And on a popular sports network, a graphic detailed how many times the fighters blinked during the 28-second staredown: Pac-Man 10, Money 1.
In a don’t-blink sport, everyone must at some point. And tonight, barring a draw or other unsavory conclusion, one of them will blink for all posterity.
The other will be declared the finest pound-for-pound boxer of this generation, in an event projected to generate upwards of $400 million in revenue.
So at the end of the week, the relief here grew in proportion to the burgeoning crowd making Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Boulevard a vehicular impasse. It’s as big as a Super Bowl, bigger than New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas. If you like all that proverbial sports marketing stuff about good old-fashioned family entertainment, you’re not here, and probably aren’t reading this anyway.
For the rest, about that sense of relief.
The fight had to happen, television executives from both networks say now. As dusk fell over Las Vegas on Friday, even Pacquiao’s side quietly was acknowledging that the sturdy promotional firewall that kept these fighters apart for the last five years had to be exposed and chipped away.
Bob Arum never really wanted Mayweather-Pacquiao. That’s not really calling him out, it’s just a statement of fact. There were times Mayweather wanted nothing to do with the fight, either — another statement of fact.
The rematch that seems so obvious if the fight is good, maybe it happens, more likely not. The initial response now, even in the warm throes of all issues resolved and now a countdown to boxing history, is a no-go.
There is a strong resentment on both sides. Arum didn’t want the fight, doesn’t want any part of a rematch, not a second chance for Mayweather if Pacquiao wins, not a lesser-cut second chance for Pacquiao if Mayweather wins. And Mayweather said “No” so quickly when a rematch possibility was raised on Wednesday that Leonard Ellerbe, his longtime friend and CEO of his promotional company, never had time to respond.
But no, Ellerbe doesn’t care to do this again either. He works with both Mayweather and the boxer’s powerful adviser, Al Haymon, who reportedly soon could become the target of a lawsuit by Golden Boy Promotions, and earlier this week was the subject of a letter by Association of Boxing Commissioners president Tim Lueckenhoff asking the U.S. Attorney General’s office to investigate Haymon for potential breaches of the manager-promoter firewall in the Muhammad Ali Act.
That would be a fairly extraordinary enforcement of a federal boxing statute which no one really has tried to enforce much before. But there is more at play here than the boxers’ rivalries. Mayweather has created a unique business model, self-promoted, keeps the money. Haymon has built a huge stable of quality fighters he serves in an advisory capacity and now is shopping them on a wide array of television networks in something that took years to orchestrate.
They have changed the business model for old-school promoters, the establishment wants to stop it, and you don’t do that by fueling it with huge infusions of cash at the expense of your own fighter.
On the other hand, if you can’t beat them, at least cash out your fighter.
Mayweather-Pacquiao had to happen, but if it had happened five years ago, it generates half the revenue it will now. No matter what anyone on either side thinks about the possibility of Mayweather-Pacquiao II, you won’t hear anyone participating in the proceeds who says this promotion should have happened even one day earlier.
“I believe there are more people informed for this fight, even those who are not fans of boxing,” Pacquiao said of the long wait. “Even those who are not fans of boxing are informed about this fight and want to see this fight.”
For all that happened to delay the fight, from drug-testing protocol to raw egos, they have reached this moment of certitude, 12 rounds of final reckoning.
Five men have fought them twice. Four picked Mayweather flat and the fifth, Miguel Cotto, refused to commit.
The most telling comparison may be their respective results against Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao was 2-1-1 in four tooth-and-nail struggles with the steady Mexican counterpuncher, and got knocked out in the most recent one in 2012. Mayweather-Marquez was a glorified sparring session.
“It’s all about keeping fighters at bay,” Mayweather said. “I sit back sometimes and I think about when he fought Marquez and when I fought Marquez. I feel like I’m more calculated. I truly believe I’m a smarter fighter. And I think that he would be a better fighter if he wasn’t so reckless. It’s a gift and it’s a curse. It’s a gift to where he’s won a lot of fights by being reckless. But also, you can be reckless and get knocked out. And getting knocked out in a harsh way, it affects you in the long run, as far as longevity, when your career’s over.”
Pacquiao’s life is an astounding storybook tale, from selling donuts on the street, to his father slaying the family dog for food, to boxing because he could make the equivalent of $2 if he won, to world-title claims of various sorts in eight weight divisions and a seat in the Philippines congress.
Mayweather didn’t have it easy, but he was a creation. The family’s first major disappointment in boxing was when Floyd Mayweather Sr., at 20, lost the 1993 National Golden Gloves 139-pound championship bout to Larry Bonds of Salt Lake City. It was a close bout and the result, at Lowell, Mass., left Mayweather Sr. embittered. Both Mayweather and Bonds later would lose to Sugar Ray Leonard as pros, Bonds in a welterweight title bout
In some way, everything that has happened since that loss — Roger Mayweather’s two world titles and Jeff Mayweather’s solid professional career, the brothers of Floyd Sr.; and then the two-decade phenomenon of today’s pound-for-pound king — has been a product of Mayweather Sr.’s effort to erase that bitterness.
So it is the fight to complete a family’s journey, to satiate an entire nation whose hopes rest on one man’s shoulders, to end an athletic journey five years in the making. It happened to the relief of two television networks and the promoters who, at the end, stopped butting heads long enough to make the obvious happen — if only barely.
Whether the reality matches the build-up remains to be seen.
No, actually, it doesn’t. There’s no way that can happen. How close it can get to closing the ridiculous gap is the only variable.
But it’s the journey, not the destination, and this level of anticipation about a single moment, Mayweather-Pacquiao, only comes along every few decades in boxing.
It is not a generational fight because not every generation gets one.
It is the fight of our lifetime.
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