About a week ago, UFC boss Dana White ran into Floyd Mayweather at the Hard Rock in Vegas.
“When’s this fight gonna happen?” asked White referring to the prospect of Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao.
“What do you care?” said Mayweather. “You got the UFC.”
“I’m a boxing fan,” said White, who is, in fact, a boxing fan, and from way back.
“Well, I’m not desperate,” sneered Mayweather.
Desperate? Who said anything about desperate?
The man who calls himself “Money” stood to gain between $45 and $60 million fighting Pacquiao, depending on whom you believe. Instead, Mayweather (undefeated in 41 fights) — whose camp has long argued his hypothetical superiority over the likes of such scrubs as Sugar Ray Robinson (with a mere 202 pro bouts) and Muhammad Ali — takes a pass on history and fortune, leaving Pacquiao to fight … Antonio Margarito.
Margarito, you may recall, isn’t licensed to fight in the United States, as other state commissions honor the ruling of California, which suspended him after his trainer was caught applying plaster inserts to his handwraps. Without loaded gloves, Margarito was demolished by Shane Mosley. That was January ’09. His one fight since was a lackluster effort against somebody or other in Mexico. Still, the cheater (and cheating in boxing, where men can be ruined for life, is a bit more egregious than cheating in, say, baseball or chess) is being rewarded. Perhaps it’s needless to say, or merely redundant, that Margarito and Pacquiao are both promoted by Bob Arum.
But blame Arum?
No. Hell no. Not this time.
I’m with Dana White here, a guy who’s had his public spats with both Mayweather and Arum. “It’s Floyd Mayweather’s fault,” he says. “You’re supposed to be a professional.”
Fighters are supposed to fight. What’s more, great fighters are obliged to fight other great ones. “You claim to be the best in the world,” says White. “You should take on the best until you retire, cement your place in history.”
That’s easy for White to say. After all, he controls his fighters. If that’s a subject for another day, it’s also the biggest single reason that mixed-martial arts has overtaken boxing in all but the most rarefied pay-per-view levels. Whatever combat aesthetic you fancy (I prefer boxing), the UFC guarantees that the best fight the best. In boxing, you hope and wait two years, and get what? Pacquiao-Margarito.
“For denying them this fight, boxing fans should never buy another Floyd Mayweather fight as long as they live,” says White.
I’m not prepared to do it — if Mayweather deigns to fight again, I’ll be there, front and center — but I surely understand the sentiments. Everybody from the most casual fans to those with a money stake desperately wanted this fight to happen — except for one guy. That would be Mayweather himself.
The peculiar thing is, he’s not far removed from his most ennobling moment. It came, somewhat improbably, as Mosley wobbled him with a right hand in the second round of their fight at the MGM. Mayweather had never been hurt like that, certainly not as a pro. But he kept his composure and came back to dominate the remaining rounds, more willing than usual to trade punches.
What happened? Mayweather was asked.
“What happened is, I’m a fighter.”
Then you should fight, no?
Next, he was asked about Manny Pacquiao and the negotiations that fell apart apart last winter when Mayweather suddenly became a proponent of Olympic-style drug testing. “If Manny takes the test,” he said, “we can make the fight happen.”
Negotiations for Pacquaio-Mayweather began anew the next day, May 2, according to a statement to be released later today by HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. “I had been negotiating with a representative from each side,” says Greenburg, “… carefully trying to put the fight together.”
Suddenly, drug-testing wasn’t much of an issue. Apparently, Pacquiao agreed to Olympic-style testing that would conclude just two weeks before the fight. The negotiations, with Greenburg as the go-between, lasted about eight weeks. Arum represented Pacquiao. Mayweather was represented by Al Haymon. By reputation, Haymon is extremely bright, inscrutable, and wise enough to never, ever be quoted. He’s a businessman, and if nothing else recognized that Mayweather-Pacquiao was great business.
A source close to the negotiations estimates that the pie — to be split evenly between Pacquaio and Mayweather — could’ve been worth in excess of $120 million with pay-per view revenue and site fees. At three million pay-per-view buys, each fighter stood to collect between $50 and $55 million. At a more modest two million buys, they’d each get about $40 million.
By June, the fight seemed a lock. Oscar De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions partners with Mayweather, was quoted as saying: “The two fighters now realize that this fight must be made … It’s going to be a big, big fight. I think right now we are very, very close in finalizing the contracts.”
On Monday, when Robert Morales of BoxingScene.com caught up with De La Hoya in Los Angeles, the Golden Boy denied it all. “Obviously,” he said, “negotiations weren’t going on.”
Obviously. De La Hoya knew this because last week, after negotiations broke down, Mayweather advisor Leonard Ellerbe issued a press release. “No negotiations have ever taken place,” it read. “… Either Ross Greenburg or Bob Arum is not telling the truth, but history tells us who is lying.”
He was referring to Arum, of course. But now that Greenburg’s release supports Arum’s story, the Mayweather camp has taken to citing a Make A Wish video shot June 2.
“At this particular time,” said Floyd Mayweather, “Floyd Mayweather is taking probably a year off, a couple years off from the sport of boxing.”
Oh. Then why did Haymon keep negotiating for at least another month? Is he that much of a sucker?
“You can’t fault Haymon,” says my source. “He was trying to make this fight.”
There were five guys involved here. Four of them — Pacquiao, Arum, Haymon and Greenburg — worked hard to make it happen. The fifth guy killed it.
It’s been said that Arum should’ve matched his fighter with Andre Berto or Paul Williams, who, at 6-foot-1 is just too big and long for the 5-4 Pacquiao. But they’re both Haymon fighters. Why should Arum reward the guy who couldn’t deliver Mayweather?
Berto and Williams are better fighters than Margarito. But outside of boxing, no one knows their names. At least Margarito — who’ll sell tickets in Mexico, if no where else — has some cachet as a villain.
That’s sad. But sadder still is the prospect of another erstwhile heel, a decade from now.
Money Mayweather is an ex-fighter. Or maybe not. Still loitering at the Hard Rock, though.
“We’ll see,” says Dana White. “We’ll see how desperate he is in 10 years.”