Will the Pacquiao-Mayweather match revive American interest in boxing?

Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao and Floyd "Money" Mayweather are considered the best fighters of their generation. On Saturday, they'll face off in a boxing match that's been nearly a decade in the making. Jeffrey Brown talks to Jeremy Schapp, author of “Cinderella Man,” about the big fight, the competitors and the state of the sport itself.

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    Finally, the fight of the century that is much a business deal as it is a brawl, one that's now the richest match in history.

    One fighter is 38 years old. His opponent is 36, both older than what used to boxing's prime. But age doesn't seem to diminishing any interest in the event tomorrow night in Las Vegas.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.


    The two are considered the best fighters of their generation.

  • MAN:



    Manny "Pac-Man" Pacquiao is already a national hero in his native Philippines, even a member of its congress.

    Floyd "Money" Mayweather is undefeated, the highest paid athlete in the world. Saturday's fight is nearly a decade in the making, with competing camps, lawsuits, rival promoters and warring cable networks all stopping the bout before it started, until now.

    Wednesday afternoon, amid only-in-Vegas fanfare, the two fighters came out to meet the press. But this first encounter more boardroom and button down than bedlam.


    I am expecting a good fight, a good fight and a victory.


    Well, you guys came out here to see excitement. That's what both competitors bring to the table.


    Also on that table, a mountain of cash. Mayweather, the favorite, and Pacquiao will split about $300 million. You heard that right, $300 million. Pay-per-view TV will cost $100, and the very few tickets on sale?


    We have tickets that range up to over $100,000.


    Twenty-seven hundred a piece for some high seating. I'm going to bring some Kleenex, get the blood out of my nose, but we're going to be alright.


    But this once-in-a-generation hype and time frame may speak to a larger problem for the sport of boxing, as it's lost the day-to-day fans it once had. Earlier this week, we met up-and-coming fighter Dusty Harrison-Hernandez at Old School Boxing Gym, just outside Washington.


    As much as people want to say boxing is alive, which it is, because Floyd's making the biggest payday out of any other fighter. The money is there, but it's not the same as it was when it comes to the fans. There aren't that many American superstars left in boxing. And I think that's a major problem.


    Both fighters on Saturday rose to stardom from rough beginnings, seeing boxing as a path away from hard lives. That's true for most fighters, says Dusty.


    Sometimes, I see people who are like, oh, I'm tired of that sob story in boxing, but that's the story in boxing. People don't box that don't have to. At one point, for probably 95 percent of boxers, it was a way out. Not too many people choose boxing.


    But the 20-year-old undefeated professional has. He is trained by his father, Buddy Harrison. And even with boxing's problems, he sees growth in his gym.


    Every time dusty fights, if it's televised, that Monday, people are showing up here. They want to sign up. People see a local guy that didn't have a lot make it, they want to do it, too.


    A closer look now at the big fight and the sport itself. Jeremy Schaap is covering it for ESPN. He is the author of "Cinderella Man," a book about former heavyweight champions James Braddock and Max Baer.

    And he joins us from Las Vegas.

    Well, Jeremy Schaap, first, for the non-boxing fans, why is this such a big deal?


    This is a big deal because it's boxing's Super Bowl. And boxing hasn't had a Super Bowl in a long time.

    Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather are the two most famous fighters on the planet. And for the better part of the last decade, they have been the two best fighters on the planet. There has been so much anticipation about this fight. There have been so many stalled negotiations over the years, that interest in this fight was building up even as most people didn't expect to ever see it happen.


    Well, Floyd Mayweather, start with him, considered one of the greatest fighters of all time, but also a man shadowed with a lot of personal issues, including a history of domestic violence.


    Floyd Mayweather, as you said, has a long history of domestic violence, a long history of abuse towards women.

    And I would say, coming into this fight, it is a bigger issue for the public than it has ever been before, although this is an issue that goes back the better part of 15 years with Floyd Mayweather. Of course, there was a national dialogue last year sparked with the Ray Rice incidents and other incidents in the NFL.

    So, right now, there is more scrutiny, there is more attention on Floyd Mayweather's criminal history and the myriad accusations against him going back, as I said, to the year 2001.


    And Manny Pacquiao, for his part, a national hero in the Philippines, a congressman, a lot riding for him.


    Well, there is a lot at stake for Manny Pacquiao. This is the fight he has wanted tore a long time. This is the fight that all the boxing fans on the planet wanted that could cement his legacy.

    He hasn't been as invincible as Floyd Mayweather. Floyd Mayweather is 47-0. Manny Pacquiao lost a couple of fights in the last few years, although he has won his last three. I would say that Manny Pacquiao actually has nothing to lose here. A victory would surprise most people, but not shock people. Floyd Mayweather's entire legacy as an undefeated champion is on the line here.


    So, in the larger picture, we have got one really, really big night with a lot of money, a lot of attention, but in the larger picture, a sport that, what, continues in decline?


    Well, I think we have to make the distinction between boxing's popularity in the U.S. and globally.

    Outside of the U.S., boxing enjoys arguably as much popularity as it has ever. But in the U.S., there's no question the sport is not a mainstream sport that it — the way that it was 50 years ago, the way that it was 100 years ago.

    Outside of Pacquiao and Mayweather, the names of even the top fighters are unknown to most American sports fans. Boxing was a sport for a long time that was a sport of the masses in the U.S., and American kids were exposed to it from a very young age. That is not the case anymore. It's a tough sport, it's a dangerous sport, and it is a sport that is traditionally drawn from the American underclasses who didn't see other opportunities.

    There are no scholarships for boxing. There are limited opportunities, as I said, to make money in this sport. All the money seems to accrue at the very top for the best fighters, the biggest managers, the biggest promoters. So we are not developing boxers the way that we once did. And this fight is not going to change that.

    It's a marquee event. People are going to come to it for one night, for Saturday night. But after that, it's a big question really whether it will have any sustainable impact on the sport.


    All right, Jeremy Schaap, thanks so much for joining us.


    My pleasure.

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