Money, ego, and a boxing-starved public: Why Mayweather v Pacquiao took so long to arrive

An event six and a half years in the making is only a week away. Steve Luckings looks at the twists and turns that got us here

On May 2, Floyd Mayweather Jr, left, and Manny Pacquiao, right, will contest the richest fight in boxing history. Design: Kevin Jeffers
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The popular saying goes that all good things come to those who wait. And for fans who have longed to see the world’s two best pound-for-pound boxers meet to determine who takes ownership of that title, that long wait is nearly over.

There has been many obstacles placed in the way, hurdles to overcome, egos to massage and dollars to negotiate. But after six-and-a-half years of tedium, the will-they-won’t-they question to one of the most protracted affairs of modern times will finally be answered on Saturday when the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr and Filipino fighter Manny Pacquiao meet at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

But it is hard to argue against the fact that both fighters are passed their prime, and that if the fight had taken place back in 2010, as was originally scheduled, with both at the peak of their powers, that we would be anticipating this battle with even more relish.

As it is, there is an uneasy feeling that both fighters see this as their last chance to cash in on the biggest money-making proposition in boxing history. For the sheer magnitude of a single sporting event, one that is rumoured to be worth a split of US$250 million (Dh918.2m) before other revenues such as pay-per-view TV, which could see it tickle $1 billion, nothing in recent memory comes close.

So why did it take six-and-a-half years to make it happen?

In the summer of 2009, the first tentative steps were made in this drawn-out saga as Mayweather approached Bob Arum, his former Top Rank promoter, whom he split with in less-than-acrimonious fashion just a few years earlier, about making the fight happen.


The American demanded an equal share of the purse, a demand Arum tersely described as “delusional” given that his client had just retired Oscar de la Hoya, destroyed Ricky Hatton and was about to assume Mayweather’s mantle as pound-for-pound king with a clinical 12-round TKO of Miguel Cotto to claim a world title in a record seventh weight class.

A few months later began the whispers and inference emanating from Mayweather’s camp that Pacquiao’s use of health supplements were not as wholesome as the Filipino would have you believe.

One of the major reasons we have had to wait this long was down to the years of posturing from Mayweather over his major pre-fight demand: Olympic-style drug testing.

Pacquiao has always refused, and the more he did, the more the innuendo around his use of said supplements, and their legitimacy, intensified. He eventually took Mayweather to court, where he received an apology and hit Mayweather in the place it hurts the American most: his wallet.

Despite this, a deal was tentatively agreed for the two to meet in March 2010. The cluster bomb that shattered fans’ hopes this time: Mayweather, again.

Easily the bigger of the two, he insisted Pacquiao move up to meet him at 155 pounds, instead of 147, and that they use 10oz gloves, a rarity in the lower weight divisions, the American no doubt hoping the heavier padding would soften the blows of a “Pac-Man” power punch.

The proceeding years took a familiar pattern: both camps in discussions, talks called off, then on again, new demands made, old stories rehashed, this fighter wants X million dollars as he is the headline act, opponent wants Y million dollars as he generates more revenue. Oh, and Olympic-style drug testing, that is a must. It became boring. Eventually, fans lost interest.

That all changed in 2013, however, with the realisation that along with his opponent’s declining power, never more apparent than the devastating punch delivered by Juan Manuel Marquez that left him in a crumpled heap and the insipid performances against Tim Bradley where he lacked spark, that Pacquiao’s bargaining power had weakened and Mayweather held most of the chips.

A crippling tax bill with the IRS would also mean that the Filipino would be more accommodating at the negotiations table.

Both fighters, as well as their respective backers (Showtime for Mayweather, HBO for Pacquiao) realised, if they did not make the fight happen soon, they would miss out on their slice of sport’s single biggest payday.

Another obstacle the teams had to navigate was a dilemma of their own creating: selling what six-and-a-half years earlier had been the sport’s most anticipated event since Sugar Ray Leonard fought Marvin Hagler 28 years ago, but with two combatants whose skills had demonstrably faded.

But the gamble looks to have paid off. A knockout-starved boxing public, who have been teased and toyed with for six-and-a-half years, will line the pockets of both fighters.

The cost of ringside seats when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met at Madison Square Garden in 1971 in The Fight of The Century, an extravaganza every bit as big as this one, according to Arum, went for just $150, a bargain in any era.

A ticket for the front row at the MGM Grand on Saturday will have a $5,000 face value and, according to a recent Forbes report, are already being sold for 10 times that much.

An estimated worldwide TV audience of 300 million watched Ali v Frazier. Mayweather v Pacquiao is being made available PPV in China, a first.

According to Arum, as many as 100 million subscribers may pay for the privilege, that would generate more than double the $300m being projected from sales in the United States alone. Throw in the entire population of the Philippines downing tools to tune in ... the mind boggles.

With ticket sales for the fight already surpassing $74m, almost four times the previous highest, for Mayweather v Canelo Alvarez in 2013, the figure this at-maximum 36-minute event could generate could easily surpass $1 billion.

Arum told The National that only the Fight of the Last Century could come close to generating the sort of numbers the Fight of This Century could. Maybe holding out for six-and-a-half years was not such a bad move for Mayweather and Pacquiao, but it has robbed the boxing public of the fight they deserved.