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.
Mayweather vs. Pacquiao
• WHERE: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
• WHEN: May 2, 9 p.m. ET
• TV: Showtime/HBO PPV
• Fight Credential: Complete fight coverage
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.”
CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves was lauded by many as the difference maker in Mayweather-Pacquiao becoming a reality. Michael Stewart/Getty Images
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.
“You’d have to be born on Mars not to know that the world wanted this fight. We have this deal with Floyd and it’s in the back of everyone’s mind: How do we make this deal happen?”
It wasn’t easy, as past history has shown. Mayweather and Pacquiao were close to deals at various times, including the first time around in late 2009 and early 2010. Every deal point was agreed to except the method of drug testing, so the deal fell apart. Until 2013, both fighters were with HBO, albeit without exclusive contracts, but that did not help efforts to make the match.
In February 2013, Mayweather left HBO, his career-long network, and signed a six-fight, 30-month deal with CBS/Showtime. It was announced as the “richest individual athlete deal in all of sports,” worth more than $200 million. Mayweather went about fighting other opponents, as did Pacquiao, and they looked like they might never get together. But their falling pay-per-view numbers and continued public demand for them to face each other kept the fight front and center, especially for Moonves, who still owed Mayweather two more fights that would pay him more than $30 million a pop. So last spring Moonves set his plan in motion to try to make the fight. He thought he could lure Pacquiao to Showtime, unaware that in May he signed a five-fight contract extension with Top Rank that included HBO exclusivity to his fights through the end of 2016.
This is where the waiter and trainer come in.
Moonves is a frequent diner at Craig’s, a Los Angeles restaurant, where he has gotten to know the waiter who serves him regularly.
“He’s always there. Nice guy, Gabriel Rueda,” Moonves said. “One day he says, respectfully, ‘I know you’re a big boxing fan and I know you’re involved with Showtime. My son trains with Freddie Roach. We’ve got to get this fight together. Freddie would love to get together with you.’ I said, ‘All right, let’s set it up.'”
Roach, of course, is Pacquiao’s Hall of Fame trainer and owner of the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, where Rueda’s college-age son trained as an amateur boxer. Rueda told Roach that Moonves was interested in meeting with him. They met for a drink in late May, a few days after Memorial Day, at Scarpetta, an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills.
“Freddie said, ‘I want the fight to happen, Manny wants the fight to happen,'” Moonves said. “We had a good talk and I realized it wouldn’t get done without Bob.”
Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach played a key role in helping to bridge the gap between Leslie Moonves of CBS and Top Rank’s Bob Arum. Chris Farina/Top Rank
Roach said that Moonves was leery of Arum, whom he had known socially for many years — even vacationed with — but felt burned by him in a previous Pacquiao deal and hadn’t spoken to him since. In 2011, Arum shook up the boxing industry when he took Pacquiao from HBO to Showtime for his PPV fight with Shane Mosley.
Roach said that Moonves told him he expected it to be the first of three Pacquiao fights, but after the Mosley fight Arum took Pacquiao back to HBO and there were hard feelings.
“Les wanted to meet with Manny because he thought his contract with Bob was over, and so he reached out to me through [Rueda]. The waiter told me Les wanted to get a hold of me,” Roach said. “We had our first meeting at a fancy Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills. He said, ‘Let’s go sit at the bar.’ He ordered a drink and I ordered a bottle of water and we talked about Manny’s future and he wanted to know if I could get Manny in front of him.
“I told him you can’t do that because Manny is with Top Rank. He thought the contract was over. He said Bob promised him two more fights [after the Mosley fight] and ‘I’m not going to meet with that mother f—–.’ He was mad at Bob for not giving him the fights he thought he owed him. I told Les, ‘It would be really good to talk to Bob. You need to let everything go and talk to him.’ He said, ‘I’m not kissing his ass.’ It wasn’t going very well. I told Les, ‘Let’s make this happen. You can make this happen.'”
After the meeting, Roach said, he called Arum to fill him in.
“I called Bob up and said, ‘I met with Les and he wanted to meet with Manny but I told him Manny re-signed with you,” Roach said. “Bob said, ‘F— him.’ Bob was mad at Les too. But I said to myself if I can just get these two together that’s the best way for the fight to happen.”
Arum lives in Las Vegas but also has a second home in Los Angeles, not far from Moonves’ Beverly Hills home and, ultimately, Roach helped set up a pivotal 45-minute meeting that took place at Arum’s home in June.
“When we got there they shook hands,” Roach said. “They were going over ideas and they agreed that they could work it out between HBO and Showtime and that Les could deliver Mayweather and, of course, Bob could deliver Manny. The only thing I said to them is that they should get somebody neutral to negotiate the fight, like Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. They told me to go f— myself, but when we walked out they had their arms around each other and I said to myself, ‘This fight’s gonna get made.’ They just needed to talk.”
At long last, pound-for-pound greats Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao will fight May 2 in Las Vegas.
While Moonves and Arum stayed in touch — with Moonves filling in those who needed to know at Showtime and Arum doing the same at HBO — Mayweather and Pacquiao were both going to fight other opponents in the fall. Arum and Moonves agreed to reconvene after their bouts.
Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs), 38, outpointed Marcos Maidana in their Sept. 13 rematch at the MGM Grand and Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs), 36, fought for the second time at the Venetian in Macau, China, knocking down Chris Algieri six times and winning a near-shutout decision on Nov. 22.
With both fighters winning and public and media demand for the fight still unrelenting, the next hurdle was to get Arum and Al Haymon, Mayweather’s adviser, to negotiate terms of the bout — not an easy task considering they despise each other.
Arum was Mayweather’s promoter from the time he turned pro in 1996 until he left him in 2006, having done 35 of his first 36 fights. It was an acrimonious split with Arum feeling as though Haymon was responsible for coming between them. Haymon negotiated a clause in Mayweather’s contract under which Mayweather could buy it out for $750,000, which he did, vowing to never work with Top Rank. For years, Mayweather and Arum have belittled each other in the media.
For most of the negotiation, Moonves dealt with Arum and Haymon individually, taking messages back and forth between them. In addition to having patched up his friendship with Arum, Moonves also has an excellent relationship with Haymon, with whom Showtime has been doing most of its fights.
“Bob and I have been friends for a long time and, obviously, we have an extraordinary relationship with Al Haymon and done a number of fights with him,” Moonves said. “He has been an extraordinary partner, always a gentleman to deal with. So I had the relationship with both sides and have a vested interest because of our deal with Floyd. Bob knew I was a fair broker. I was the one who was able to be a liaison.”
They had gotten close on the major points but Arum and Haymon were eventually going to have to meet in person to really get it done. Moonves arranged it and for the first time in several years Arum and Haymon were face to face at a December meeting at Moonves’ home. Haymon does not speak to the media. Arum described the meeting as cordial and productive.
“We shook hands. We were very professional,” Arum said. “We went through everything, point by point, and we realized there wasn’t any kind of big gap there on these points as far as how the promotion would run and the drug testing. Pretty much everything fell into place. Al had to talk to his fighter and I had to talk to Pacquiao, but when I left Les’ house I assumed there was a deal.
“I never talked to Haymon after that meeting in Les’ house. That meeting was strictly business, but there wasn’t a shred of animosity.”
Arum said he had been dropped off at Moonves house, so Moonves drove him home after the meeting. During the ride, Arum said both he and Moonves felt that the fight would get done.
After meeting face to face with Floyd Mayweather Jr. adviser Al Haymon in December, Top Rank’s Bob Arum, left, believed the fight would get done. Chris Hyde/Getty Images
“We knew we were on our way to finalizing a deal,” said Arum, who added that he sometimes talked to Moonves five times a day down the stretch.
Said Moonves: “I think there was a lot that was decided in that meeting. Both guys were very respectful of each other and of me and an awful lot of things were put on the table and agreed to. That meeting went a long way to getting this fight made. There was a lot of back and forth. We needed to get in the same room together.”
Many of the major issues were agreed to in that meeting or shortly thereafter. Major points included the date and site of the fight, revenue split (60-40 in Mayweather’s favor), drug testing protocol (Mayweather’s preferred random blood and urine testing conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency rather than Pacquiao’s desire for it to be run by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association), the gloves each man will wear (they’ll stick to their usual brands, Grant for Mayweather and Reyes for Pacquiao), who will walk to the ring last (Mayweather), who will be introduced last (Mayweather) and who will be billed first in the promotion (it’s Mayweather-Pacquiao).
But there were still things that needed to be ironed out and contracts to be written, not to mention a TV deal to be made between HBO and Showtime. Arum got frustrated early this year over the pace of everything being put to paper, but again it was Moonves to the rescue.
“They’d get a draft from our lawyers and not answer for a few days and I’d go to Les, and they’d finally answer,” Arum said. “I went a little batty, but I controlled myself. They’d get a response and it would take a week to get a reply. I said if Mayweather wants to do it at the end of June, we can relax a little bit. But if he is insisting on May 2, we got to get this f—— thing done.
“On the fundamental points, after we circulated the first draft, there was a deal. A lot of points raised back and forth were nonsense.”
Neither side wanted to disclose what the final issues were, although one source with knowledge of the deal said that how to divide the roughly 16,000 tickets was the last sticking point. Ultimately, they settled on a split in which one third of the tickets will be controlled by Mayweather/Showtime, one third by Pacquiao/Top Rank/HBO and one third by the MGM. If there is any public sale of tickets it likely will be very few, perhaps 1,000 just for show. Whatever Arum and Haymon agreed to, it wouldn’t mean anything if HBO and Showtime couldn’t make a deal.
The ball really got rolling on Jan. 14 at the Lambs Club, a swanky Manhattan restaurant, where Plepler, HBO Sports president Ken Hershman, Showtime chairman and CEO Matt Blank and Espinoza met for lunch.
“I must say it was a terrific collaboration with Les and Matt,” Plepler said. “I think, quite frankly, it would surprise people how smooth it went. Les called me back in August to plant the notion of putting this together. He made the first approach and I was thrilled to meet him halfway. I’m honored to work with he and Matt and make this the best event it can be, and that’s what it will be.”
A 2002 deal for the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight served as the framework for HBO and Showtime joining forces to broadcast the pay-per-view. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
The 2002 Lewis-Tyson deal served as a framework but there were a ton of issues to deal with, most notably which network’s announcers would call the fight and which network would get the delayed broadcast rights.
“The Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis joint pay-per-view fight was a great roadmap for this fight,” Hershman said. “It showed that this can be done successfully. There’s a lot of mechanics that go into this when two networks are working together, and those mechanics carry forward in terms of how things operate behind the scenes.”
“There weren’t a lot of disputes,” Moonves said. “Rich Plepler at HBO is a friend of mine. We both said early on, ‘Look, we’re partners. We’ll split it and work it out.’ They’ve been a good partner.”
Although the broadcast team has not been formally announced it is expected that HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley will work with Showtime analyst Al Bernstein and HBO expert analyst Roy Jones Jr. James Brown, CBS’ NFL studio host, is expected to host the telecast with HBO’s Max Kellerman and Showtime’s Jim Gray expected to handle the reporter/interview roles with other personnel from both networks also expected to be involved.
“Les and Matt and I worked out the final compromises [of the TV deal] on the phone. When we got to the final five issues we resolved them in literally 12 minutes,” said Plepler, declining to detail any of them. “I couldn’t be more delighted. I saw them in L.A. on Oscars weekend and we all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘This is a wonderful event not just for boxing but for sports.'”
With respect to the delayed broadcast — perhaps the toughest issue — Moonves said they finally agreed to air simultaneous replays rather than going with the Lewis-Tyson model in which the network whose fighter wins the fight gets the replay rights and pays the other network $3 million.
“We [CBS] are televising Super Bowl 50 next year,” Moonves said. “A lot of people don’t realize that Super Bowl I was on NBC and CBS.”
Moonves was in constant touch with Blank and Espinoza during the talks as they dealt with Plepler and Hershman.
“Stephen did the bulk of the deal [on Showtime’s end] and there was a lot of work to be done,” Moonves said. “I didn’t have time for every little detail because I was dealing with the two fighters and their promoters, besides the network deal. But I was involved in the broad strokes. I spoke to Bob, Al and Stephen regularly. This went beyond a deal. It was also fun. But a lot of days I’d go home to my wife and want to bang my head against the wall.
“We knew the negotiations would be tough but I am quite familiar with tough negotiations. This was tough and complex, especially with such strong personalities on both sides. But both Al and Bob behaved admirably. There was a lot of back and forth and a lot of respect from them both. They both wanted this deal to happen and Manny and Floyd wanted this deal to happen.”
Floyd Mayweather Jr. removed any doubt about his intentions when he met with Manny Pacquiao during and after a Miami Heat game on Jan. 27. Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
Arum was still a bit unsure in late January because he thought the remaining issues were simple to deal with. He had always questioned Mayweather’s sincerity about making the fight until Mayweather and Pacquiao met briefly — and very publicly — at halftime of the Miami Heat-Milwaukee Bucks game in Miami on Jan. 27, exchanged cell phone numbers and then met privately for about an hour in Pacquiao’s hotel suite after the game.
“I believe that the direct line of communication between Floyd and Manny cleared up a lot of doubts on both of their minds and renewed their commitment to getting this fight done,” Espinoza said. “The meeting between Floyd and Manny at the Miami Heat game certainly greased the wheels in getting through the final stages of the process.”
Said Arum: “The only time I was really convinced Mayweather was on board was when he had that meeting with Manny and [Pacquiao adviser] Michael [Koncz] in his suite in Miami. Before that this was trying my patience with the only explanation being that they couldn’t get Floyd to agree.
“I think it reassured me and reassured Manny and Michael that this deal was going to happen. It didn’t move the negotiation, but it made us relax. This was the most tedious and frustrating thing I’ve ever been through over nothing. The issues were really nothing, but I’m glad Les was able to guide us through everything.”
Moonves didn’t want to take any bows. When told that many involved in the deal, as well as boxing fans that followed every step of the negotiations, considered him a hero, he was modest.
“All I know is my father is very happy and proud,” Moonves said. “He is 94 and he is going to the fight with me and he is very excited.”