It started with a chance question back in September. Jerry Jones had gassed up his private jet and flown to New York to appear on Joe Buck's talk show on HBO. The topic: owning a professional sports franchise in a struggling economy.Back in the green room later while the likes of Joe Namath and Dan Marino and Curt Schilling were chatting with Buck on camera, Jones and Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports, made small talk. Then Greenburg, who worked with Jones through two Cowboys appearances on the training camp Hard Knocks series, popped a big question.
"Would the Cowboys Stadium landlord be interested in possibly hosting a fight?" asked Greenburg, whose network is a heavyweight in the boxing world.
It would not be a match between up-and-comers or faded stars like Evander Holyfield, who three years earlier had attracted 9,000 paying customers to American Airlines Center. It would be a bona fide bout between two of the sport's brightest lights – Manny Pacquiao, considered by most experts to be the best fighter in the world, and Floyd Mayweather, a legitimate, undefeated contender for the title.
Jones, whose boxing background was limited to promoting a pre-Cowboys 1984 cruiserweight fight back home in Little Rock that drew an announced crowd of 2,500 lost souls, fought to contain his enthusiasm. Some of the very first architectural renderings for his Cowboys Stadium included a boxing blueprint that featured the ring set smack dab on the star at the 50-yard line.
Of course, there were a couple of roadblocks. Pacquiao still had to win a November fight, and lots of other places, including Los Angeles' Staples Center, New Orleans' Superdome, New York's Madison Square Garden and Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel, were interested in what would be boxing's biggest fight of 2010.
Jones could do nothing to help Pacquiao's ring fortunes against Miguel Angel Cotto at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but while that was going on, he managed to piece together a bid for Pacquiao-Mayweather. He began to make inquiries, using contacts made with the Cowboys and the NFL. He came up with a dollar figure he was certain would beat the other contenders. It didn't hurt, Jones said, to have inside information detailing potential rival bids.
And so, soon after Pacquiao disposed of Cotto on Nov. 14, Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, opened an e-mail that contained Jones' bid for a potential March 13 Pacquiao-Mayweather bout.
"Jerry said he was in for $25 million," Arum recalled as he lovingly repeated the dollar figure over the telephone. "And he said he could go higher if need be."
Consider that the largest site fee to date is believed to be the $18 million that brought Oscar De La Hoya-Mayweather to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 2007.
"That told me right there that Jerry was ready to compete," Arum said. "Dallas, Texas, was suddenly a heavyweight contender in the world of boxing."
Jones said he never hesitated to offer $25 million.
Jones believed the mega-fight could ultimately attract the same kind of 100,000-plus crowd to his stadium that the NBA All-Star Game brought last month.
"I don't want this to sound wrong, but we write checks like that around here all the time," Jones said while sipping iced tea in his Valley Ranch office last week.
The offer, however, was not enough to entice Mayweather. His handlers preferred Las Vegas, where fight plans died when he insisted he would fight Pacquiao only if there were Olympic-style drug testing, an unusual condition. A retired federal judge tried to mediate a solution.
In the end, Mayweather, who has won his last five fights in Las Vegas, decided he would be better off fighting past-his-prime 38-year-old Shane Mosley at the friendly confines of the MGM on May 1.
Undaunted and still intrigued with the publicity a major fight could bring his stadium, Jones lowered his sights. Arum came up with the credible if unspectacular Joshua Clottey of Ghana to challenge Pacquiao of the Philippines. Jones, who calls Pacquiao "a sexy draw by himself," lowered his site fee guarantee to $7 million.
HBO hung in and will offer the fight Saturday on pay-per-view in the United States. The rest of the world will watch on free television.
"I am certainly a fan of boxing," Jones said. "But that is not what this fight is about. This is a very logical way to introduce our stadium to the world and lift its aura."
Jones is serious about aura and dollars. He needs big events for his big stadium. He is eager, he reiterated several times in an hour-long conversation, to challenge Las Vegas for fights.
The desert town, backed by high-roller dollars, has long established itself as the big-fight boxing capital of the world. California and Texas may put on more boxing shows every year thanNevada, but no one matches Las Vegas for high-dollar bouts.
Casinos use fights to attract gamblers. Most of the expensive ringside seats are handed to wealthy customers, who in turn pay for the privilege at craps tables or poker rooms or by busting at blackjack. It is a tried-and-true formula that has worked for decades.
Atlantic City, using the same schematic, tried and failed to challenge Las Vegas. Madison Square Garden, saddled with an oppressive New York tax structure, has been unable to compete. Stadiums like the Superdome and Alamodome have tried big fights, but in the end, promoters found New Orleans and San Antonio, with relatively small populations, unable to regularly support boxing.
Eight of the 10 mega-fights that have drawn the highest pay-per-view audiences have taken place in Las Vegas. A dozen of the top 15 were fought in Las Vegas.
"I can compete with Las Vegas," Jones said. "I can hold my head up high, keep my credibility and say that.
"I can and I will."
If Richard Sturm considers Jones a worthy competitor, he isn't saying. Sturm is the executive who books fights for the MGM Grand hotel, where the arena comfortably seats 17,000 and has become the top fight site in Las Vegas. Sturm's public relations representative, who asked if his boss might see sample questions, was unable to get him to return phone calls.
Arum, who lives and runs his Top Rank boxing promotions company in Las Vegas, assured that his hometown has taken notice of Jones and takes him and his stadium seriously.
"Not only can Cowboys Stadium compete, it can beat Vegas," Arum said.
Jones believes his stadium's seating capacity, its ambiance and its heavyweight video screen combined with North Texas' growing population – which includes a large Hispanic demographic that embraces boxing – are his aces in the hole.
HBO's Greenburg calls Cowboys Stadium "a potential Woodstock for sports," equating big fights with major events like NCAA Final Fours and NBA All-Star Games.
"Put on a quality event and people will come," he said.
Arum and Jones preach that the sheer number of seats at Cowboys Stadium offsets the tonier price of seats in Las Vegas.
"It's simple math," Arum said. "And watching replays on the big screen during the fight is something that has to be mind-boggling. ... Anybody misses anything, and believe me that happens even at ringside, and there it will be replayed bigger than life."
For Pacquiao-Clottey and its heavily Hispanic undercard, Cowboys Stadium has been configured for 45,000 seats. More than 35,000 tickets have been sold. That's a big number for boxing in Texas, where day-of-the-event ticket sales traditionally are huge.
Mega-fights, matches between two high-powered boxers, don't come along every year. But competitive fights that include at least one big-name boxer are relatively plentiful. Jones said he thinks he can host "three to five fights" a year.
Arum said talks already are under way for a bye-week fight at Cowboys Stadium during the football season.
Arum and Jones agree that they will both make money on the first fight card at Cowboys Stadium.
"Even if we didn't make a dime," Jones said, "in the context of exposure worldwide for our stadium and opening it up to the small guy who can't buy Cowboys tickets, this will be a successful promotion."
to the public
Boxers Manny Pacquaio, Joshua Clottey and Humberto Soto will hold workouts free to the public this week in advance of Saturday's card at Cowboys Stadium.
The workouts will take place at the Gaylord Texan Hotel in Grapevine. On Monday, Clottey will work out at 1:30 and Soto at 2:30 p.m. Pacquiao will work out at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Pacquaio and Clottey meet for the world welterweight championship in Saturday's main event. Soto meets David Diaz for the WBC lightweight championship in an undercard bout.