Pacquiao, Mayweather Camps Spar Over Drug Testing

Robert Siegel discusses a welterweight title bout between two of the best fighters in the world with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The perpetually beleaguered sport of boxing looked like it had a dream match a month ago: Manny Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in a welterweight title bout between two of the best fighters in the world. And then, in a turn of events that seems all too common in this sport, the bout imploded, apparently over the issue of drug testing.

Here to explain all this is our regular Friday sports commentator Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first, tell us about the two fighters, Pacquiao and Mayweather.

FATSIS: Well, The Ring magazine ranks Pacquiao and Mayweather one and two in the world as the best boxers pound for pound. Pacquiao's a remarkable story. He's won championships at seven weight categories. He's taken on stud after stud en route to winning 50 of 55 professional fights, 38 of them by knockout. He is a legend in his homeland, the Philippines. And Mayweather hasn't lost in 40 professional fights. He is brash, loud, colorful. This would've been a great one.

SIEGEL: Sounds like an obvious matchup. What happened?

FATSIS: Well, you know, boxing is controlled by money and this was envisioned as potentially the sport's biggest payday ever. Promoters for the two fighters started negotiating in November. They agreed to stage the fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on March 13th. It was projected to draw a bigger pay-per-view audience than any fight ever. Pacquiao and Mayweather were projected to earn a payday of up to $40 million apiece, and then when it came down to the nitty-gritty of the negotiations, it all fell apart.

SIEGEL: And the nitty-gritty, somewhere near the nitty-gritty, at least, is the issue of drug testing. What's going on here?

FATSIS: Well, the backdrop here is that there was preexisting bad blood between the two sides, as there often is in boxing. Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, had a nasty split from Mayweather a few years back. Mayweather's father, who it should be said is kind of a loose cannon, he had previously implied that Pacquiao had used performance-enhancing drugs. Pacquiao has never tested positive for anything.

Boxers, though, usually get past the trash talk in the name of a payday, and in contract negotiations here, though, Mayweather's side insisted on drug testing that exceeded the standards required by the state of Nevada. They wanted Olympic-style, random blood and urine testing before and after the fight.

Pacquiao's side was offended. Ultimately it sued Mayweather for defamation. They did agree for a while to blood testing up to 24 days before the fight. Mayweather wanted 14 days. The sides wouldn't budge; the fight was off.

SIEGEL: Well, was there anything to this? Did the Mayweather camp have a point about more stringent testing in boxing?

FATSIS: You know, I doubt that this was their intention, to help reform the sport or imply some more stringent standards, but it does raise some interesting issues. Boxing does not have a uniform protocol governing pre-fight medical and drug testing. That is left to the individual states or countries whose requirements vary very widely and some of them are just pretty weak.

Promoters do seem to have the legal ability to contract for additional testing, and that wouldn't be a bad thing. It would help protect fighters and their opponents not only in the case of performance-enhancing drugs but, say, preexisting brain injuries. The problem is it's boxing. Self-interest typically rules the day. Getting two sides to agree on anything is complicated, to say the least.

SIEGEL: So we don't get the big Mayweather-Pacquiao bout. What do we get instead?

FATSIS: Well, incredibly, we get both of them fighting on March 13th against other boxers. You know, only in boxing would something like this happen. Pacquiao is going to take on Joshua Clottey in the big, new Dallas Cowboys football stadium. Mayweather is going to fight an unnamed opponent in Las Vegas, which means that instead of meeting for a title and a record pay-per-view payday, they're going to compete with each other for fan attention. Boxing can't be surprised that mixed martial arts is eating into its audience. It's stuff like this that just turns fans off.

SIEGEL: Will bouts like the ones you're describing, will they actually out-draw mixed martial arts on television?

FATSIS: Yeah, it depends. I mean, mixed martial arts has had bouts of well over a million pay-per-view buys. And one of the reasons that ultimate fighting, which is the main organizer of mixed martial arts is growing is that there's a central body. They cut sponsorship deals. They keep all the fighters in one camp. And boxing does feel threatened.

Back in September, Bob Arum, the Pacquiao promoter, derided the Ultimate Fighting as a bunch of skinhead white guys watching people in the ring who also look like skinhead white guys - and that was before he made a homophobic slur about the sport. That to me is just the first cry of a wounded animal.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks a lot, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis, who joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. And you can hear him some more on slate.com's sports podcast Hang Up and Listen.

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