When Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight this Saturday in Las Vegas at 11:30 pm ET, it'll be the biggest boxing match in decades.
After years of delays, backroom negotiations, and anticipation, the two biggest stars in boxing will face each other for the first time. In an era when boxing's prominence is fading, this is one of few matches in recent memory to pop up on the mainstream radar.
This means non-boxing fans might be hearing a lot about an idiosyncratic, oftentimes confusing sport. In boxing, after all, matches are negotiated by the athletes, to be broadcast for a huge fee, with a mysterious agglomeration of different championship titles at stake. These seven numbers will help you make sense of the fight — and the sport as a whole.
This is how long it's been since Mayweather and Pacquiao were first tentatively scheduled to fight, in March 2010.
Back then, Mayweather was a dominant figure who'd recently defeated the legendary Oscar De La Hoya. He then retired, only to return to boxing with another resounding victory. Pacquiao was an undersized fighter who'd become a national hero in his native Philippines with a string of surprising upsets, including his own defeat of De La Hoya the year prior. The two boxers had become the sport's best-known figures, and their representatives reportedly came close to agreeing on the terms for a marquee fight.
But boxing isn't like other sports. There are no playoffs or tournaments forcing the best teams or players to compete. Instead, boxers negotiate all the terms of a fight, much like political candidates hashing out the mundane details of a televised debate. And negotiations for the 2010 fight fell apart over drug testing: Mayweather reportedly wanted blood drawn the day before the fight, and Pacquiao, who claimed to be afraid of needles, wanted only urine testing during the 30 days before the bout. Mayweather accused him of doping, and a defamation lawsuit ensued.
It took five more years — which included a pair of losses for Pacquiao — for the fight to finally happen. Now both boxers are in their late 30s, and many fans say they're well past their prime. Still, they're two of the best boxers in the world, and certainly the top two in their weight class (welterweight, which goes from 140 to 147 pounds).
This is the projected total earnings to be split between Mayweather and Pacquiao, easily an all-time record. It'll mostly come from pay-per-view revenues, ticket sales, and sponsorships.
Mayweather is reportedly guaranteed $120 million, while Pacquiao is only guaranteed $80 million. They'll both end up getting more than that (with the exact number based on pay-per-view sales), but regardless, Mayweather will take home most of it — and it doing so will remain the world's highest-paid athlete.
The difference is mostly due to the fact that Mayweather is the bigger draw (in boxing, this is called the "A-side"), as he typically brings in more money through pay-per-view. He's also undefeated throughout his career.
As a result, Pacquiao had more to gain by fighting Mayweather than vice versa, giving Mayweather more leverage during the negotiations. If the pair had fought back in 2010, the purse would have reportedly been split 50-50, but the two fighters are no longer on level ground. Mayweather is considered the favorite.
This is the amount you'll need to pay to see this fight in HD on TV (it's $89.99 for standard definition). An estimated 3 million to 4 million homes are expected to pay to tune in.
Unlike most sports in the US, boxing's biggest matches aren't available on broadcast TV or even cable. Starting in the 1980s, fight organizers began selling TV rights to companies that sold the fights directly to subscribers for increasingly high prices.
In the short term, this arrangement makes sense for fighters, promoters, and TV networks (including HBO, which carries most of boxing's biggest fights today). They can make way more through pay-per-view than through selling the TV rights to networks that would broadcast the bouts for free, supported by commercials.
But in the long term, pay-per-view is cutting off new fans from boxing matches and is one of the biggest factors in the decline of the sport. Viewers can simply watch other sports for free — and they are.
"I can't tell you that pay-per-view helps the sport, because it doesn't. It hurts the sport because it narrows our audience, but it's a fact of life," then–HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg told Thomas Hauser for his 2008 book The Boxing Scene. "But if HBO stopped doing pay-per-view, the promoters would simply do it on their own."
This is currently the average resale price for a ticket to the bout at the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas — again, easily an all-time record.
Tickets originally went on sale for prices ranging from $1,500 to $10,000. But the resale market has been especially hot because very few tickets ever went on sale to the public. The venue seats nearly 17,000 people, but about 16,500 were directly given to sponsors, the fight promoters, casino high rollers, and the fighters themselves for friends and family. This left a tiny number of tickets for a large number of rich people who wanted to attend — and they sold out within 60 seconds.
The crazy prices, though, also reflect a huge amount of pent-up interest in this long-awaited fight. Tickets for the weigh-in — an event at which the two fighters are weighed, do some talking, and go back home — went for an average of $155.
7 allegations of assault
It's impossible — and irresponsible — to talk about this fight without mentioning Mayweather's lengthy and appalling history of violence against women. He has been accused of assault seven different times, by five different women, as detailed in this harrowing piece by Louisa Thomas at Grantland.
Mayweather has pleaded guilty twice, serving brief jail sentences both times. In other instances, he's benefited from his accusers changing their stories before or during the trial, insisting that Mayweather was merely holding them back as they attacked him. In the most well-known instance, in 2010, Mayweather allegedly showed up at his ex-girlfriend's house at 5 am, punched her in the head, and tried to break her arm. When their 9- and 10-year-old children entered the room, he threatened to hit them if they left the house or called the police.
The fact is that Mayweather, the world's highest-paid athlete, has gotten relatively little punishment during his history as a serial abuser of women. Some are calling for people to boycott the fight over it, but this story still isn't getting nearly as much attention as it should be.
3 championship belts
This is the number of championships at stake in this fight: the welterweight titles as decided by the World Boxing Council, the World Boxing Organization, and the World Boxing Association.
The fact that three championship titles exist for the exact same weight class might be the most bizarre aspect of boxing. And there are actually more: in total, there are 111 belts for 17 weight classes, handed out by a mess of different organizations.
Over the years, these for-profit organizations (and many others) have proliferated, each creating their own rankings and championships. And as these groups gain credibility, fighters pay them fees to sanction fights.
To most boxing fans, this has ultimately rendered all of them meaningless (and, some say, has also helped kill the popularity of the sport). "Belts are a dime a dozen, meaningless straps churned out by meaningless sanctioning bodies in order to collect a portion of each paper champion's purse," Connor Ruebusch at SB Nation's Bad Left Hook writes.
But many fans pay more attention to a non-sanctioned idea: that of lineal championships, which can be earned only by beating the fighter who previously held the lineal championship. Because Mayweather beat "Sugar" Shane Mosley in 2010, he currently holds the lineal welterweight crown.
To Ruebusch, this crown gives this fight more importance than any number of belts. "The wearers of the crowns — there are eight currently in the sport — are the closest things boxing has left to true champions," he writes.
This is how long the fight will probably last.
During each three-minute round, if one fighter knocks the other down and he can't get up before the referee counts to 10, the fight is over in a knockout. It can also end in a technical knockout (TKO), if the referee, doctor, or either fighter's corner calls the fight for safety reasons.
In all likelihood, though, it'll go the full 12 rounds, to be scored by a panel of three judges to determine the winner. The scoring system is extremely complicated, but in short, the judges will decide which boxer won each round, and the guy who won more rounds (according to the majority of the judges) is declared the victor. If all three judges split the rounds equally between both boxers, the fight is a draw.
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