Finally, after all these years, Showtime Executive Vice President Stephen Espinoza was on stage with the two fighters he’d spent more than half a decade of his life trying to get in the ring together.
Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
After the famed boxers participated in the long-awaited stare-down for photographers and the world March 11 at Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, the other men on the press conference dais came down for a group shot.
Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum, the fighter’s trainer, Freddie Roach, Mayweather’s advisor Leonard Ellerbe, Espinoza and HBO Sports executive Ken Hershman moved in … a moment of solidarity among men long divided over both points of negotiation and ego.
“We’re all posing and I was staying right to Floyd’s right,” Espinoza said. “As we’re facing out, we can hear someone yelling behind us, yelling, ‘I’m here! I made it! I made it!’
“My first inclination is that someone jumped on stage, some fan who wanted to come up, and then I sort of get bumped into … someone jostles their way between me and Floyd.”
The jostling bumper was none other than Justin Bieber.
Mayweather and the pop star/teen idol with 61.7 million Twitter followers have been friends since 2012, just before Mayweather had Bieber join him for the ring walk to fight Miguel Cotto.
In the years since, Bieber has grown close to Mayweather’s children and Mayweather even worked mitts for Bieber in a boxing “training” session that was filmed and went viral.
Espinoza’s importance to Mayweather is slightly more significant.
In the first Mayweather-Pacquiao talks that began in 2009, Espinoza was the lead lawyer for Golden Boy Promotions, trying to craft a deal with Arum that was nearly done before it crumbled when the fighters couldn’t agree on a drug-testing policy.
Espinoza later became Showtime’s executive vice president and facilitated Mayweather’s 2013 move from HBO to Showtime, a six-fight deal in which the unbeaten welterweight world champion has earned in excess of $30 million per fight.
For Pacquiao -- the fifth fight in the deal -- Mayweather has claimed he’ll earn “nine figures for 36 minutes of work.”
Espinoza spent nearly every waking hour since November on the latest negotiation, getting assistance from CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves to help mediate a deal that was finalized in late February.
The May 2 fight at MGM Grand in Las Vegas is expected to shatter pay-per-view records, and Arum told The Times on Tuesday that the live gate will be around $72 million for face-value tickets.
But as the fight was getting officially announced, suddenly standing between Espinoza and Mayweather was Bieber, dressed in black, with a black top hat, longer hair and sunglasses.
“Floyd and I both look at each other, look at who it was, and both were a little stunned at that point. Then Floyd says, ‘Oh, it’s Justin,’ ” Espinoza said. “Because he was wearing the hat and glasses, I didn’t realize it, but then I realized … ‘Oh, yeah, it’s Justin Bieber, let me scoot over and make room for him.’ ”
Espinoza looked at some of the news coverage of the event, including The Times’ stories, and said, “On some, [Bieber] literally cut me out. In [The Times’], it ends at Justin.
“I couldn’t care less, but I thought it was funny that there were several pictures where he literally nudged me out of the picture.”
In a video/photo presentation of the news conference produced by The Times, the narrator assigned to discuss the biggest boxing match in at least a generation was instructed, “Make sure you mention Bieber. We have a picture of him.”
Espinoza said Bieber explained after the picture taking that he was “relieved” he made it in time for the photo after thinking he had missed the event entirely.
“He adds to the spectacle,” Espinoza said. “Having him there, having him support the event socially in his social media and by his presence only adds to the fun of the event.”