If you press your ear against the television speaker on Saturday, May 4—when Floyd "Money" Mayweather takes on Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero in his first bout of a 30-month deal with Showtime/CBS—you might just hear the faint, lingering sound of a cash register echoing through the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Ca-ching! That's the sound Mayweather's glove makes every time the world's best boxer lands a punch. It's subtle, but it's there if you listen closely enough.
Mayweather is set to earn an estimated $40 million dollars per fight over his six-fight contract with Showtime/CBS. In just over two-and-a-half years, he could reportedly earn more than $250 million, a deal so astronomical it makes the prize money for his previous 43 fights look like chump change.
But make no mistake—Mayweather has been anything but a chump in his career.
His undefeated record and flamboyant showmanship have turned him into the biggest draw in boxing since Mike Tyson. If you ask him, Mayweather could be even bigger than that. He stated, via Yahoo! Sports:
In Mike Tyson's time, he filled up the MGM, ... I've taken it to another level. We fill up all of Las Vegas.
I'm always thinking of creative ways to take, not just my fights, but boxing, period, to the next level. As of now, I'm the face of boxing, but I want the sport of boxing to live on.
While Mayweather, 36, may already be talking about the future of the sport without him, his focus is clearly on this weekend's fight with Guerrero, which is just the start of his megadeal with Showtime/CBS. There is simply too much money at stake for him to worry about anything else.
A Blistering Pace
With any huge contract in sports, breaking down the dollars into single servings is an exercise in the ridiculous. The average baseball player makes around $18,000 per hit, for example—a number that only serves to show how out of balance our sports salaries are with the average person.
Then there's this Mayweather deal.
Under the Showtime/CBS megadeal, Mayweather is slated to fight six times in 30 months, a pace he has maintained for much of his career.
In the 30-month span from January 2005 through December 2007, Mayweather fought seven times, defeating the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Zab Judah, Ricky Hatton and the late Arturo Gatti.
Leading into that amazing run, Mayweather fought 15 times between October 1998—when he won his first professional title—and May 2004, a span of 67 months where he averaged a bout every four-and-a-half months.
However, since defeating Hatton in late 2007, Mayweather has only fought four times, making it difficult to assume he can physically handle that pace at this stage in his career.
Still, let's assume for the sake of this exercise that Mayweather does fulfill his entire Showtime/CBS contract. The numbers will be staggering.
Money by the Numbers
Over his last six fights, "Money" Mayweather landed 1,086 punches of his 2,675 thrown. His opponents landed just 477 of their 2,648 thrown, according to CompuBox (compiled via BoxingScene.com).
If Mayweather maintains that pace for over his next six fights, he will earn more than $225,000 per punch landed, or $91,928 per punch thrown.
Remember, those numbers are based off his last six fights, one of which ended in a fourth-round knockout of Victor Ortiz. If Mayweather can knock out more than one of his next six opponents, his per-punch-thrown and per-punch-landed rates will skyrocket.
Let's remember that Mayweather didn't just get to where he is in the boxing world by landing punches. Mayweather is one of the greatest fighters of all time in part because of his uncanny ability to avoid getting hit.
Forget for a second how much Mayweather could make for every punch he lands, Mayweather could earn more than half a million dollars (approximately $550,335) every time his opponent lands a punch. Talk about taking one for the team.
Oh, and if you're wondering, yes, that includes jabs.
Listen closely. You can almost hear the ca-ching already.
Beating the System
When compared to other traditional American sports, boxing is a bit of a lawless land. Mayweather, like any great fighter in his day, has expertly taken advantage of the structure—or lack thereof—in boxing to set his own agenda, fight when he wants and earn more money than anyone in the history of the sport.
Without any true governing body, the best boxers are free to go where the money is, staying on top by avoiding the most difficult bouts or fighting top opponents on their terms. Nobody has done those things better than Mayweather. Once he got to the top, the best promoters, casinos and television networks would do anything to get a piece of the action.
According to Forbes, Mayweather racked up 9.6 million buys in his last nine pay-per-view events, generating $543 million in television revenue, numbers that were unheard of for non-heavyweight fights.
Throughout his career, Mayweather has been able to meticulously navigate his path—both in the ring and in media—to create a demand that far exceeds supply. In other words, people are willing to pay to see Floyd fight, and it almost doesn't even matter who is in the ring with him.
Sure, all sports fans wanted to see Mayweather fight Manny Pacquiao when both fighters were in their prime. While we will never get that now—thanks a lot, guys—Mayweather has held fast to his demand that Pacquiao adhere to blood testing that the "Pac-Man" camp refused to do. Even in the fights that haven't happened, Mayweather has maintained complete control.
Now, this television deal isn't about the fights Mayweather won't have, it's about those he will, which begin on Saturday night with his bout against Guerrero.
It's not the marquee matchup fans may have hoped for, but that doesn't mean people won't still buy the show.
To promote the fight, CBS aired a documentary on the fighter, cleverly titled Mayweather, which aired last Saturday. While ratings proved low for a network program, CBS and Showtime still had to be moderately happy with the 1.7 million viewers who did tune in to watch a documentary about a boxer on a Saturday night—a number that bested the previous pre-fight buzz shows on cable and network TV in the past.
The fact that nearly 2M people watched the special is a huge promotional benefit, to the Showtime crew. By way of context, viewership for the premieres of 24/7 has generally been around 400-500K—meaning that the promotional reach of “Mayweather” was roughly 4X as much as a 24/7 episode, which had been the biggest platform used to promote PPV fights.
It's funny in a way. Mayweather has utilized one broken system to beat another. Throughout his career, he has carved his way through the boxing world to become the biggest attraction in the sport, making television networks willing to hand over a quarter of a billion dollars over two-and-a-half years just to be associated with him.
He has delivered such enormous pay-per-view buys in the past that he was lured away from HBO to Showtime and CBS with a deal so lucrative, all the pressure is off him to promote his own fights. Mayweather will make his money no matter what, and Showtime and CBS are banking, pardon the pun, on the same level of interest and excitement for his final six fights as the boxing world has given for the 43 he has already won.
Mayweather Against the World (of Sports)
In 2012, Forbes named Mayweather the highest-paid athlete in the world, earning more than Pacquiao, Tiger Woods and LeBron James.
Per the Forbes list, Mayweather was the only athlete in the top 10 to earn no money from endorsements, raking in the full amount through fighting.
This year, the rankings could shift a bit with Woods back on top of the world of golf, and the likes of Lionel Messi and Aaron Rodgers earning new megadeals in their respective sports. Still, Mayweather's new deal could dwarf all of those, especially with regard to the payout per event each athlete must compete in to earn their money.
While it's unfair to compare Mayweather to someone like LeBron without the caveat of pointing out the difference between team sports and individual sports, especially when that team sport has a salary cap—LeBron is, in many ways, worth far more than he earns from the Miami Heat—James earns his keep playing an 82-game schedule, plus another 16 to 28 games in the playoffs.
Even if we consider James' endorsement deals as part of a per-event salary, he makes less per game than Mayweather would make per body blow.
Let's imagine, for a second, that James earned his money playing one-on-one against some of the game's best players, but only performed two or three times a year. What if those games were on pay-per-view, and it was the only time all year we could see James play basketball?
What if Woods only competed in the four majors and those tournaments were match-play events that only included a handful of the game's best stars? And what if those match-play events were only available to viewers for a fee of $50 per event?
What if it didn't matter if Woods won or lost the tournament because he got paid just for being in the field? With if with each tournament he won, he could demand more up-front money for the next? What if Woods kept winning because, let's face it, he figured out a reason to hold the tournaments without Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson?
How much would Woods be worth then?
That—more than the 43 wins and 26 knockouts and status as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time—is what separates Mayweather from the other greats in the world of sports.
It's all on his terms. And, in a way, it always has been.