Any bookmaker framing odds on the chances of Manny Pacquiao fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, this spring or summer might have it at close to even money this morning.
The reasons are these: Floyd, one of life's great gamblers, has already pushed Manny too far in their drawn-out blood feud, and he needs the money more than the little guy. I think the Mayweathers are cracking.
Six weeks ago, when negotiations for the 13 March fight started, Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather's closest business adviser, said: "If the fight happens, Floyd deserves the lion's share of the purse."
This is a standard negotiating posture, one that led Bob Arum, representing Pacquiao, to point out to him that only the egos of the negotiators could scupper the promotion.
To everyone's amazement, within days Mayweather agreed to split the $50m purse down the middle and cut a deal on the pay-per-view take. That was when I figured he was more desperate for the fight than Pacquiao was – and when they decided on the next stage of their negotiating strategy.
Just before Christmas they tried to rattle Pacquiao by demanding he take random blood tests for performance-enhancing drugs, knowing he didn't like giving blood, especially in the last month of training. He did it before, against Erik Morales (promoted at the time by Oscar De La Hoya), and lost. They were also putting in place what they thought was the perfect excuse: if Pacquiao refused the blood tests and won the fight, Mayweather could claim again he was on the juice.
But Pacquiao fashioned an even better counter. When he announced last week he was suing Mayweather, his father and uncle, as well as their business associates Richard Schaefer and De La Hoya, for defamation, claiming they portrayed him as a drug cheat, he challenged them to back down.
They have not yet done that, but they are nervous.
Ellerbe, who doesn't give many interviews, told Fanhouse.com yesterday, "From day one, I've never accused Manny Pacquaio of anything. All that I've said is that we want to ensure that there is a level playing field."
This, clearly, is unsustainable nonsense. If he is not accusing Pacquiao of anything, why ask him to take tests they have never demanded of any of Mayweather's previous 40 opponents? There is no logic in the Mayweathers' position – unless they believe Pacquiao is taking performance-enhancing drugs.
If they have proof of that beyond gym scuttlebutt, you would imagine they'd produce it. Or would they? Because, to do so would not only wreck Pacquiao's career but a pay-day north of $40m for Mayweather, as well as big bunce for his partners.
Pacquiao, if he is innocent, will know they have no evidence and so will have to compromise. If he is guilty, he will be reasonably certain they won't wreck the promotion by providing the proof. He also knows Mayweather, who called him out in the first place, really wants the fight. He has some serious tax bills to pay, and loves a bet. The signs are encouraging.
Ellerbe said yesterday, "We're still ready, willing and able to make a deal. We feel that this is the biggest fight in the history of boxing. We want to give this fight to the fans."
Of course they do.
And, not only do they want to make a pay-per-view killing, the biggest in the history of the sport by a factor of possibly two, they want to avoid punitive damages of "tens of millions" above the headline $75,000 Pacquiao is suing them for. Those big zeroes are the estimate of Pacquiao's celebrity attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, and any gambler would do well not to ignore him. He has form.
If Pacquiao extracts an apology from Mayweather and agrees to a suitable form of drug testing, all will be well. Otherwise, he will take the legal action the whole way. I have no idea if he will win in court – but neither does Mayweather, and I reckon his legal advisers will be telling him to think hard about bailing out of this one.
Given this is boxing, there has to be another twist – and the most mysterious of all is that Golden Boy owns a slice of Pacquiao, who signed with it in 2006. This inspired Top Rank to sue GBP, which counter-sued. They now each have a bit of Manny, a curiosity that has yet to be resolved.
It is not just a boxing match between Pacquiao and Mayweather, the two best practitioners in the world; it is a willy-waving contest between a whole cast of players: Arum and De La Hoya, for a start. The Golden Boy boxed for Arum – until they fell out, naturally. Nor does Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, get on with Mayweather Sr. In fact Mayweather Jr is not crazy about De La Hoya, who lost to him in 2007 but out-earned him by $58m to $25m. Oscar then sacked his trainer – Freddie Roach. The Borgias have got nothing on this lot.
Ellerbe told Fanhouse.com, "We checked our egos at the door" when they started talks. I don't think so. The fight game is all about egos. It's why they are in this mess in the first place.
There is an outside chance, of course, that this absurd row is a publicity scam of towering genius, one that ensures maximum interest from outside the hardcore boxing community, punters who will push the pay-per-view numbers past three million and make everyone concerned considerably richer.
It might not have begun like that. But, as in life, what started as a cock-up born of animus has become a war, and it plainly suits both sides to milk it until they settle. It is getting a lot of ink.
So if the fighters, alongside Arum, Ellerbe, Schaefer and De La Hoya, gather this week – let's say Wednesday – to announce the war is over, it would not surprise me in the least. I'd put the odds at about 4‑6.