During their storied boxing careers Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao have always claimed to fight for the entertainment of their fans. For more than two years those fans have been clamoring for the two men, the most popular and greatest boxers in the world today, to face each other in the ring. Like a pugilistic version of Waiting for Godot, the two men have never fought, content to make a variety of excuses, fight a string of easy opponents, and blame each other for the megafight never occurring. Both men appear to have worked in concert not to fight each other — even though that event would be the most lucrative of all time, possibly paying each fighter $40 million. Both men have probably realized that by not fighting each other, they can make almost as much money taking on less risky opponents while preserving their aura of invincibility.
That is why Floyd Mayweather Jr. will face Miguel Cotto on May 5 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Manny Pacquiao, who defeated Cotto by TKO in a ferocious display of speed and power in 2009, will fight a yet-to-be-determined opponent on June 9 at the same venue. And once again, after another tiresome round of taunts and teases, they will not face each other. Not that they won't exploit the situation. On Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the announcement of his fight, Mayweather tweeted: "I'm fighting Miguel Cotto on May 5th because Miss Pac Man is ducking me."
A few weeks ago, news of negotiations for the unrealized megafight had given boxing fans a sense of hope. In late December Mayweather was sentenced to 90 days in jail after he pleaded guilty to a reduced battery domestic violence charge and no contest to two harassment charges. The case stemmed from a September 2010 hair-pulling, punching and arm-twisting incident between Mayweather and his ex-girlfriend Josie Harris. Mayweather, 34, was supposed to start his jail sentence in early January, but the judge agreed to postpone the sentence to June 1. The undefeated boxer was cleared to fight on May 5 — which is Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican-American holiday and a popular boxing date. A Mayweather fight could bring millions of dollars to the city's coffers through increased tourism and gambling. Fans wondered: would Mayweather finally fight Pacquiao?
Not long after his sentence was delayed, Mayweather took to Twitter and challenged Pacquiao, a Congressman and sometime game show host in the Philippines. "Manny Pacquiao I'm calling you out let's fight May 5th and give the world what they want to see." "My Jail Sentence was pushed back because the date was locked in. Step up Punk."
Pacquiao, who has openly expressed a desire to be the president of the Philippines one day, countered that he indeed wanted to slug it out with Mayweather. Then the fight negotiations grew comically if expectedly complicated. Earlier this month, Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter traveled to the Philippines with a list of five potential opponents, including Mayweather, to present to his prized client. Nevertheless, when Arum was in the Philippines, he told TIME that fighting on May 5 would not work for Pacquiao. Arum insisted that he wanted to build a temporary 45,000-capacity outdoor arena, across from the Wynn on the Las Vegas Strip, to stage a mega-showdown. The ticketbuyers to the new venue would create an additional $30 million for the fighters, said Arum.
By refusing to fight on May 5 and proposing a new venue, however, Arum put "Money" Mayweather into an awkward position. As part of his argument for a delayed sentence, Mayweather had promised the judge that he would fight on May 5. Arum threw in another wrinkle, saying that the fighters would demand multi-million dollar guarantees. Arum would put up the guaranteed money for Pacquiao but Mayweather, who acts as a free agent, would need to get a group of investors together for his own money guarantee.
Throughout this posturing, the interested parties weren't actually talking with each other. Arum wasn't in contact with long-time concert promoter Al Haymon, Mayweather's key advisor, and he refused to call Golden Boy Promotions, which Mayweather hired to promote his fights. Arum claimed Golden Boy didn't have the resources to come up with a guarantee. Arum also happens to be in a longstanding feud with Golden Boy's principals, Richard Schaefer and Oscar de la Hoya, who Arum once promoted. De la Hoya seems to spend many of his waking hours bashing Arum on Twitter. "The public, ourselves, Mayweather, we're tired of the games," says De la Hoya.
"Everyone wants to make the fight happen except for Bob Arum."
"In all the years I have been in boxing, I have never seen anything like this," says Arum, 80. "Am I completely blameless? No, but the time for crapping around on all sides is over. The blame game is pointless. Of course I want to do the fight. I would like to sit down and negotiate, in good faith, but who speaks for Mayweather? His friend [rap star] 50 Cent? Does Mayweather want to sit down and negotiate for himself? Fine. Let's negotiate. There is a point in time when you have to do this fight, and the time is now."
Arum and Pacquiao have a traditional fighter-promoter arrangement, but Mayweather tends to keep his own counsel and his unpredictable negotiating style has led to odd diversions. In the past, he has insisted that Pacquiao take blood tests apart from the regular drug testing done by boxing's ruling bodies. Paquiao has never tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). When the Filipino agreed to take the Mayweather mandated tests, Mayweather continued to tell people that Pacquiao refused testing. Pacquiao was so insulted by Mayweather's insinuation of PED use that he sued his rival for defamation. Many observers openly said that the bloodtesting issue was likely a stalling tactic by Mayweather, whose perfect 42-0 record looked vulnerable to Pacquiao's then-vaunted quickness and power.
Indeed, before Pacquiao took on a string of has beens and never weres, he looked like one of the best boxers to ever enter the ring and he hasn't lost in seven years. But the Filipino boxer has had two lackluster performances in a row and now looks vulnerable himself. After the PacMan's last fight, a tepid, even controversial, win against Juan Manuel Marquez, 38, in November 2011, Mayweather became more anxious to face Pacquiao. "I like Pacquiao, I really do," says De la Hoya, who has fought and been beaten by Mayweather and Pacquiao. "But I truly feel that Mayweather will beat him easy."
Two weeks ago, perhaps in an attempt at detente, Mayweather placed a call to the Philippines to talk with Pacquiao's business manager. The manager handed the phone to Pacquiao, 33, and the two men chatted for a few minutes. Mayweather, who once went on a racist rant in which he called Pacquiao a "little yellow chump," gave Pacquiao two conditions for a fight: Mayweather said it needed to happen on May 5 — and adding his own deal-killing wrinkle — that the American deserved a bigger share of the purse. Most observers believe both fighters deserve a 50-50 split and any other notion, growls Arum, is "insane."
As the weeks passed by without any real negotiations, it became obvious that the fight wasn't going to happen in May or early June. Arum came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to properly promote an event of such magnitude, probably the biggest in boxing history, unless the fight happened in the fall. He says he approached cable operators, satellite providers and sponsors who told him that even a fight staged in June wouldn't allow them to properly promote it, and they suggested that each fighter have interim spring fights and sign a contract that they would, at last, agree to meet each other on November 9, 2012. "If it doesn't happen in November," says Arum, "it's not ever going to happen."
Given that the two men have been negotiating, or at least pretending to, for the last two years many boxing fans are starting to feel like they are being strung along by two confidence men. Diehard boxing people will settle for watching Mayweather and Pacquiao fight anyone. Both will earn millions of dollars for themselves and their minions, and they will both be prohibitive favorites to win their respective May and June fights. However, the boxers who claim that their utmost desire is to please their fans have once again let them down.