by Paul Magno
Despite the incendiary tone of this article’s headline, I like Dan Rafael and I think he does a great job of keeping fans informed and at getting backstage access to some of the things fans don’t usually get to see. Although he has his leanings, as we all do, he’s generally a fair guy.
Also, as head of ESPN’s boxing department, he’s the sport’s closest liaison between boxing and the mainstream media. For the most part, he’s probably the only liaison. This makes Rafael a key figure in molding and defining the way outsiders see our sport.
And this is why Rafael’s recent appearances on ESPN have been so disappointing.
Reporting on the Mayweather-Pacquiao situation and Bob Arum’s self-imposed signing deadline, Rafael completely ignored what should be the key issue in this entire dust-up: The fact that there were no direct negotiations between both parties and that, while Arum mentioned using HBO’s Ross Greenburg as a de facto mediator, we simply have no idea as to how involved or serious any talks with Greenburg were in the first place.
The Arum to Greenburg to Al Haymon (Mayweather’s adviser) to Mayweather chain of discourse is not, by any stretch of the imagination, conducive to making a real, binding deal even under the best of circumstances. Rafael knows this and even mentions it three-quarters of the way down in his written coverage of the issue on ESPN.com’s boxing site.
It’s completely disingenuous to the viewers for Rafael to come on ESPN and not point this key issue out to the on-air desk jockey who introduces the segment by asking, “Why won’t Mayweather agree to fight Pacquiao?”
Rafael knows what’s going on, but instead, pushes the “I have no idea what Mayweather’s problem is” angle. He surely doesn’t know what’s going on in Mayweather’s head, but what he does know is that the deadline, the negotiations, the contract and all the subsequent publicity around this non-event was completely manufactured. How can someone be questioned for not taking a fight when no formal talks were held? It would be like someone asking Lebron James why he didn’t sign with the Sacramento Kings when he never even met with the team.
How refreshing would it have been for Rafael to take that spotlight and, after the “Is Mayweather ducking Pacquiao” intro, say: “Well, the fact of the matter is that after so many weeks of hearing about negotiations and contracts, we just found out last night that Pacquiao promoter, Bob Arum, who called the teleconference and created all the buzz in the first place, never even made an attempt at initiating direct talks. Sadly, when it comes right down to it, neither side really wanted this fight and now Arum will keep things in-house by facing Manny off against one of his hand-picked promotional stable mates. To me, there’s a little bit of duck on both sides.”
All of us who tuned into the 3 AM Arum teleconference on Saturday morning heard Rafael get first crack at questioning Arum and he even got the chance to fire off a follow-up later on. He asked the important questions live, clarified some important issues and then completely sat on them when it was time to report on the main stage ESPN broadcasts. A major blow for truth in boxing could’ve been landed. Instead, Rafael simply shuffled his papers, buried his head, and gave them the story they wanted to hear.