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Manny Pacquiao vs. Jessie Vargas: Top Rank empowered by producing and distributing fight without HBO

Philippine boxing icon-turned senator Manny Pacquiao gestures as

Philippine boxing icon-turned senator Manny Pacquiao gestures as he asks questions to one of the invited witnesses during the second day of the senate hearing in Manila on August 23, 2016, on the spate of extra judicial killings in a war on crime by the government. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / TED ALJIBE

As boxing Senators go, Manny Pacquiao surely is in a class by himself, capable of whipping any colleagues in the Philippines – not to mention his counterparts in the United States.

But at age 37, how much does he have left to offer against actual boxers, both in competitive and marketing terms?

We soon will find out.

Pacquiao, who retired in April after defeating Timothy Bradley and was elected to the Filipino Senate in May, will re-enter the ring on Nov. 5 against Jessie Vargas in a WBO welterweight championship fight in Las Vegas.

And the unusualness of Pacquiao’s dual-track career is far from the only thing different about the event.

Top Rank, Pacquiao’s long-time promoter, will produce and distribute the pay-per-view card itself, bypassing HBO or any other traditional boxing network.

“It’s just exciting, it’s empowering, it’s wonderful,” Top Rank president Todd duBoef said Wednesday.

Pacquiao still has a contractual agreement with HBO, which would have been interested in distributing the fight in October. But the Nov. 5 date he preferred because of his political obligations was a non-starter for HBO.

That was because of concerns over competition from the likes of college football and the Nov. 8 Presidential election, as well as the proximity to HBO’s Nov. 19 PPV featuring Sergey Kovalev against Andre Ward, also in Las Vegas.

So, introducing: Top Rank Pay-Per-View.

DuBoef said the transition has been seamless so far.

“It’s a little more empowering for all of us in the office because the decision-making is just us,” he said. “We don’t run it up the flagpole to see what one of our network partners think. We typically, on all of our fights, do all the commercials, all of the artwork, all of the stuff ourselves in-house. Everything you’ve seen is generated in-house anyway.”

One challenge will be promoting a seemingly less-than-scintillating matchup without the power of a network such as HBO or Showtime behind it. In other words, do not look for HBO to run a “24/7” series about Pacquiao-Vargas. HBO and Showtime also are the richest bankrollers of the TV boxing business.

But duBoef said the go-it-yourself model makes sense in a changing media environment.

“I think people get stuck in going with the same old behavior,” he said. “They’re used to regularity. They’re used to something that’s familiar. The evolution has changed drastically.”

Among the details Top Rank must address is assembling an announcing team.

“We have not announced announcers, but we are putting that together,” duBoef said. “One that confirmed [Tuesday] is fantastic, that is so outside-the-box but so terrific. I think when we finish the rest of it everybody will be impressed.”

HBO declined to comment on Top Rank’s pay-per-view show.

“Listen, obviously we have a great relationship with HBO,” duBoef said. “Our relationship is we’re very close with them and talk regularly . . . But the fact I can do it myself, I’m just saying this is a wonderful experience.”

Pacquiao, famously generous with his money and spending habits in general, has acknowledged that he needs boxing to supplement his modest income as a public servant. But duBoef said his motivation goes beyond that.

“What I get from Manny and what I’ve heard is that this is his DNA,” duBoef said. “It’s what made him what he is today. I think it’s one thing if his talent or abilities were slipping and that he would recognize that or that [trainer] Freddie [Roach] would recognize that.

“But I can just tell you that I was in the ring after the Bradley fight. Bradley looked at me and said, ‘That was the best damn Manny Pacquaio I ever fought.’ When you hear that, and this is a guy who it was his third time fighting him, he looked at me right in the eyes: ‘That was the best damn Pacquiao I ever fought.’

“I think that’s why he knows he can perform at the highest level and it’s part of his passion of life. It’s what got him to where he is today. I think that’s what’s driving him.”

Pacquiao never again will approach the 4.5 million pay-per-view buys his May 2015 fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. generated, even if Mayweather were to decide to go to that well one more time.

DuBoef said another shot at Mayweather is not Pacquiao’s end game.

“Manny has never chased a fighter,” he said. “He always said he wanted a fighter, but never chased a fighter. His desires are to continue in the ring. He has plenty of other things he can do. He does not have to get back in the ring.”

Top Rank believes there still is no shortage of interest, even outside the Philippines.

“He is at the top of all conversations in boxing, across anybody’s conversation,” duBoef said. “He was half of the biggest event of all time. That fight grossed silly amounts of money in four hours. And through his political ambitions and his athletic prowess he created a very big name for himself globally.

“And as we always say he’s like the welfare system. He’s such a giver to everybody. So I think it all connects.”

Top Rank will be on its own to make that connection to boxing fans.

“The media landscape has changed so drastically that I think everybody should look at it,” duBoef said. “I think they should look at the product not being silo-ed into one platform or promotion, or silo-ed in a certain way . . . We’re long-term embracing these different ways to get to fight fans.”

He said that unlike entities such as HBO and Showtime, Top Rank can focus more narrowly on its core mission.

“We’re in the boxing business,” he said. “Boxing and entertainment – that is my business. The other networks or networks in general are in the subscriber business. They’re not as narrowly focused as I am . . . The power to be a content holder and get to masses of people not just through one silo-ed platform is very appealing to us.”


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