“I need to get a little closer to the action,” a large man hawking bootleg “Fight of the Century” T-shirts announced to no one in particular. “I’m used to being up front!”
Though he deftly managed to maneuver his way to the edge of the barricades, the T-shirt hawker – along with the hundreds of other boxing fans milling around the Nokia Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, in hopes of catching a glimpse of Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. or Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao – would be sorely disappointed. All of the “action” was happening inside the venue, where the press conference for the upcoming Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was underway.
Not that there was a whole lot of pulse-pounding excitement to be had at the press conference, either. The event, which was attended by over 700 members of the press, and streamed live around the globe, was a pretty tame affair, especially considering the sheer amount of hysteria that’s already being generated by one of the most hotly anticipated (not to mention lucrative) bouts in boxing history. Scheduled for May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the 12-round welterweight unification title bout between Mayweather and Pacquiao – quite deservedly billed as the “Fight of the Century” – is expected to gross at least $250 million via pay-per-view receipts alone, while the cheapest ticket will supposedly cost somewhere in the vicinity of $1,500, with ringside seats fetching considerably more.
But for all the hype surrounding the fight, yesterday’s presser was largely devoid of juice. Aside from the 54-second stare down between Mayweather and Pacquiao that kicked off the proceedings – one that might have seemed more intense if the stage “marks” for their foot positions hadn’t been so clearly visible from the audience – sparks were few and far between. Promoter Bob Arum, made humorous light of the bad blood between he and Mayweather, his former client, by ostentatiously shaking the boxer’s hand; he also proclaimed his friendship with Floyd Mayweather Sr., Mayweather’s father and coach, who’d been mean-mugging Arum from the end of the podium. Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, announced that, “We’re fighting the best fighter in the world, and we’re gonna kick his ass.” Mayweather, undefeated in 47 professional bouts, made a subtle dig at Pacquiao’s five career defeats (including two in 2012) by remarking, “When you lose, it’s in your mind. From Day One, I was always taught to be a winner,” but otherwise kept things non-confrontational, as did Pacquiao.
Mostly, the palpable subtext of the event – which also included the bloviation of the MGM Grand’s impressively-coiffed Richard Sturm, Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza and Mayweather’s business adviser Leonard Ellerbe – boiled down to something along the lines of, “We’re thankful that we were finally able to get this fight to happen, because we’re all about to make more money than God.” While Justin Bieber’s sudden appearance onstage to pose for photos with Mayweather was both unexpected and a little bizarre (especially since the pop idol was basically dressed up as Corey Feldman dressed up as Michael Jackson in Dream a Little Dream), it at least added a surreal burst of glitz to festivities that seemed oddly drab and subdued.
More interesting were the media Q&A sessions with the fighters that preceded the “main event.” Mayweather, looking sharp in a light gray suit with matching alligator shoes, seemed relaxed and unflappable, even when one journalist brought up the jail time he served in 2012 for domestic abuse. (Mayweather characterized it as “a minor setback for a major comeback.”) He also seemed genuinely awed by the magnitude of the upcoming fight, recalling in hushed tones that, “When I was young and Hagler and Leonard fought one another in [1987’s] ‘Super Fight,’ I thought that there would never be another fight bigger than that particular fight. But I kept my fingers crossed, and here we are today.”
While Mayweather deftly avoided being goaded into any outright dismissals of his opponent, Roach happily indulged in some shit-talk during Pacquiao’s Q&A session, telling the press, “I actually think Floyd had a better chance of beating Manny five years ago than he does now. I think his legs are a little bit shot, I think he’s slowed down quite a bit, and I think we can take advantage of that.” Roach also added that he’s been so mindful of keeping the Filipino southpaw’s training sessions free of external distractions, he even tossed Dave Chappelle and his family out of a Pacquiao workout earlier this week. “I felt really badly about it,” Roach said, “but those were four bodies that didn’t need to be there.”
Pacquiao, for his part, answered reporters’ questions with a minimum of words and a maximum of humility, though his soft-spoken, steely-eyed prediction that “The Lord my God will deliver [Mayweather] into my hands” was kind of chilling. So, too, was his confirmation that he’d be entering the ring on May 2 to the tune of his new single, “Lalaban Ako Para sa Pilipino,” which loosely translates as “I Will Fight for the Filipino People.” Given Pacquiao’s announcement earlier this year that he was deep-sixing his much-maligned singing career – which makes Joe Frazier sound like Otis Redding – one wonders if the new recording is some kind of weird strategic move on his part, or just another distraction of the sort that Roach has been trying desperately to limit.
Ultimately, however, one was left wondering if yesterday’s event was even necessary, beyond demonstrating to the world that boxing – a sport long thought to be on the ropes – is actually in good health. For five years, fight fans have been clamoring for these two men to square off, and they’re finally about to get their wish. Given all the money that’s involved, and the record-breaking pay-per-view audience that’s expected to tune in, don’t be too surprised if the May 2 bout turns out to be the first installment in a “best-of-three” arrangement.