AN EPIC DAY IN SPORTS WAS CAPPED BY HISTORY'S RICHEST FIGHT—WHICH, SIX YEARS IN THE MAKING, PROVED AN ARTISTIC BUST. FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR. EARNED A VICTORY OVER MANNY PACQUIAO BUT NOT THE VALIDATION HE CRAVES
EARLY SUNDAY MORNING, shortly after midnight, dozens of limousines idle outside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Everyone is silent, still in shock, unsatisfied. Jay Z is gone; so are Clint Eastwood and Michael Jordan and Donald Trump; and so are the months of excitement and anticipation and the relentless cascade of hype.
Crowds huddle near the entrance to the Grand Garden Arena. That's where, an hour earlier, an event among the richest and most publicized in sports history concluded. That's where Floyd Mayweather Jr. trumped Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision as the sold-out arena showered Mayweather with boos. And that's where Mayweather stands behind a lectern for the postfight press conference. He is finally ready to engage—with what is, in his mind, his foremost opponent, the boxing press.
If this was, as it had been billed, The Fight of the Century, then boxing fans can look forward to 85 years of disappointment.
Disaster or not, Mayweather carries a check for $100 million in the pocket of his black sweat suit. He talks and talks and talks. Unprompted, he compares himself to Muhammad Ali and Jesus and the American Dream. He tells reporters three times that he made them eat their words and that he will spend the majority of Sunday reading what they wrote about him—this after saying he never reads anything that anybody writes. He mentions his sponsors and thanks God and his adviser and his father and his network, Showtime. He promises to retire after his next bout, in September. "I'm just the American Dream," he says again. Because it wasn't clear enough the first time.
Mayweather's acolytes, The Money Team, stand behind him, or off to the side, or in the back. They number in the dozens. They clap every time he finishes a sentence. They nod like bobbleheads in TMT T-shirts.
It's 12:13 a.m. Mayweather is still talking. He doesn't need questions anymore; all he needs is the microphone and his audience of true believers. He cracks a Coke. Everyone cheers again.
What happened in the ring is already mostly forgotten, and that's because it was a mostly forgettable event. Mayweather did what Mayweather does best. He danced and dipped and darted away from Pacquiao, landing counters, including 48% of his power shots. Pacquiao buckled Mayweather with a straight left in Round 4, but he otherwise could not force the action, could not up the pace, could not do what it seemed every person in the arena wanted him to do, which was hand the 38-year-old Mayweather his first loss in 48 pro bouts.
Afterward, Pacquiao says he hurt his right shoulder about three weeks ago in camp. His promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, says they considered asking to postpone the bout but instead did not even disclose the injury, and thus the Nevada Athletic Commission denied Pacquiao an anti-inflammatory shot before the fight. "Did you see him throw one right hook?" Arum asks, as someone in Mayweather's crew throws in a "bull----!" cough.
Arum looks tired, drained by the promotion, underwhelmed by Pacquiao's performance. His face is red, his eyes half open. Earlier in the week he had compared working with Mayweather's camp with serving a prison sentence, and the possibility of a rematch with volunteering to return to jail. Someone asks him how he can justify asking fans to pay upward of $100 to watch an injured boxer face a defensive one. He pivots, turns to Mayweather and says, "Let's welcome the champion!"
Then he leaves. Same as all the celebrities. Same as all the hype. If this hour had a mascot, it would be a sad clown.
The fight that everyone wanted to see is now the fight that no one wants to see again. The undefeated boxer wants more credit. The defeated boxer blames an injury. The money will be counted in the weeks to come, the bout sure to shatter every revenue record in a sport that has made a lot of people rich. This, of course, is the most boxing thing ever. In a superfight everyone stacks cash. "Sorry boxing fans," tweets Oscar De La Hoya.
SOMETIME NEXT week, HBO and Showtime will release eye-popping numbers. Pay-per-view buys are expected to blow past 2.45 million—the record number Mayweather set against De La Hoya in 2007—easily eclipse three million and have a shot at four. Interest was unprecedented: On fight night the main event was delayed 45 minutes to allow cable providers to iron out ordering issues caused by the volume of buys. HBO vice president Mark Taffet—a veteran of 188 PPV fights over the last 24 years—says orders were coming in at levels he has never seen.
Those returns are amazing, really, given the dysfunction of the promotion, which was handled by traditional antagonists Top Rank and Mayweather Promotions and forced HBO and Showtime to work together. Distribution of the tickets was an ongoing conflict; Top Rank believed the MGM Grand was colluding with Mayweather's adviser, Al Haymon, to provide Mayweather's side with more seats. Tickets were released only nine days before the event, severely depressing the market. On May 1 brokers cut prices by more than 50%; on fight night officials walked around offering reporters freebies.
The broadcast team was never formally announced. The reason: Until Friday the networks couldn't agree on one. A lingering issue was the role of Paul Malignaggi, Showtime's lead analyst. Showtime wanted him in a hosting role; HBO balked. HBO insisted on another analyst alongside Malignaggi, submitting a list that, bizarrely, included Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose and Mario Lopez. The networks eventually settled on former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.
On Saturday, a perfect storm: CNN's Rachel Nichols and ESPN's Michelle Beadle—two prominent female media members who have been outspoken about Mayweather's issues with domestic violence—tweeted that they were denied credentials to the fight. Mayweather's team quickly refuted the allegation, citing a miscommunication. Nichols's case was particularly troubling. In a tweet she meticulously detailed the circumstances, noting that four days before the fight, a Mayweather publicist informed a CNN producer that Nichols would be denied a fight-night credential.
He said, she said? Miscommunication? Maybe. But consider Mayweather and his team's casual relationship with the truth. He calls his domestic violence history "allegations"; he has been convicted five times for incidents involving violence against women and served two months in jail in 2012.
IT RANKS among the rarest sights in sports: a subdued Floyd Mayweather Sr. The fighter's father and trainer is in the arena, waiting for his son. He's not rhyming or screaming or pontificating. He's quiet.
He had spent most of Saturday imploring Junior to come forward, to attack, to try to turn at least some of the crowd in his favor. His son never listened. But Senior hopes that he will listen now. He wants Junior to do some soul-searching, to retire, to realize there's nothing left to fight for and no one left to fight. The longer Mayweather's career has gone, the more his history of domestic violence has come to dominate the narrative, the more public perception has turned against him, the more he finds himself in the one fight—for appreciation, for his legacy—that he cannot win.
Junior takes the stage. The bobbleheads clap and bob. The true believers, they remain with him, and Saturday's victory in a bout the world anticipated for six years only validates what they believe. And yet the celebration feels so empty, so hollow and, ultimately, so sad.
"I probably won't even follow boxing," Mayweather says of his plans after his final bout. The question is, How many will join him?
IF THIS BOUT WAS, AS IT HAD BEEN BILLED, THE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY, THEN BOXING FANS CAN LOOK FORWARD TO 85 YEARS OF DISAPPOINTMENT.
Photograph by Robert Beck For Sports Illustrated
SWING AND A MISS The dream matchup proved to be a snoozer. Pacquiao (left) never mounted a sustained threat, and Mayweather failed to close the show.
SIMON BRUTY FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Rope-a-Nope Mayweather's safety-first defense thwarted Pacquiao's aggression and had the pro-Manny crowd raining boos—which the winner greeted (top) with more passion than he'd shown all night.
ROBERT BECK FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
[See caption above]