In typically brash boxing bravado, the bout was billed “Fight of the Century”.
Little matter that it had arrived five years too late; that it had been even longer in the making; that its combatants, Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao, were by then some way past their peaks.
Even come May 2, 2015, when the pair clashed finally in Las Vegas, both boxers were still rated among the game’s biggest magnets, a couple of Hall of Fame certainties and hyped and hollered as forever foes.
Mayweather, 38, was undefeated in 47 pro fights. He was an 11-time world champion, his superiority spanning five divisions.
In the other corner, Pacquiao, 36, had given the sport one of its most rousing tales and some of its most memorable nights too, a fight-aholic former street vendor who many recognised as boxing’s only eight-division world champion.
With doubt, by that May night, five years ago to the day, their careers had reached their respective twilights. But when placed alongside each other especially, Mayweather and Pacquiao retained the lure, that true superstar quality. It was for that reason that their coming together at MGM Grand Garden Arena felt not only a match between sporting titans, but a bona-fide global spectacle.
Front-row tickets, face value $5,000 (Dh18,400), were reportedly hawked for 50 times that amount, some suggested maybe more. With 4.6 million pay-per-view purchases, the fight eased into its slot as the highest-grossing bout in history, generating an estimated $410m in the United States alone.
In the UAE, Du aired the fight to its subscribers for free; cinemas and restaurants opened in the early hours of that exceptional Sunday morning to offer special screenings. This was the story in sports.
Admittedly, it had been some build-up. Mayweather and Pacquiao were supposed to meet first in 2010 – twice that year, in fact - then in 2013. Yet problems with purses, promoters, weight classes and even gloves, not to mention Mayweather’s demand for Olympic-style drug testing and Pacquiao’s steadfast refusal to it, proved too sturdy obstacles to overcome.
Ultimately, though, it was worth the postponing and the posturing - financially at least. By the time the twin welterweights stepped between the ropes, Mayweather was tipped to bank $200m from comfortably the richest fight ever. Pacquiao, it was understood, would eventually take home a rather decent consolation prize of $120m.
Fortune and fame were all around at the MGM Grand. Jamie Foxx performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” inside the ring, in front of the millions watching around the world, and those who had cozied into the plushest seats nearby. Notable attendees included Beyonce and Jay-Z, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady. Future President Donald Trump was present as well.
Though, for all the brouhaha, the fight did not deliver. It could easily be summarised as such: a couple of heavy hits exchanged in the third round; Pacquiao stinging Mayweather in the fourth; both fighters trading in the ninth (for the first, and only, time); Mayweather catching Pacquiao on the chin in the 11th.
But that was largely it. As was usual, the Filipino's output appeared high, while his American rival evaded and countered whenever necessary.
At the conclusion, amid grumbles from the audience, all three judges gave the bout to Mayweather by unanimous decision. He had triumphed 118–110, 116–112, 116–112.
Predictably, Pacquiao argued it was instead he who deserved to be victorious. Mayweather, still planning one more fight before bringing down the curtain on an unblemished career, labelled Pacquiao a “sore loser”.
In the aftermath, Pacquiao claimed he had entered the bout with a debilitating shoulder injury. It was said that, in the days afterward, he underwent surgery.
Since then, Mayweather has indeed called time on his career - he remained unbeaten through 49 fights - while Pacquiao reigns as the current WBC welterweight champion. He has retired and he has returned. Having last fought in July, the sitting senator in the Philippines expects to don the gloves again later in 2020, or as soon as the coronavirus crisis abates.
A rematch has been mooted many times, most recently earlier this year, with a now 41-year-old Pacquiao on record declaring he craved an opportunity to avenge the 2015 defeat. As is his wont, Mayweather continues to stoke those rumours, be it in interviews or, primarily, on social media.
Should it ever transpire, the bout would no doubt once more draw worldwide attention. It would undeniably generate huge sums.
However, if the first encounter arrived five years too late, May-Pac II would be far and wide well beyond its sell-by date.