LAS VEGAS – And so it begins, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, a fight five years past its should-have-been-born-on date, one that almost never came because of the fighters' negotiators' mutual disdain. Fittingly, fight week opened in two different places. Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, embroiled in a blood feud with the MGM Grand, pulled Pacquiao out of the Grand Arrivals—made-for-TV events that serve as the unofficial launch of the festivities—and held a rally at nearby Mandalay Bay. It was, of course, a little like buying Sprite to spite Coke; Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand are owned by the same company. Not that Arum cared.
“Mandalay Bay,” says Arum, “is the hotel Filipinos love to stay at.”
Pacquiao-palooza was a festive affair. A pair of Filipino emcees goosed a crowd of around 200. The dancing was next. The women donned colorful dresses; the men wore capris pants and went shoeless. Next came the singers, a pair of Filipino crooners who looked more like middle school math teachers. It was less American Idol, more bad karaoke.
Pacquiao’s arrival was announced just before noon, evoking a roar from the crowd and a flurry of camera phones thrust into the air. He emerged from behind a curtain, AC/DC’s "Thunderstruck" blaring from the speakers, though not loud enough to stop onlookers from bellowing in Pacquiao’s direction.
“I love you Manny!” shouted a petite woman in a red dress.
“F--- his ass up!” screamed a man a few rows back.
Dressed casually, a white t-shirt tucked into a pair of jeans, Pacquiao smiled broadly. He thanked the crowd for coming. He declared his confidence level to be “100 percent.” He called Saturday night’s showdown a “historic fight” and boomed “I can do all things through Christ.” He waved and walked off the dais; the entire event lasted a matter of minutes.
Later, across the building, in front of a roomful or reporters, Pacquiao remained loose. He answered good questions (Why will you be able to do to Floyd what every other has not?) and bad (What do you know about Argentina?) with a smile on his face. When asked what he thought of t-shirts depicting Mayweather posing in front of a Filipino flag, Pacquiao said he was happy Mayweather was joining his team. When Arum joked that he was practically Filipino, Pacquiao cracked that in his role as a Congressman, he would soon make that official.
Down Las Vegas Boulevard, after a hard right on Tropicana, Mayweather’s Grand Arrival had a decidedly different vibe. There was the requisite emcee pumping up the few hundred fans who filed into the MGM Grand Garden Arena; comedian Ricky Smiley—he of 1.26 million Twitter followers—entertained the fans too. No fighter has sought to harness the power of Twitter more than Mayweather; there’s a reason Justin Bieber (63.1 million followers) walks to the ring with him.
This camp has had a more serious feel for Mayweather. Gone is the trash talk, the borderline defamatory cracks. For the last few weeks, Mayweather has been all business. Around 3 pm, a black Lexus SUV—complete with a The Money Team (TMT) logo emblazoned on the door—inched into the arena, dropping Mayweather at a red carpet set up about 50 feet from the stage. Dressed in a TMT sweatshirt and a like labeled trucker hat, Mayweather smiled as he walked through the crowd. Flanked by close advisor, Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather appeared relaxed as he maneuvered through the crowd. He was asked a few embarrassingly easy questions (How are your children? How important is your team?) before being whisked off the stage as well.
In an adjacent room minutes later, Mayweather was reflective, his answers to a couple dozen reporters questions alternating between insightful and absurd. He offered deeper details on the famed meeting with Pacquiao in Miami and a blistering assessment of Pacquiao’s longtime advisor, Michael Koncz. “[Koncz] is full of s---,” says Mayweather. “[I told him] Michael Koncz [doesn’t] work for you. Michael Koncz doesn’t care about your well-being.” He declared he made $11 million in the last 48 hours (“smart investments,” he says) and vowed once again that he would fight once more in September and walk away.
He reiterated claims that Arum had been spreading lies to the media, though that street runs both ways. Never has Mayweather admitted that negotiations for a Pacquiao fight were nearly completed in 2010, when then HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg played middle man for talks between Arum and Mayweather’s manager, Al Haymon. Nor has he presented any credible evidence to dispute claims by Pacquiao and his trainer, Freddie Roach, that Pacquiao had been willing to do random blood and urine testing for years. He claimed that he has always been held to a higher standard, when the reality of the last seven years of Mayweather’s career has been the public simply pleading with him to take on the best.
It’s white noise now, all part of a past that needs a book to fully deconstruct. After 40 minutes Mayweather popped up, declared it was time to watch some basketball, and walked away. For both fighters, it was the end of the day—and the beginning of a historic week.
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