How Mayweather-Pacquiao was made

When pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. finally put pen to paper and showed the world a photo of the contract he signed on Feb. 20 for his long awaited mega fight with Manny Pacquiao — a deal agonizingly in the making for more than five years — it was a moment many thought would never happen and it was cheered by sports fans around the world.

Perhaps no one was happier than CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves, the central figure in getting the deal done during a personal effort that lasted nearly a year.

It began with the help of a waiter and a boxing trainer. It involved bringing together enemies Bob Arum of Top Rank, Pacquiao’s promoter, and Mayweather adviser Al Haymon. It included getting rival television networks Showtime, which Moonves oversees, and HBO to make a deal for a joint pay-per-view broadcast. And it ended with everyone counting down to May 2.

That is when Mayweather and Pacquiao will meet to unify their welterweight titles, to determine once and for all boxing’s No. 1 fighter, pound for pound, and to crown the king of the era at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It is perhaps the biggest fight since the first legendary showdown between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971, at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Moonves is hailed by those on both sides of the complicated deal as the steady, guiding force who was able to keep things from falling apart. One person involved referred to Moonves as “the adult in the room.” Another called him “the straw that stirred the drink” when it came to dragging the talks over the finish line.

“I tip my hat to Les. This would not have happened without his perseverance and his unique relationships,” HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler told ESPN.com. “We were more than honored and delighted to work closely with him to make it happen. It would not have been possible without his energy throughout the process.”

Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, and Arum don’t agree on much, but they do when it comes to how critical Moonves was to making the deal.

“One of the main reasons why this deal got done, as opposed to deals in the past, was because Leslie Moonves was a part of the process,” Espinoza said. “He was deeply committed to making this deal and was someone that all parties in this negotiation really respect. He was really the catalyst for seeing this through and refused to take no for an answer from any side.”

Said Arum: “He was the guy who really wanted to make it happen. He has enormous experience and talent in this area. This wasn’t his first rodeo. It never would have happened without him. Trust me, it would never happen.

“Les was the difference, in my opinion, on why it happened this time and not other times we tried. But you never look back at the road that you took. You always look at the result — and we got a fight done didn’t we? — so yeah, it was worth it.”

Moonves was right in the middle of getting the issues worked out between the Mayweather and Pacquiao camps as well as instrumental in hammering out a deal for the joint pay-per-view telecast between Showtime (which has Mayweather under exclusive contract) and HBO (which has an exclusive deal with Pacquiao). It’s just the second time they have worked together on a pay-per-view fight, the other being the 2002 record-breaker between then-heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis (who was signed to HBO) and former champion Mike Tyson (who was signed to Showtime) in what was the highest grossing fight in history at the time.

Moonves, 65, described himself in an interview with ESPN.com as a boxing fan for “my whole life.” As a kid, his favorite fighter was heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. As an adult, it was middleweight champion Marvin Hagler.

“I remember listening to Floyd Patterson fights on the radio growing up in New York,” Moonves said. “We listened in dismay as he got destroyed by Sonny Liston twice. I loved Patterson; my father loved Sugar Ray Robinson. And I liked Hagler a lot. I was a Marvin Hagler fan. I’m definitely a boxing fan.”

Moonves is also one of the most powerful people in television and one of the few with the direct ability to help make the fight since CBS is the parent company of Showtime. Moonves also had a vested business interest in getting the deal done. Most see the fight as a slam dunk to break every revenue record in boxing history, and many estimate that it will gross more than $400 million. But Moonves said that in addition to business, as a boxing fan, he needed to see this fight made for the sake of the sport.

“This will be huge. So, yes, there was a business interest in getting this done,” Moonves said. “But I also felt the importance of this fight for the boxing industry and for the sport. That kept me going. This was more than just a business deal to me.

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