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Les Moonves proud to help Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight come together

CBS President and CEO Les Moonves poses for

CBS President and CEO Les Moonves poses for the media as he arrives at the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao news conference on March 11, 2015 in Los Angeles. Credit: Getty Images

Leslie Moonves has been involved in many megadeals in his time as one of the most powerful people in the media business.

But it is evident that the most recent one resonated more than most for the former Newsday paperboy from Valley Stream and current chief executive of CBS.

"I must say this is a lot of fun," he said Wednesday from his California office. "I'm really enjoying this one, and I'm really proud this came together."

No wonder.

As a pivotal figure in brokering the deal that at last set a boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather for May 2, Moonves not only did right in business terms but also for a sport that has been close to his heart since his childhood in the 1960s.

His father, Herman, now 93, grew up in Brooklyn in the age of neighborhood fighters and club bouts and introduced him to the sport, as did the old Friday night cards that were a staple of early television.

Floyd Patterson, who lived nearby in Rockville Centre, was an early favorite.

"It's one of my earliest remembrances of boxing, listening on the radio to Floyd Patterson twice get knocked out by Sonny Liston [in 1962 and '63]," said Moonves, 65.

He also recalled famed trainer Gil Clancy living in Malverne and being spotted around town, sometimes talking to Herman Moonves.

So one could argue that Mayweather-Pacquiao is decades in the making. But to close the deal, Moonves had to work all the levers of 21st-century negotiation, given the obstacles that kept the fight from happening when it should have five years ago.

That includes the fact that Showtime, which CBS owns, has Mayweather under contract and HBO controls Pacquiao.

To make it work, executives have used as a blueprint an HBO/Showtime collaboration for the 2002 Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis bout. But a human touch also was required.

Enter Moonves, who called himself a "mediator" armed with a good relationship with both Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, and Al Haymon from Mayweather's side.

"I think I served a purpose in that I was someone who both sides trusted, which in the boxing world is hard to get," Moonves said in an understatement. "There's a lack of trust on both sides, and I think as a result of that, there were a lot of starts and stops in this fight."

Now all systems are go for a fight certain to generate more revenue than any other in the history of the sport.

"I'll bet the house on that one," Moonves said. "I don't know what the number is going to be, but it's guaranteed to break all records in terms of revenue. Both fighters are going to do very well."

The fight is expected to break the record of 2.4 million pay-per-view buys for Mayweather against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. Mayweather will receive 60 percent of the purse, which has been estimated to yield the 47-0 fighter well over $120 million.

What about Showtime and HBO? Moonves said his channel should "make a decent amount of money, not a huge amount of money."

Moonves disputed reports that Mayweather's six-fight deal, signed in 2013, has not yet lived up to hopes. But he added, "Obviously, the deal wouldn't have truly been realized to what we wanted unless this fight took place."

All of that is important. Business is business. But Moonves said this is about more than that. "As a boxing fan, look, we've been waiting years and years and years for this fight," he said.

The backdrop of the May 2 bout has been the sudden return of boxing to broadcast network television, with Haymon placing shows on NBC, CBS and ABC.

Moonves said part of Haymon's "master plan" is to rebuild interest from the ground up.

"You are going to have tens of millions of people watching this [Mayweather-Pacquiao] fight," Moonves said. "That's not going to translate into tens of millions of people watching the network fights, but it certainly will help get those numbers up and help reinvigorate the sport."

One key will be getting modern TV audiences to accept a sport whose inherent dangers and notorious corruption turn off many potential viewers, and advertisers.

Moonves said boxing is more attuned to safety now and that he senses plenty of interest from young people. Also, the rise of mixed martial arts demonstrates an ongoing interest in hand-to-hand combat.

"UFC has become important, but it hasn't overwhelmed boxing," Moonves said. "It's a different animal."

Moonves will try to stay neutral despite his contractual connection to Mayweather. "Since I was a mediator and I still potentially am a decision-maker between now and May 2, I'm not rooting for anybody officially," he said.

"I think it's going to be a competitive fight, I really do. I'm looking forward to it. I have my opinion on what's going to happen, but there are a lot of people who have a lot of different opinions."

One nearly universal opinion is that the matchup would have been even better five years ago, but Moonves said there is no point looking back.

"I'm glad this happened," he said. "There is not going to be an asterisk next to either one of their names, which would have been the case if this hadn't happened.

"I think everybody involved realized this truly - and I'm not exaggerating - would have been a tragedy for the sport if this fight hadn't happened."

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