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Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.: The Absurdity Is at Hand
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LAS VEGA­­­S— Behold: It is here, hours away, the Fight of Fights, proposed as a SuperFight (these days everything even mildly stimulating must be prefixed with a super or perhaps even a super-duper), or the Fight of the Century (well, this century maybe, but we have 85 years left, fingers crossed Planet Earth) or the Most Important Fight in the History of Boxing (good grief, no), or a $99 cable-bill decision that…well, who knows if it’ll be worth it. You can still do a lot with $99 bucks. That’s a sweet pair of shoes. A one-way bus ticket from Dallas to L.A. Ninety-nine slices of $1 pizza.

Maybe you’ll choose to spend it this way: Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao. Saturday night from the quaint fishing village of Las Vegas.

You might still be on the fence. Boxing may not be your thing. It hasn’t been a Big American Thing in at least a generation, diminished by the growth of team sports, predatory management, comical mismanagement, flimsy oversight, the lack of charismatic champions, general ineptitude, blundering, brutality, societal change. The buildup to this fight has come with a re-examination of Mayweather’s troubling past outside the ring, including pleading guilty in 2012 to misdemeanor domestic battery and serving 60 days of a 90-day sentence. Other sports are finally starting to be alert to this; why does Mayweather, who may take as much as $200 million from Saturday’s fight, remain a top draw, the biggest earner in his sport? An alternative has been suggested: Instead of spending that $99 on the fight, donate it to a women’s shelter.

There are estimates that Mayweather-Pacquiao could bring in as much as $400 million, owing to spectacular ticket prices ($10,000 ringside, $1,500 for Uecker seats, though only a few hundred were made available to the public) and of course that $99 fee, a pay-per-view record. Boxing royalty will be there, as will the A/B+-list celebs and the mysterious comped casino whales, but the whole thing feels rushed for an event of its magnitude. The fight wasn’t confirmed until late February; the contract wasn’t signed until late April; there was feuding between management on both sides; there have been moments it has seemed less organized than a last-minute Wiffle ball game at the beach.

That’s boxing, though. If you prefer stuffy efficiency, Wimbledon pulls on its fancy socks June 29.

Of course, there’s also the fact that this match is happening after both Mayweather and Pacquiao have passed their boxing primes; if we’re being honest, it should have happened five years ago, when both men were in their early 30s, but it was consistently derailed by sniping and what seemed to be a strange ambivalence. Mayweather, 38, remains undefeated at 47-0, but the 36-year-old Pacquiao not long ago suffered back-to-back losses—the first a nonsense decision to Timothy Bradley, but the second a staggering and humbling knockout to rival Juan Manuel Márquez.
Mayweather’s latest fight, a unanimous decision in a rematch against Marcos Maidana. ENLARGE
Mayweather’s latest fight, a unanimous decision in a rematch against Marcos Maidana. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

And yet it hasn’t diminished the hype machine. ESPN has been parked in Vegas for the week. HBO and Showtime have combined forces to handle the Pay Per View. Bars showing the event are expected to charge a cover—$20 at some Buffalo Wild Wings spots, according to CNN, and I found a place in Jersey charging $100, though it comes with a three-hour open bar (yikes). If you’re going to try to scam your way into your neighbor’s TV room, bring a gift. Your neighbor wants a really, really good bottle of bourbon—not the motor oil you brought last time.

On Thursday afternoon I spent some time clicking around at the secondary ticket market on StubHub and was delighted to find a ticket for sale for $351,005.25. That $5.25 really gave me pause. The fact that it was a single ticket only added to the pathos. Life choices: Should you go by yourself to Pacquiao-Mayweather and see who-knows-what-quality fight or…buy your mother a three-bedroom house?
Manny Pacquiao has inspired a new generation of pugilists in his Southern Philippines hometown.

Yes: The needless extravagance and the carnival of absurdity is part of what makes a Big Fight a Big Fight; it’s why the sport perseveres despite all its self-inflicted problems; it’s why boxing has positioned this fight as a potential savior of the sport, though I am not so sure about that. Mayweather and Pacquiao is a thing because they’re historic fighters who circled each other so frustratingly for so long that a lot of people had given up on it ever happening. And now it is happening, and every effort is being made to monetize it for the boxers themselves. If Mayweather-Pacquiao is a harbinger of anything, it’s probably Mayweather-Pacquiao II.

There is general agreement that the fight is Mayweather’s to lose, that he’s too skilled a boxer and defender and Pacquiao is not at the age or career point he can mount a sprightly attack. The Journal’s Gordon Marino spoke to boxers who fought both men and offered a blueprint for a Pacquiao to score an upset: be aggressive, sharp footwork, punch from the angles, punch all the time. Easier said, naturally. Forty-seven and zero is forty-seven and zero for a reason.
Saturday will be a frantic day of sports in America, one of the best that anyone can remember. If you’re up to it, you can start with some breakfast Premier League, then work your way into some baseball and the final dull vapors of the NFL draft. There are NHL Stanley Cup playoffs and an NBA Game 7 and oh dear we almost forgot the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, another sport that struggles to approximate its early 20th-century grandeur.

But the fight is bigger than all of that. Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who would have thought? Despite everything, it’s actually here.