Civility Masks Tension at Mayweather-Pacquiao Press Conference

Photos: Alexis Cuarezma

By Kieran Mulvaney

And so, finally, they met. They had done so recently, of course, and unexpectedly, after finding each other seated on opposite sides of the court at a Miami Heat basketball game, but that had been as informal as it was unplanned. This meeting was the one that counted, the one that demonstrated beyond all doubt that, after five years of posturing, finger-pointing, and bouts of negotiating, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are truly on the verge of a showdown to decide once and for all who is boxing's best.

There were some 600 credentialed media members in place – far more than attend most fights— at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon as first Pacquiao and then Mayweather strode down toward an empty stage and turned to face each other. And the composition of that media throng was unlike the usual pugilistically-oriented gaggle. There were, of course, sports networks and long-time boxing reporters among the crowd, but there were also, among others, CNN, 'Entertainment Tonight', and 'Jimmy Kimmel Live.'

Video outlets lined a red carpet – another touch rarely associated with the sweet science – and when those had each had their fill, and when both boxers had discharged their duties to the print journalists who gathered in a side room, the two men walked onto the stage and looked each other in the eyes at last.

"I believe this is what you have been waiting for since five years ago," smiled Pacquiao after the stagecraft had given way to the press conference proper. But while fans have been alternately salivating at the prospect of a Mayweather-Pacquiao matchup and despairing that it would never take place since 2010, Mayweather offered that "it's all about timing, and I think we couldn't choose a better time."

After all the difficulties and obstacles that had to be overcome to get to this point, there was a sense of relief and comity at the dais: there was never any danger that it was going to devolve into a Mike Tyson-bites-Lennox Lewis fracas, nor was there even any chest-thumping or smack-talking. Even so, just beneath the surface, a frisson of tension crackled – inevitably, perhaps, given that for five long years, each man has been acclaimed as the greatest boxer on the planet with the possible exception of the person who was now just a few feet away.

So Pacquiao acknowledged Mayweather's excellent defensive skills while predicting that he could break down that defense "easily"; Mayweather, whose pride in his undefeated record is itself a matter of record, tweaked the not-undefeated Pacquiao by arguing that "when you lose, it stays with you." Predictably, Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach was the bluntest: "We are in the toughest fight of our life, fighting the toughest fighter in the world, and we're gonna kick his ass," he offered, before throwing out an almost apologetic, "Good luck, Floyd," as he sat back down.

There was a sense that, notwithstanding that having at least one pre-fight press conference is essential publicity, the fighters themselves would have been happy to have foregone it, to have delayed their having to meet each other for a little while longer yet. Even from a distance, their rivalry has grown so intense that the usual pre-fight expressions of respect and best wishes must be pried from their grasp.

Fortunately for the two of them, this was the one and only time they will have to submit themselves to such an ordeal until fight week itself. They'll have to go through it all once more then, and then, on May 2, will come the meeting that matters the most, when they face off in the ring at the MGM Grand Arena and one man will walk away with universal recognition as the greatest fighter of his generation.