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Will money get in way of Pacquiao-Mayweather?

LAS VEGAS – You wouldn't have known it by listening to him during an often rambling, frequently incomprehensible 45-minute conference call with boxing reporters on Tuesday, but Floyd Mayweather Jr. will fight the best boxing has to offer in the coming months.

He's going to start his comeback on Sept. 19 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena by facing Juan Manuel Marquez, the No. 2-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the June Yahoo! Sports rankings.

And though he seemed at times to quash a potential fight with Manny Pacquiao, the top-ranked fighter in the Yahoo! Sports poll, Mayweather's manager, Leonard Ellerbe, insisted on Wednesday that that is not the case.

Assuming a business deal can be reached, Mayweather is willing to fight Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley or any of the men boxing insiders clamor for him to face.

During a conference call Tuesday designed to promote the Sept. 19 match with Marquez, Mayweather sometimes sounded willing to face Pacquiao next, but seemed to rule it out at others, particularly when he was railing against the business practices of Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum.

Ellerbe, though, insisted on Wednesday that Mayweather wanted to fight the perceived top challengers and would do it without hesitation if terms could be reached.

"Absolutely," Ellerbe said. "Floyd's not looking to make a fight with a Dmitry Salita. He came back to fight the absolute best guys who are out there. Floyd knows he's the best of this era and he wants to prove that. The thing is, every one of these guys we're talking about, whether it is Pacquiao or Cotto or Mosley or whoever, they're going to make the biggest payday of their careers when they fight Floyd.

"So they shouldn't be out there talking 50-50 [revenue splits]. That's crazy talk. Floyd is the engine that drives this train. But I'm telling you, he's there to fight the best of the best assuming there is an appropriate deal."

Mayweather started by saying he respected Pacquiao and had nothing bad to say about him. But as the call extended, Mayweather appeared to get agitated and began to complain about Arum and what he views as an establishment that is out to get him and is biased against him. He was promoted by Arum for most of his career, though the two are at odds now.

Mayweather complained about the way he's been portrayed in the media, noting many boxing writers have accused him of ducking quality opponents and failing to face the toughest fighters of his era.

"They can write what they want to write," Mayweather said. "I don't read that negative stuff. 'Floyd's ducking this guy,' or 'Floyd can't beat that guy.' You all never get on there and talk about the real thing. Go talk about Manny Pacquiao being knocked out twice. Talk about stuff like that. Talk about Shane Mosley taking steroids. How can Shane Mosley be the official welterweight champ if [Carlos] Baldomir was the undisputed champ and I beat him?

"Everyone else in the welterweight division won a vacant belt. You never hear Cotto calling me out. You never hear any of these guys calling me out, and if they do call me out, they only do it because they want a payday. A guy like Marquez deserves a shot at it, so he can make some good money. He deserves a shot. If Manny Pacquiao really wanted a fight with me, all he got to do is say it."

As he got riled up, he went so far as to suggest paying Marquez $1 million to allow him to get out of the contract so he could face Pacquiao.

That had to make Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer, who was hosting the call and is promoting the fight, blanch.

"We could pay [Marquez] a million dollars, that's nothing," Mayweather said. "Step aside. Me and [Pacquiao] could make something. 'Are you ready?' Bring it on."

But in the very next question, he was asked how big a potential Pacquiao fight could become and he seemed to brush it off, again taking off on Arum.

He's the most talented fighter in the world, but he wasn't doing a particularly good job of making his position clear.

He's fighting Marquez, but it's clear that both the public and the media want to see him fight Pacquiao. And he didn't do a good job on Tuesday of articulating his position.

"With or without Pacquiao, I'm comfortable," Mayweather said. "I'm happy. Pacquiao, he don't make me [expletive]. I don't chase opponents. Opponents got to chase me. We already know in the last fight, Bob Arum gave Cotto a gift [against Joshua Clottey]. We also know he had to let Cotto win, because I mean who else is Pacquiao going to fight? We already knew he wasn't going the Floyd Mayweather route, because he knew Floyd Mayweather wasn't splitting 50-50 [with Pacquiao]. That's a way of saying he don't want to fight.

"He has Cotto and he has Pacquiao, and he can let them two fight, and he can keep all the money."

Mayweather went on to insist that Arum keeps 27 percent of Pacquiao's purses while boasting he keeps 100 percent of his own. And he seemed to indicate he'd have a difficult time reaching a deal for a fight with anyone promoted by Arum.

The bottom line, however, is this: Mayweather needs a Pacquiao fight to prove he can stand on his feet as the top attraction he claims to be. And a match with Pacquiao would go a long way toward cementing his in-ring legacy.

In Mayweather's two biggest pay-per-view fights, Oscar De La Hoya was largely responsible for the sales in one and Ricky Hatton had a big role in the other. When Mayweather fought Hatton, more than 85 percent of the arena was filled with Hatton fans who were singing and chanting loudly for him.

Mayweather's other pay-per-view fights were against the late Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah and Baldomir, all of which sold less than 500,000.

His reputation as an attraction has been built on the success of his fights with De La Hoya (a record 2.45 million pay-per-view buys) and Hatton (900,000). Pacquiao did about 1.25 million against De La Hoya and 825,000 against Hatton.

He needs to dispose of Marquez, which shouldn't be a difficult challenge. While Marquez is an elite fighter, he's a lightweight. Mayweather is not only the bigger man, but also he's the far quicker man and better boxer.

It would be a shock if Mayweather were to lose the fight.

Where he could lose, though, is if the fight doesn't perform as well at the box office. Schaefer insisted the fight is selling well, though in boxing, it can be made to look as if a fight is hot with the public when it is not.

Golden Boy has, for several major shows it has promoted in Las Vegas, sold all or virtually all of the tickets for a fight to the casinos before there is a sale to the public. That's great, because the money goes into the till, but it doesn't indicate that the public is clamoring for seats and demanding to see the fight.

Mayweather is the sport's unquestioned best, and he'll handle his business in the ring on Sept. 19, without question. Pacquiao is No. 1 right now, but he's just keeping the seat warm for Mayweather, who hasn't fought since stopping Hatton in 2007.

Mayweather, though, has to prove he can sell tickets and pay-per-views on his own, without a De La Hoya as his foil.

If he does big numbers against Marquez, he'll steal much of the ammunition from Arum, who is going to argue – and is already arguing – that Pacquiao is far more popular with the ticket-buying and pay-per-view purchasing public than Mayweather.

But if the Mayweather-Marquez fight does only 350,000 or 400,000 buys, it will significantly weaken Mayweather's business hand and make getting a fight done against the Pacquiao-Cotto winner extremely difficult.

Arum is closing in on a deal for a Nov. 14 fight between Pacquiao and Cotto. A fight between the winner and Mayweather would be the biggest fight in boxing.

Ellerbe says the biggest fight in the game now is Mayweather-Marquez. But Mayweather couldn't even agree with that.

"The biggest fight in boxing isn't Mayweather vs. Marquez," he said. "It's Mayweather vs. anybody."