In basketball history, the January 27, 2015 game between the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks at American Airlines Arena won’t hold much significance. In boxing history, however, this random regular-season contest between Eastern Conference fringe contenders is already the stuff of legend.
It was at that game that Manny Pacquiao (below), grounded in southern Florida by a nor’easter that scuttled his flight plans, and Floyd Mayweather (right), a semi-regular at Heat games, had their first ever face-to-face conversation. A 30-second courtside chat gave way to an hour-long postgame powwow in Pacquiao’s hotel room, which led—24 long days later—to a signed contract for the two boxers to finally face off after five years of back-and-forth. The mega-fight will become reality on May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, thanks to the fortuitous encounter at a basketball game that enabled the principals to discuss their intentions, lay out their issues and cut through the bullshit. Fight or flight? Pacquiao couldn’t catch the latter, so he and Mayweather are finally doing the former.
This fight should have happened in 2010, when both fighters were more dominant in-ring forces. But plans for a 2010 face-off were scuttled after Mayweather insisted on random blood testing and Pacquiao refused. Mayweather fans consequently felt Pacquiao had something to hide; Pacquiao fans felt Mayweather intentionally sabotaged the fight with unprecedented requests in order to protect his undefeated record.
The fight seemed officially dead when Juan Manuel Márquez knocked out Pacquiao in 2012, but the beloved Filipino has since revived his career with three impressive wins, while Mayweather unexpectedly struggled in two bouts against Marcos Maidana last year. Suddenly a matchup of a still-undefeated 38-year-old Mayweather and a recovered-from-unconsciousness 36-year-old Pacquiao swung back to being, on paper, the toughest possible fight for either at their preferred weight.
Boxing novices will say this fight is too little too late, but the matchup of the consensus number one (Mayweather) and number two (Pacquiao) pound-for-pound boxers is possibly the biggest event the sport of boxing has staged since Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier settled all disputes over the heavyweight title in 1971 at Madison Square Garden. This match also pairs the number one (Mayweather) and number two (Pacquiao) boxing draws. The purse split is going 60-40 in “Money” Mayweather’s favor, and early estimates are that he could pocket a record $150 million to Pac-Man’s would-have-been-a-record $100 million. The fight is projected to surpass the previous best pay-per-view buy rate by about 20 percent.
On the line are the legitimate welterweight title, the unofficial pound-for-pound title and the highly unofficial title of best boxer of their generation. While a lot has changed in five years, those stakes have remained the same. Everybody involved will make money. Somebody involved will make history.