Sports

Waiter has a hand in Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao matchup

Waiter helps get wheels in motion for Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight

For one West Hollywood waiter, his grand dream has been realized by the making of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s long-awaited fight with Manny Pacquiao.

Last year, Gabriel Salvador, a waiter at Craig's restaurant in West Hollywood, reconnected with Leslie Moonves, the chief executive CBS Corp. who frequented the establishment. Salvador's teenage son receives boxing lessons from Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach.

"Every tree starts with a seed, correct?" Salvador said. "I just knew, with no doubt, that if I brought Freddie Roach to Leslie Moonves, those two men could make the fight happen.

"I'm the finder."

During the times that Salvador handled Moonves' table, the men bonded over their love of boxing.

Then, at Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Salvador made a bold statement.

"I think I can make this fight happen," Salvador told Roach. "I talk to Leslie every time he comes in, we have a great rapport. I trust you with my son. Give me the benefit of trust."

From there, Salvador told Moonves, "You're the king of making things happen. I'll bring Freddie Roach to you," setting up a meeting in June at a Beverly Hills hotel.

Salvador said that Roach and Moonves discussed obstacles preventing a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and Roach said "I'll talk to Manny. Manny wants this fight to happen." Moonves agreed to speak to Mayweather, who has two fights remaining on his contract with the CBS-owned Showtime cable network.

"Once that meeting happened, you have what you have now, the greatest trainer of all time seeing what his fighter can do against Mr. Undefeated," Salvador said.

When Mayweather announced the fight Friday, to take place May 2 in Las Vegas, people praised Moonves for succeeding where others had failed. All the efforts since 2009 to put together a Mayweather-Pacquiao bout had collapsed for various reasons, but mostly over personality conflicts.

Moonves got involved with some sore feelings at Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum, who put one Pacquiao fight on Showtime during a leadership change at HBO, then returned to HBO.

"You're going to have to deal with Bob," Roach told Moonves. "Manny just signed a new contract with him."

Roach arranged an October meeting between Moonves and Arum at the promoter's Beverly Hills home that ended with the the men exiting arm in arm, Roach said.

Stephen Espinoza, a Showtime executive vice president who had been involved in failed fight negotiations, said, "When we look at the history of these negotiations and ask why this one was different, the obvious answer was Leslie. I don't think he had a doubt in his mind that this deal would close.

"He was really the catalyst for seeing this through, and refused to take no for an answer from any side."

Moonves had acted in good faith and paid Mayweather than $30 million for four fights, three of which didn't deserve that kind of money.

Arum, whose promotional work started with Muhammad Ali, respected Moonves' business acumen in leading a television network powerhouse.

Moonves pushed Mayweather, his manager Al Haymon and Arum to embrace a shared goal.

"Both sides realized how important this fight would be," Moonves said.

At one point, Moonves had Arum and Haymon at his home, describing the session as "fine, very respectful, with a lot getting accomplished in those two hours."

"You have a lot of strong personalities involved in this thing. These negotiations are always tough, but I'm not in unfamiliar territory. I've obviously done a lot of big negotiations with entertainment shows, with the NFL. I've never been in anything quite as complex and tricky as this."

Said Espinoza: "The sheer number of issues — the boxers, the promoters, the networks — there was a time in looking at it, I thought it'd be too much to overcome."

Part of the deal involved a joint pay-per-view broadcast with Moonves' rival, HBO.

Moonves and HBO Chairman Richard Plepler were in agreement on the need for a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.

"We're arch-enemies, but they're good guys over there. It's a true partnership," Moonves said.

Keeping with Roach's promise, Pacquiao accepted Mayweather's push for a 60-40 purse split and a drug-testing plan that he'd balked at previously.

Then, late last month, Mayweather looked across courtside at a Miami Heat game and saw Pacquiao. The two met later at Pacquiao's suite and came away convinced that each wanted the bout.

That "certainly greased the wheels in getting through the final stages of the process," Espinoza said.

Mayweather-Pacquiao is expected to shatter pay-per-view and live-gate records, with ringside seats at $5,000 apiece and the pay-per-view expected to be in the $100 range.

"The sky is the limit. This event has a scale and stature we may never see again," Espinoza said.

Moonves plans to be ringside, and Salvador said he'll be there too, part of a "finder's fee."

"I'm sitting in the front row, right next to Mr. Moonves," Salvador said.

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