By Bill Dwyre
Las Vegas – There were interesting doings Monday afternoon at the Top Rank Gym here. If you remember the old Rod Serling Twilight Zone series on TV, you get the picture.
"King" Arthur Abraham, an Armenian-born German and a longtime main-event star in the sport, sat on the steps of one of the two gym rings and talked about his undercard fight on Saturday’s Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley card.
He was asked how long it had been since he was not in the main event of a boxing card. He responded with a knowing smile and some broken English.
“I think…..I think,” he said, meaning that he was pretending to be trying to remember, when he knew quite well that there has been much discussion about his reduced status here and that it has been at least ten years since he fought on anybody’s undercard.
In one of the rings near Abraham, the noise of a mitts workout crackled, as young Devin Haney pounded away with his trainer. Haney will fight in one of the early bouts Saturday, not in the HBO pay-per-view portion where Abraham will take on Mexican Gilberto Ramirez just before Pacquiao and Bradley.
At one point, Abraham glanced at Haney as he worked and grinned, almost as if to say, Hey, Kid, I have shoes older than you.
Abraham is 36, Haney 17. Abraham is established, a veteran with a 44-4 record, who is remembered by most fight fans for the pre-fight challenge he presented in the Super Six tournament against Andre Ward before Ward imposed his will. In boxing annuls, Abraham has been there and done that.
Haney, a Las Vegas prospect with a 3-0 record, can only hope for that future. His entourage wears t-shirts that capture that hope: “Devin Haney vs. Everybody.”
The Twilight Zone moment was more than simple age and experience contrasts. The trainer working the mitts with Haney was Floyd Mayweather Sr. The Mayweathers, and the man who owns the gym, Top Rank’s Bob Arum, are not exactly frequent dinner companions. They feel about each other somewhat like the Kardashians feel when a cameraman leaves.
Maybe Arum, promoting the fight elsewhere, didn’t read Monday’s guest list at his gym.
There was also the huge undercard mural covering one wall of the gym. Pictured in it were four young Hispanic fighters, one young Russian who calls himself the Mexican Russian and an older man, whose bald head shined in the middle of the picture. That would be Abraham.
His opponent Gilberto Ramirez, is 24. The other undercard fighters are Jose Ramirez, 23; Óscar Valdez, 25; Manny Perez, 31, and the Mexican Russian, Evgeny Gradovich, 29. The picture looks a little like dad and his five sons.
Make no mistake. Abraham appears to be in top physical shape. At first look, it is hard to tell whether he is flesh or sculpted bronze. His ripples have ripples.
“I trained in Bulgaria,” he said, adding that he had to walk around in snow up to his waist and that his blood was nice and thick because of the altitude.
“I have been here a week,” he said, “and I will stay for another week, around here and in Los Angeles. There are a million Armenians in Los Angeles.”
But he left no doubt that, to him, Las Vegas was a boxing mecca that should not be skipped. Even young Haney got that, telling reporters earlier that he was both overwhelmed and grateful for his chance.
“The MGM Grand, on a Saturday night, at age 17,” he said, wide-eyed. No verb was needed to complete his sentence of awe.
Abraham, who has never fought in Las Vegas and who has only fought four times previously in the United States -- and not in five years -- said, “I come here to make history. All the big champions fight at the MGM Grand.”
Notice he didn’t say Madison Square Garden.
Still, to have a boxer of Abraham’s caliber playing second fiddle on anybody’s card is a stunner, as well as a tribute to both circumstance and the negotiating powers of Top Rank.
Gilberto Ramirez was the No. 1-ranked contender for Abraham’s WBO world super middleweight title. That made him the mandatory challenger for Abraham, were he to keep that title. All logic would put that fight on Abraham’s home turf in Germany. Top Rank was outbid by Abraham’s promoters on the first go-around for the fight, but German television couldn’t quite cover the bid.
So Arum kept the talks open. He badly wanted not only as much Hispanic presence as possible because of his wish to use his undercard -- the NoTrump Undercard -- to wage a little side political campaign against Donald Trump. But he also wanted Gilberto Ramirez’s next fight, just in case he won and became the highest-weight Mexican boxing titleholder ever.
Plus, Abraham is a big name, and Arum said he is sick of people whining about the quality of the fights put on.
Eventually, he bid $1.5 million -- “That’s as much as many HBO title fights,” he said -- and got Abraham to climb out of the snowbanks of Bulgaria and head West. Pacquiao is guaranteed $20 million and Bradley $4 million.
“The Germans not only got the TV rights,” Arum said, “but they got the German rights to the Pacquiao fight.”
Abraham kept talking about history, and that he will make some by fighting in the same MGM Grand ring as the likes of Mike Tyson. He also said he had watched many Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights from the MGM and added that Floyd Jr. “was the best of the best. He showed what you can achieve in boxing.”
So there it was, the perfect Twilight Zone ending. Cue the creepy music.
Superstar undercard boxer, being paid handsomely by Top Rank, bestows the highest of honors in the sport upon arch-rival of Top Rank, and does so in the gym owned by Top Rank, with the father of the arch-rival training a newcomer in one of Top Rank’s rings.
Look for the locks to be changed by Tuesday noon.
Bill Dwyre will be writing a series of weekly columns on the Pacquiao vs. Bradley world championship event. Bill was sports editor of The Los Angeles Times for 25 years, ending in 2006. He was a sports columnist for 9 1/2 years at The Times, ending Nov. 25 with his retirement. Boxing was among his most frequent column topics. Bill can be contacted at BillPatDwyre@gmail.com or via Twitter at @BillDwyre.