never been off his feet -- a real test for Manny Pacquiao. That's what will sell this fight. I think the public gets it, and I think the pay-per-view is going to do extremely well. In Vegas, fight tickets are limited generally to the high-roller types. Here, the tickets go to regular customers."

True to his character, Pacquiao isn't into trash-talking or dissing. "Clottey is a good fighter. He is so strong and he is bigger and taller than me,'' he said. 'I don't want to underestimate this opponent. I am going to do my best and give it a shot."

And when he wins, he'll have a political career to weigh. Though the feeling in the Philippines is that he can't win, Pacquiao awaits a May 20 election for a congressional seat in the Sarangani province against the well-heeled, silver-spooned Roy Chiongbian, whose father is a powerful politician in one of the nation's largest cities. "I know I have to work hard and campaign," Pacquiao said at his news conference. "From what I hear so far, the surveys (polls) are good ... In the eyes of God, I'm at peace. I know I've tried to help."

Even if he manages a political upset, he is assuring his fans that this won't be his final fight. He will go on a concert tour -- I am not kidding -- to Hawaii later this month and to Canada in June. Then, after Mayweather-Mosley, he'll survey the landscape.

As will the huckster. "Hopefully, this is not the last time we'd host a Pacquiao fight,'' Jones said. "The main reason I wanted the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was Manny. He is the draw.''

Actually, Jerry Jones and his stadium are the stars of this show. As the NFL wobbles in an uncapped 2010 season toward a possible labor shutdown, he will use his Cowboys cachet to pay the stadium bills. "The NFL is reluctant to cross over with other sports," Jones said. "But in a very obvious way, when we compete in Cowboys Stadium, the sports and non-sports people will recognize the crossover interest, and that excites me. We all know how popular the NFL is and it raises all boats. I'm getting short on time and I want to create some action while I'm still in the ring. We (the NFL) are the most visible programming in all of television. Vicariously, these fights can benefit from that.''

And certainly, the fighters appreciate the interest. Remember earlier this month at the NFL scouting combine, when New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton playfully stole a bottle of vintage wine that Jones had reserved at an Indianapolis restaurant? Remember how Payton then left a message reminding Jones that the Saints had won the Super Bowl? Well, this week, Jones was handed a bottle of the same Caymus Special Selection.

It was a gift from Manny Pacquiao.


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