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Mayweather boxed into a corner

If you ask me, Bob Arum and Manny Pacquiao, as much as Les Moonves, were the ones who forced Floyd Mayweather Jr. to step up to the plate for their May 2 fight in Las Vegas or look cowardly.

CBS president Moonves holds sway over subsidiary Showtime, which has Mayweather under contract, and his was the voice of reason, according to everyone involved in the negotiations, including Arum.

The Top Rank promoter, who controls Pacquiao, invoked Moonves’ name frequently before Pacquiao’s last fight against Long Island’s Chris Algieri as the man who could make everyone understand how stupid it would be to pass up a $200 million payday for Mayweather-Pacquiao.

As if that took a lot of explaining.

But what’s another $120 million purse to Mayweather, who has enough money to last several lifetimes, compared to the zero at the end of his 47-0 record? That’s really what six years of his foot-dragging was all about.

A Mayweather-Pacquiao bout in, say 2010, when Pacquiao was coming off his 12th-round TKO of Miguel Cotto, would have been far better. Mayweather had just won a unanimous decision over Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao’s longtime nemesis. Instead, Mayweather fought aging Shane Mosley and Pacquiao moved on to Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito.

And so it went for the next four years. Mayweather maintained his unbeaten status, and Pacquiao lost a controversial decision to Tim Bradley in June 2012 and was knocked cold by Marquez in December 2012.

The bloom definitely was off the rose until Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios, won a Bradley rematch to regain his WBO title and dispatched Algieri, all by 12-round decisions.

At this stage, Mayweather and Pacquiao are approaching their expiration dates. Mayweather’s last stoppage came in 2011 against Victor Ortiz, and Pacquiao’s last TKO dates to 2009 against Cotto, a span of 10 fights.

At one point in the long negotiation process, Arum said a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight now wouldn’t be worth as much as several years ago. He knew better. The sport was starved for it.

There is no better match available. Mayweather still tops every pound-for-pound rating, and Pacquiao is either second or third in the estimation of most experts.

In the past, Mayweather’s disinclination to fight Pacquiao widely was viewed as his fear of the Filipino’s speed. But Mayweather might have outsmarted himself if he was waiting for Pacquiao to slow down.

It’s true Pacquiao was stretched cold three years ago by Marquez, who barely touched Mayweather in their lopsided 2009 fight, but Mayweather likely has slowed down the most. He never was a huge power puncher, and Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, contends Mayweather’s legs aren’t what they used to be.

Mayweather remains a great defensive fighter, but Pacquiao’s last two opponents, Bradley and Algieri, have said the Filipino still has plenty of speed and hits with surprising power. At 5-6 {, Pacquiao is shorter than the 5-8 Mayweather, but his combination of speed and ability to punch from odd angles will present problems Mayweather never has faced.

It might have been a better fight five years ago, but it’s still the best boxing can offer now. Mayweather deserves to be favored based on his unblemished record and his aura of invincibility. But it’s difficult to place much faith in Mayweather’s swagger when he obviously resisted making the fight for so long until the business interests of Showtime and HBO eventually boxed him into a corner.

If Mayweather is “TBE” — the best ever — as he claims, he should be more than equal to the task. But thanks to the persistence of Pacquiao and Arum — and an assist from Moonves — Mayweather now must prove it in the ring.

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