Floyd Mayweather Jr. has now confirmed what boxing fans have been waiting to hear for five years: the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world will take on Manny Pacquiao in May in what is expected to be the richest fight in the sport’s history.
To get to this point, Mayweather has show incredible strategic brilliance—perhaps more outside the ring than in it. Negotiations over this bout started in 2009, when both fighters were near the peak of their powers. Mayweather had retired for the first time and Pacquiao was on a roll of demolishing great fighters, including Oscar De La Hoya.
Mayweather un-retired, allowing boxing fans to fantasize about a contest between his immovable defense and Pacquiao’s irresistable offense. But talks broke down over Mayweather’s demand for Olympic-style blood testing, resulting in a defamation lawsuit that was settled in 2012.
But Pacquiao began focusing on a political career and suffered one of the worst knockouts in recent memory. He is a weaker fighter than the one Mayweather would have faced in 2010. In that time, Mayweather has remained undefeated—he is 47-0 and on track to beat Rocky Marciano’s legendary 49-0 record, set in 1956. His boxing is as sublime as his mouth is brash; everyone wants to see someone knock him out.
But Pacquaio has also won his last three fights—meaning there is still enough interest in the fighter to suggest that fans will pay for a pay-per-view that is rumored to cost $100 to watch. Mayweather has picked the best possible time to take the fight.
And then there’s how Mayweather makes the fights. In 2006, he split from the promoter Bob Arum (who manages Pacquaio), changing his nickname from “Pretty Boy” Floyd to “Money” Mayweather, and took over his interests himself.
For all his fights since, Mayweather has owned the whole pie—he hires the venue, signs deals with broadcasters in 168 territories, and pays all the expenses, such as advertising. He even hires his opponents. In 2011, he made $40 million from one fight—and paid his opponent $2 million. Mayweather told the New York Times of his business model:
It’s never been done. Not in entertainment history. Not in sports history. You see that arena Saturday? It’s all Mayweather money. Want a hot dog? Mayweather money. Want a T-shirt? Mayweather money. I need all that.
The last time Mayweather and Pacquiao came close to an agreement, Arum called Mayweather “delusional” for asking for an equal split of revenues. In May, the fight will be split 60/40—to Mayweather’s favor. In 2013, he left HBO after more than 15 years, for Showtime because they shared more of the revenue with him. No wonder, then, that he is the world’s highest-paid athlete—despite not having any endorsements at all.
The deal therefore required Showtime and HBO to reach an agreement to broadcast the fight—which they did, for the first time since the last super-fight in 2002, when Lennox Lewis faced Mike Tyson. Everything has bent the way of Floyd Mayweather Jr. since he started boxing.
And so Mayweather faces a career-defining fight with Pacquaio. Now, all he has to do is win.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Mayweather had left Showtime for HBO. In fact he left HBO for Showtime.