For Manny Pacquiao, it wasn’t about winning the business deal.
It was about proving he was the better fighter.
Pacquiao cut his losses in negotiations to secure a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. So on Saturday night, fittingly in Las Vegas, the gamble Pacquiao made gives him a chance to go all in and win the legacy bout, with all the high-rollers and the world watching.
“If my concern is myself alone, the fight is hard to make happen,” said Pacquiao, who accepted a 60%-40% purse split in Mayweather’s favor. “I didn’t want 60-40. I did it for the sake of the fans. We know they’ve been waiting for this fight for five years.”
When the buzz first started about this super-fight, it was Pacquiao who was No. 1 in boxing’s mythical pound-for-pound rankings. But the fighters’ swapped spots, as Mayweather (47-0, 26 knockouts) kept winning while Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) suffered a December 2012 knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez.
Rated as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Manny Pacquiao was already called the best boxer in the 2000s. At the age of 35 with a record of 56 wins, five losses and two ties, Pacquiao shows no sign of slowing down.
Pacquiao’s professional boxing career started in 1995 and he boxed primarily in the Philippines until 2001. In his 2001 debut in the United States against Lehlohonolo Ledwaba of South Africa, Pacquiao won by TKO in six rounds.
Before facing Mexico’s Erik Morales in March 19, 2005, in Las Vegas, Pacquiao had not lost since September 1999. Morales won by unanimous decision to take the WBC international super featherweight title.
Ten months later, Pacquiao faced Erik Morales again. Pacquiao knocked Morales out in the 10th round. It was the first time Morales was knocked out in his boxing career.
Pacquiao trades punches with David Diaz during their WBC lightweight championship boxing match June 28, 2008, in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won by knockout in the ninth round.
That loss made the already problematic negotiations between the Mayweather and Pacquiao camps all the more difficult. Previously, they’d had major disputes over drug-testing, the purse cut and personal feuds.
After Pacquiao lost, Mayweather was quick to dismiss him as a possible opponent by saying the Filipino first had to finish his business with Marquez, who won in their fourth fight.
But Pacquiao, 36, responded with three convincing victories over younger men, including a unanimous decision over Timothy Bradley that avenged a controversial loss to Bradley in 2012 because of bad judging. Pacquiao then set a personal record by knocking down Chris Algieri six times last November in a lopsided decision in China.
As he concluded training for Algieri, Pacquiao was asked about the Mayweather side saying it would require accepting a 60-40 split to get the fight made.
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Pacquiao said without pause. “No problem.”
Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum said negotiations started at an even steeper disadvantage, with Mayweather’s representative proposing a 65-35 split.
“Manny truly believes money isn’t everything, and you can’t be cheated when money isn’t everything,” Arum said. “He was willing to sacrifice points to make the fight. Simple as that. He wanted the fight.”
Arum, who’s been brokering fight deals since the 1960s, said, “Obviously, I pushed back” from the 65-35 talk, “but it went on for weeks.”
Friction between Arum and his former fighter Mayweather, along with the promoter’s strong influence on Pacquiao, were considered as major reasons the fight would never happen.
In my mind, I didn’t think I’d be a good boxer. All that was really in my mind was to earn a kilo of rice.
– Manny Pacquiao, on his humble beginnings as a fighter
“Some can paint me as a Svengali who dictates what to do to Manny, but it’s not the truth. I stayed in this business so long by taking directions, and getting approval, from athletes,” Arum said. “If Manny wants to take a ridiculously low percentage, it’s his career and his life. … We settled for this because Manny was willing to.
“Whether it was a smart decision or a stupid decision, it’s a decision he and I will live with.”
Of course, given the historic scope of this fight, both boxers will earn unheard-of sums for their bout Saturday. Together they could earn more than $300 million for what should be a record pay-per-view bout, with a possible $100 million for Pacquiao.
Pacquiao’s first memories of boxing also center on money.
He still remembers how, as a poverty-stricken child, his uncle showed him VHS tapes of boxing matches featuring Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the Ruelas brothers and more.
At age 11, when Pacquiao used to sell doughnuts and other items on the street to help pad his family’s income, his uncle led him to a Sunday boxing contest. The young boy was surprised to learn that he’d been entered into the competition.
“I was excited, like, ‘What’s this?’ ” Pacquiao said.
He won a three-round decision and was given 100 pesos for the triumph — two dollars — and split the money with his uncle while giving the rest to his mother for groceries.
“Fifty pesos, that was big,” Pacquiao said. “Six pesos was a kilo of rice. I was thinking, ‘This is good for everybody.’ I was selling doughnuts, whatever I can sell … but boxing was one day of some work and you earn more money.
“My teacher saw me come in a little bruised up one day and told me, ‘Maybe you become Flash Elorde [the late former featherweight world champion from the Philippines].’ ”
Little did they know …
Pacquiao said when he was watching those fight videos, seeing the legendary men fighting in packed venues, his uncle imagined aloud: “What if you could get like that? In a building like that?”
“I loved boxing because it helped my mother,” Pacquiao said. “In my mind, I didn’t think I’d be a good boxer. All that was really in my mind was to earn a kilo of rice.”
Pacquiao became a pro at 16 and fought 43 fights, almost all in the Philippines, before his first bout in the U.S. in 2001. His furious fighting style, an ability to knock out bigger men and his winning titles at various weight classes made him an international star.
His success here made his returns home heart-tugging, and he’d literally allow lines to form at his home, where he’d hand out money.
He enjoys the fruits of his labor — drives a lavish sports car, is angling to buy a multi-million-dollar home in L.A. with this purse from the Mayweather fight — but his newborn religious faith and current duties as a congressman in the Philippines still leave him feeling obligated.
“I enjoy helping people — the poor, orphans — I cannot leave them hungry without helping them. I’m not materialistic,” he said. “The money’s not mine. It’s God’s grace that’s entrusted to me.
“My first concern every fight is how to entertain people, give them enjoyment and make them happy. Of course, for doing that, there’s a price, and [Mayweather] set this price.”
Pacquiao admits both men had “nowhere to go,” regarding another big fight. Mayweather, 38, wouldn’t come close to earning $200 million in a fight against Amir Khan, and Marquez no longer wants to fight Pacquiao.
Pacquiao could’ve dug in, pressing Mayweather for a better cut with so many millions possible. But Pacquiao said he has other concerns.
“I have to make sure I’m in the best condition of my life,” he said. “Being an underdog, you’re more focused on training, from the first day to the last day. I’m very confident. My training, conditioning; I can feel it. My speed, footwork, punches … are the things to beat his [defensive] style and win the fight.”
The possibility of recouping a larger chunk in a rematch is something Pacquiao said he can tend to after this fight.
First, he has to win, and so he routinely spent this training camp in L.A. running up to Griffith Observatory, with a pack of fans and countrymen tailing.
“The most important thing in this fight is cutting off the ring — with strong legs, footwork, speed,” Pacquiao said. “It’s good to get to the top of the observatory and feel like I do now.”
He’ll break camp Monday, then drive himself to Las Vegas.
“No problem,” he said, about the biggest fight of his life on Saturday. “I’m ready.”