Mayweather-Pacquiao will happen, but not while it's truly significant
Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto were in Harlem to announce their May 5 fight
Cotto is a game opponent, but most want to see Mayweather fight Manny Pacquiao
Random blood testing was once the key point of division; now it's the purse split
NEW YORK -- People always ask me if the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will ever happen.
It will happen. I was sure of it last year and I'm sure of it now.
And I'll be sure next year when we're still waiting, regardless of Mayweather's comments Tuesday that ostensibly sounded a death knell on the most-anticipated bout in more than a decade.
"He faces Floyd Mayweather, he's not getting 50-50," Mayweather said of Pacquiao at a press conference in Harlem to announce a forthcoming fight with Miguel Cotto. "Not at all. No one is getting 50-50."
The latest round of negotiations between the sport's two best pound-for-pound fighters were swift and inauspicious. Mayweather phoned Pacquiao last month to offer him a flat $40 million fee with no cut of the pay-per-view revenue. That, of course, was a non-offer, with TV receipts a virtual shoo-in to exceed $100 million. When Pacquiao advisor Michael Koncz made a reasonable counteroffer -- a $50 million guarantee to each and a 45-45 split of the pay-per-view receipts with the winner collecting the remaining 10 percent -- Mayweather flatly rejected it.
"Mayweather is the cash cow in the sport of boxing," Floyd emphasized Tuesday. "A guy that's a $6 million fighter [like Pacquiao], it's hard for him to negotiate and turn down $40 million. I offered him $40 million, he turned it down and there's nothing I can do."
For years, the issue of random blood testing held up Mayweather-Pacquiao. Now it's the purse split. The real issue is pride.
Bob Arum promotes Pacquiao. Mayweather is his own boss, contracting Golden Boy for promotional duties on a fight-by-fight basis. Arum used to promote Mayweather before Floyd left acrimoniously in 2006. Mayweather would rather pass on the richest prizefight in history than co-promote it with Arum.
Mayweather's comments Tuesday amounted to an ultimatum: Pacquiao must leave Arum for the fight to happen. It's clear Mayweather isn't scared of the Filipino slugger; he's just hell-bent on getting Arum where it hurts.
Yet pride is a depreciating asset. The nine-figure purse for Mayweather-Pacquiao is not. The fight will be salable for years, even as its true significance deteriorates by the day. (Mayweather turned 35 on Friday; Pacquiao is 33.)
The notion of a "sell-by date" in boxing, from a commercial standpoint, is pure rhetoric. Mayweather-Pacquiao became a dream matchup in December 2008, when Manny retired Oscar De La Hoya to join Floyd atop the pound-for-pound summit. How often do the sport's two best fighters, regardless of weight, campaign in the same division? It soon became an obligation: a fight made by the public.
That was 38 months ago. It took nearly twice as long for Marvin Hagler to coax Sugar Ray Leonard into their 1987 fight, years after both had peaked. More recently, the 2002 heavyweight title fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson was made about a decade after it was significant, yet it was the highest grossing pay-per-view event of all time when it happened -- a mark since bested only by Mayweather-De La Hoya in 2007.
It's unfortunate the presently immaterial rumblings of Mayweather-Pacquiao prevailed on a day meant to promote Mayweather's showdown with Cotto, the classy Puerto Rican champion who has rebuilt nicely since a knockout loss to Pacquiao in 2009.
Mayweather-Cotto is a must-see event, but within context it's little more than a marking-time fight. A titleholder in three divisions, Cotto is game but he's a 5-to-1 underdog. (To be fair, there's not a fighter below middleweight besides Pacquiao who wouldn't be a heavy underdog against the unbeaten Mayweather.)
Yet the May 5 Mayweather-Cotto showdown is what hundreds of fans came to celebrate Tuesday at the historic Apollo Theater, an appropriate venue for a self-coined entertainer who's captured the urban market like no fighter since Tyson. The line to enter stretched down 125th Street and around the corner onto Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Inside, warring chants of "Mayweather" and "Cotto" rang from the two mezzanines as a DJ spun hip-hop and urged attendees to "Facebook this!" and "Tweet where you're at!" When the house lights dimmed, a lone trumpeter bathed in red light, wearing curly-toed elf shoes, played a processional as the fighters made their grand entrance, the lusty boos for Mayweather drowning out the cheers.
Indeed, few events in sports can match the pageantry of a Mayweather presser -- from the gilded thrones for the fighters that flanked the dais to the predictable appearance of rapper/entrepreneur 50 Cent. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer repeatedly appealed for order from the raucous crowd, at one point admonishing them with a schoolteacher's diplomacy. "If you guys are not going to be quiet," he said in a stern baritone, "then it's going to be the last time we can [make the press conferences public]."
The fighters said all the right things. Cotto praised Mayweather, promising to "make every Puerto Rican proud." Yet it was Mayweather who preemptively raised the subject of Pacquiao during his five-minute address.
"Pacquiao's an amazing fighter, but if you don't got nothing to hide, then take the test," Mayweather told the fans and media, a once-loaded refrain that now rings hollow considering Pacquiao acquiesced on the drug-testing issue more than a year ago.
Boxing doesn't need Mayweather-Pacquiao to endure -- it's weathered far more threatening scandals, doldrums and attempts at abolition through the years. But to thrive? To reach beyond the devoted base that sustains a level of popularity that far exceeds what the mainstream media acknowledges? It sure could help, even if the fight itself is almost certain to underwhelm after such interminable hype.
Yet neither Arum nor Mayweather are willing to take the long view. At least not yet.
So that's where it stands -- and to characterize the immediate outlook as bleak would be optimistic.
Maybe Mayweather is just waiting to drive the interest up. Maybe he recognizes his slick defensive style is built to last, more so than Pacquiao's fearless pressure-based offense, and knows the wait simply tips the odds further in his favor.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
The only way Mayweather-Pacquiao becomes a priority, radical as it sounds, is if boxing fans speak with their wallets and boycott Mayweather-Cotto and Pacquiao's fight in June with Timothy Bradley. Only when faced with the prospect of financial disaster would Mayweather and Arum consider shelving their personal baggage for the sport's greater good.
Short of that, check back in 2015.
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