After years of contentious feuding over money and other ego-driven lines in the sand, after each fighter exhausted nearly every other credible opponent instead of meeting each other, the most anticipated boxing match since the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975 is a go.
“What the world has been waiting for has arrived. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao on May 2, 2015 is a done deal. “I promised the fans we would get this done and we did. We will make history on May 2nd. Don’t miss it! This is the signed contract from both fighters.”
Mayweather (47-0, 26 knockouts) and his longtime pound-for-pound rival Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) are scheduled to fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Pay-per-view networks Showtime and HBO will broadcast the bout, with the hashing out of the first such joint venture since 2002 and promotional arrangements identified by officials as the final fallen obstacles to the deal.
Mayweather and Pacquiao previously verbally expressed agreement for a purse split that is believed to favor Mayweather, 60 percent to 40 percent.
The Los Angeles Times first reported in January that the fighters had agreed upon MGM Grand as the venue and an Olympic-style drug-testing plan that one official said would be run by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Momentum for the showdown accelerated in September, when Mayweather followed a hard-fought May victory over Argentina’s Marcos Maidana with a far more convincing triumph by unanimous decision in the rematch.
“If the Pacquiao fight materializes, let’s make it happen,” Mayweather said in the ring afterward.
CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves then entered the scene more prominently to push for the fight, and was a constant mediator in the process.
Moonves’ premium cable network Showtime paid Mayweather more than $30 million for each of the Maidana bouts — purses that outvalued the fights, since neither generated more than 1 million pay-per-view buys.
In a meeting set up by Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, Moonves paid a personal visit to the Beverly Hills home of Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum in October, with the pair discussing the mega-fight and burying hard feelings left over from Pacquiao’s one-fight appearance on Showtime during some HBO corporate turmoil in 2011.
Roach said Moonves was initially wary of doing business with Arum, calling him a “devil” who still owed Moonves two fights from the prior Pacquiao deal, but after a second meeting, Roach said Arum and Moonves had their arms around each other.
The switch underlined one of the sport’s most accurate axioms: “There are no lasting friendships in boxing, but no lasting enemies, either.”
Moonves had the full respect of Arum, who started promoting fights with Ali. And he also earned the ear of the brash Mayweather by following through on a deal the fighter has used to fortify his bank account and increase his fleet of luxury cars.
Mayweather, 37, said after his victory that Pacquiao “still had work to do,” a reference to the Filipino’s Nov. 22 date in Macao against unbeaten junior-welterweight world champion Chris Algieri of New York.
Pacquiao, who turned 36 in December, responded with a six-knockdown drubbing of Algieri, cruising to a unanimous-decision victory after previously dealing former welterweight champion Timothy Bradley his first loss in April.
“It’s time to see (the Mayweather fight) happen, people can prepare for it early next year,” Pacquiao said in Macao. “It has to happen.”
Fate then seemed to intervene late last month when Pacquiao’s flight home from judging the Miss Universe contest in Miami was delayed a day and he opted to attend a Miami Heat game courtside.
On the opposite side sat Mayweather, a frequent visitor to South Beach, who approached Pacquiao at halftime and arranged a postgame personal meeting that took place in Pacquiao’s hotel suite. There, the two convinced each other that each seriously wanted the bout, sources said, and the difficult, complex negotiating continued instead of finding the kind of snag or delay that had killed earlier talks.
The contentious deadlock between the sides dates to 2009, after Pacquiao affirmed his standing as the world’s top fighter by knocking out Ricky Hatton in spectacular fashion in the second round, and then beating Miguel Cotto by 12th-round stoppage.
Mayweather sought Olympic-style drug testing that Pacquiao originally balked at, saying he didn’t like needles. Later disagreements over purse splits and personal hostilities fractured other talks.
Mayweather was promoted by Arum from his Olympic fights in 1996 until 2006. Their split transformed tension between Arum and Mayweather manager Al Haymon into a war, with both men entirely avoiding each other for years.
As the clamor for a super-fight peaked, the feud sabotaged talks, each side refusing to let the other claim victory in negotiations while other options allowed for an out. Arum, said Mayweather, limited his earning potential, which began to skyrocket in 2007 after Oscar De La Hoya accepted a fight with Mayweather, who won a split decision in a bout that generated a record 2.25 million pay-per-view buys.
Mayweather, a.k.a. “Money,” fostered new fans from urban markets and also from those who found his cash-flashing behavior repulsive and wanted to see him be quieted in defeat.
It hasn’t happened, and when Pacquiao was knocked out cold, face-first, by Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012, Mayweather ascended to become the unquestioned pound-for-pound king after serving a jail term in Las Vegas following a guilty plea to misdemeanor domestic violence against the mother of three of his children.
After the jail term, Mayweather struck a massive six-fight deal with Showtime in early 2013 that gave him $30-million-per-fight purses and also included a date against obscure Robert Guerrero.
Mayweather’s September 2013 bout against Mexico’s then-unbeaten super-welterweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez became the most lucrative pay-per-view bout in the sport’s history.
But after Maidana, his options dwindled, with less anticipation for a Cotto rematch, and the next-best alternative being England’s Amir Khan, who has yet to prove he can draw a significant audience in the U.S.
None of that matters anymore. The best fight that boxing can make has finally been made.