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The magical final countdown to the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao super-fight

The story of the five days that lead to Mayweather-Pacquiao

WE all know what happened deep inside the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on May 2, 2015.

Floyd Mayweather dominated his eagerly awaited showdown with Manny Pacquiao – bar a few brief moments of drama in the first half of their 12-rounder – to win a unanimous and deserved decision. But it was not a great fight, nor a particularly exhilarating performance. Expectations were so high, disappointment was almost inevitable.

Immediately after the contest, promoter Bob Arum let it slip – or announced, depending on your point of view – that the Filipino, very much the hero in the build-up, had approached the Nevada State Athletic Commission the day before the fight hoping (but failing) to secure a pain-killing injection in his right shoulder. It was precautionary, we’re told, but the injury (allegedly) flared up in round four. Anyone who paid $100 to watch at home (4.4m buys in the US alone), or substantially more to be inside the venue (it was reported some tickets changed hands for upwards of $100,000) were understandably feeling a little cheated that one of the competitors went into battle, the biggest and most important fight of his life, nursing an injury.

For those who had covered the entire Mayweather-Pacquiao saga, which dated back to 2009, the sense of anti-climax at the post-fight press conference was palpable. Even Mayweather, who had fought masterfully, did not seem overly happy despite brandishing a cheque worth over $100m as a down-payment on his night’s work. And Pacquiao’s smile, effervescent to the extreme in the week leading up to the showdown, had gone flat. Bruises around his eyes told the story of what happened and as he bowed his head into his hands, it’s likely he would have given anything to go back in time, and try again.

I think we all felt a bit like that.

MONDAY April 27, 2015

“You’re going where?” the taxi driver asks not long after he picks me up from my flat in Brighton. “You’re going to Mayweather-Pacquiao?! Really? You lucky b*****d!”

It was certainly a day to feel blessed about the job. I haul my suitcase out of the boot, and wave goodbye to the taxi driver who is beaming from ear to ear that his passenger is heading to the most eagerly awaited sporting event of the year.

I still couldn’t believe it myself. Were Mayweather and Pacquiao really going to fight in just five days?

Three hours later, I board the plane at Gatwick and immediately spot the excellent radio broadcaster, Mike Costello. He’s not as excited as me. He explains that the BBC – who are sending several journalists out to Sin City – are hoping to deliver coverage on Five Live from ringside but have only been guaranteed one spot in the arena on fight night, making a live broadcast virtually impossible. The number of media applications for entry is immense, and we’re told that four out of five were denied. After much begging and pleading, Boxing News were granted three passes to Fight Week, although we won’t know until Saturday morning how many of us, if any, will be granted access to the contest itself.

The anticipation is dulled slightly by the sleepless 11-hour flight, but as I make my way through customs, and out into the searing Las Vegas heat, it quickly returns. The taxi ride to my hotel – the garish Excalibur at the tip of the famous strip – takes me past the MGM Grand and I get my first glimpse of Mayweather and Pacquiao.
 Images of them, standing chest to chest, stretching the full length of the 90-metre high walls of the hotel and casino, almost make me weep with happiness.

After checking into my hotel I head over to the MGM to get my media pass. On my way, I spot a huge screen with images of the fighters, encouraging fans to vote via Twitter as to who they think will win. A mighty 73 per cent are tipping the Filipino to win. Over the next four days, I never notice Mayweather topping Pacquiao in the electronic poll. Certainly, Manny is the people’s champion and he has been placed in Las Vegas to end the beguiling unbeaten run – currently at 48 fights – of “Money” Mayweather.

Once I’ve picked up my pass – the first hurdle for entry to the Fight of the Century cleared – I meet my colleague John Dennen, a little bedraggled from a hectic weekend spent covering shows in Chicago (Badou Jack upsetting Anthony Dirrell) and New York (Wladimir Klitschko’s win over Bryant Jennings), but delighted to be here nonetheless.

Normally for big fights here the press are situated in a conference room near the entrance to the Garden Arena, but such is the demand for this event, a sprawling tent – one big enough to accommodate a lavish wedding – has been erected. John and
I walk inside, on the walls of our makeshift office is photography of Pacquiao and Mayweather at their best, and sitting at the back are several huge thrones with television screens nearby. No expense has been spared, it seems, as the powerful air conditioning effortlessly removes any hint of the desert heat.

The Mayweather-Pacquiao Media Centre

 TUESDAY APRIL 28

GENERALLY, the official grand entrances of the fighters occurs in the same place but for this bout they will greet their fans at separate venues – a move thought to be at the insistence of Pacquiao, and one that does not sit well with his opponent.

At 11.00am, over at the nearby Mandalay Bay, Pacquiao prepares to make his entrance. There’s Filipino dancing, curious singing performances from people of all ages, and a pantomime vibe that remains all week.

Manny’s promoter, Bob Arum, takes to the stage 40 minutes later. “Welcome,” he beams, “to the man we all love. The man who will be victorious on May 2.” Needless to say, the crowd go bananas.

Right on cue, wearing a t-shirt brandishing his own initials, white jeans, and a smile that’s hard to resist, Pacquiao emerges. Cameras flash away behind him, dry ice fills the air, and the fighter hoists his short, muscled arms skyward. “Don’t be nervous,” he says. “I’m the one who will win the fight in the ring on Saturday night. So relax.”

Meanwhile, back at the MGM, fans are queuing outside in the claustrophobic heat, hoping to gain entry into the Garden Arena to see Mayweather make his own address. It is still at least two-and-a-half hours away.

Floyd eventually emerges from a TMT van undoubtedly inspired by the A-Team. Smiling, relaxed, and confident, the superstar looks ready for his defining moment.

“Everybody that’s in this arena is the Money Team,” he says, stretching the truth to breaking point.

Some journalists are invited to interview Floyd afterwards. His demeanour changes slightly.

“If we turn the table and look at the situation,” Mayweather says, spinning one of the many dictaphones in front of him to illustrate his point. “If I got knocked out by [Juan Manuel] Marquez this fight would never have happened. If I didn’t turn up to the Grand Arrivals [alongside Pacquiao] it would be front page [news]. It’s different standards. The bar is at a totally different level.”

Much of the blame for this showdown not happening until now has fallen at the American’s feet – perhaps unfairly. But if we’re to believe what we’re now being told, the delay has been very carefully calculated, and was all part of the Mayweather Masterplan.

“[Advisor] Al Haymon was at my house and I thought about my whole career and the different investments,” Mayweather remarks about the moment he decided to fight his long-term rival. “I thought I can have two fights or I can fight this guy [Pacquiao]. I was calling Al every day to get the fight made.

“Five years ago this was a $50m fight for me and maybe $20m for Pacquiao,” he said in reference to the bounty of (at least) $200m they’re set to share. “Ain’t Floyd Mayweather the smart one?”

 WEDNESDAY April 29

“IT’S time to fight now,” Floyd Mayweather says as the final press conference for his showdown with Manny Pacquiao comes to
a close. The declaration of intent, made inside the David Copperfield Theater, is welcome after a ludicrously polite exchange of words that belies the surrounding hysteria.

With the eyes of the world locked on our noble sport perhaps we should be grateful that there has been nothing but reverence displayed. It cannot be denied, however, that a bit of good old fashioned ‘needle’ would prick the interest even further. After five years of infamous contract wrangling and finger pointing it appears the rivals have grown to, dare I say it, quite like each other.

Pacquiao – wearing a suit and that smile – takes to the stage and spends a lot of time thanking God, before turning to Floyd and voicing a hope that he could hook up with his new buddy after the fight and spread the good word of the Lord.

“I hope I can have a conversation with Floyd about my faith in God and how we can inspire the children who support us.”

Pacquiao is the hero throughout Fight Week

Mayweather, also cheerful, follows suit and opens his speech praising the man upstairs. It’s becoming harder and harder to remember the mischievous fighter of a few years ago who used to turn up to press conferences with caged chickens as props, and enough targeted tomfoolery to leave his opponents raging with disbelief.

“I feel good, I feel strong,” he says as today’s boasting reaches its peak.

 THURSDAY April 30

THE Boxing News crew nurse minor hangovers after an evening spent on the balcony of the Irish bar in New York, New York – a favourite haunt of Ricky Hatton – opposite the MGM Grand.

But there’s work to do, and by the time Freddie Roach appears on stage for the trainers’ address, the fog has cleared.

“I have been studying this guy for five years and I believe I have the winning formula,” says Roach. “Floyd has picked his opponents but he didn’t pick this one. He was forced to take the fight by Showtime.”

It’s great to hear Roach’s battle with Parkinson’s disease is one he refuses to lose. He reports that he hasn’t shook in six months since being treated by a new neurologist.

“Freddie Roach is a joke with no hope,” Floyd Mayweather Snr begins. But his predictions will prove to be far more accurate than the coach he pokes fun at. “I don’t think it’s going to be much of a fight,” he continues. “For five years we’ve heard that Floyd is scared of Manny… But now we’ll see.”

Meanwhile, Bernard Hopkins is holding court upstairs. “Why does the white ball hold more power over the black ball in pool?” he asks. No one knows. One of life’s great mysteries will remain unsolved at this point.

 FRIDAY May 1

The penultimate day is all about the weigh-in. Tickets to watch the fighters disrobe and stand on scales, at $10 a pop, sold out within hours of going on sale. Now people are giving touts $100 to get in. This is madness on a huge scale. ‘Why would anyone pay to watch a weigh-in?’ I wonder to myself as I force my way to my seat.

Less than an hour later I almost break down in tears of pure elation. The weigh-in, quite unexpectedly, is one of the most exhilarating experiences of my entire life.

Pacquiao grinning like a child on Christmas Day, takes a selfie before trotting to the stage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Euphoria oozes from the Filipino as he flings out his arms, waves to the 11,500-strong crowd on his way to the scales, and waits for Mayweather to join him. While Pacquiao is delighted to play the hero here in Las Vegas, his rival doesn’t seem as happy to be the villain.

The Mayweaather-Pacquiao weigh-in is like a carnival

Floyd’s face bristles with determination as he embarks on his journey, only to attempt a smile when he realises he is on the big screens. However, the booing that greets his image soon straightens his mouth. It’s been a while since a visitor to Mayweather’s castle (this will be his 11th consecutive outing at the MGM) has been worshipped so vociferously – perhaps Ricky Hatton in 2007 was the last – and whether he cares to admit it or not, Mayweather is not remotely amused.

The 38-year-old American – who tipped the scales a pound heavier than his opponent at 146lbs – has been forced to deal with his plentiful achievements being constantly undermined by Pacquiao. As he glares at his cheery little enemy one last time, he nods and then smiles. The record is about to be set straight.

SATURDAY May 2

QUEUES of media stand in the suffocating climate waiting to get their Fight Day passes. After an hour, I get mine and discover, one day after officially starting as Boxing News editor, that I haven’t made the cut. I’ll watch the fight on screens in the tent, alongside the likes of Thomas Hauser, and the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel. My two colleagues, John and Paul Wheeler, are in – as are Costello and BBC Radio 5 Live – and I decide against objecting. After all, it has been a week to treasure, and perhaps this is the perfect time to walk away.

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