There have been only a few occasions in the 19-year long professional boxing career of Floyd Joy Mayweather, Jr. that he has been backed into a corner. Opponents Emanuel Augustus, Jose Luis Castillo and Marcos Maidana have been able to do it with sporadic success, but aside from those fellows and perhaps a few more, Mayweather has always been able to glide away from the punches and remain firmly in control of most any situation. Whether he has been in the ring or in the boardroom, few have been able to bend Mayweather to their will.
Since 1996 he has called most of his own shots and along the way he has won titles in five different weight divisions while racking up a sterling undefeated record of 47-0 (26)KO. He is the highest earning prizefighter in the history of the sport and at this point in time there are few on the planet who don’t link the name Mayweather and boxing together.
He has had few serious rivals – either real or imagined, but one man has been a thorn in his side dating back to 2009 or so. It is the one man that has finally been able to back Floyd Joy Mayweather, Jr. into a corner and has finally bent his will. That man is Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao of the Philippines.
Mayweather has handpicked his opponents the better part of the past decade. Not to say that he has not faced strong competition, but in every instance, none of the opponents have been a real threat to his dominance. Sure, there are times that a David defeats a Goliath, but Mayweather has been the favorite in most all of his bouts and he has delivered by remaining undefeated. In his two most recent bouts, Mayweather picked the gloves his opponent, Marcos Maidana, would have to wear before he would agree to step in the ring against him. When Maidana’s brainstrust resisted, Mayweather simply paid them more money.
For a man that feels he has no peer, that the normal rules don’t apply to him and that he could never be cornered – his acquiescence at finally signing his name on a contract next to Manny Pacquiao’s is as much a surprise as the fight itself. Mayweather’s critics, and there are many, never believed the day would come in which he would agree to lace up the gloves versus his greatest perceived rival.
But the reality is that Mayweather was, for the first time, backed into a corner with no escape route. When he would appear courtside at NBA games, fans would boo and break into chants of “Pacquiao! Pacquiao!” Reporters, whether associated with boxing or not, would ask him the needling question as to whether he would ever fight Manny. Social media platforms were rife with daily memes poking fun at Mayweather and his excuses for not facing Pacquiao. Even Pacquiao himself got in on the badgering by appearing in a Foot Locker commercial in which he was excited at overhearing (mistakenly so) that Mayweather had agreed to fight him.
But perhaps the most significant prodding came only recently from his own paymasters. In February 2013, Mayweather entered into a six-fight, 30-month contract with Showtime Networks that was worth nearly a quarter-billion dollars to him. The rumor is that four fights into that deal only one of the bouts, against Canelo Alvarez in Sept. 2013, realized a profit. In late 2014, Leslie Moonves, the President and CEO of CBS Corporation (Showtime’s parent) began informal discussions with Mayweather’s former promoter and sworn enemy, Bob Arum of Top Rank, Pacquiao’s promoter. Moonves is a boxing fan and he realized (like everyone else) the tremendous amount of money a Mayweather – Pacquiao fight would generate. One discussion led to others and before long all the major decision-makers from his company as well as HBO where Pacquiao’s fights appear were lockstep in making the fight a reality.
Once those high profile wheels were set in motion, the momentum began. Media and fans alike stepped up the pressure on Mayweather to agree to the fight. What was once a flame of interest quickly turned into a raging forest fire of desire that was continually being supplied with fresh infusions of gasoline by everyone from the man on the street to jaded sportswriters to internet trolls to even Pacquiao himself who early on agreed to the bout and all of its various stipulations.
On Jan. 27 the two men, by chance, both attended a NBA game in Miami between the Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks. Fans in attendance couldn’t believe their eyes when during half-time Mayweather walked over to Pacquiao and animatedly engaged him in conversation. The two exchanged telephone numbers and after all the years it was understood this was the first time they had ever met face-to-face. Later that same evening the two men met at Pacquiao’s hotel for an hour or so and talked about the barriers to the fight. The meeting served to clear the air and identify the existing obstacles to completing the fight. But nothing was settled.
In the court of public opinion Mayweather was being humiliated and eviscerated. There was literally no place he could go to avoid the Pacquiao questions. In the past when the Pacquiao issue reared its ugly head, Mayweather ignored the blather and dropped out of sight. This time, even a vacation away to a warmer clime did nothing to quell the uprising. As the result of his domestic violence criminal record, a planned trip to the Land Down Under was cancelled because Australia’s immigration department refused to issue him a visa.
It became more clear with each passing minute that no other opponent besides Pacquiao would suffice. If Mayweather did not accept Pacquiao’s challenge he would be a laughingstock. Fans threatened to boycott him by not purchasing his bouts on pay-per-view. Other opponents names were floated like trial balloons but they crashed back to earth – gutted and airless. Pacquiao, the easygoing, humble, God-fearing family man was celebrated while Mayweather, the stripper supporting, globetrotting villain clad in black was being put to shame.
In short, Mayweather’s back was against the ropes. He was cornered. For the first time, he was being pummeled. His legacy was being openly discussed and most were in general agreement that if he didn’t accept the Pacquiao bout then his greatness would always be in question. The only way out for the man who now calls himself TBE (The Best Ever) was the glimmer of light at the dark end of a long tunnel – agree to fight Manny Pacquiao or forever be branded a loud-mouthed coward.
But then Mayweather, the cagey veteran that he is did what cagey veterans do – he made the only sensible move available to him. On February 21st, nearly two years to the day since his six-fight Showtime deal was solidified, Mayweather announced that he had signed the contract to meet Manny Pacquiao on May 2nd in Las Vegas.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. had been firmly backed into a corner for the first time in his career. He came out swinging.