By Jeremy Wall
Tonight the boxing world enjoys Christmas when Floyd Mayweather (47-0, 26KO) finally faces Manny Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38KO) in boxing’s latest fight of the century. It is expected to be the most profitable boxing match in history and takes place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The show starts at 9pm ET on pay per view. The main event goes on at 11pm ET, an hour earlier than most pay per view main events.
The fight is taking place at welterweight (147 pounds) where Mayweather, 38, holds the WBC and WBA titles and Pacquiao, 36, holds the WBO version. All three titles are on the line. Drug testing is handled by the USADA and a failure results in a four year ban, which would essentially end the career of either fighter.
“Boxing fans and sports fans around the world will witness greatness on May 2nd,” said Mayweather, who has never been knocked down in a pro fight. “I am the best ever, TBE, and this fight will be another opportunity to showcase my skills and do what I do best, which is win. Manny is going to try to do what 47 before him failed to do, but he won’t be successful. He will be number 48.”
“My entire career defines my legacy,” said Pacquiao, who is going into the fight as the underdog. “I have already accomplished great achievements in my career while excelling in different weight divisions. This fight is an additional achievement in my career. It’s the biggest fight in boxing history. I can say that beating Floyd would be the biggest victory of my career.”
Both fighters made weight on Friday. Pacquiao, who was the crowd favourite at the weigh-in, came in at 145 pounds. Mayweather was 146 pounds. The weigh-ins sold out with 11,500 packing the MGM Grand. For the first time in modern boxing history, tickets were sold to the weigh-in for $10, with proceeds going to charity.
The pay per view includes two other fights. First is WBO Featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko versus Gamalier Rodriguez. Second is WBC Super Bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz versus Jose Cayetano.
Typical for boxing, there are many fingers in the pie. The fight airs on pay per view for $89.95 in standard definition and $99.95 in high definition in the US, being co-produced by HBO and Showtime. Mayweather is controlled (“advised”) by Al Haymon and Pacquiao by Bob Arum. Haymon typically works with Showtime and its parent company CBS, among other networks. Arum works with HBO. Total revenue could end up over $400 million.
Despite that it is the highest retail price for a boxing pay per view in history in the US (as well as in the UK, Canada, and elsewhere), they are expecting to break the pay per view buy rate record. That record is currently held by Mayweather-De La Hoya, which did 2.4 million buys, although due to inflation Mayweather-Alvarez at 2.2 million buys was the most profitable at $152 million in revenue. Mayweather-Pacquiao is projected to draw 3 million buys. That would bring in revenue off domestic pay per view of $300 million.
Apparently advance orders for the pay per view are so strong that cable companies were asking people to order ahead in case the volume of orders crashes some companies. “People realize that any talk that boxing is in decline or boxing is dead is bullshit. That is white sport editors that have lost track of boxing,” said Arum. “The rest of the public loves boxing. Look at this turnout. Look at the demand for this fight. This a boxing match.”
There is talk that the high retail price of this fight and its success on pay per view despite that price may lead to permanent pay per view retail increases in the future. “Repetitively successful joint ventures often end up causing a merger or acquisition and the forming a single entity. That single entity tends to stop the competition among those former rivals,” writes Roger Groves of Forbes. “The rivals used to compete on price. When they stop competing they stop undercutting each other on price. Fans like the competition because they pay less for the quality product. But without the competition, the price often heads north.”
Bars are also being charged the highest rights fees in history to air the fight, causing many bars to turn the fight down. At $30 per head, “for a Boston-based bar that holds 395 people, that would have meant paying roughly $12,000,” wrote the Boston Globe.
No matter what the outcome of the fight is, it will be remembered as one of the greatest boxing matches in history. Fans and pundits have been comparing the fight to boxing’s last real fight of the century, Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier on March 8th, 1971.
“The world stopped. The entire world stopped for that fight. It became the subject of editorials in papers because of the political implications of the fight. Is this bigger than that? In some ways you could say that, but that would be unfair. You can’t compare eras,” Arum reminisced about Ali-Frazier. “When Ali and Frazier fought, we sent the signal on telephone lines, and we could only reach less than 400 [closed circuit] locations. That’s all the phone company could service. We didn’t have enough closed circuit locations. Every single closed circuit location was sold out, and people were running around to find places [to watch the fight].”
Mayweather has already generated $873 million in pay per view revenue, making him first on that all-time list. Pacquiao is second at $741 million. Revenue for this fight should put both fighters over the $1 billion in revenue mark. Both debuted on pay per view in 2005. Both had their profiles raised greatly with separate wins over Oscar De La Hoya, who Mayweather beat by split-decision in 2007 and Pacquiao stopped in 2008.
Mayweather is receiving 60-percent of revenue whereas Pacquiao is receiving the other 40-percent. Foreign TV rights are expected to bring in about $35 million. Solar Media of the Philippines paid $10 million for rights to broadcast the bout in Pacquiao’s home country. In the Philippines, Pacquiao’s bouts are like national holidays. In Mexico, it is being aired on the two major networks because Televisa has exclusive rights to Mayweather and TV Azteca has rights to Pacquiao. Those two networks combined to pay $2.3 million for the fight.
Tecate outbid Corona by $400,000 at $5.6 million to be the fight’s lead booze sponsor. Tecate is also offering 675,000 mail-in rebates for the fight worth up to $50 depending on how much beer you buy.
“It is like the Super Bowl of boxing, a gigantic sporting event. It’s good for us. It’s about credibility,” said Gustavo Guerra of Tecate. “We cannot have the luxury of being out of this fight. This is very important for us.”
“Tecate’s bid is by far the record,” Arum said. “We’ve never see anything like that on a beer sponsor. Both companies were after it. It’s a huge number.”
Commentary is being provided by Jim Lampley, Al Bernstein, and Roy Jones Jr, who all work for HBO with the exception of Bernstein, who is a Showtime guy. Jim Gray of Showtime and Max Kellerman of HBO will be ringside reporters. Paulie Malignaggi and Steve Farhood of Showtime and Harold Lederman of HBO are also part of the bloated broadcast team. Showtime’s James Brown hosts the telecast. The referee is Kenny Bayless. Michael Buffer and Jimmy Lennon Jr will both act as ring announcers.
“There’s a delicate tension that goes with this production. Everyone knows these are two networks with conflicting business interests,” said Lampley. Mayweather receives an executive producer credit on all of his broadcasts which means that there will be no mention of his past domestic abuse criminal issues.
HBO produced shoulder programming called “Mayweather vs Pacquiao: At Last”. Showtime did their shoulder programming called “Inside Mayweather vs Pacquiao”. There has been a ton of boxing leading up to this fight on both HBO and Showtime, as well as the debut of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions across multiple networks and cable stations. The debut of Haymon’s promotion has created the biggest promotional war in boxing history with Haymon on one side with his networks and Wall Street money and practically everyone else on the other side, with Haymon’s primary opponents being HBO, Top Rank (Arum), and Golden Boy (Oscar De La Hoya).
The MGM Grand is scaled to generate $74 million in revenue, more than three times boxing’s record gate. That is $14 million ahead of this year’s SuperBowl, making it the highest grossing live sports event in history.
A deal terms memo was signed by both sides in February, but a contract wasn’t signed until about ten days ago due to a dispute over ticket allotments. Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS, stepped in to bring both sides together and end the dispute, as did Senator Harry Reid, who phoned Arum while negotiations were ongoing.
“We had a deal with Mayweather Promotions, and then they used the MGM to try to erode our rights. And we stood steadfast and we wouldn’t let that happen, and finally we made a deal, a correct deal, and the fight is going ahead. It’s as simple as that,” said Arum.
“Senator Reid considers it part of his basic responsibility as Nevada’s senator to put Nevada first and fight for Nevada’s economy,” said Kristen Orthman, Reid’s deputy communications director. “He has had a number of discussions to ensure the success of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, as he should because that’s his job.”
“The reason this fight is in Las Vegas is because Floyd Mayweather insisted it be in Las Vegas,” said Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions who acts as Mayweather’s promoter because Al Haymon is prevented by federal law from being both promoter and manager. “It’s no secret that Bob is the one who wanted to shop the fight around. You have to remember, he went on a profanity-laced tirade ridiculing the MGM and its management. We’re not falling for those tactics. Every time he doesn’t get his way, he goes running to the press misrepresenting the facts.”
“We promoted Mayweather’s last ten fights, I believe,” Oscar De La Hoya chimed in regarding the ticket problems. “The promotions all were great. Everything was smooth. We never came across any problems whatsoever. This is mind-boggling. This is shocking, but at the same time, we understand what is going on. This is the Al [Haymon] factor. This is what you get when you deal with Al.”
“I would be on the phone with one guy and hear how he viewed it and then I’d talk to the other and hear that he viewed it completely different,” said Moonves. “Ironically, what the issue was, was interpretation of the contract. I’m no lawyer, but here I was talking to one and he’d say, ‘This means this, and then I’d get on with the other side and he’d say, ‘No, this means that.’
“I’ve been trying to be the voice of reason, not that either side became totally unreasonable,” continued Moonves. “But basically, I became the voice of compromise. This was similar to some negotiations but different in other ways, so I threw out ideas that might work for both of them. ‘What do you need?’ and ‘What do you need?’ We just had to see how far we could push before it went over the edge.”
“All we wanted was for them to live up to what was in that term sheet. But we knew whose side Les was on, quite obviously, but he did a good job,” said Arum, referring to Moonves siding with Mayweather, who is under contract to Showtime.
“This has been a very complex event, and we are pleased to have resolved the outstanding issues,” said Richard Sturm, president of entertainment and sports for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, who has had issues with Arum in the past when the MGM Grand advertised Mayweather during a fight promoted by Top Rank at the MGM Grand.
Only about 500 of 16,000 available tickets went on sale to the public, selling out in under a minute. Highest ticket prices were $10,000, which did not go on sale to the public. Neither did any floor seats. The most expensive tickets available for public consumption were $7,500. The rest of the tickets were sold privately by Mayweather, Top Rank, and MGM Grand. Tickets on the secondary market have gone for as high as $250,000. 50,000 closed circuit tickets in Las Vegas have sold out. Closed-circuit tickets in Las Vegas were $150.
That Arum, Haymon, HBO, and Showtime were able to work together on this one is a testament to opportunism. It should also tell you who actually pulls the strings in boxing. It was rumoured that Moonves told Stephen Espinoza (president of Showtime) not to give Haymon any dates on Showtime until Mayweather-Pacquiao was made. CBS is the parent company of Showtime. Arum and Haymon had at least two face-to-face meetings at Moonves’ Los Angeles home. Arum was Mayweather’s promoter until the two sides split in 2006. Arum blames Haymon for the split.
“We have an extraordinary relationship with Al Haymon and done a number of fights with him,” Moonves said. “He has been an extraordinary partner, always a gentleman to deal with.”
“One of the main reasons why this deal got done, as opposed to deals in the past, was because Leslie Moonves was a part of the process,” said Espinoza. “He was deeply committed to making this deal and was someone that all parties in this negotiation really respect. He was really the catalyst for seeing this through and refused to take no for an answer from any side.”
Bob Arum has had issues with Moonves when he brought Pacquiao versus Shane Mosley to Showtime, before taking Pacquiao back to HBO. Arum and Moonves were friends before the incident, but hadn’t spoken since. But Arum being in Moonves’ good graces is important for Arum’s promotion, Top Rank, because of the promotional war between Arum and Haymon. Besides having a deal with CBS, Haymon also manages fighters that compete on Showtime. This includes Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, who Haymon stole from Arum last year. Chavez’s deal with Haymon resulted in a lawsuit between Chavez and Arum that was settled out of court earlier this year.
“Les was the difference, in my opinion, on why it happened this time and not other times we tried. But you never look back at the road that you took. You always look at the result — and we got a fight done didn’t we? — so yeah, it was worth it,” said Arum.
Moonves was approached by an intermediary representing Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, who told Moonves that Roach and Pacquiao were interested in getting the fight with Mayweather done. “Freddie said, ‘I want the fight to happen, Manny wants the fight to happen,'” Moonves said. “We had a good talk and I realized it wouldn’t get done without Bob [Arum].”
“[Moonves and I] talked about Manny’s future and he wanted to know if I could get Manny in front of him,” said Roach. “I told him you can’t do that because Manny is with Top Rank. He thought the contract was over. He said Bob promised him two more fights [after the Mosley fight] and ‘I’m not going to meet with that motherfucker.’ He was mad at Bob for not giving him the fights he thought he owed him. I told Les, ‘It would be really good to talk to Bob. You need to let everything go and talk to him.’ He said, ‘I’m not kissing his ass.’ It wasn’t going very well. I told Les, ‘Let’s make this happen. You can make this happen.'”
“I called Bob up and said, ‘I met with Les and he wanted to meet with Manny but I told him Manny re-signed with you,” Roach said. “Bob said, ‘F— him.’ Bob was mad at Les too. But I said to myself if I can just get these two together that’s the best way for the fight to happen.”
Moonves and Arum had a face-to-face meeting at Arum’s home in Los Angeles. “The only thing I said to them is that they should get somebody neutral to negotiate the fight, like Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. They told me to go fuck myself,” said Roach.
“This will be huge. So, yes, there was a business interest in getting this done,” Moonves said. “But I also felt the importance of this fight for the boxing industry and for the sport. That kept me going. This was more than just a business deal to me. You’d have to be born on Mars not to know that the world wanted this fight. We have this deal with Floyd and it’s in the back of everyone’s mind: How do we make this deal happen?”
Mayweather and Pacquiao met face-to-face on January 27th when both were courtside for an NBA game in Miami, discussing a potential fight during half-time. HBO and Showtime executives also had a face-to-face meeting in New York in January.
This isn’t the first time HBO and Showtime have worked together. They did a joint production of Lennox Lewis versus Mike Tyson in 2002, where the network whose fighter won got replay rights and paid the other network $3 million. Lewis was controlled by HBO and Tyson by Showtime. Lewis won. For Mayweather-Pacquiao, though, HBO was rumoured to be pushing for simultaneous replay rights, which should tell you who HBO thinks will win this fight despite Pacquiao being their guy. Both sides ended up agreeing to simultaneous replays.
Mayweather used to fight for HBO, but in 2013 left the station to sign with Showtime. He has two fights left that include guarantees of at least $32 million per fight. Pacquiao is under contract to HBO and its parent company, Time Warner. There is no rematch clause, probably because getting these two sides to come together for this fight at least once has been something of a miracle.
Even though the two networks are co-producing the pay per view, dealings between HBO and Showtime in the build to the fight have been hostile at best. At a press conference on Wednesday, Arum and Ken Hershman of HBO made comments alluding to HBO putting on better fights than Showtime. Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza responded to their comments by saying that, “for all the talk of networks, this isn’t about networks or about a bunch of guys in suits in New York City or promoters.”
“Bob, Showtime has the biggest star in sports and the best fighter in the world,” added Ellerbe after Arum and Hershman referred to HBO as the best premium channel.
“Neither network is used to working with another network. And there are differences in the way we market, in the way we produce, in the way we go about our business,” said Espinoza. “But ultimately, what we discovered was that, in combining those, we got the best of both approaches.”
Thom Loverro of the Washington Times notes that HBO and Showtime are united by a common enemy in Haymon, whose business model of airing quality boxing matches on free network television damages the business of both HBO and Showtime. Loverro is a bit off, though, as Haymon works with CBS and Showtime and CBS would likely stand to benefit if Haymon wins this promotional war. HBO, however, would not.
Mayweather-Pacquiao has been a few years in the making. The two sides originally began negotiating for a fight in 2009, which would have occurred on March 13th, 2010 and would have included a fifty-fifty revenue split for both sides. At the time both Mayweather and Pacquiao were with HBO.
The fight fell through when Pacquiao wouldn’t agree to enhanced PED testing, including blood and urine testing. Pacquiao has a phobia of giving blood, although apparently that hasn’t been an issue in 2015. Pacquiao ended up suing Mayweather for defamation regarding comments Mayweather made about Pacquiao and PEDs. The suit was settled out of court in 2012 for an alleged seven figures. There were other rumoured attempts to put the fighter together in 2010 and 2012. In 2012, Mayweather offered Pacquiao a flat $40 million fee without revenue sharing, which Pacquiao declined.
“More people are interested and informed about this fight now than they would’ve been five years ago,” said Pacquiao.
“We wouldn’t have gotten a fraction of these numbers if we made the fight five years ago,” Arum said.
There has also been heat between Mayweather and Pacquiao building to the fight once again over PED testing. Pacquiao’s side suggested a $5 million fine for failing a drug test. Mayweather declined. The issue led to a lot of negative comments in the media from both sides. The fine may have been suggested by Pacquiao’s camp to diminish any negativity Pacquiao might receive for declining enhanced testing back in 2009.
“We have no recourse. We can’t force Floyd into something. But we gave them an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and they wouldn’t. I won’t speculate why,” said Michael Koncz, an advisor to Pacquiao. “To me there is no legitimate argument. We know we’re clean. That’s why Manny said he would pay $5 million if he tested dirty. Manny was surprised [Mayweather refused]. He can’t figure out why they wouldn’t agree to it when Floyd is always talking about cleaning up the sport of boxing.”
“If Manny Pacquiao tested positive it is going to cost him a whole lot more than $5 million. All parties signed a contract agreeing to every term,” said Ellerbe. “Where has this idiot Koncz been? It sounds like he didn’t read the documents they signed. No wonder why his fighter is always confused. It sounds like that idiot is suggesting there’s a $5 million price tag if Manny comes up positive. That sounds suspicious. All I know is we welcome random testing as we always have.”
“Ellerbe is just a puppet,” Koncz said, in regards to the ticket problems. “Haymon’s back there pulling the strings. There was an agreement signed back in February that specified that both sides have to be signatories to [the contract with the MGM]. Now, all of a sudden, after we did all this work to get a deal done, they don’t want to live up to the deal they signed.”
The Nevada State Athletic Commission randomly tested both Pacquiao and Mayweather on December 30th, 2009. Both men passed. The tests were for urine only, not the more thorough blood or carbon isotope testing. “I thought the fight was going to happen and so I went ahead and ordered it,” said Keith Kizer, who was executive director of the NSAC at the time. Pacquiao and Mayweather have now been tested at least seven times apiece for this bout.
No matter who wins the actual fight, Mayweather-Pacquiao will go down in history as one of the key events of the biggest promotional war in boxing history. The landscape of the boxing industry is going to change over the next few years for better or worse depending on the success of Premier Boxing on network television, HBO’s response to Premier’s success (or lack thereof), and the ability to create new stars that can generate revenue like Mayweather or Pacquiao on pay per view.