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Scott Christ | April 29, 2015

Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

The complete timeline for the fight of the century

For over five years now, the world has waited. On May 2, the wait finally ends. Floyd Mayweather will face Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and when all is said and done, only one thing is for sure: the fight will make more money than any fight has ever made in history.

The journey to this genuine mega-fight began late in 2009, though the thought of the fight, once an illogical dream if anything, had started creeping in a year earlier, when Pacquiao dismantled Oscar De La Hoya.

The De La Hoya-Pacquiao event never should have happened. Oscar De La Hoya had carried the sport on his back for years, as overall interest waned in the mid-90s through the early-00s, a result of the sport’s inaccessibility to casual fans who were unwilling or unable to pay for expensive pay-per-views, or subscriptions to HBO and Showtime, where all of the sport’s best fights were seen. Prizefighting, of course, has always been a business, but premium cable and pay-per-view demanded more of the audience, and with too many fights that turned out to be carefully matched, one-sided affairs that ran the fan base between $30 and $50, or a monthly $15-20 subscription fee, that audience began to go away.

The rise of mixed martial arts and Ultimate Fighting Championship also did some damage. A newer, fresher sport, offering a similar visceral feeling to those who watched, may not have stolen boxing’s audience, per se, but it gave people another reason to lean away from the sweet science.

Through all of the "dark" periods for the sport of boxing, however, the big fights have always sold. Even if boxing is not the mainstream attraction it once was (it’s not), and even if it never becomes that again (it seems highly unlikely that it will), it is a sport woven into the fabric of American culture, and of sporting culture worldwide. Arguably the most famous athlete of the 20th century was "The Greatest," Muhammad Ali. Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson, Rocky Marciano and even the fictional Rocky Balboa; all of them have becoming sporting royalty.

2007-08: The Fall of De La Hoya

Oscar De La Hoya won a memorable Olympic gold medal in 1992 in Barcelona, fulfilling the dying wish of his beloved mother, Cecilia, who passed away in 1990 from breast cancer. His journey to the gold was heavily covered by American media, and De La Hoya was easy to like. A handsome, Mexican-American fighter from East Los Angeles, he had a natural charm and charisma that many took to, and he was heavily hyped and promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank when he turned pro in November 1992.

By 2006, De La Hoya had been boxing’s biggest attraction for several years. Losses never seemed to derail him much, as he would simply come back and fight again. But an attempt to win the middleweight championship in 2004 proved truly out of his reach. He first struggled in a highly disputed win over Felix Sturm in June 2004, and then three months later was viciously knocked out by Bernard Hopkins. He didn’t fight again until May 2006, when he returned to reclaim his throne as the king of pay-per-view with a victory over Ricardo Mayorga, a trash-talking Nicaraguan bad guy who wasn’t much of a boxer, but could brawl and sell a fight with his words.

A sixth round knockout win set up De La Hoya to face pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather on Cinco de Mayo in 2007. The fight demolished records for gate in Nevada and pay-per-view, both in terms of number of buys and revenue, beating the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight from 2002.

Mayweather, who had long been considered one of the best fighters in the sport, had never been a star attraction. But that changed when he created a "Money Mayweather" character on the first run of HBO’s "24/7" series in build-up to the fight. He became the ultimate villain for De La Hoya. And then he beat him. A superstar was born.

When a rematch fell through and Mayweather announced a retirement from the sport in 2008, HBO analyst Larry Merchant floated a crazy idea to match De La Hoya against Manny Pacquiao, a rising star who had gone from flyweight (112 lbs) all the way to lightweight, winning world titles at 112, 122, 130, and 135.

Pacquiao, billed at 5’6", was a full four inches shorter than De La Hoya, who had been fighting for years as a welterweight and junior middleweight (154 lbs). Many in and around the fight game expected a massacre of Pacquiao, who was jumping up to 147, the division De La Hoya was returning to after many years at 154. Oscar was expected to be too big and strong  for Manny, a "little guy" who had just one fight in his career above 130 pounds.

It was a massacre, alright, but it was Pacquiao delivering the beating, as he used his speed, his clever angles, and his accuracy to dart in and out, lacing De La Hoya with punches that a seemingly drained Oscar could no longer see coming. With De La Hoya’s face being beaten to a pulp, he quit after eight rounds, having won none of them.

De La Hoya’s time was over. He officially retired in April 2009, and has not fought since. He’d made one superstar in Mayweather, and then that one left the sport. Another swooped in. That was Pacquiao.

2009: Pacquiao Dominates, Mayweather Returns

In May 2009, Pacquiao moved down to 140 pounds to challenge that division’s reigning champion, Ricky Hatton, who had himself fought Floyd Mayweather at welterweight in December 2007. Hatton, a popular and lovable British mauler, figured to match up a little better with Manny than he had with Floyd, who picked him apart before cracking him with a check hook the 10th round, forcing the referee to stop the fight.

Hatton brought his rowdy fans over to Las Vegas with him once again for what was expected to be a war. Instead, it was a blowout. Hatton was dropped two times in the first round, badly struggling with the speed of Pacquiao, and though he did a bit better in the second round, the fight ended there. With just seconds remaining until the round came to an end, Pacquiao unleashed a left hand that smacked into Hatton’s jaw, emitting a wicked sound on impact, and knocking Hatton flat out on the canvas, where he remained for several minutes.

Earlier that very day, Mayweather announced his return to boxing for a September fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, a past Pacquiao rival who had given Manny hell in 2004 and 2008. When Mayweather and Marquez met, it was a wipeout, and Floyd re-staked his claim to being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, 15 months after announcing his retirement, and 21 months after last fighting.

That win was not given much credit at the time, as Marquez had himself come up from lightweight for the fight, and looked smaller than Mayweather. But in the years since, Marquez has gone on to have success as a welterweight, including two more fights with Pacquiao, that have aged Mayweather’s win over him pretty well.

In November 2009, Pacquiao returned to action, again as a welterweight against Miguel Cotto, one of the top stars in the sport. It was a fairly even fight for a couple of rounds, with both men landing good shots, until Pacquiao dropped Cotto in the third and fourth rounds, and took over from there. It was all one-way action after that, until finally, with Cotto in retreat and his face resembling De La Hoya’s from the year prior, referee Kenny Bayless stopped the fight 55 seconds into the final round.

December 2009: Fight On, Fight Off

March 13, 2010 should have been the date for Mayweather vs Pacquiao. On December 5, 2009, ESPN reported that Pacquiao had signed a contract to face Mayweather on that date. Pacquiao denied the report.

Documents obtained by Yahoo! Sports in 2012 show that on December 11, 2009, De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, representing Mayweather, sent a contract Top Rank, representing Pacquiao, for a fight on that date.

There was to be a 50-50 split of the revenue between the two promotional companies, with everything laid out including who would weigh in first on March 12, who would enter the ring first, and all the other minutiae that sometimes constitutes a strange sticking point when negotiations for big fights happen. There was even an artist’s rendering of a temporary, 40,000-seat stadium that would have been erected at a vacant lot across from the Luxor in Las Vegas.

Richard Schaefer, who was then the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, denied ever sending the deal. Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, also called the report nonsense. But that was two years later, when the idea of Mayweather-Pacquiao was about to change substantially, so let’s stay on December 2009, when everything was close and then fell to pieces.

The main (perhaps only) issue at that time was the subject of drug testing. Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, told reporter Elie Seckbach at the time that Mayweather and his team, including Golden Boy’s Schaefer, had requested "Olympic-style" drug testing, the same as Mayweather had used for his September 2009 fight against Juan Manuel Marquez. Roach said that they’d accepted, and that after Team Pacquiao did so, Mayweather’s side were "running scared again."

There were whispers at the time, much of it coming from Mayweather’s team, that Pacquiao had been abusing performance-enhancing drugs, though he had never failed a drug test. Michael Koncz, an adviser to Pacquiao, said at the time, "We know Manny doesn’t take any illegal drugs or anything, and none of this is getting under Manny’s skin or anything. I’m here with Manny, and to him, it’s, like, a joke. It’s a laughing matter."

Nine days after that statement, everything collapsed. Golden Boy Promotions sent out a press release saying that Pacquiao had refused the drug testing that Mayweather wanted leading up to the fight, and the next day, Bob Arum abandoned any negotiations, killing the fight. The reasoning, however, left a lot of boxing fans scratching their heads.

Arum said that Pacquiao had agreed to random urinalysis and blood testing before a press conference and after the fight, but that Mayweather wanted random testing up to the weigh-in, as he had done with Marquez. "He knew that Manny gets freaked out when his blood gets taken and feels that it weakens him," Arum told the Grand Rapids Press. "This is just harassment and, to me, just signaled that he didn’t want the fight."

To this day, the "Manny’s afraid of needles" excuse has never sat well with a lot of boxing fans.

But shortly after Arum’s statement that they were giving up on the fight, he put out a take-it-or-leave-it offer. According to Top Rank’s press release, Pacquiao was willing to submit to a random urine test at any point before the fight, but would only submit to three blood tests: one in January, one 30 days before the fight, and one immediately following the fight. Arum also ruled out the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as an agency they would accept administering the tests, calling their standard of testing blood up to the weigh-in day before the fight "ludicrous."

Mayweather’s side countered back with an offer that would have cut off blood testing 14 days before the fight. None of this went anywhere, other than creating more tension between the two parties. Any realistic chance of the fight happening in March 2010 had died.

On December 30, Pacquiao filed a lawsuit in Nevada against Floyd Mayweather, Floyd Mayweather Sr, Roger Mayweather, Mayweather Promotions, and Golden Boy Promotions, alleging defamatory statements accusing Pacquiao of using PEDs. Golden Boy settled in May 2011, releasing a statement that said they never intended to accuse Pacquiao of using PEDs.

In January 2010, Leonard Ellerbe announced to the Grand Rapids Press that all of Mayweather’s future opponents would be undergoing random blood and urine testing, or they wouldn’t be fighting Floyd Mayweather. Those tests would go "all the way up to the fight," Mayweather said in February.

Pacquiao fought and defeated Joshua Clottey at Cowboys Stadium on March 13, while Mayweather took a fight with Shane Mosley for May 1, and also was victorious.

2010: Round Two

After the two fighters won their early 2010 bouts, Arum announced that he’d targeted November 13 as Pacquiao’s next fight date, and that he was willing to again negotiate with Mayweather for that night. A week later in May, Pacquiao told the Manila Bulletin that he was open to drug testing, if the blood testing ended two weeks before the fight, something Mayweather had already offered in January, and then dismissed as a future possibility after it was left on the table.

In June, De La Hoya told Republica Deportiva, a sports show on Univision, that the fight was "really close" to being finalized. Oscar claimed the next week that he had been misquoted, with Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer flat out denying that there were negotiations for the fight. Shortly after that, Arum said that all issues with drug testing had been resolved, and that it was up to Mayweather. A deadline was issued for July 16 for Mayweather to accept the fight.

When the deadline passed without an acceptance from Mayweather, Arum told media on a conference call that he had not, in fact, had any direct contact with anyone from Golden Boy or Mayweather’s team, including powerful adviser Al Haymon. Arum said he had spoken only with HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg, who spoke with Arum and Haymon, and then relayed information from those parties to the other.

Ellerbe and Schaefer denied that any of this happened at all. Haymon, who does not speak with media, was silent as always. Greenburg denied commenting on the situation at first, but revealed in late July that he had been speaking with someone from both sides to try to put the fight together. Schaefer again denied that any of this happened, and even challenged the President of HBO Sports as well as Arum to take a lie detector test. From there, everything just got worse.

2010-12: A Dead Issue

Nothing that happened in the next four years indicated that boxing fans would ever see the fight they so desperately yearned to see. In September 2010, Mayweather went live on his Ustream channel, going on a tirade filled with profanity, racist terms, and homophobic slurs. The next day, Mayweather apologized, and said he wasn’t racist.

10 months later, Arum told ESPN that Pacquiao would do the random drug testing, but only if USADA were not handling the drug testing, as he felt USADA was not a neutral organization. That claim was refuted a day later by Pacquiao adviser Michael Koncz, who said it was still up to Manny, and that he had not agreed to anything.

In early 2012, it was reported that Mayweather and Pacquiao had their first direct communication, fighter to fighter, when Floyd called Manny on the telephone and told him that a 50-50 split was no longer doable. Mayweather offered Pacquiao a flat $40 million purse but no share of the revenue. Pacquiao said he couldn’t take that deal, but that he would agree to a 55-45 split in Mayweather’s favor.

2012 was a rocky year for both fighters. Mayweather returned on May 5 and defeated Miguel Cotto over 12 rounds in a fight that was seen as surprisingly competitive, but nonetheless a Mayweather win. Less than a month later, Mayweather reported to the Clark County Detention Center to begin serving an 87-day jail sentence for domestic abuse, to which he had been sentenced in December 2011. He was released after two months on August 3, and didn’t fight again for the remainder of the year.

Pacquiao’s next fight came on June 9, and was arguably the most controversial bout in recent memory. Facing undefeated Timothy Bradley, Pacquiao appeared to comfortably win the fight over 12 rounds, but the judges came back with two scores for Bradley, and one for Pacquiao, resulting in a split decision loss. It was Pacquiao’s first loss since a 2005 defeat against Erik Morales.

The loss was viewed as a robbery by boxing fans and media, to the point that few even took it seriously as something that should be held against Pacquiao. But it was a loss all the same, and in the event of any negotiations with Mayweather resuming in the future, it weakened Pacquiao’s position financially, which was something Floyd and his team had already specifically targeted.

One positive for the neverending saga between the two fighters did come in September, when the two sides settled out of court on that defamation suit from 2009, with the Mayweathers named in the suit (Floyd, his father Floyd Sr, and his uncle Roger), releasing a statement that said much the same thing that Golden Boy’s settlement statement did in 2011, that they never meant to accuse Pacquiao of using performance-enhancing drugs, and that they were not aware of any evidence that he had.

Pacquiao fought again late in the year, ignoring the idea of a rematch with Bradley, instead signing for a fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, which was a guaranteed bigger money maker and PPV hit. The public largely felt that Pacquiao had already beaten Bradley, and there was no desire to see the fight again so quickly. Marquez, however, had arguments in fights from 2004 (draw), 2008 (close loss), and 2011 (close loss), all fights that the Mexican star felt he deserved to have won. On December 8, 2012, Marquez left no doubt. In a furious fight where both hit the canvas and looked determine not to let it go to the judges again, Marquez flattened Pacquiao with a right hand just before the bell in round six. Pacquiao didn’t get up. This loss was real.

2013: Brand Rehab

Mayweather and Pacquiao entered 2013 seeming truly separate for the first time in years. Though there was certainly still some desire for the fight, it had greatly lessened as soon as Marquez KO’d Pacquiao in front of a huge global audience. Mayweather, too, had been on the sidelines after his jail stint. Both fighters needed to do some rehabilitation of their brands, for very different reasons.

Mayweather dropped a bomb in February 2013, announcing that he was leaving HBO Sports for a record six-fight deal with CBS Sports and Showtime. It was an enormous get for SHO Sports, which had long been a distant second to HBO in the boxing game. The move also led to Golden Boy Promotions and Al Haymon, two separate entities with ties to Mayweather, taking their vast array of fighters over to Showtime.

In May, Floyd returned to action against Robert Guerrero in his Showtime pay-per-view debut. It was a win as easy as it was expected to be, as the year off and the two-month jail stint of the summer of 2012 had not faded Mayweather much, and certainly not nearly enough for the good-but-not-great Guerrero to give him much real trouble.

Pacquiao remained out of action while Floyd signed a second fight for 2013, a September 14 bout with Canelo Alvarez, a huge star in Mexico emerging as a marquee player in the United States, as well. Alvarez, unbeaten and just 23 years old, was a fighter many felt Floyd would avoid facing, but Mayweather took the fight, which promised enormous money.

Though the naturally bigger man, Alvarez never seemed to bother Mayweather on fight night, and Floyd won handily, despite scorecards that came back with a majority decision in his favor. (The judge who scored it a draw for Alvarez was essentially forced into retirement, and has not worked since.)

While the fight with Guerrero returned disappointing pay-per-view numbers, the Alvarez fight did not. Mayweather-Guerrero was said to have come in at about 850,000 buys, a big number but proving at long last that Mayweather, like Pacquiao, was no longer an instant one million buys on pay-per-view. Pacquiao had lost his streak with the fight against Tim Bradley in 2012, and the public was making it fairly clear that even though everyone could still make a lot of money, a B-side that the fans believed in to some degree was now necessary for the figures to hit the seventh digit.

Alvarez was such a fighter. An all-out promotional blitz wasn’t even really necessary, but it certainly helped. The fight generated $150 million in pay-per-view revenue, eclipsing De La Hoya-Mayweather from 2007, even though it fell slightly short of the 2.48 million buys record, coming in with 2.2 million. In the ring, the fight did not live up to the hype, but the event certainly did.

On the other end of that spectrum, however, was Pacquiao’s November clash with Brandon Rios, a tough but limited brawler meant to bring Pacquiao back with an exciting victory. Pacquiao faced Rios in Macau, where Arum had been looking to expand boxing operations with major events after scoring a hit with two-time Chinese Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming’s pro bouts.

Pacquiao routed Rios over 12 rounds, but the fight was a commercial dud in the United States, with about 475,000 buys according to HBO. The company’s president of pay-per-view, Mark Taffet, said that anything over 350,000 was a success for an overseas event in their minds, but the gap between Mayweather and Pacquiao as commercial entities had never looked wider.

In December 2013, Mayweather firmly stated what many had suspected: that his former promoter, Bob Arum, was (at least in Mayweather’s mind) the biggest reason the fight would not happen. "The reason why the fight won’t happen is because I will never do business with Bob Arum again," he said.

2014: More of the Same

The year started with a bit of taunting on both sides. Mayweather told FightHype, his outlet of choice, that Pacquiao was chasing a fight with him due to tax problems. Pacquiao responded by offering to fight Mayweather for charity. None of it was anything new or legitimate, but it happened.

The trend of Mayweather beating Pacquiao convincingly in PPV sales continued in 2014, though less dramatically than it looked in 2013. Mayweather signed to fight Argentina’s Marcos Maidana on May 3, and the fight reportedly did about 900,000 buys on pay-per-view. After a competitive fight that saw the rugged Maidana give Mayweather some early problems, a rematch was signed for September 13, with the hope that the second fight, getting some buzz from a pretty exciting first outing, would top a million. It did not, coming in at 925,000 buys, only marginally better.

Pacquiao also got back to fighting twice per year once again. In April, he rematched Timothy Bradley, this time getting the decision he deserved. The rematch sold less than their 2012 fight, which had come in at around 890,000 buys, down to between 750-800,000 for the second go, which promoter Arum admitted was "a disappointment."

In November, he returned to Macau to face Chris Algieri, a young junior welterweight who had scored an upset of Ruslan Provodnikov in June. Algieri, though, was still a relative unknown, with just one HBO fight previously, and now was being put into a PPV position. The fight wasn’t expected to be a blockbuster hit, but though nothing was ever confirmed, the most widely reported number for sales was a paltry 300,000 buys. The most positive spin anyone put forward was that the fight had reached 400,000 buys.

Whereas in 2009-12, Mayweather and Pacquiao were doing largely similar numbers with an edge to Mayweather, the difference had now become dramatic. Years of the fight that everyone wanted to see being pushed aside for "replacement" fights had taken a toll. So, too, had Pacquiao’s pair of 2012 losses — even if one was highly suspect, the other was not.

There was a growing feeling that the two men had both passed their primes, and that the fight could never be what it would have been in 2010. This meant that if the fight were ever on the table again, Mayweather would be demanding even more. And this time, it would be really hard to argue.

2014-15: There's a Light

On December 12, 2014, Floyd Mayweather made an appearance on a Showtime boxing broadcast to be interviewed by Steve Farhood. He started by talking about his promotional company, which had come into its own over the past couple of years.

When Farhood brought up Pacquiao, it was clearly nicely set up for Mayweather to make a challenge, while giving his side of the story. There had been rumors of negotiations for the fight happening once again, and Floyd wisely jumped on top of it in a public way.

"I would love to fight Manny Pacquiao. We tried to make the fight happen years ago. We had problems with random blood and urine testing," Mayweather said. "I just want to be on an even playing field.

"Now he’s in a very tight situation. He’s lost to Marquez, he’s lost to Bradley, his pay-per-view numbers are down extremely low. So he’s desperate. I wanted that fight a long time ago. I’m just waiting on them."

Mayweather added that the fight would have to happen on Showtime pay-per-view, where he had two fights remaining on his contract. Pacquiao, however, was signed to HBO Sports, and that presented another roadblock. Would the two companies be able to work together, as they had for the Lewis-Tyson fight in 2002?

For many, it was tough to take the new discussions seriously. We’d all been here before.

January 2015 saw almost constant reports on the negotiations, with both sides looking to give their side of the story as to why the fight wasn’t yet signed. There were reports that it was on, which was always quickly refuted by someone from the other side. On January 13, it was said that Pacquiao had agreed to terms, and that Mayweather’s side was holding up the finalization of the fight. Two weeks passed, with none of that going anywhere.

Something unusual happened on January 27, though. At an NBA game in Miami between the Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks, there were a couple of big basketball fans in attendance. One was Floyd Mayweather. The other was Manny Pacquiao. The two spoke briefly at courtside, and their presence at the game was noted to those in attendance on the Heat’s video screen. It was said that they exchanged numbers and were friendly.

A couple of days later, it was reported that the two met privately after the game in Pacquiao’s hotel suite. It was described as a productive discussion where Mayweather presented what he felt were the final issues, a big one being the completion of the broadcast between HBO and Showtime, which was still a major sticking point.

TMZ reported just after that that the fight had been agreed to, but Bob Arum and Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza quickly shot that down. Espinoza made clear that the issues between HBO and Showtime were still being worked out. There was also a report that HBO may have been trying to drag their feet, waiting for Mayweather to finish out his contract with Showtime and have the fight all to themselves in 2016. The network quickly responded with a press release, marking the first time they had publicly acknowledged their involvement in negotiations for the fight.

There were rumors of a Super Bowl announcement, but the game came and went with nothing new. Early February saw Bob Arum take heat from both sides, including his son-in-law Todd duBoef, a high-ranking Top Rank executive. With the clock ticking, everything seemed to take a step forward, then a step back, then one forward, then two back. Then, it finally happened.

February 20, 2015: It’s On

Floyd Mayweather officially announced that he would be fighting Manny Pacquiao. February 20, 2015 was the day that the five-year journey to get to Mayweather vs Pacquiao finally reached its conclusion.

Reaction was unanimously positive. Though there were still those who said that the fight was happening too late, at least it was finally happening. On March 11, the two went face-to-face for the first time at their one and only press conference in Los Angeles. It was decided that with just over two months before fight night, there was no need to make the fighters run around to promote a bout that had already been promoted for half a decade.

The drug testing is in place, as Mayweather wanted. The networks are set to work together, sending the best of their best to call the fight as one unit in Las Vegas. The promotional quirks (it’s Mayweather-Pacquiao, never Pacquiao-Mayweather), the weigh-in, who enters first, who gets announced first, what belts are on the line — it’s all good to go.

In truth, the Mayweather-Pacquiao build these last two months has lacked some of the aggressively manufactured buzz of past fights that have featured both stars. Some is because the promoters and networks have not tried so hard to sell a fight that doesn’t need it. Some is simply because a lot of people are sick of talking about it, and just want to see it happen. At long last, on May 2, we will.

It took a long time, but we’re finally here.

About the Author

Started with SB Nation in 2005, and with Bad Left Hook in 2006.