LAS VEGAS — Mike Tyson, the aging and near-forgotten face of the tottering boxing industry, was at the MGM’s Ka Theater Wednesday afternoon for the perfunctory Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao press conference.
“I like Pacquiao,’’ the faded champ touted, a trail of some 20 reporters and ever-present hangers-on straggling behind as Iron Mike meandered toward the doors. “I could be wrong, but I like Pacquiao.’’
Roughly 10 years since Tyson commanded the spotlight — a TKO loss to Kevin McBride his unheralded adieu — boxing remains in need of that one megastar focal point to regain its legs. It’s the heavyweight class, where Tyson administered his bludgeonings and staged his histrionics, where such stars typically roost. Right now, none of the big boys captures the imagination.
So absent that one marquee big brawler, it’s the fight here Saturday, the richest in the history of the sport, that is the industry’s top card and perhaps its best chance to recapture America’s sporting consciousness.
If America could be judged on this town — now there’s a thesis worthy of Ph.D in sociology — then there could be nothing bigger in all of US sport than the 12-round welterweight title bout to be staged in the Grand Garden Arena. Latest betting lines have the undefeated Mayweather a 2-1 favorite (down from 3-1), even with Tyson backing Pacquiao, whose trainer, Freddie Roach, believes Mayweather is ripe for a whoopin’.
“His legs are shot, a little worn,’’ Roach said more than once in recent weeks. Roach therefore wants the legendary Filippino “PacMan’’ attacking from the get-go with his usual storm of unrelenting punches, yet mindful to retreat quickly after scoring those lightning-quick combinations.
And when Mayweather attempts to return volley?
“We’ll be gone,’’ noted Roach.
Meanwhile, amid the scrutiny and strategizing, estimates of the record money pile grow ever higher, fitting for Mayweather, whose nickname is “Money’’ and whose company is TMT, acronym for The Money Team. Recent projections have the bout bringing in some $300 million via pay-per-view purchases, and live gate, with face ticket prices ranging from $1,500 to $7,500, grossing another $72 million. A $400 million take appears to be the floor, with some insiders projecting a ceiling upward of $600 million.
“I’d just like to see it be a great fight,’’ Al Valenti, the longtime New England boxing promoter said this week in a phone interview. “I know I’d be the happiest guy in the world. Boxing needs it.’’
No matter the quality of the bout or the outcome, both fighters will leave the ring megawinners, with Mayweather’s take expected to be upward of $200 million and Pacquiao with maybe $120 million, based on their pre-arranged 60-40 split of the purse. For finances, there has never been a fight like it, the cash trove beefed up, in part, because it took the fighters roughly six years to agree to terms. The amount of money they may have left on the table, considering rematches they could have staged over the last half-dozen years, boggles the mind.
Finally, they stood on the same stage Wednesday, both sounding calm and confident, prepared to engage in the richest, perhaps most-watched fight ever staged.
“There’s a lot of questions in our minds that only God can answer on Saturday,’’ said Pacquiao, 57-5-2, a born-again Christian in recent years. “And I just want to let you know that everything that I have accomplished is [because] God gave me this strength . . . before I became a boxer, I used to sleep in the street, starving, hungry, and now I can’t imagine the Lord raised me in this position . . . the boy that used to sleep in the street . . . he raised me to this level in life.’’
The 47-0-0 Mayweather, who served two months in jail in 2012 for domestic abuse, also thanked God for bestowing him with strength and good fortune. Religion ran so deep during the presser, one might have been misled that Vegas, the notorious Sin City renowned for gambling and myriad other dalliances, had been delivered by sand storm into the Bible Belt.
“It’s time to fight now,’’ said Mayweather, whose hyperbole recently led him to say he’s better than Muhammad Ali. “You guys came out here to see excitement. You guys came out here to see a great event. And I think that’s what both competitors bring to the table, excitement. It’s the biggest fight in boxing history. I’m part of it. That’s a great thing. I am truly, truly blessed to be where I’m at. I feel good. I feel strong.’’
Boxing, weakened by disinterest, could stand to feed off that strength.