On Saturday night Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will finally get into the ring together. They’re the two greatest welterweights of their generation, but it's nevertheless taken five years of negotiations to bring about what's being billed as the "fight of the century." At least for a weekend, the event has brought renewed interest to boxing: More than 2,000 people have applied for credentials, ticket prices are in the tens of thousands per seat, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates that between 94 and 98 percent of the city's 150,000 hotel rooms will be occupied this weekend as fans head to town to soak up the atmosphere.
The fight is a landmark event, and the two boxers will enjoy an outlandish payday for a night’s work, with Mayweather making an estimated $180 million and Pacquiao around $100 million. But the showdown also highlights many of the problems that have become engrained in the fabric of the sport: money-making taking precedence over exciting match-ups, combative divisions between promoters and networks, and the sometimes off-putting, carnivalesque nature of the sport's culture.
The story of Saturday’s megafight begins with Manny Pacquiao. He grew up dirt-poor in the Philippines, dropped out of school in sixth grade, and sold cigarettes and donuts on the street. As he learned the boxing trade, his hand speed quickly earned him early success, though he had little technique. He eventually stowed away on a boat to Manila, where he worked construction jobs and started boxing professionally. He became a sensation on a Filipino boxing show called “Blow-by-Blow,” and his television-friendly style played well because he was preternaturally quick, took risks, and frequently knocked out his opponents.