Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao: Opposites face off to decide best fighter of the century
Published 02/05/2015 | 02:30
After half a decade of machinations and manoeuvres, of screaming hoopla and lavish excess that would make a billionaire blush, it all comes down to this.
The fight of the century, the biggest bout in history, the Super Bowl squared.
Roll up, roll up, shriek the ringmasters at Las Vegas' Circus Circus Hotel, but the only big top in town lies three miles further down the Strip, deep within the guts of the sprawling MGM Grand.
For it is here, as the desert sun slips behind the Spring Mountains, that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will tonight face off for a duel to define not simply their reputations but an entire era of their sport.
Two boxers whose career trajectories have been telegraphed towards this elusive moment wake up this morning to find that it is vividly, ominously real.
Mayweather, the master of self-aggrandisement, appears oddly nervous and on edge.
Pacquiao, by contrast, is staying true to his sunny if inscrutable self, referring everything back to God and settling down today for his favourite pre-fight meal of beef broth and a glass of warm milk.
In every Vegas casino, the walls of odds are arrayed heavily in Mayweather's favour, and yet an exhilarating uncertainty remains.
With both fighters in the autumn of their own pre-eminence, contemplating retirement and needing one last prize to cement their bodies of work, there is no telling what tonight's unparalleled stakes could do.
Nobody has fought over a $400m purse before. Perhaps not even Mayweather, fond of distributing pictures of himself in bed with bundles of dollar bills, has any conception of what such a loot looks like.
The amount of pay-per-view purchases, at $100 a time for the TV audience in the US, is predicted to pass three million for the first time.
The lodgings of Las Vegas, a city possessing 10 of the 15 largest hotels on Earth, is operating at an unheard-of 98 per cent occupancy rate.
Be in no doubt, the cash matters. Steve Wynn, the bronzed business magnate who owns half the rooms on the Strip, once described Las Vegas as "sort of like how God would do it if he had money". In 2005, Wynn expressed his Messiah complex by creating a 45-storey hotel on which his signature was etched in gold. One year later, he built another one, almost identical, called 'Encore'.
It is this breathtaking chutzpah that discovers a natural outlet in Mayweather, who turned up at the MGM with four bodyguards, a 60-piece brass band and a small army of go-go girls.
All week he has reminded us of his status as the world's highest-earning athlete. He has not hidden the fact that his pay cheque is more significant to his record than his 19-year unbeaten record of 47-0, declaring: "My daughter can't eat no zero."
We are supposed to interpret from this that he is playing the astute businessman, that he truly intends his Croesus levels of wealth to safeguard the futures of his "children's children".
Perhaps he does, but even his father wonders whether his fondness for Bugattis and bling will render him bankrupt sooner than he might expect. "You can get through any amount in two years spending on possessions, trips, cars, women," Floyd Snr cautions. "Most fighters go down that hole. It's the way of life, man."
This fight fascinates because it is built upon such fundamental contradictions.
In the blue corner stands Mayweather, worshipper at the altar of materialism, and in the red is Pacquiao, whose devout Christian faith and scrupulous humility have propelled him to a political career serving his countrymen in the Philippines.
Where Mayweather - or maybe we should just call him The Best Ever, as per the T.B.E. embroidery on his cap - boasted here about his "big-boy mansion" and his "14-passenger private jet", Pacquiao emerged as a diplomat, credited by promoter Bob Arum with writing a letter to the president of Indonesia that helped to save the life of a Filipino woman due to be executed this week for drug smuggling.
Not that Pacquiao is incapable of extravagance, given he has spent more than £3m on accommodating his 900-strong entourage in Nevada.
It is merely that he prefers to use his public statements to count his blessings rather than his greenbacks, reflecting that he could not have dreamt of such a stage when he grew up scrawny and starving on the streets of General Santos.
This, then, is the one area where the stories of the boxers converge, for Mayweather was also moulded by the penury he faced as a child in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where one day his dad held him up as a human shield in a gunfight.
He and his family lived seven to a room in a slum dive. One of his aunts died of Aids. He has even been forced to deny accusations that he is illiterate.
Mindful of past traumas, Mayweather dials up the braggadocio to 11, keeping a fleet of black muscle-cars at his Vegas palace and another all-white collection in Miami, while sticking fast to his principle that he never wears the same set of trainers twice.
Pacquiao's outward indulgences extend little further than the £8m house he has recently bought with wife Jinkee and their eight-year-old daughter, Princess.
Their support teams, likewise, offer up a bundle of potential conflicts. In Pacquiao's retinue, Freddie Roach, with his cerebral dissections of his protege's game-plan and his quietly dignified struggle with Parkinson's disease, could hardly collide more violently with the arrogant, swaggering Mayweather Snr.
While Roach has been a study in grace all week, the elder Floyd has played up his role as the bully with relish. Not content with deriding his fellow trainer as "The Roach" and a "joke with no hope", he has taken to tormenting the Pacquiao camp with ludicrous poems about his talents.
"I will shock your mind, I'm one of a kind, the greatest trainer of all time," one began. "With moves and grooves and dance and prance, you fools going to recognise who's the man."
Be that as it may, Pacquiao is staying preternaturally calm in the face of such provocation. Squaring up to Mayweather at the climax of their joint press conference, he seemed serene, impassive. A sense prevails here that it is the American who feels most threatened by this fight, that he has been compelled to wage a battle not of his choosing.
Roach ventured a theory that Mayweather had agreed only out of an obligation to the TV network Showtime, his chief paymasters, and his argument is not without plausibility.
Since signing a six-fight deal with Showtime in 2013, one that essentially laid the platform his farewell tour, Mayweather has fought a mandatory challenger just once. With the exception of that one bout against Robert Guerrero two years ago, he has been his own puppeteer, the only figure empowered to decide who he entered the ring with, and under what conditions.
Tonight marks his 11th successive appearance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, with the same bodyguards and paid-up cheerleaders who constitute 'The Money Team'. His dressing room is four times the size of Pacquiao's.
Celebrities continue to gravitate to his corner: Tom Brady, Jamie Foxx, Mariah Carey, David Hasselhoff. It was confirmed last night that Clint Eastwood, who in 2004 directed the sentimental boxing paean Million Dollar Baby, would also be here for the occasion. Even allowing for the controversies that have engulfed Mayweather outside the ring, he seldom wants for illustrious support.
In his troubled life he has faced seven counts of domestic abuse against five women, and in 2012 he served three months in a Nevada detention centre after he was found to have repeatedly punched former partner Josie Harris.
That sinister past has stirred outrage in some quarters, with ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann announcing: "He should have been banned for life by his sport. I will boycott his fight. I urge you to as well."
And yet it still does not deter disciples like pop star Justin Bieber from flocking to his side.
Not for nothing is the fight depicted as the clash of good versus evil, of the vainglorious Mayweather versus the self-effacing Pacquiao, of a posturing braggart versus a modest congressman.
But an evening of this magnitude would never work with two personalities of Pacquiao's understatement. It needs a dose of Mayweather's preening and ostentation to cross over from the realm of the significant to the spectacular.
The fight that looked as if it would never come to pass, and which for five years Mayweather used every pretext to dance around, has finally been made.
Here it is: 12 rounds to decide the finest pound-for-pound boxer of the generation. From every ramshackle bar in Manila to every high-rollers' viewing party in Vegas, the world will watch transfixed.
Mayweather v Pacquiao, live, Sky Box Office, tomorrow, 4am approx