Floyd Mayweather Jr. is days away from a guest-starring role at World Wrestling Entertainment's annual WrestleMania event, where he will wrestle against nearly 7-foot tall Paul "Big Show" Wight.
But the WWE has changed directions constantly with their plans for the Yahoo! Sports No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer for Sunday's event at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
The original idea was a tag-team match in which Mayweather's role was to be Wight's partner as villains against a Latino superstar team of boxer Oscar De La Hoya and wrestler Rey Mysterio, the company's diminutive but spectacular masked kids favorite.
The idea on paper was a winner. You've got the biggest rivalry in boxing with two guys who last year did the biggest pay-per-view numbers in history, and with the 441-pound Wight and the 5-2, 165-pound Mysterio, you have a David vs. Goliath tale. Mysterio, already the company's top Latin draw, would have only gotten bigger as De La Hoya's partner.
But things changed quickly. De La Hoya turned down the offer, as it would have interfered with his training for his May fight against Steve Forbes. Another wrestler, Dave Batista, was put in De La Hoya's spot. But then Mysterio suffered a full biceps tear in a match in Santiago, Chile, which needed surgery and removed him from the equation.
At that point the decision was made for a Mayweather vs. Wight singles match, with the idea of making Mayweather into Mysterio's buddy. The story started in Las Vegas on Feb. 17 on a WWE pay-per-view event. Big Show was bullying the injured Mysterio, who took one for the team by performing with his biceps injury before going in for surgery. Earlier in the show, they had done an interview establishing Mayweather and Mysterio and running mates. Mayweather hit the ring. Show mocked him by getting on his knees, and Mayweather unleashed a barrage of punches to the face.
The next problem was, wrestling fans didn't like Mayweather. He was heavily booed whenever he appeared at wrestling functions, or whenever his name was mentioned. When a press conference in Los Angeles featured loud chants of "De La Hoya," Mayweather threw money into the crowd. The only clips that aired on television were the fans excited over the money being thrown, making it appear the fans actually liked him. After a few weeks of portraying him as the smiling hero facing an enormous challenge, the fans completely rejected the portrayal and the company did an about-face and made Mayweather Jr. into a villain.
Wrestling, of course, is a blend of a reality and illusion. Here's what's real and what isn't regarding Mayweather in WrestleMania:
$20 million: The alleged amount of money Mayweather is supposed to be getting for his appearance. Not real. The most money anyone has ever earned for a one-time pro wrestling appearance was Mike Tyson at WrestleMania in 1998, which was good for about $3.5 million. Even though pro wrestling was more popular in America then, WrestleMania itself is a bigger money show now, partially because WWE's popularity has expanded outside North America. But the Tyson of 1998 had more drawing power than the Mayweather of 2008. Wrestling sources indicate Mayweather is getting a $2 million flat fee, plus a percentage that should put him in Tyson's range.
$34-42 million: The very real amount of money WWE will gross from the event, combining their percentage of the worldwide pay-per-view, the live gate, merchandise sold at the event and the subsequent DVD release that comes out a month later. The event will top 1 million buys, and the company's goal is to break its all-time record of 1.25 million worldwide buys set for a similar event last year, in which Donald Trump put his hair at stake against WWE owner Vince McMahon, the latter of whom was shaved bald. After the cable companies get their share, WWE's take should be anywhere from $22.5 million to $29 million.
With the exception of the proposed De La Hoya vs. Mayweather match in September, this should be the biggest pay-per-view event of any kind in 2008, and if it beats last year, will become the largest non-boxing pay-per-view event in history. The expected crowd of more than 70,000 fans will pay $6 million or so in ticket sales, setting a North American pro wrestling record. Merchandise accounts for another $1.5 million. The event DVD should gross the company more than $4 million and could easily top $5 million.
The vast majority of that money was drawn on the name WrestleMania, the 24th incarnation of an annual tradition, not because of the publicity Mayweather is bringing to the event. This is actually the first WrestleMania in over a decade not to sell out well in advance, and live tickets have moved relatively slowly, maybe around 1,000 per week, since Mayweather was announced. His value as a pay-per-view attraction is a wild card.
The key selling point: When the challenge of Mayweather gaining revenge for his injured buddy and slaying the fire-breathing giant went up in smoke when the fans wouldn't cooperate with the portrayal, a new idea had to be formulated. The selling point now is that Show has vowed to injure Mayweather and end his boxing career. Because of the size difference, Mayweather has no chance and thus if you buy the show, you'll see history. Even though pro wrestling is scripted, the real injury rate is obscenely high. But Mayweather will be taking no risks that will threaten future payoffs. Not real.
The nearly two feet in height and 300 pound size difference: Bad math. While pro wrestling is a world where anyone who is 6-7 can be labeled a 7-footer (the most famous exaggeration being the late Andre the Giant, billed at 7-4 and 7-5 his entire career even though he was really 6-9 3/4), Wight is close enough to seven feet that he was listed as being a 7-footer when he had limited playing time as a basketball player at Wichita State University in the early '90s.
Mayweather is 5-8. At the weigh-in a few weeks ago, a brawl broke out. According to the scales, Wight was 441.4 pounds, down from 530 a year ago when he retired as a wrestler – to try boxing. The year of training did wonders for his health, but evidently he didn't believe he could box, because he's back to wrestling. Mayweather was 159. Believe it or not, the scale was legitimate.
The broken nose: The story for this match started on Feb. 17, when Mayweather jumped into the ring to save Mysterio, and threw a flurry of bare-knuckle punches at Show's head. An errant blow hit the nose and a significant amount of blood came from his nose and mouth. Thee blood was real, and not planned, but for visual effect, it was a fortunate mistake. Sources say the nose, however, was not broken.
The elbow injury: After the weigh-in, Wight picked Mayweather up for in a "SportsCenter" moment and threw him out of the ring where a group of WWE wrestlers were waiting to catch him. Mayweather got up, starting holding his elbow, and ran to the back. The WWE then put out a story that Mayweather had injured his elbow, pushing the story line that Mayweather is risking his boxing career by participating in the match. The story of this alleged injury received no media attention and WWE quietly forgot they staged the injury.
As far as what will happen on Sunday? Expect a lot of distractions from outside the ring and a carefully choreographed encounter. Mayweather will be protected from any physical risks.
Wrestling fans have been conditioned to believe small guys have no chance with big guys, so even though Mayweather is as legitimate a fighter as there is, fans won't buy too many minutes of him beating on a guy that much bigger than him. Whenever a boxer does pro wrestling, the climactic spot is always the knockout punch.
But Mayweather is more likely to deliver on someone not in the match who jumps into the ring. In the end, somebody will lose, probably due to interference from another wrestler, getting the clip on "SportsCenter" later that night.