By Dan Rafael
(ESPN.com) At long last, pound-for-pound greats Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao will finally fight. Yes, the fight that looms as one of the most anticipated in boxing history is finally on.
For more than five years, sports fans have clamored for a summit meeting between the two best fighters in the world, and after various failed negotiations — and a protracted and difficult effort to make the fight in recent months — they will get it on May 2 to unify their welterweight world titles at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The showdown is a lock to be the richest in boxing history and will, barring a draw, settle the issue that has been debated for years: Who is the No. 1 fighter in boxing and who is the king of his era?
Mayweather made the announcement yesterday afternoon on a social media platform called Shots, of which he is an investor.
Many involved expected the announcement to come Thursday, but Mayweather was upset because Top Rank, Pacquiao’s promoter, was leaking word of the impending announcement, and he wanted it to be a surprise.
According to those familiar with the agreement, the contract Mayweather signed for the fight gave him the right to be the one to announce the fight, even though he was obligated to notify Top Rank of when he would do it. Thursday afternoon, Top Rank was notified, and Mayweather made the announcement about an hour later.
Although he announced it Thursday, the deal had been done for a couple of days with both sides having signed the paperwork. Contracts were also signed by broadcasters HBO and Showtime, who will team for a historic joint pay-per-view.
“It hasn’t been easy, but I think in some strange way the inability to get the fight done before now enhances its value, and this is one event that the public all over the world has been talking about and discussing for years,” Top Rank promoter Bob Arum told ESPN.com.
“The interest in the fight will be absolutely red-hot. I’ve been promoting boxing for nearly 50 years, and there is nothing that has come close to this, because there has been nothing that has been so difficult to come to fruition. As interest is concerned, this akin to the first [Muhammad] Ali-[Joe] Frazier fight.
“You have to be grateful that this is finally happening. You can’t bemoan the false starts and the inability to do this before. It’s here now.”
In addition to the future Hall of Famers finally hammering out a deal for their welterweight title unification bout — one that will see Mayweather receive the lion’s share of a 60-40 money split in a fight that could gross around $400 million — rival premium cable networks Showtime, which has Mayweather under contract, and HBO, which has a deal with Pacquiao, went through a brutal negotiation and will come together to produce and distribute a joint pay-per-view telecast, which is expected to cost a record-high $89.95 (and probably $10 more for high definition).
The fight is expected to shatter every revenue record in boxing history, including the pay-per-view buy record of 2.4 million generated by Mayweather’s 2007 junior middleweight championship fight against Oscar De La Hoya; the all-time pay-per-view revenue record of $150 million generated by Mayweather’s 2013 junior middleweight championship fight against Canelo Alvarez; and the all-time gate record of $20,003,150.
It is only the second time Showtime and HBO have made such a deal. The first time was for the highly anticipated 2002 fight between then-heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who was with HBO, and former champion Mike Tyson, who was with Showtime.
For years, Mayweather and Pacquiao have been the two best fighters in the world, fighting in the same weight class but having not faced each other despite constant public demand. Both have been considered the pound-for-pound king at various times, with Mayweather having held that mythical position for the past few years with Pacquiao right behind him for most of that period.
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and living in Las Vegas, “Money” Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs), who turns 38 on Tuesday, has won world titles in five weight classes, mainly with his defensive brilliance and speed, while becoming the highest-paid athlete in the world.
Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs), a 36-year-old southpaw known for his speed, power and aggressive style, became the only boxer in history to win world titles in eight weight divisions – flyweight, junior featherweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight – while also generating hundreds of millions of dollars and being elected to congress in his native Philippines, where he is a national icon.
“The reason I like my guy’s chances so much is because of his speed, the tremendous number of punches he throws, the quality of his punches and the fact that he is left-handed,” Arum said. “Top Rank promoted Floyd Mayweather for 10½ years and we recognized that he had difficulty handling a speedy, left-handed fighter and that he and his father (and trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr.) were insistent that we not match Floyd with a southpaw. I remember two fights he had with southpaws who didn’t have the ability Manny has but who gave him trouble – (DeMarcus) ‘Chop Chop’ Corley, who buzzed him and had him in real trouble and Zab Judah.”
Since 2009 Mayweather-Pacquiao has loomed as boxing’s biggest fight, but it took all these years to make it a reality.
Mayweather, who turned pro in 1996 after receiving an Olympic bronze medal, ended a brief retirement in September 2009 by easily outpointing Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao’s biggest rival. Two months later, Pacquiao, who turned pro in 1995, ruthlessly destroyed Miguel Cotto in a 12th-round knockout victory to claim a welterweight title. It was at that point that Mayweather and Pacquiao were clearly the two best fighters in the world pound-for-pound, in whichever order one wanted to place them.
They were both with HBO at the time and their representatives began to negotiate the fight intensely at the end of 2009 and into early 2010. All of the deal points were agreed to for a March 13, 2010 fight — including a 50-50 financial split — except for one: the method of drug testing in the lead up to the fight. Mayweather, ahead of his time, demanded random blood and urine testing and Pacquiao declined to accept the specific protocol Mayweather wanted. The deal fell apart and both moved on to other opponents. Pacquiao also sued Mayweather for defamation for accusing him of using performance-enhancing drugs; the case was eventually settled out of court, but the bad feelings remained on both sides.
While the world waited to see them fight each other, Mayweather and Pacquiao beat a who’s who of their era as they faced one common opponent after another, including De La Hoya, Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Marquez and Shane Mosley.
Since the initial negotiation broke down in early 2010 there were other attempts to make the fight, including in 2010 when then-HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg served as a go-between in the negotiations between Arum of Top Rank and Mayweather adviser Al Haymon. Those negotiations failed also and Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, denied a negotiation had even taken place despite Greenburg and Arum saying they had.
In early 2012, another attempt was made to put the fight together when Pacquiao adviser Michael Koncz, who was visiting Mayweather in Las Vegas, put him on the phone with Pacquiao. Mayweather offered Pacquiao a $40 million flat fee for the fight. Pacquiao, seeking to share in the overall revenue, not surprisingly declined.
The fight looked dead in recent years. Pacquiao suffered back-to-back losses in 2012 — a massively controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley Jr. and a sixth-round knockout loss to rival Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth fight, and then took off 11 months.
While Pacquiao was out of action, Mayweather jumped from HBO to Showtime for a six-fight contract, seemingly making the prospect of a deal even more remote. Pacquiao returned in late 2013 and has won three fights in a row, a near-shutout of Brandon Rios followed by his regaining his welterweight title by soundly outpointing Bradley in their rematch last April. In November, Pacquiao authored a one-sided defense against Chris Algieri, whom he knocked down six times in a virtual shutout decision.
Mayweather, meanwhile, fought four of the fights of his Showtime deal, wins against Robert Guerrero, Alvarez and two against Marcos Maidana.
But other than Mayweather’s blockbuster pay-per-view against Alvarez, the numbers for Mayweather and Pacquiao began to significantly decline as the public grew tired of buying expensive pay-per-view to watch them fight anybody but each other.
But after Mayweather outpointed Maidana in their September rematch, he opened the door for the fight saying at the post-fight news conference, “If the Pacquiao fight presents itself let’s make it happen.”
Two months later, Pacquiao, during the lead-up to the fight with Algieri, called out for a Mayweather fight and continued to do so after his dominant performance. Pacquiao even filmed a television commercial for athletic apparel retailer Foot Locker in which he mocked the fact that Mayweather had yet to agree to fight him.
In the spot, Pacquiao overheard two boxers in the gym working on the heavy bag while discussing their excitement about a Foot Locker promotion.
Pacquiao, working mitts in the ring, walked over to the ropes and shouted at the boxers, “Wait, wait! So the thing the people wanted is finally happening?” One boxers answers, “Yeah,” and shrugged.
Pacquiao broke out into an epic celebration in the ring, shouting, “Yes!!! He’s going to fight me!”
Arum, who promoted Mayweather before an acrimonious split in 2006, meanwhile was negotiating the fight with Leslie Moonves, the CEO of Showtime parent company CBS, who served as the go-between on behalf of Mayweather and adviser Al Haymon, Arum’s bitter enemy (although they did have at least two face-to-face meetings at Moonves’ Los Angeles home during the talks).
The networks also got serious about making a deal with high-ranking company executives — HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler and HBO Sports president Ken Hershman and Showtime chairman and CEO Matt Blank and Showtime Sports Executive Vice President and General Manager Stephen Espinoza — meeting face-to-face in New York in mid-January.
Excitement that the fight would be made ratcheted up on Jan. 27 when Mayweather and Pacquiao, coincidentally both sitting courtside at a Miami Heat game against the Milwaukee Bucks, met face to face briefly at halftime, exchanged cell phone numbers and shared a brief embrace. After the game, Mayweather met with Pacquiao and Koncz in Pacquiao’s hotel suite for about an hour to discuss some of the issues he had with the deal being negotiated.
The talks dragged out for nearly another month until they finally reached an accord and signed the contracts this week.
Five-plus years after the prospect of a historic showdown between Mayweather and Pacquiao, both in the twilight of legendary careers, entered the public consciousness it is, at long last, finally on.
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