For nearly 20 years, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. has frustrated opponents in the ring with his cool calculation. He has been criticized out of the ring for his lavish lifestyle and outbursts of domestic violence. And he has navigated it all by winning habitually and becoming unapologetically rich.
Manny Pacquiao, the mop-haired scrapper from the Philippines, presented a peculiar test. Pacquiao is a left-hander with fearless guile, the next-best fighter of the generation. He was an opponent who had waited years for a match. And he was so widely popular that Mayweather, a former Olympic medalist fighting in his longtime hometown against a foreigner, was widely booed upon arrival in the ring on Saturday night and again upon departure.
But he left a winner. And he got much, much richer along the way
Both men were runaway winners financially.The purse, the majority of it from pay-per-view revenue from several million American households paying about $90 each to watch, was estimated at roughly $300 million. The contract called for Mayweather to receive 60 percent, win or lose.
Mayweather was asked to confirm that he received a $100 million check after the fight, and soon pulled it from a pocket.
“The check got 9 figures on it, baby,” said Mayweather, whose payday could double as the revenues get tallied.
Inside the arena, show-business celebrities and famous athletes were sprinkled throughout the crowd. The few tickets made available to the public were priced from $1,500 for seats in the top rows to $7,500 for a seat on the floor. Tickets were sold on the secondary market for $40,000 or more.
The bulk of the 16,507 fans at the MGM Grand Garden booed the decision by the three judges, who gave Mayweather a wide margin in the 12-round fight — 116-112 on two cards, 118-110 on the other. The judges agreed on 10 of the 12 rounds.
He stretched his record to 48-0 while quieting critics who thought he had spent years avoiding the showdown with Pacquiao.
“Manny Pacquiao is still a champion,” Mayweather said. “He still has a lot left. I was the better man tonight — more calculated fighter, took my time, had patience.”
While Pacquiao carried momentum through the early rounds with his robust, forward-moving attack, sometimes smiling at Mayweather as the bell sounded, judges ruled that Mayweather actually had led handily throughout.
“I know the judges weren’t going by the crowd screaming,” Mayweather said. “The judges were going by shots landed.”
Mayweather is under contract with Showtime to fight once more, in September, against an opponent to be determined. He sounded like a man ready to step away.
“It’s time for me to hang it up,” he said.
A victory would push his record to 49-0, the same as Rocky Marciano’s. Whether that record-tying fight would come in a rematch with the 36-year-old Pacquiao (57-6-2) was the one question left lingering in the desert air.
Most boxing observers thought that Mayweather and Pacquiao, considered the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, would never share a ring once. Tangled and contentious discussions for a fight started in earnest in late 2009, moving in fits and starts, and they were mostly stuck in boxing’s usual swamp of distrust.
Pacquiao’s side initially refused Mayweather’s call for random drug testing. Mayweather temporarily retired. Pacquiao lost twice in 2012, the same year that Mayweather spent two months in jail for beating the mother of three of his children, part of a string of domestic-violence episodes that have made him a divisive figure but did not prevent him from becoming the world’s richest athlete.
Hopes to see the two men fight faded but were revived by impressive victories by both and a depleted number of scintillating opponents.
It was not until late last year that negotiations were secretly renewed. Mayweather and Pacquiao had not been face to face anywhere for 13 years but found themselves seated across the court from each other at a Miami Heat basketball game in January. Mayweather approached Pacquiao and, later that night, visited Pacquiao in his hotel room.
That renewed public fascination in ways unimagined back in 2009.
“Why don’t you just say I was smart?” Mayweather said Tuesday, dismissing charges that he had hoped to avoid a fight with Pacquiao until he was left with no choice because of public pressure. “Five years ago, this was a $50 million fight for me, and it was a $20 million fight for him.”
Bob Arum, the veteran promoter who negotiated on Pacquiao’s behalf, agreed that the mix of time and intrigue had only increased interest and money.
“It’s hard for me to envision that if we had done this fight five years go, it would be as big as it is now,” Arum said last month. “But that’s happenstance. That is nothing that anybody should take credit for.”
The delay made it a richer fight, if not a better one, with both boxers in twilight. Mayweather is taller, is heavier and has a longer reach, but his legs and his footwork, perhaps the best in boxing, have lost some spring, Pacquiao’s corner believed.
Mayweather, always comfortable fighting with his back to the ropes and dug into the corners, found himself there often on Saturday. Pacquiao saw opportunity in those moments and in the final seconds of most early rounds, unleashing torrents of blows that sometimes lifted fans from their seats.
But damage was minimal. One sixth-round series of body blows by Pacquiao ended with Mayweather shaking his head. “Nope,” he told his opponent.
It was revealed afterward that Pacquiao had injured his right shoulder during training camp several weeks before the fight. There was fleeting thought given to asking for a postponement, but Pacquiao felt healthy as Saturday approached. He said he reinjured the shoulder in the third round, limiting his ability to jab or throw his right hook.
“It’s part of the game,” Pacquiao said. “I don’t want to make alibis or complaints or anything.”
As the fight progressed, Mayweather, with a look of effortlessness, danced around the ring, avoiding trouble and tallying an even mix of jabs and power punches. Pacquiao tried to toe the fuzzy line between aggression and carelessness and barely avoided several Mayweather right hands that came with knockout intentions.
Pacquiao said he was surprised by the judges’ scoring, noting that he had never been hurt by a Mayweather punch, but even trainer Freddie Roach thought his fighter did not do enough to engage Mayweather.
“He did pretty well, working on putting him on the ropes and keeping him guessing,” Roach said. “I thought those flurries there when we got him against the ropes were good, but we didn’t do enough of it.”
The result will do little to extinguish Pacquiao’s popularity, especially in the Philippines, where he is a singer, professional basketball player, congressman and future presidential prospect. Millions of Flipinos gathered in town squares and municipal gymnasiums to watch the fight, which was provided free by town mayors, provincial governors and village leaders. Pacquiao is expected to fight several more times.
The end of Mayweather’s career feels closer. Scion of a championship boxing family from Grand Rapids, Mich., Mayweather engenders respect as one of history’s best boxers, if not the most popular one. He built his career with uncanny defense and a rare ability to deconstruct hard-charging opponents as they tired in later rounds. Pacquiao was merely another victim.
It has become just a job done for money — “Money” being the nickname he bestowed on himself in recent years, shedding the “Pretty Boy Floyd” tag.
Further branding himself (and his merchandise) T.B.E. — it stands for “the best ever” — Mayweather triggered debate in the boxing world over his legacy: He is most likely cemented as one of history’s great fighters and tacticians but is far from universally beloved.
“Throughout the years, I just lost the love for the sport,” Mayweather said after the fight.
But money, as it always seems to in boxing, will most likely determine where the fighters go from here. Mayweather said last week that he planned to honor his contract with Showtime for one more fight and then retire, as his father and trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., has suggested.
“I think he should retire,” the elder Mayweather said Thursday. “Because if he sticks around, somebody is going to get you sooner or later.”