By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The prospect of a long awaited mega-bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao may have receded in recent years but promoter Bob Arum believes the fight will take place, most likely before the end of 2016.
A duel between the defence-minded Mayweather and the aggressive Pacquiao, the biggest drawcards of their generation, has long been savored by boxing fans, if only to decide the mythical title of the world's best pound-for-pound fighter.
Filipino Pacquiao lost much of his appeal after successive defeats to American Timothy Bradley and Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, prompting talk of his possible retirement, though he has since bounced back with two impressive wins.
"I think that fight will eventually happen," Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, told Reuters on Thursday in a telephone interview. "We are certainly open to the fight happening and we are prepared to sit down with (the Mayweather team) at any time and work out terms."
Five-division world champion Mayweather, who is known for his shrewd business acumen, had been expected to meet Pacquiao in 2010 until negotiations collapsed over the American's demand for random drug testing.
Mayweather, who has hinted at illegal methods by often questioning how Pacquiao could have won world titles in an unprecedented eight weight classes, has since said he would not fight the Filipino as long as Arum is his promoter.
Veteran Arum, however, has his own theory about that.
"Frankly, it's the same as it always was," said the 82-year-old promoter, who has worked with giants of the ring such as Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran.
"The idea that Mayweather says, 'Well, I'm not going to fight Pacquiao because Bob Arum is involved,' is the latest is in a whole line of excuses.
"If you look at it from Mayweather's standpoint, he has this unbelievable deal with Showtime (satellite television network), paying him all this money ... so he would probably figure, 'I have three more fights under the Showtime contract'."
Assuming that Mayweather wins those next three fights to improve his perfect record to 49-0 and conclude his Showtime deal, Arum has a strong feeling that the flamboyant American would then agree to a mega-fight with Pacquiao (56-5-2).
"He (Mayweather) would figure, 'Why don't I do those (three) fights for the easy money and then in 2016, with my 50th fight, I could beat the (49-0) record of (Rocky) Marciano by fighting Pacquiao'," said Arum.
"That would be a huge fight, and I believe it will happen."
Should that bout take place, it could well be the last fight of Pacquiao's career as the Filipino agreed earlier this week to extend his promotional agreement with Arum's Top Rank company until the end of 2016.
Between now and then, Pacquiao is likely to fight twice each year and he will next step into the ring on Nov. 8, in all likelihood in Macau and probably against his old foe, Mexican Marquez, a four-division world champion.
"Marquez has not, as of yet, committed to the fight so we will be talking to him in the days ahead," said Arum. "I am going to be over in Macau next week (for a fight) and I have invited Juan Manuel and his wife to come. I believe they will."
Marquez, who knocked out Pacquiao the last time they met in December 2012, beat welterweight Mike Alvarado by unanimous decision in his most recent fight, last week.
Should Marquez decline the opportunity to take on Pacquiao for a fifth time, Arum said he would probably then target Ruslan Provodnikov of Russia as the Filipino's opponent in November.
When Pacquiao's promotional agreement with Top Rank ends at the end of 2016, the Filipino southpaw will be 38 years old, the perfect time for him to end his glittering boxing career.
"That's what we figured and that's why we made it to the end of 2016," said Arum. "Hopefully by that point he would have been elected to the Philippine senate and that's very time consuming. That would be the signal for him to hang up his gloves."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)