Many in boxing believe Manny Pacquiao essentially signed the death certificate for a bout against Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Tuesday when he put his name on a contract extension with Top Rank.
The biggest story in boxing over the past four-plus years has been whether the sport's biggest stars would ever share a ring.
In 2009, Mayweather and Pacquiao were not only the two top welterweights in the world, they were easily the two best pound-for-pound fighters as well as boxing's biggest ticket sellers.
After Pacquiao routed Miguel Cotto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Nov. 14, 2009, talks intensified for a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Shortly before the holidays that year, it appeared a deal was imminent.
But the deal blew up and never again, despite intense public demand, have the two come close to reaching terms for a match.
When Pacquiao put pen to paper on Tuesday to sign a contract extension that bound him to Top Rank through Dec. 31, 2016, when he'd be 38 and Mayweather would be about seven weeks from his 40th birthday, most boxing experts perceived it as the death knell for what would be by far the richest fight in history.
Surprisingly, though, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum is not one of them. Arum was exceedingly optimistic the fight could still be made. Asked to put odds on it, he said without hesitation, "I'd say 90-10 in favor."
Given the enmity between the sides and the roadblocks that have constantly gotten in the way, that kind of optimism seems cockeyed, at best.
But Arum is nothing if not persistent.
"I could see this scenario playing out, if I were Mayweather," Arum said. "He does the final three fights on his contract with Showtime, and he'll be paid an insane amount of money to do it. It's a great deal for him and he's going to be paid that no matter who he fights.
"But at the end of 2015, the contract with Showtime is up and he has the option to retire or make a [expletive] amount of money fighting Manny. And I really believe it's 90-10 in favor of it playing out that way."
He's one of the few in and around the sport who shares such optimism. Yahoo Sports has spoken to the principals, as well as some neutral parties, to try to not only understand what is preventing the fight from happening but to assess the likelihood of the impasse being broken.
The first and most obvious issue centers around Mayweather's relationship with Arum. Arum signed Mayweather out of the 1996 Summer Olympics and promoted him through April 2006. Mayweather became a star in his tenure at Top Rank and was widely recognized as one of the sport's finest fighters after beating Zab Judah on April 8, 2006, the last fight of his promoted by Arum.
There had been arguments and disagreements with the two throughout their decade together, but nothing hugely significant and mostly centering upon the way Mayweather was marketed.
Top Rank promoted Oscar De La Hoya throughout Mayweather's Top Rank tenure, and had built De La Hoya into the biggest attraction in the sport by tapping into the Hispanic fan base. Arum wanted Mayweather to fight Antonio Margarito, one of the Hispanic stars of his stable, to follow that trend. Mayweather stubbornly resisted and insisted he go in a different direction.
Ultimately, Mayweather bought his way out of the contract with Arum and struck out on his own, a move that clearly worked and made him rich and successful beyond his wildest dreams.
Since Mayweather left Top Rank – which Arum conceded was a wise move for him – he's often repeated the mantra that he wanted to be his own boss.
Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, said making a bout with Pacquiao is difficult because Mayweather as the A side and the biggest star would dictate terms. He said Arum wasn't used to being dictated to and would not agree to a deal in which Pacquiao would have to accede to all of Mayweather's wishes.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler did so in 1987 in order to make a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard. And Mayweather gave De La Hoya all the negotiating advantages for their May 5, 2007 fight – De La Hoya earning $23.3 million guaranteed plus upside from the pay-per-view; Mayweather was guaranteed $10 million plus upside – because De La Hoya was then the A side.
"In my opinion, they do well with their events promoting [Pacquiao] and they wouldn't have that control if they were fighting Floyd Mayweather," Ellerbe said. "And they know he would be in a fight he couldn't win. Everyone has the ability to throw a punch and land a punch, but he couldn't beat Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match when we were first talking and he definitely couldn't do it now.
"I feel badly that the public has been misled why this fight hasn't happened. It's always 'Floyd this,' and 'Floyd that,' but all Floyd has done is make himself available and ready to go. But the facts are, they [Top Rank] generate more revenue doing [Pacquiao's] fights and they make a lot of money from his fights and that wouldn't be the case if he were fighting Floyd Mayweather."
Arum said that in retrospect, Mayweather was right about the way he should have been promoted when he was with Top Rank. But he disagreed with Ellerbe's larger point about the money.
Arum insisted he never has had issues with Mayweather, nor does he now.
"I certainly don't hate Floyd, even though I hear that all the time," Arum said. "Why would I hate him? We lived together with virtually no disputes for almost 11 years."
Surprisingly though, Arum conceded Tuesday that Mayweather was correct about how he should have been marketed by Top Rank. Arum said he believes Top Rank did an excellent job building Mayweather, but said he'd have been more successful had Top Rank paid closer heed to Mayweather's ideas.
"Absolutely he did [make the right move going on his own]," Arum said. "Why? He realized something we didn't realize. He kept telling us we were promoting him wrong, and we should make an effort, a big effort, to promote him in the urban community. I as an old guy remembered the urban community from the days of promoting Muhammad Ali, and it is a totally different community now than it was then during the Ali days.
"He meant that we should have promoted him to the young black people in the music community and those in the urban market place. He was completely right. If he'd have stayed with us, maybe we would have gotten it. Maybe. Maybe. But to a certain extent, he's been better off on his own doing what he's done, and I have no hard feelings."
Mayweather has expressed bitterness toward Arum numerous times over the years since their split. He has a long memory and rarely forgets what anyone said about him.
Several people close to him who asked not to speak on the record said they believed he didn't want to see Arum make money off him any longer.
Ellerbe said comments Arum made to The Sweet Science in February are typical of Mayweather's troubles with Arum.
In an interview with the site's Michael Woods, Arum was asked about Mayweather's demand for him to step aside and not participate as Pacquiao's promoter in order to facilitate a fight with Mayweather.
"This is like a tactic," Arum told Woods. "I'm not equating the politics, [but] it's like [Adolf] Hitler. Before the second World War, 'Give me Czechoslovakia, there'll be peace,' and this and that. And [prime minster Neville] Chamberlain [of the U.K.] kept appeasing, kept appeasing. Was there ever going to be peace? No. No. It's not going to get anybody closer to that fight."
Speaking with Yahoo Sports on Tuesday, Ellerbe was outraged as he recalled those words. He said it was a pattern with Arum and that he went over the line with the comparison to Hitler.
"Look, Bob has said some despicable, disgusting things over the years," Ellerbe said. "But the latest thing he said about Floyd, comparing him to Hitler, that's the icing on the cake. I mean, how can we take him seriously when he's comparing Floyd to Hitler? Why would anybody want to deal with someone who compares them to Hitler?
"Nobody here is running around trashing Bob Arum. He's been tremendously successful in his career. He's done well. He's been a top promoter for a number of years. But Floyd made the decision to be his own boss and control his own destiny and he formed his own company. Since that day, he's made a couple of hundred million being his own boss and there's nobody here comparing him to Hitler."
Ellerbe said he would pray for someone who would make such misguided comments. Arum, however, pointed out that he never called Mayweather Hitler and said he was simply talking about lies that had been told. Arum also believes Al Haymon, Mayweather's powerful adviser, has played a significant role in preventing the fight from happening.
Several boxing insiders have voiced the theory that Haymon, who has signed dozens of boxing's top fighters to managerial or advisory contracts, is trying to form a company that will run boxing in a way that the UFC does mixed martial arts.
The theory is that Haymon is trying to create a league in which all of the fighters are from his umbrella and he'd have more control over who, when and how often they fight. Arum said he agreed with that theory.
Arum, who has no love lost for Haymon, pointed to his frequently contentious relationship with promoter Don King as evidence he can make deals with those he dislikes. He said it comes down to both sides wanting to make a deal.
"Don and I were at each other's throats and we weren't talking and we said the worst things about each other," Arum said. "He called me a slave master. We each said some bad [expletive] about the other. But when there was a fight to be made, we sat down, wrote out the ground rules and then ended up at a table cutting up the money.
"Now, I keep hearing about this so-called 'Cold War,' between us and Golden Boy. There ain't no [expletive] Cold War. You have to understand, this is all Haymon and [Golden Boy CEO Richard] Schaefer. It's part of the plan. It's to take monopoly control of the business. Even if I could do that, I wouldn't be interested because diversity is good. Kathy Duva, Lou DiBella, Artie Pellulo – they all bring different things and ideas to how they promote and that's good for the sport."
Ultimately, Arum's optimism is shared by few, and each day that passes, the fighters age and the bout becomes less appealing.
Pacquiao's signature on Tuesday didn't totally kill the fight, but nor did it help the situation. It simply left it in this bizarre limbo where it's existed for the last four-plus years, in which neither side will make a concession to allow the fight their customers so desperately want to see finally occur.
Pacquiao fans will blame Mayweather and those on his side. Mayweather fans cast the blame upon Arum.
The truth is that a lot of people on all sides of the issue are to blame. And they're about to let one of the biggest fights in boxing history die a slow, painful death.
Remember that the next time any of them involved talks about how much they care for the fans.