At long last, boxing's biggest soap opera is entering its epic final chapter.
Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will meet in a long-awaited bout all but certain to break boxing's revenue records on May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Mayweather announced the deal had been finalized on his Shots social media account on Friday:
The fight will be the culmination of an on-again, off-again negotiating process that dominated boxing headlines for the better part of the past six years. It led to endless debates, countless words written on the subject, arguments and plenty of drama.
Here we trace the origins of a superfight, from its inceptions in 2009 to the announcement of the event just hours ago.
This is the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao story.
2008-09: Floyd Retires, Manny Ascends the Throne
Mayweather had a banner year in 2007, taking a split decision from Oscar De La Hoya in boxing's best-selling prize fight and then knocking out the previously unbeaten Ricky Hatton to close out the campaign in December.
A rematch with De La Hoya was planned for the following September, but in June the pound-for-pound king shocked the world with a sudden announcement.
"I have decided to permanently retire from boxing. This decision was not an easy one for me to make as boxing is all I have done since I was a child," Mayweather said in a statement, per ESPN.com's Dan Rafael. "However, these past few years have been extremely difficult for me to find the desire and joy to continue in the sport."
Mayweather ranked No. 1 in The Ring's pound-for-pound rankings at the time, and his retirement from the sport opened the doors wide for Pacquiao to seize that lofty perch.
The Filipino followed up his blitzkrieg-like demolition of De La Hoya at the end of 2008 with a one-punch implosion of Hatton's jaw, heralding the arrival of a new sheriff atop boxing's mythical rankings.
But then the games began.
April 2009: "I'm the King. I left on top. I came back on top."
Mayweather announced his return to the ring for a bout with then-No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter Juan Manuel Marquez on the same day Pacquiao faced Hatton. You think he was trying to upstage his then-nascent rival?
Chatter began almost immediately following Mayweather's dominant win over Marquez, with longtime confidant Leonard Ellerbe describing the Pacquiao fight as the logical next step from a marketing point of view. Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, was even more blunt.
"We'd break him down and beat him up," Roach said, per Brett Okamoto of the Las Vegas Sun. "Floyd can't break an egg; he's fragile."
December 2009: Pacquiao Strikes Out on Drug Testing
Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports reported in 2012 that Mayweather and Pacquiao came within a whisker of settling their differences with a 2010 fight. All the details were worked out, including the date, a 50-50 purse split, who would receive top billing on promotional materials and the order in which the men would enter the ring and be announced to the crowd.
But it all came apart over Pacquiao's objections to Mayweather's demands for strict, random blood testing, which promoter Bob Arum claimed, per David Mayo of MLive.com, was to be implemented right up to the weigh in:
We appeased Mayweather by agreeing to a urine analysis at any time, and blood testing before the press conference and after the fight. Mayweather pressed for blood testing even up to the weigh-in. He knew that Manny gets freaked out when his blood gets taken, and feels that it weakens him. This is just harassment and, to me, just signaled that he didn't want the fight.
Late 2009: See You in Court
With negotiations for a March 2010 fight already on the boxing equivalent of life support, the final nail in the coffin came with the filing of a defamation lawsuit by Pacquiao against Mayweather and senior members of his team on Dec. 30, 2009.
"I don't think he can beat Lil' Floyd with steroids in him or not," Floyd Mayweather Sr. had said of Pacquiao in September of 2009, per Josh Slagter of MLive.com. "He don't have that kind of talent. He don't have that kind of skill, whatever he has in him."
Pacquiao, who hadn't then and hasn't now ever tested positive for any performance-enhancing drugs, sought to protect his reputation against allegations that he was a cheater. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 2012 with Mayweather's team issuing a statement claiming they "wish to make it clear that they never intended to claim that Manny Pacquiao has used or is using any performance-enhancing drugs, nor are they aware of any evidence that Manny Pacquiao has used performance-enhancing drugs."
July 2010: Lie Detector Tests?
Rumors of continued negotiations fluttered throughout the boxing scene for much of 2010 without so much as agreement that they were even happening, much less anything that would finally land Mayweather and Pacquiao inside the same ring.
Arum told Iole in June that all issues, including drug testing and purse splits, had "been resolved," while Mayweather's team vociferously denied that the sides were even speaking. Obviously somebody was being liberal with the truth, and HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg eventually found his way into the fracas, joining Pacquiao and Arum on the negotiations-are-happening team.
Denials are one thing, but then-Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer's response, per Rafael, really took things to a whole new level. "If Ross [Greenburg] or Arum wants to go through a lie detector test, we can arrange that," Schaefer said. "I can only tell you I have regular contact with Al [Haymon] and Leonard [Ellerbe] and there were no negotiations going on."
September 2010: Mayweather Makes It Ugly (NSFW)
This one won't go down as one of Mayweather's finer moments. So much of his "Money" persona is a carefully constructed marketing ploy to develop love and hatred among fans and draw them into buying his fights. He's not a true bad guy, but he sure looked like one in a racist, profanity-laced video released via UStream in September 2010, per Rafael:
As soon as we come off vacation, we're going to cook that little yellow chump. We ain't worried about that. So they ain't gotta worry about me fighting the midget. Once I kick the midget ass, I don't want you all to jump on my d---. So you all better get on the bandwagon now. ... Once I stomp the midget, I'll make that mother f----- make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice.
Yikes. Floyd would issue an apology the following day, stating, per Iole, that he doesn't "have a racist bone" in his body and was "just having fun," but the damage was already done by that point.
January 2012: Mayweather Offers Pacquiao $40 Million
Mayweather got Pacquiao on the phone early in 2012 to directly negotiate the terms of a possible fight between the two superstars. The pound-for-pound king later released an email statement to ESPN detailing that he offered Pacquiao, per Rafael, "more money fighting me then [sic] you have made in your career," but declining his request for a 50-50 purse split.
Pacquiao confirmed that the conversation had taken place, later telling ESPN's First Take program that he was willing to take a smaller cut of the pie in order to make the fight a reality. He claims that Mayweather offered him a flat fee of $40 million for the fight, per Rafael, but that he "didn't talk about the pay-per-views here and that's it. I can't agree with that. I told him I agree with 55 and 45 [split]."
With a total revenue pool expected to eclipse all of boxing's records, it's not difficult to understand why Pacquiao wasn't willing to accept a flat-rate deal. The Filipino icon also reiterated his willingness to comply with whatever drug-testing protocol Mayweather demanded, including tests up to fight day.
December 2012: Pacquiao Gets Knocked Cold by Marquez, Trolling Ensues
Failing to secure a fight with Mayweather, Pacquiao sought to rebound from his highly controversial decision defeat at the hands of Timothy Bradley with a welterweight rematch against longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez late in 2012.
The three previous fights between the two men ended in a pair of narrow victories for Pacquiao and a controversial draw, but Marquez ensured that there would be zero questions about scoring this time around. Marquez stopped Pacquiao in the closing seconds of Round 6 with a laser-guided right hand that left the icon out cold in a heap near the ropes.
It was a scary scene, but it was a decisive ending to a closely contested rivalry known for producing controversy and close decisions. Mayweather initially made comments to Fighthype.com that were sympathetic to Pacquiao, but he couldn't help but use the knockout loss as both a negotiating tactic and easy fodder to troll his rival on social media.
December 2013: Mayweather Refuses to Do Business with Arum
Something that often gets lost in the Mayweather-Pacquiao mess is that the pound-for-pound king spent much of his early career being promoted by Arum and Top Rank. The two had an acrimonious split in 2006, with Mayweather accusing Arum of stymieing his career in favor of De La Hoya and withholding revenue from fights. Arum didn't dispute that he owed Floyd money, but he claimed Mayweather and his team owed him even more in return.
Mayweather made his feelings crystal clear in comments to Ben Thompson of Fighthype.com in December 2013.
"We all know the Pacquiao fight, at this particular time, will never happen, and the reason why the fight won't happen is because I will never do business with Bob Arum again in life, and Pacquiao is Bob Arum's fighter," Mayweather said. "Bob Arum gives Pacquiao a date, whereas Floyd Mayweather gives Floyd Mayweather his own date."
January 2014: Pacquiao Challenges Mayweather to Charity Fight
Pacquiao beat Brandon Rios in his return to the ring after a nearly yearlong absence, but he found himself in some hot water with the Internal Revenue Service and Filipino tax authorities shortly after. The IRS claimed that Pacquiao, who is not a U.S. citizen but must pay taxes on monies earned fighting stateside, owed the agency $18 million in back taxes.
That coupled with a $50 million liability demanded by the Philippine government led Mayweather, per Thompson, to call Pacquiao desperate. "'Floyd, give me anything. Throw an old, desperate dog a bone,'" Mayweather said. “This man got 68 million problems. Now he wants Floyd Mayweather to solve his problems when he was just saying he's on the same level as me."
Pacquiao and his financial team have consistently claimed that the tax issues are not accurate, and any possible money issues didn't cause the Pac-Man to hesitate in offering Mayweather a bold challenge, per BoxingScene.com's Ronnie Nathanielsz. "I am willing to fight for charity," the Filipino icon said, adding, "Let's see what his answer will be since he claimed I was desperate for money and I am willing to fight for nothing."
December 2014: Mayweather Challenges Pacquiao for May 2
Pacquiao upped the pressure for a fight after a year that saw him score convincing victories over Bradley and junior welterweight titlist Chris Algieri. His trainer, Freddie Roach, always outspoken, dropped this gem after the fight, per Joe DePaolo of The New York Times.
"Sometimes I tell Manny 'You don't want to beat up Algieri too bad because then Mayweather is just going to run a little bit more,'" Roach said. "He [Mayweather] is scared of us now and he is going to be more scared after we destroy this guy."
Mayweather didn't allow Pacquiao's constant quips and media challenges to go without response, as he held court with Showtime's Steve Farhood for an extended audience on the subject prior to Amir Khan's dominant decision win over Devon Alexander. He called for the pair to meet for a fight on May 2, accusing Arum and Pacquiao of being the cause behind the delay.
The comments may have been designed for the already pro-Floyd crowd, but it was Mayweather's strongest indication of a desire to face Pacquiao in quite some time, and it came with negotiations already ongoing, once again.
January 2015: Arum Says Pacquiao Agrees
Kevin Iole @KevinI
Promoter says Manny Pacquiao has agreed to terms for a Mayweather fight http://t.co/UqWJWsajup via @YahooSports2015-1-14 02:18:37
Iole reported on Jan. 13 that Arum claimed Pacquiao had agreed to terms for a fight with Mayweather on May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The deal called for a 60-40 purse split in favor of the pound-for-pound king and the Cinco de Mayo weekend fight date Top Rank was holding for a then-planned fight between Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez.
With purse splits, drug testing, date and location all conceded by Pacquiao, hopes legitimately rose that a fight could finally be in the offing for later in the year.
Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 13 that both sides had expressed agreement on the parameters of the money split and that executives from Showtime (which has an exclusive deal with Mayweather) and HBO (which has a similar deal with Pacquiao) would be meeting in an effort to clear the hurdle of co-broadcasting the fight.
The rival networks worked together once in the past to put on a major pay-per-view event, when HBO's Lennox Lewis defended the heavyweight championship against Showtime's Mike Tyson in 2002.
January 27, 2015: The Center-Court Summit
Mayweather and Pacquiao finally met face-to-face at halftime of the Milwaukee Bucks-Miami Heat game in Miami on Jan. 27. Pacquiao's adviser, Michael Koncz, set up what will now be known as the center-court summit that finally broke the logjam and set the wheels in motion for the fight to finally become a reality.
Amazingly, the meeting was the first time the fighters had ever spoken in person, and Mayweather gave Pacquiao his cellphone number so the two could continue their direct talks. They met after the game in Pacquiao's hotel suite and again a few days later to iron out and end boxing fans' long nightmare. Gossip site TMZ reported that a deal had been reached on Jan. 30 and signatures were expected on contracts "soon."
Weeks passed after TMZ's apparently premature declaration, with both sides continuing to claim that negotiations were ongoing but not finalized. Boxing fans probably had their collective heads spinning with the dizzying daily claims that the fight was either imminent or miles away, depending on whom you read or believed.
February 20, 2015: Fight Announced
On February 19, ESPN.com's senior boxing writer Dan Rafael officially moved his Mayweather-Pacquiao threat level to red, feeling that the fight's announcement could be imminent.
Dan Rafael @danrafaelespn
A busy morning has caused me to hereby raise the #MayweatherPacquiao threat level to red. There is severe risk this fight will be finalized.2015-2-19 15:47:10
Boxing fans, long accustomed to a believe-it-when-they-see-it approach to a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, received an early surprise in 2015 when it was announced the two icons would finally meet in Las Vegas to settle their differences.
It's the biggest fight in the sport of boxing, quite possibly ever, and will easily pencil in as one of the biggest sporting events on the 2015 calendar.
It's amazing to finally see the words written:
Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao: May 2 in Las Vegas.
Sit back, boxing fans, and enjoy.
This type of event doesn't come around often.
In the immortal words of longtime referee Mills Lane:
Let's get it on!