By Jake Donovan
The biggest fight in boxing that can be made, has finally been made.
Fans have waited more than five years to hear the news of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao agreeing to terms for what many believe will go down as the richest fight in boxing history. Mayweather announced Friday afternoon through his verified social media account that the event is a done deal.
"What the world has been waiting for has arrived. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao on May 2, 2015, is a done deal," Mayweather announced. "I promised the fans we would get this done, and we did. We will make history on May 2nd. Don't miss it!"
The fight will take place May 2 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, a venue that has hosted several events for both fighters over the years. Mayweather has fought at the MGM Grand in each of his past 10 fights—including the two highest grossing live gates in boxing history with his wins over Oscar de la Hoya (May ’07) and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (Sept. ’13)—while Pacquiao has played the venue 11 times in his career, including his stateside debut in June ’01.
Terms were reached in full by Thursday morning, but all parties involved were forced to remain mum until Mayweather himself was ready to make the announcement.
The Pay-Per-View telecast will feature three fights; one each from Top Rank (Pacquiao’s promoter) and Mayweather Promotions, and—of course—the main event itself. According to Los Angeles Times boxing scribe Lance Pugmire—who has been the most informative of all media members every step of the way in tracking the latest round of negotiations—the fight is, from a contractual standpoint, one-and-done, with no specified language for a rematch.
Details of a press tour are forthcoming, though it will be limited to 2-3 cities at the most. The event won’t go the route of multi-city stops, as enough publicity has already been generated to where it’s a matter of just waiting for fight night.
Both fighters hold separate welterweight belts, but Mayweather is recognized by BoxingScene.com as the lineal welterweight champion, as well as the reigning super welterweight champ following his win over Alvarez. Even without that distinction, the event was always likely to be referred to as Mayweather-Pacquiao, with Mayweather receiving top billing, walking into the ring second and being announced second, all the benefits normally afforded by a champion in a prize fight.
The event will serve as a joint venture between Showtime and HBO, marking just the second time in boxing history the two cable giants have agreed to work together.
“Everyone involved, including Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, knows this fight simply had to happen,” noted Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President & General Manager for SHOWTIME Sports. “All of us are thrilled to be able to deliver this event to boxing fans around the world. Now, for the second time under his current deal with Showtime Networks, Floyd Mayweather has agreed to fight an opponent that many people thought he’d never face. We set an all-time pay-per-view record with the first event back in September 2013, and we look forward to another record-breaking performance on May 2.”
The sentiments were echoed by the man Espinoza replaced at Showtime, Ken Hershman, who heads HBO Sports.
"Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather have been the two most prominent fighters in the sport of boxing for the past decade, and fight fans around the world have been clamoring for them to face each other," Hershman states. "And now, on May 2nd, in what everyone believes will be the biggest boxing event of all-time, fight fans have been granted their wish. May 2nd will be a signature moment for the sport of boxing and HBO Sports is thrilled to be a part of this spectacular event. I know the fighters and their teams will be primed to excel and we plan to work closely with everyone involved to deliver the same level of performance from a broadcast perspective."
The only other such occasion came in 2002, when Lennox Lewis—an HBO-exclusive fighter—defended his World heavyweight crown against former heavyweight king Mike Tyson, who served as the face of Showtime boxing since 1991. The event—which also included a then 122 lb. titlist Pacquiao on the undercard in a two-round blitzing of faded former bantamweight champ Jorge Julio—registered at the time as the highest grossing PPV event in history.
Despite its financial success, the event fell short of most units sold, which was held by Tyson’s rematch loss to Evander Holyfield in the infamous June ’97 “Bite Fight” fight. It also failed to sell out the hosting arena—The Pyramid in Memphis, TN—due to drawn out negotiations, concerns over finding a commission that would license Tyson at the time, and last minute scramble to finally secure a home.
Some of the same concerns were raised by onlookers as several deadlines came and went for this particular event to finally materialize. However, the consensus belief is that the event will ultimately sell itself given the nature of the fight—the two best fighters in the world and also the most popular stateside attractions.
Mayweather currently owns box-office records for most PPV units sold (2.5 million for his aforementioned win over de la Hoya), the highest-grossing PPV event ($150 million in PPV revenue for his aforementioned win over Alvarez) and the biggest live gate ever (also the Alvarez fight, raking in $20 million). The win over Alvarez also came with a guaranteed purse of $41 million—not counting the tens of millions he received in profits—the most a fighter has ever been guaranteed for a single fight.
All of those records are likely to be shattered once the final receipts are tallied post-May 2.
The price tag is expected to increase for the event, though a specific dollar amount has yet to be set as this goes to publish. The most expensive Pay-Per-View event to date has been $65 (plus $10 for High Definition viewing), the current price associated with Mayweather events.
Regardless of how things play out in the ring, the real victory—much like the case with Lewis-Tyson more than a decade ago, and Holyfield-Tyson I before that—was the signing of the fight itself. The closest the two ever came to meeting in the ring came during the first round of negotiations, which began towards the end of 2009.
Pacquiao had just scored a 12th round stoppage of Miguel Cotto to win a major title in a record 7th weight class—a record to which he added with a vacant super welterweight title win over Antonio Margarito one year later—at the time. The fight came two months after Mayweather ended a 21-month ring hiatus with a 12-round shutout of Juan Manuel Marquez.
The two were widely viewed as not just the best fighters in the world but virtually invincible at welterweight. Even with Top Rank and Golden Boy—Mayweather’s promotional representatitve at the time—embroiled in a bitter, long-running feud, the two sides were able to agree upon virtually every contractual demand presented by the other side.
However, things came to a screeching halt over a hot-button debate over random drug testing, which Mayweather insisted upon in order for the event to move forward. Speculation ran rampant—specifically from Mayweather’s camp and family—over the explosive in-ring success Pacquiao enjoyed despite continuing to climb the scales.
Mayweather insisted that his motivation for random drug testing was merely doing his part to help ensure a level playing field and a drug-free sport, given the magnitude of the event.
It wasn’t good enough for Pacquiao’s camp, who balked at making the concession, thus functionally killing the fight. The immensely popular Filipino star went on to face Joshua Clottey, an event solely memorable for being the first at the newly revamped Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium) outside of Dallas, Texas.
Mayweather, meanwhile, faced Shane Mosley, surviving an early scare to score a wide 12-round decision. The bout also re-established World championship lineage at welterweight, and also the starting point for all of his fights coming with random pre-fight drug testing conducted by United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Over the years, the two sides since used each other to help sell their own events. Fans remained skeptical that it would ever happen, though the sliver of hope that it would materialize led to major box-office success enjoyed by both fighters.
Hope was lost in 2012, with Pacquiao losing back-to-back fights. His first loss on the year came in highly controversial fashion, dropping a widely-disputed decision to unbeaten Tim Bradley during their first meet in June ’12.
The moral support received was enough to retain the southpaw’s star status, though there was little damage control to come of his shocking 6th round knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez. The bout—which resulted in near-universal recognition as 2012 Fight of the Year—was arguably Pacquiao’s best performance in years, but two knockdowns including a one-punch shot to put him face-first to the canvas was enough to strip him clean of any remaining aura of invincibility.
While there was little doubt of a return towards the top, even the most optimistic supporters believing Mayweather-Pacquaio could ever happen were dealt a mighty blow early in 2013. Shortly following his brief prison stint, Mayweather turned the industry on its heels after announcing a lucrative six-fight deal with Showtime. The move followed a 14-year run with HBO, dating back to his first title win over the late Genaro Hernandez in 1998, less than two years into Mayweather’s career.
His alliance with Showtime ultimately cleared the table of any lingering chance to face Pacquiao, who remains loyal to HBO with the exception of Top Rank yanking him for a one-off appearance on Showtime in May ’11. If anything, the move by Mayweather allowed all in the industry to move on and focus on the fights that could actually be made.
With that came a banner year for boxing in 2013, with Showtime narrowing the gap considerably in competing with HBO as the biggest game in town.
The success didn’t last long however. Showtime was stuck in a holding pattern in 2014, a year littered with showcase fights while Golden Boy Promotions—its biggest fight supplier at the time—imploded, while Mayweather struggled to recapture the box-office glory that came with his lucrative showdown with Alvarez. A pair of wins over Maidana served as the most watched PPV events of 2014, though both falling short of expectations.
So too, did Pacquiao’s PPV headliners versus Bradley (April ’14) and Chris Algieri, with the writing on the wall that fans were fed up with shelling out good money without the guarantee of something better on the horizon.
Both camps recognized this, igniting an extensive negotiation period that remained largely behind closed doors. Some have portrayed themselves as insiders in the know, though most of the reports stemmed either from Bob Arum—with most of his “information” proving to be well off the mark—or unnamed sources, the latter also producing info akin to a wild goose chase.
Skepticism remained until a “chance” occurrence with Mayweather and Pacquiao both sitting courtside in Miami for a National Basketball Association (NBA) game between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks. Mayweather has regularly attended Heat games—though more frequently when LeBron James was on the team before returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers—while Pacquiao remained in town following his stint as a guest judge for the Miss Universe pageant held the previous weekend.
The two fighters were seated on opposite sides of the arena, but met at half-court during halftime while introduced to the crowd. The brief meeting set off a social media frenzy, which only escalated once word leaked that the two spoke privately for more than an hour after the game. Mayweather released a 12-second Vine of the meeting, commenting that a fight between the two absolutely had to be made.
It was enough to restore long-lost optimism of a chance for the fight to happen.
Everyone involved in the final round of talks remained tight-lipped, issuing a gag order to all parties with the agreement that the fight would first be announced by Mayweather before anyone else could begin talking to the press.
The May 2 event will mark just the second time in their respective careers that Mayweather and Pacquiao will appear on the same card. The only other occurrence came in Nov. ’01; Mayweather scored a 9th round stoppage of Jesus Chavez in his final defense of the super featherweight title before moving up in weight, while Pacquiao struggled to a technical draw with the late Agapito Sanchez in the first defense of his super bantamweight title.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox