Pacquiao-Hatton: The art of Internet-gotiation
Manny Pacquiao stubbornly held out for a bigger split of the purse in negotiations with Ricky Hatton and it paid off. Photo / Tom Hogan-hoganphotos.com
This breaking news just in: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. And Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton is still on.
If you’d been cut off from communication with the outside world for the past few weeks, you might find it hard to believe that Pacquiao vs. Hatton was the source of headlines day after day. After all, the fight is some 13 weeks away. It was assumed to be happening at the beginning of last week. It is assumed to be happening now. Knowing only those facts, it would seem absurd that the fight could command much breaking-news bandwidth.
But it did, because in between the fight seemingly being made and the fight actually being made, it temporarily fell apart. So one day, every Web site rushed to break the news that Pacquiao was playing hardball and the Hatton camp was setting a deadline. The next day, every site raced to announce that the deadline had passed and Hatton was moving on. The following day, the Web was abuzz with news that Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum was trying to save the fight. And a day later, the headlines screamed “Fight on!” (In reality, at that point we were still all waiting for Hatton to sign the contract, but, hey, close enough.)
As the drama unfolded, it became impossible not to wonder: Were both fighters using the press to swing negotiations their way? And has the art of negotiating through the pressÔÇöan art as old as boxing itselfÔÇöreached a new level in this Internet age?
This much is clear: Pacquiao has managed to get a couple of extra percentage points two fights in a row by holding firm and making his opponents squirm. The Filipino icon was offered 30 percent of the pie against Oscar De La Hoya, but he demanded more, then sat back and read all of the articles insisting that “The Golden Boy” didn’t have any comparable financial options. Before long, Pacquiao was up to 32 percent, which may not sound like a huge difference until you realize that two extra percentage points in a fight that lucrative added up to more than a half-million bucks.
That kind of money pays off a lot of weight-loss guarantees to members of your camp.
For the Hatton fight, Pacquiao was offered a 50-50 split. That seemed plenty generous since “The Hitman” generates insane money in his native England that couldn’t possibly be duplicated in the relatively impoverished Philippines. But Pacquiao, coming off a decisive win over De La Hoya and recognized universally as the pound-for-pound king, thought he deserved more and let the negotiations go public until he’d been bumped up to 52 percent.
When Pacquiao took his sweet time signing the contract even after that concession was made, Hatton pulled his own power play: He set a deadline, then claimed he was walking away. The articles announcing this were everywhere, and wouldn’t you know, Pacquiao, who like Hatton had no options remotely approaching the financial attractiveness of this fight, was suddenly ready to resurrect the “cancelled” fight.
“Manny is good at playing games,” Nick Giongco of The Manila Bulletin told THE RING. “Although there were lots of people who doubted his stand, I felt inside that he would pull out if his request for a slightly higher percentage was not met. I talked to him during the height of the controversy and he was adamant that he won’t be bothered if the fight doesn’t become a reality. It was all about pride and respect. By putting up 50-50, Pacquiao thought that the boxing world wasn’t giving credit to him being the pound-for-pound king and the guy who shamed Oscar De La Hoya. Manny wants to be the guy who will dictate and not the one to be dictated upon. Of course, by playing hard to get, he was certain that the numbers would move. Just imagine if he had agreed right away to the equal sharing. He told me that people would laugh at him if he immediately agreed to the 50-50 setup.”
I guess people in the Philippines are laughing at Hatton instead. Or maybe everyone involved is laughing at the media for playing right into their hands.
This theory is an extreme stretch, but take a moment to consider it: The fight was signed all along, and the media was fed a different story every day just to publicize the hell out of the fight and earn it headlines on the front pages of the major boxing sites.
It sounds ridiculous, admittedly, but one way or another, excess publicity was the end result. And there’s no denying that Arum is a genius, so it’s not impossible that he’d hatch a scheme like this.
Arum, naturally, denies that this was in any way orchestrated. But he does recognize the benefits of the whole on-again-off-again ordeal.
“There is no question about it. If we had had a normal, traditional negotiation, there wouldn’t have been a tenth of the publicity that we got through this whole drama,” Arum said.
Arum insisted the Internet Age hasn’t significantly affected fight negotiations. In this case, he said the bigger underlying story was the cultural divide.
“The Internet, yeah, the information gets out faster, but so what? That really didn’t play very much of a role in it. The difficulty was the difference in culture,” Arum said. “The Filipinos react differently to different things. We were all speaking English, but in effect, we were speaking different languages. And you’ve got to understand, with the Filipino press, every time Manny goes to the bathroom, it’s news.”
Giongco couldn’t deny that last allegation.
“You should have seen the way we in the Philippines treated the daily updates of the Pacquiao-Hatton fight,” the reporter said. “Even my boss was calling me early in the morning to know what was really going on since some other dailies were reporting that the fight is on, when in fact it wasn’t.”
All of those reports – whether coming out of the Philippines, Great Britain, or the U.S., whether fueled by speculation and rumor or factual information – played a role in the way this fight was ultimately consummated.
Maybe it would have been almost the same a couple of decades ago, with information being leaked on the radio instead or taking an extra few hours to reach the public via daily newspaper. But you can’t help but sense that the immediacy of the Internet media, with fighters able to get near-instant feedback on their ultimatums and demands, is having some impact on the way complicated negotiations like this get done.
“One thing that was proven was the power of the online media,” Giongco agreed. “Nowadays, fighters, promoters, managers, trainers, etc., tend to get in touch with writers who have access online to send their messages across, and they know how to exploit it.”
And here’s one more article’s worth of free online publicity they just drummed up.
ÔÇó Three quick notes on Shane Mosley’s stirring, virtuoso victory over Antonio Margarito: First, the enduring image for me won’t be the fight itself, but Shane taking an understated bow immediately afterward — the perfect ending to a perfect performance. Second, the fight served as a welcome reminder that no man is invincible. Everyone can be knocked down and knocked out, and no chin can forever make up for a lack of defense. And third, I don’t find it that overly unusual that Mosley beat Margarito, who beat Miguel Cotto, who beat Mosley. I do, however, find myself scratching my head over the fact that a washed-up Ricardo Mayorga gave Sugar Shane infinitely more trouble than a prime Margarito did.
ÔÇó If I’m going to rip Jose Sulaiman and the WBC every chance I get, I also ought to applaud them when they do something positive, and they certainly deserve to be commended for raising $30,000 to help Genaro Hernandez with his medical bills as he battles cancer. No snide remarks, no back-handed compliments. Just a thank you to the WBC for doing right by one of boxing’s true good guys. If any readers want to make a donation to the cause, they can do so at WBC Cares, 36 W. 22nd St., New York, NY 10010.