By Kevin Iole for Y! Sports
LAS VEGAS – After years of frustration and disappointment, following many starts and stops, perhaps the most talked about boxing match in history is finally a reality.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced Friday that he’s agreed to fight Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight bout May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. It’s a bout the public has been calling for since late 2009 and pits the two finest boxers of their generation in a historic event.
“I am very happy that Floyd Mayweather and I can give the fans the fight they have wanted for so many years,” said Pacquiao, who signed the contract for the bout Thursday. “They have waited long enough and they deserve it. It is an honor to be part of this historic event. I dedicate this fight to all the fans who willed this fight to happen and, as always, to bring glory to the Philippines and my fellow Filipinos around the world.”
The bout is expected to set numerous records, including purse size, live paid gate and pay-per-view sales. The cost of the pay-per-view has yet to be determined and won’t be until there are deals with the distributors.
Formal details on the agreement have yet to be announced, but it’s expected that Mayweather will have a 60-40 split advantage on revenues, with Mayweather making at least $120 million and Pacquiao $80 million.
“Floyd should enjoy being the A-side while he can,” Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, said. “Because on May 2, Manny is going to put him on his backside.”
The two nearly came to terms around the Christmas holidays in 2009, a month after Pacquiao stopped Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand. It fell apart, though, when Pacquiao and promoter Bob Arum balked at Mayweather’s demand for drug testing run by the United States Anti-Doping Agency during training camp.
There were numerous attempts over the last five years to reignite the talks. In 2011, then-HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg tried to act as a mediator between Mayweather adviser Al Haymon and Arum, but that didn’t come to fruition.
In 2012, Mayweather, who was in Las Vegas, called Pacquiao, who was at his home in the Philippines, and offered him a guaranteed $40 million but with no pay-per-view upside. Pacquiao declined that offer.
Mayweather jumped from HBO, which had him under an exclusive television contract for much of his career, to Showtime in 2013, which seemed to be the death knell for the fight.
Mayweather has fought four of the six fights on his record-breaking Showtime contract and didn’t have an opponent out there who would have made the kind of show that would resonate with the public the way a Pacquiao fight would.
Pacquiao remains under an exclusive television deal with HBO, so that further complicated the attempts to match the fighters. Only once previously, in 2002 when Lennox Lewis (HBO) and Mike Tyson (Showtime) fought, have the two premium cable giants gotten together to do a pay-per-view.
This most recent talks began in November and were started by CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, a longtime acquaintance of Arum’s. Roach actually got them together by speaking to a friend of his who owns a Southern California pizza restaurant that Moonves frequents.
Moonves and Arum were joined in the talks by HBO CEO Richard Plepler. And while there were many false alarms along the way, they were able to get the deal done.
Arum told Yahoo Sports on Jan. 13 that Pacquiao had agreed to terms for the bout and that all that was required was for Mayweather to agree.
But because Mayweather, the pound-for-pound king and the sport’s biggest pay-per-view attraction, had the upper hand and was dictating the terms, there was a lot of skepticism and back and forth. Several times, Mayweather went to social media to announce that no deal had been reached.
Mayweather and Pacquiao spoke face-to-face for the first time during these negotiations Jan. 27 at American Airlines Arena in Miami at a Heat-Milwaukee Bucks game. Pacquiao had served as a judge at the Miss Universe pageant in Miami two nights earlier, but because of bad weather on the East Coast, his flight to Los Angeles had been canceled.
As a result, he went to the game to see the Heat because he’s friends with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. Mayweather, who owns a home in Miami, also attended the game and walked over to speak to Pacquiao at halftime. Later, Mayweather went to Pacquiao’s hotel room and they had further discussions.
That led to intense speculation of an announcement, but it took several more weeks before the deal could be consummated.
Roach told Yahoo Sports in January that he’d already gotten bleary-eyed from watching film of Mayweather and coming up with a plan.
“It’s a huge challenge for Manny, no question, but I think it’s a fight that he can win,” Roach told Yahoo Sports.
The intrigue in the bout comes about because they are not only widely regarded as the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world but their styles are vastly different.
Mayweather is the brilliant tactician and one of the finest defensive fighters in the sport’s history. He has an innate sense of timing and can see punches coming that others can’t.
Pacquiao, a left-hander, is a powerhouse offensive fighter who has the speed and quickness to deal with Mayweather.
Former world champion Timothy Bradley, who has gone 1-1 in two bouts with the Filipino congressman and cultural icon, told Yahoo Sports last year that Pacquiao is an extraordinarily hard puncher.
“He hits hard, man,” Bradley said. “It’s a whole different level. You feel it when he hits you.”
The result is the kind of boxer vs. slugger match that has long intrigued boxing fans.
And five years after it first was talked about, it’s finally a reality, and the endless debates over who would win will be settled in the ring.
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