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Mayweather-Pacquiao is more than a fight: It’s class war in one ring

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Saturday’s Mayweather-Pacquaio fight is on track to produce $72 million in ticket revenue and the two fighters will share a $300 million purse.

In a literal sense, it’s a fight between two very rich athletes. But below the surface, there are themes of class war and a struggle for the soul of the sport—themes that are born in the attitudes and immediate backgrounds of the two fighters.

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Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao both come from backgrounds where they had to struggle. Mayweather grew up in the United States surrounded by violence and drugs; Pacquaio grew up in a poor home in the Philippines and had to drop out of high school.

Where the two diverge is the men they became. Today, Mayweather is known not just as one of the best boxers in the business, but one with an arrogant and prideful personality. His lust for money is overt and almost pathological; during the final press conference before the fight, he was hawking his own merchandise, not missing a chance to cash out. In a tweet earlier this month, he used the venue, the Las Vegas casino MGM, to boast about the $180 million he is earning from the upcoming fight:

MGM = Mayweather Gets Money

— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) April 28, 2015

Mayweather’s nickname is actually “money,” which is appropriate given the fact that he’s the world’s highest-paid athlete. In January, he tweeted a photo of his eight exotic cars alongside his private jet, writing, “Welcome to my world.”:

Welcome to my world pic.twitter.com/GwSJ4OC4Yj

— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) January 5, 2015

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This prideful attitude may bring up memories of another boxing legend, Muhammad Ali. In fact, Mayweather brought up Ali recently, saying he’s even better than that legendary athlete. But while Ali was renowned for trash talk, he never bragged about his wealth or held himself as superior to others in any dimension except his boxing skills. He risked jail time to resist the Vietnam war, and his iconic fight with George Foreman was seen around the world as a representation of the anti-colonial mindset vs. American arrogance.

Mayweather stands for something much darker. He has been convicted numerous times for beating women, including slamming the mother of his child with a car door and punching her several times in the face. Here’s the handwritten testimony his son gave to the police documenting his dad’s attacks on his mother.

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In life, people make mistakes; even harsh mistakes like committing acts of brutal and unnecessary violence. What make Mayweather even more shameful is that he does not admit to his mistakes or seek contrition. To do so would be against the core of his message: I’m the best, I have the most money, you wish you were me.

Manny Pacquaio, on the other hand, is seen as a savior figure in his home country. Famously devout, he has moved on from his wild youth to becoming a leader of his people, twice elected to the Philippines congress. When a typhoon struck the country in 2011, his nonprofit went into action, and he used his personal wealth to help in the relief effort. As the fight with Mayweather was being set up, Pacquaio broached the idea of donating the entire purse to charity (that obviously didn’t happen).

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Their clashing personalities represent two different responses to poverty and the harsh conditions of their childhoods. Mayweather’s career is about overcoming the pain of the past by filling his life with unapologetically hedonistic pleasures. Like Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman-Sachs mega-bank, who grew up poor in New York, Mayweather has put all of that behind him under a pile of riches. For Pacquiao, overcoming his childhood means achieving the generosity and piety it takes to ensure others have it better than he did.

So it’s no surprise that Muhammad Ali is in Pacquaio’s corner.

“My dad is Team Pacquiao all the way!” Ali’s daughter Laila told the press. “My dad really likes Manny. He’s a huge fan of his. He knows Manny’s a great fighter…but it’s more about what he does outside the ring. He’s such a charitable person.”

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