LAS VEGAS – It was a simple question that left Bob Arum struggling for an answer: In his 43 years of promoting boxing matches, has there ever been a fight that the public demanded that, eventually, was not made?
After much difficulty, Arum had to fudge a little to come up with an answer: He chose a rematch.
And he's right. The public badly wanted a rematch between Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad after their first bout, on Sept. 18, 1999, ended in much controversy with a Trinidad victory via majority decision.
"That was a fight that clearly had a lot of public demand and that never got made, and I am sad to say I am one of the people to blame," Arum said. "[Trinidad promoter Don] King and I wound up arguing over stupid [expletive] and it never did happen."
But at least Trinidad and De La Hoya did fight each other. As did Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. And Tyson and Lennox Lewis. And Lewis and Holyfield. And Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The list rolls on.
Boxing often suffers from self-immolation, but the one thing that eventually always happens is that the biggest fights get made.
And so, somehow, some way, at some point, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao will fight each other. Guaranteed.
Oh, it may not happen the next time out for each man, though it should. And there will be a lot of nasty exchanges along the way toward getting it done. But it will get done. Count on it. There is too much money in it for it not to happen.
And if one or the other, or both, loses, it would severely dampen enthusiasm for the bout and would cost each millions.
The question is not if it will happen but rather how well it will do on pay-per-view when it eventually is signed. The pay-per-view results for Saturday's bout between Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto, in which Pacquiao put on a spectacular show in stopping Cotto in the 12th round at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, still aren't in.
Indications are ripe that the number will be large, perhaps as high as 1.5 million, but even Arum was urging restraint.
"We'll know the satellite [sales] numbers by the end of the day [Tuesday] and then we will at least have some kind of an idea of what the final number will be," Arum said. "Right now, anything we say is speculation that doesn't mean a thing."
Most of the speculation is uninformed. What is not speculation is the public demand for this fight, which exceeds the demand for any fight since Tyson and Lewis finally fought in 2002 after years of wrangling.
De La Hoya and Mayweather fought in 2007 in a bout that sold a record 2.45 million pay-per-view units, though there wasn't nearly the kind of demand among the public for that fight that there is for a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.
Each man has a claim to be boxing's pound-for-pound king.
Floyd Mayweather, knocking down Juan Manuel Marquez in September, didn't take long in starting the war of words against Manny Pacquiao. "If Manny Pacquiao wants to fight me, all he has to do is step up to the plate and say it himself."
Each has knocked off a series of the game's top fighters.
Each is among the sport's most popular fighters and bankable stars.
Each has won championships in multiple weight classes.
And each has crossed into the mainstream.
Mayweather has appeared on "Dancing with the Stars" and in the main event of "WrestleMania 25." Pacquiao has gained such notoriety that he was on the cover of the Asian edition of Time Magazine and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked him to beat Cotto, referring to him by his nickname, Pac-Man.
Mayweather manager Leonard Ellerbe said his fighter is willing to take the fight "seven days a week, 24 hours a day," but said "the lion's share of the money" would have to go to Mayweather.
"This is business, not a high school popularity contest," Ellerbe said. "Look at the three common opponents. Floyd did 2.45 million against Oscar De La Hoya; Pacquiao did 1.25 [million]. Floyd did a million against [Juan Manuel] Marquez; they are lucky if their two fights combined did 800,000.
(Editor's note: The first Pacquiao-Marquez bout, in 2004, was on HBO and not on pay-per-view.)
"We did 940,000 with Ricky Hatton and they did 810,000. Those are the numbers and the numbers don't lie."
The public, though, doesn't care about the numbers, not when each man is guaranteed eight-figure paydays. The public, and not just boxing fans, badly wants to see a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight – or should it be Pacquiao-Mayweather? – and the pay-per-view figures likely will dwarf anything that either man has done so far.
Arum, who is usually among the most hyperbolic of men, wouldn't even touch the question of whether the potential bout could do 3 million on pay-per-view. The earliest the bout would occur, if it were to be made, likely would be May 2010, putting it three years after Mayweather-De La Hoya did 2.45 million.
"We can't go back to the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight and say, 'Well, because that fight did so great, this fight will, too,' " Arum said. "Obviously, I know Pacquiao-Mayweather is a big, big fight. But we don't know what the elements were that drove De La Hoya-Mayweather to the number it reached. That number they got was so much higher than anything imaginable. I can't tell you why necessarily that happened, so how can I then say a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight will exceed it? We need more information still."
Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who promoted the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight, believes that with a larger universe of pay-per-view homes, the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight can outdo it.
"It's the kind of fight that I think has the potential to break 5 million," Schaefer said. "I really think so. It's a fight that will have people all over the world glued to their TV screens, whether they're boxing fans or sports fans or general public. This is clearly an event people want to see.
"I can not remember any fight where, pretty much the second that [Pacquiao-Cotto] was over, the fans started chanting 'We want Floyd! We want Floyd!' The whole world, internationally, here, in Europe, in Asia, they want to see Mayweather fight Pacquiao. Everyone agrees these are the two best and it seems to me this fight has become bigger than the sport of boxing."
MGM Grand race and sports book director Jay Rood said he will make Mayweather a slight favorite when the bout is placed on the board.
Mayweather said he's willing to take the bout, and grudgingly gave Pacquiao credit for his performance in stopping Cotto 55 seconds into the 12th round. In what is perhaps a sign of what will come, though, Mayweather wasn't about to shower Pacquiao with too much praise.
Arum had predicted before the fight that reporters wouldn't give Pacquiao full credit for beating Cotto because he said they'd point to Cotto's 2008 loss to Antonio Margarito and suggest that Cotto was damaged goods.
Margarito was subsequently discovered trying to use an illegal knuckle pad in his hand wraps, prompting speculation he had his wraps loaded when he fought Cotto.
Mayweather simply said Cotto wasn't the same fighter he'd seen earlier.
"He was only a shell of himself, though that's not to take anything away from Pacquiao," Mayweather said. "Manny Pacquiao did what he was supposed to do. But it's a whole different stratosphere getting up in there with Floyd Mayweather.
"Manny Pacquiao knows what time of day it is. That's why he's not so quick to jump his ass up in there."