When Les Moonves sits down at a restaurant in Hollywood, it’s usually the waiter’s lucky night. As the president and CEO of CBS Corp., which includes Showtime, Moonves runs a powerful television network in a town where nearly every waiter also wants to be an actor.
But when he walked into Craig’s in West Hollywood last year, those roles were reversed. This time, Moonves’ waiter, Gabriel Salvador, was the one serving up a mouthwatering opportunity that had nothing to do with the shrimp diavolo. Instead, he was offering Moonves an “in” to the most coveted match-up in boxing: Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao.
“Moonves’ love of boxing, our love of boxing — that gave me the confidence to say to him ‘Give me a chance,’” said Salvador, an actor who has appeared in “Bones” and “Blue Bloods.”
“I said ‘I can help you make this fight happen,’ and he looked at me like, ‘Okay, I’m listening.’”
That’s when Salvador told Moonves his son trained at the Hollywood gym owned by Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, and that he would put in a good word for Moonves.
At that point, Salvador told CNN, he was driven more by his passion to see the fight happen than any real connection to Roach. But he got Roach’s phone number from his son, Elijah, who was skeptical of his father’s plan. Everybody had already tried, his son said.
But Salvador made the call and gained an audience in Roach.
“I said, ‘Listen, I can help you make this fight happen,’” Salvador said in an interview with CNN.
Salvador helped set up a meeting between Moonves, Roach and himself at Scarpetta in Beverly Hills that he says began with a discussion about the legacy of boxing.
“Mr. Moonves said to me, ‘If this fight happens, you’re going to be sitting there,’” said Salvador.
Salvador’s role ended after that dinner. What followed was a series of meetings between Moonves and both sides that eventually ended the stalemate keeping Pacquiao and Mayweather from entering the same ring. The May 2 fight — on the pay-per-view services of Showtime and HBO — is expected to gross as much as $600 million.
With that kind of money, and a smattering of media buzz around Salvador’s story, inevitable questions circulated over what, if any, reward he should get, given the epic nature of the fight.
When asked to comment, Pacquiao’s team downplayed Salvador’s role.
“For him giving Les my phone number I don’t think he deserves a finder’s fee,” Roach told CNN.
Promoter Bob Arum said Salvador “got his 10 minutes of fame,” though he called Salvador “a really nice guy.”
Salvador insists he is not seeking money, and a CBS spokesman confirmed his role in the initial meeting.
“My reward will be sitting at the fight,” Salvador said. Moonves made good on that promise — Salvador will be ringside on Saturday night.
“It’s about taking a chance,” Salvador said. “It’s about putting people in touch with each other and being able to sit back and say, ‘Wow, I planted that seed.’”