If Floyd Mayweather keeps his undefeated record intact by defeating Manny Pacquiao on Saturday, he likely will earn comparisons to such boxing legends as Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.
But maybe the better comparison would be to tycoons such as Donald Trump and Bill Gates. Or, given Mayweather’s capacity to generate cash in mind-boggling amounts, to the U.S. mint.
Mayweather vs. Pacquiao will break every financial record in boxing.
The combined payout to the fighters could top $300 million, and regardless of the outcome, Mayweather will add to an incredible string of blockbuster performances in the business world.
The Marcos Maidana rematch last September pushed Mayweather’s career earnings past $400 million. The victory also gave him a 10th consecutive bout where his pay for less than an hour of work in the ring grossed at least $25 million.
That Mayweather smoothly executes these financial feats with the ease of throwing a jab is all the more astonishing when one considers the factors that, in theory, should work against him. Such as:
He’s not at the top of anybody’s greatest-ever list. Mayweather has a multitude of fans who say Saturday’s fight will rightly prove he’s the best pound-for-pound fighter of his era, but none of the sport's historians rate him as the second coming of Sugar Ray Robinson.
Yahoo Sports recently put together a panel of boxing writers to rank the greats all-time, and Mayweather came in at 19th. (Pacquiao was tied for 22nd.)
He’s doing this as a villain. Mayweather has welcomed the bad-guy image and thrived on it. And his history of domestic violence has made it indelible, even to the point where Keith Olbermann called for a boycott of this fight. But that hasn’t hurt the gate for his fights, as some people are paying because they want to be watching when Mayweather finally gets whupped.
He’s doing it in a sport that’s on the decline. Boxing is mired in a slow fade that could go all the way to black when Mayweather and Pacquiao retire. UFC and WWE have snatched away huge chunks of boxing’s traditional fanbase, and good luck finding someone these days who can name three active heavyweights.
He’s doing it with zero endorsements. We’ve never seen Mayweather sell a can of Coke or peddle a pair of Nikes. And it’s doubtful that, even with a victory over Pacquiao, corporate America suddenly comes knocking to have him be a spokesman. Which is OK with Mayweather. He’s milking other revenue streams so thoroughly that he can blow off what traditionally has been an athlete’s best source of secondary income.
But what’s perhaps most impressive about Mayweather’s acumen is that he has been able to put it to work in a sport that has a lengthy and bleak history of chewing up and spitting out its competitors, many of whom come from impoverished backgrounds.
Ali and Leonard were better at pleasing audiences. Mike Tyson and George Foreman hit harder. But in a sport that’s famous for seeing so many of its greatest stars go broke, Mayweather has proved it’s possible for a welterweight to be the biggest financial heavyweight ever.
As the son and nephew of successful fighters, Mayweather grew up watching boxing from the inside out. And, in the same way he slips so many punches, Mayweather made one brilliant move that freed him forever from the grasp of the big traditional drain on a boxer’s biggest paydays—the cut that goes to promoters.
In 2007 he paid $750,000 to opt out of all connections with Top Rank Boxing and his then-promoter, Bob Arum. It was a hefty price to pay for free-agent status, but it has proved entirely worth it. It also has been the key to the kid from Grand Rapids making fast millions as he transitioned from being "Pretty Boy Floyd" to "Money."
Out on his own, Mayweather put together The Money Team and took control of all monetary aspects of his fights. From foreign-broadcast rights, to fight-night concessions, to even paying his opponent, Mayweather controls it all.
The tradeoff is that Mayweather doesn’t get paid a guarantee before fights, which is common for big-money bouts. But by waiting and taking his cash on the back end, after all the money has rolled in, he scores bigger. Much bigger.
Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, told Allsports.com that: “In 2007, when he formed his own company, it changed everything. That move right there gave Floyd the ability to retire with nine figures in the bank—before he made this fight with Pacquiao."
Added the Harvard-educated Ellerbe: "This was planned. A carefully thought-out plan by Floyd, myself and (adviser/manager) Al Haymon. Once he was able to become his own boss, we established a business model that would never be duplicated again."
Doing things his way has become standard for Mayweather.
Having a teen idol like Justin Bieber as his wingman for the walk to the ring seems way out of context for boxing, but Mayweather makes it work.
And selling only 500 tickets to the public might not seem like the way to produce a record-setting live gate, but boy did it work.
But maybe the most amazing thing of all is that Mayweather got Pacquiao to accept a 60-40 split of the money for this fight, apparently without dissent.
Seriously, how does that happen?
As far as the boxing side goes, Pacquiao is the absolute equal of Mayweather. Pacquiao has the better history of churning out more entertaining fights and has delivered more career knockouts (38-26). And yet, in order to make the richest fight in boxing history happen, Pac-Man had to agree to take just 40 percent of the money.
Not even Tony Soprano ever got away with that kind of cash grab.
So the opening bell hasn’t rung, but Pacquiao already has had to bow to Mayweather.
And if that isn’t a testament to Mayweather’s business prowess, what is?
It all adds up to an unparalleled legacy of success for Mayweather.
Tom Weir covered numerous title fights as a columnist for USA Today.