Mayweather v Pacquiao: Why richest fight may not revive boxing

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Fight is biggest event of 2015 - McGuigan
Mayweather v Pacquiao
Venue: MGM Grand, Las Vegas. Date: 2/3 May: 21:00 local time/05:00 Sunday BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website
BBC sports editor Dan Roan reporting from Las Vegas.

There are countless examples of how closely linked sport and money have become, but here in Las Vegas this week, the relationship has appeared too close for comfort.

Such is the supercharged media frenzy over the so-called "fight of the century", and the ramped-up interest in events here in Nevada, this will be one of the most lucrative sporting events in history, generating an estimated half a billion dollars.

Floyd 'Money' Mayweather is already the richest sportsman in the world. Now the American is set to earn another $200m (£130m) for this weekend's world welterweight title fight.

Opponent Manny Pacquiao will have to be content with around $130m (£85m). And the Filipino is doing well outside the ring too, having recently signed new endorsement deals with the likes of Nike, Foot Locker, and Nestle.

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Mayweather v Pacquiao: Bob Arum says fight "up there" with biggest he's seen

The anticipation for Mayweather v Pacquiao is understandable. After all, these are two of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of their era - one undefeated; the other a champion of six weight divisions. Something has to give. And few sports can match boxing for sheer fervour when it comes to fight-nights such as this.

And yet, despite the barely believable numbers being generated here, they are also perhaps symbolic of a sport that has sold its soul and lost its way.

The fight is generating record revenue for a boxing bout. But much of that is down to the pent-up demand created by six years of negotiations over money, quarrels between television networks, and delays over drugs testing.

Infographic of how the finances of the fight break down

This is the first super-fight of the social media age, and it has benefited from unprecedented levels of hype and a recovering US economy. That may be good for the fighters' bank balances, but surely the sport would have been better served if the two men had fought at their peak, not as they begin to think about retirement.

The fight will generate gate receipts of $74m (£48m), breaking the record set by Mayweather's clash with Saul Alvarez in 2013. But given that it is taking place in an arena with just 16,500 seats - only 500 of them available to the public - this is hardly an event staged with the average sports fan in mind.

Tickets have been advertised for hundreds of thousands of dollars, surpassing the level of demand for the Super Bowl, but most will go to members of the fighters' entourages, guests of wealthy corporations, or the casinos' most valued clients - the so-called 'high-rollers' (as long as they have credit-lines with the casino of $250,000).

At the Excalibur hotel - over the road from the MGM where the fight will take place - guests are being charged $400 (£260) just to watch the action on a TV screen in a bar. Fans are even being charged to attend the weigh-in.

Has sport ever felt as far from its Corinthian ideals?

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Mayweather-Pacquiao top facts

This week I sat through one of the best attended, yet most anodyne and subdued media conferences many boxing reporters had ever witnessed when Mayweather and Pacquiao appeared together for the first time here.

No need for needle, we were told. Too much mutual respect. The fight sells itself. But it was hard not to conclude that Mayweather's predictable, stock answers were indicative of a man for whom money rather than his reputation as a sportsman is now the priority.

After reeling off a long list of sponsors he wanted to thank, promoter Bob Arum claimed the hype surrounding the fight was fantastic for the sport.

But it is hard to see how hosting the fight in a small, exclusive arena and behind a prohibitive pay wall is the best way of exposing a new generation of fans to the sport and increasing its appeal.

The fight will be watched by three to four million people in the US, many more than the record 2.4 million viewers who paid to see Mayweather take on Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. But for many others in the US, watching the fight on pay-per-view TV is simply too expensive when it costs $99 (£65) in HD.

Graphic of the best paid sports stars, with Floyd Mayweather leading the way
Mayweather earned more money in 2014 than any other sports star

More than the interests of the sport, this is about what is good for the two fighters, their promoters, joint host broadcasters HBO and Showtime, the MGM hotel and casino, secondary ticket selling agencies, and of course the city of Las Vegas - where room rates have hit record highs.

It all seems a far cry from 1995 when 28 million Americans tuned in to see Mike Tyson beat Buster Mathis on Fox. Or 1985 when 19 million TV viewers across Britain watched Barry McGuigan become world champion.

I visited McGuigan last week at the gym he runs with his son in Battersea. He would not begrudge the fighters maximising the money they could make, and pointed to the dangers involved.

Like Arum, he insisted the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was a huge shot in the arm for a sport that has seen its popularity fade in recent years. While acknowledging the rampant commercialism behind the event, he was delighted that boxing was back in the headlines, and providing 2015 with arguably its biggest sporting moment.

There are indeed causes for some optimism. Al Haymon - Mayweather's adviser - has recently invested $20m establishing the Premier Boxing Championship in the US. In partnership with NBC, the PBC series is an attempt to return boxing to the mainstream - staging fights on network television with the aim of building a new audience.

McGuigan himself is doing his bit to return the sport to terrestrial screens on this side of the Atlantic, having struck a deal with ITV to televise his fighter Carl Frampton's bout with Chris Avalos back in February, the channel's first world title fight since 2008. The free-to-air show attracted an audience of almost two million.

The fact 80,000 people turned up at Wembley last June to watch Carl Froch fight George Groves is further encouragement.

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He's behind you... oh hello Floyd!

Yet the sport still has a long way to go before confounding those who have predicted its death.

The confusing and fractured competitive landscape created by having four sanctioning organisations, with no single governing body, continues to do untold damage. After years of mismanagement, greed and corruption, there are too many belts, too few household names, and growing competition from mixed martial arts such as UFC.

The fear remains that Mayweather v Pacquiao is a one-off. The interest and money generated by what is being described as boxing's last great super-fight proves that the sport retains appeal, even today in such a crowded sporting marketplace. But don't necessarily expect it to restore the credibility of a sport that has a long way to go before staging the revival it craves.

This may be the most lucrative fight in boxing history, but its legacy remains harder to predict.

Pacquiao (centre) and support team on a morning jog
Pacquiao leads his supporters and training companions on a morning jog
Pacquiao image on the side of a Philippines airline
Some passengers of low budget airline AirAsia in the Philippines are being given free tickets to fly to Manila to watch the bout on big screens
Mayweather cutman Rafael Garcia (centre) and Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather's cutman Rafael Garcia (centre) puts tape on the eyes and face of Manny Pacquiao in a poster advertising the bout