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HBO honcho keen on making megafight

LAS VEGAS -- Ross Greenburg is the most influential man in American boxing because, as president of HBO Sports, he wields the biggest checkbook in the business.

He makes the final decision as to which fighters get on No. 1 boxing network HBO, which bouts the network spends tens of millions of dollars on each year and which fights the network backs with its HBO PPV arm.

And he has been instrumental in the careers of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., both of whom became superstars with years of heavy backing from HBO.

Greenburg doesn't do a lot of talking, so when he speaks, it's worth a listen. On the topic of a potential mega-fight between pound-for-pound Nos. 1 and 2, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., Greenburg has a strong opinion.

"It has to happen," Greenburg said in an interview with ESPN.com following Pacquiao's history-making 12th-round knockout of Miguel Cotto on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which HBO will replay on Saturday (10 p.m. ET/PT). "I will not let it die. It's got to happen. I've been thinking about it for three or four months as this fight began to materialize. The sport needs it. Not because the sport is in desperate straits, but because it's a Super Bowl staring you in the face. Too many people in this country are too excited about it."

Indeed the proposed showdown has garnered worldwide interest. Mayweather, the former pound-for-pound king and five-division champion who came out of retirement in September to dominate Juan Manuel Marquez, generated more than 1 million domestic pay-per-view buys for that fight. Pacquiao, whose victory against Cotto gave him a title in a record seventh division from flyweight to welterweight, is expected to generate far more than 1 million buys for the Cotto fight; numbers are expected to be released this week.

It will mark the first time since 1999, when Felix Trinidad outpointed Oscar De La Hoya in a welterweight unification fight and Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield fought to a highly controversial draw for the undisputed heavyweight championship, that two bouts in the same year will exceed 1 million pay-per-view buys.

Money, public and media demand and legacy are the reasons the fight will ultimately be made, Greenburg said.

"The fight will get made because Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao want the fight to get done," he said. "Two fighters look in the mirror and try to establish themselves as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world."

Greenburg, who has been with HBO for 31 years and worked his way from a producer at age 24 to senior vice president and executive producer in 1994 to president of the division in 2000, has been up close for numerous high-stakes negotiations for many of the biggest fights in boxing history.

With the possible Pacquiao-Mayweather fight staring the sport in the face, he views it as big a fight as any he has seen.

"It's rare when you have the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world both in their prime in the same weight class," Greenburg said. "And when that happens you seize the opportunity. I've lived through [Sugar Ray] Leonard-[Marvelous Marvin] Hagler, Leonard-[Thomas] Hearns. That's exactly where we were in 1981 [with Leonard-Hearns I], and the fight had to get made. The public demanded it and the fighters demanded it. And so there's no gray area. As far as the split, why hassle? Just do what [Muhammad] Ali and [Joe] Frazier did in 1971 -- split it in half. I'll go on record. What's a percentage point here or there to satisfy somebody's ego?"

Assuming the fight eventually happens, Greenburg sees Pacquiao-Mayweather breaking the records set by the 2007 showdown between Mayweather and De La Hoya. That fight generated records for pay-per-view buys (2.44 million), pay-per-view revenue ($137 million), total gross ($165 million) and live gate ($18,419,200).

"I don't see any way it doesn't," Greenburg said about record-breaking potential of Pacquiao-Mayweather. "I don't know what the final number will be but I know if we're going to do this fight, we have to do it out of the box and we have to treat it as a Super Bowl. We have to put all of our energy into every angle of the promotion and the production and the site and treat it as a true Super Bowl, and that means generating a lot more money than we ever have generated."

Greenburg mentioned the possibility of adding a fifth episode -- instead of the usual four -- to the run of the Emmy Award-winning series "24/7" following the buildup to the fight.

"Everything about this fight is bigger than other fights," he said.

Although Pacquiao and Mayweather are not under multi-fight contracts to HBO, Greenburg said that if the super-fight does happen it will definitely be an HBO PPV bout.

"It's an HBO PPV fight, I guarantee you that," Greenburg said. "There are contractual agreements that tie the fight to us."

Greenburg will be paying close attention to the fight negotiations as Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who has been handling Mayweather's business in recent fights, are expected to open discussions shortly.

Greenburg is confident that the fight will be made for the first part of 2010.

So what could hold it back?

"Nothing. I really mean that," he said. "I think it's a fairly easy fight to make. The money is too great, the importance is too high and the fighters themselves are fierce competitors and this will define them.

"This will define them as fighters. This will define them."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.