What began as an apparent simple disagreement between the camps of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. over how to handle drug testing for their megafight -- tentatively scheduled for March 13 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas -- has spiraled so out of control that the potential biggest money fight in boxing history was in serious jeopardy on Christmas Day.
Pacquiao, angered by accusations from the Mayweather camp that he uses performance-enhancing drugs, said he would file a defamation lawsuit against Mayweather and Golden Boy Promotions.
"Enough is enough. These people, Mayweather Sr., [Mayweather] Jr. and Golden Boy Promotions, think it is a joke and a right to accuse someone wrongly of using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs," said Pacquiao, who denied that he has ever used any banned substance and who has passed all of his drug tests. "I have tried to just brush it off as a mere prefight ploy, but I think they have gone overboard."
Floyd Mayweather Sr., the fighter's father, has repeatedly accused Pacquiao of taking illegal substances and points to his rising through weight divisions to win titles in a record seven divisions while maintaining his speed and power.
"I have instructed my promoter, Bob Arum, head of Top Rank Inc., to help me out in the filing of the case as soon as possible because I have had people coming over to me now asking if I really take performance-enhancing drugs and [if] I have cheated my way into becoming the No. 1 boxer in the world," Pacquiao said.
"I maintain and assure everyone that I have not used any form or kind of steroids and that my way to the top is a result of hard work, hard work, hard work and a lot of blood spilled from my past battles in the ring, not outside of it. I have no idea what steroids look like, and my fear in God has kept me safe and victorious through all these years."
Arum was making plans for an alternative bout for Pacquiao to defend his welterweight title on March 13 against former junior welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi, in the event the fight with Mayweather can't be finalized.
"I reached out to Lou DiBella [Malignaggi's promoter], and we're going to schedule that fight for March 13 unless something drastically changes with this Mayweather thing," Arum told ESPN.com on Friday, just before leaving for a working vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. "I'm not going to leave Manny without a fight because of this nonsense [with Mayweather]."
Ironically, Malignaggi also has repeatedly accused Pacquiao of using PEDs.
A plan proposed by HBO to have Sen. John McCain, a serious boxing fan, mediate the drug-testing dispute was originally embraced by the camps but was later shot down by Pacquiao. Arum then suggested that the Nevada State Athletic Commission oversee the testing.
"Manny is pissed off, but I think I can bring him back into the fight by having Nevada do it," Arum said. "He's fought in Las Vegas many times and is comfortable with the people on the commission."
Mayweather is demanding Olympic-style testing conducted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, whose inflexible protocol calls for random urine and blood testing throughout training camps, fight week and even the day of the fight, with the ability to test any time, day or night. Both fighters would be subject to the same kind of testing.
The Pacquiao camp originally suggested using the more flexible agencies that oversee testing for American professional sports leagues before Arum said testing should be overseen by the Nevada commission.
According to Arum and Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, the main issue is an assurance that blood testing will be cut off at an agreed-upon point before the fight, specifically a guarantee that there would be no testing in the final few days before the bout; USADA would not guarantee that. Pacquiao agreed to submit to unlimited urine testing.
In an effort to find common ground, HBO analyst Larry Merchant -- who conceived of Pacquiao's moving up two weight classes to fight Oscar De La Hoya, whom he knocked out in a major upset -- suggested McCain mediate the issue if they could persuade him to do it.
HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg took the idea to Arum and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer. They were both receptive and set out to sell their sides on the idea Thursday, while Greenburg, who has known McCain for years, attempted to contact McCain.
The notion was that McCain would have the gravitas to go with his reputation as a Washington deal-maker to be acceptable to both sides, not to mention his vast knowledge of boxing.
McCain, who boxed as an amateur at the U.S. Naval Academy, spearheaded two pieces of legislation, the Professional Boxing Safety Act in 1996 and the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act in 2000.
However, Arum said that he spoke to Pacquiao, who is in the Philippines, Thursday night and that he was so angered by the drug-testing controversy that he refused the mediation and told Arum of his plans for the lawsuit.
"I have never, ever in all the years I have known Manny seen him so angry," Arum said. "No wonder he is so fierce in the ring. He was angry, bitter and really pissed off beyond everything. He said, 'I don't want you to deal with these people.' He said he's going through with the lawsuit. There is no mediation because there is no give here. Ross asked if we would agree to mediation, but we're not agreeable anymore. We're not going to let Mayweather jerk Manny's chain."
"We're not giving up on this fight," Greenburg said. "We'll just keep the lines of communication open. That's all you can do."
Arum said he is proposing that the Nevada commission handle the testing. It typically conducts only postfight urine tests and, in some cases, prefight urine tests. However, Arum said the commission was willing to conduct additional urine and blood testing if the camps asked for it.
"If Mayweather wants the fight, it will be governed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. They would be prepared to conduct drug tests, including blood and urine tests, before and after the fight," Arum said. "We're 100 percent OK with that as long as it's run by the Nevada commission. They will know enough not to harass the fighters. We're OK with the Nevada commission. Whatever they want, without conditions. We know they're not going to do it the week of the fight. We're prepared to get an agreement on the testing by the commission in writing and do it that way.
"The Nevada commission is paid by the state to oversee this sort of thing. They're the governing body. The Nevada commission will not inconvenience a fighter by waking him up in the middle of the night. The other guys [USADA] play games. We'll write down the protocols and let the commission go from there."
When reached by ESPN.com on Friday, Schaefer said he thought the plan to try to get McCain to act as a mediator was still in the works. He was unaware that Pacquiao had rejected mediation and that Arum was offering the Nevada commission's oversight as a compromise.
"This is something I would have to discuss with my side," Schaefer said. "I'm not the one who goes in the ring. I have to see if this is a procedure Floyd would accept. We are open to any and all ideas. It is not Floyd Mayweather who wants to walk away from this fight and kill the fight. You have not heard from us once saying this fight is dead. That's been Bob. We are trying to come up with a solution, an alternative to the drug testing. I'll be more than happy to take [the Nevada commission idea] back to my side."
If the sides can work out the drug testing, Pacquiao sounds as if he's spoiling for a fight. He's not a fighter who trash-talks, but Mayweather clearly has gotten under his skin.
"I say to Floyd Mayweather Jr., don't be a coward and face me in the ring, mano a mano, and shut your big, pretty mouth so we can show the world who is the true king of the ring," Pacquiao said, adding that he contemplated a lawsuit against Mayweather Sr. before his Nov. 14 victory against Miguel Cotto. "I did not sue because I did not want to get distracted during that time because I was preparing for one of the toughest fights in my career.
"Pretty Boy Floyd, face me instead on March 13 in Las Vegas and not in some talk show forum or in press releases written for you by people who don't even know me. Face me in a fight where I get to punch back. To Floyd, despite all these accusations, may your Christmas be merry, and I will see you in court soon, too."
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.