While Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao exchanged blows during 2015’s Fight of the Century, they’ve since been on the same side of a legal spar — and this time, they both won.
Fans, bars and what seemed like every other person or business that turned on the fight sued both boxers, along with promoter Top Rank, HBO and others, claiming that they wouldn’t have paid to see the fight if they had known Pacquiao was injured. (He had a sore shoulder and didn’t disclose it before fans had bought tickets and paid for pay-per-view.)
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in August 2017 dismissed the complaints, finding that fans had no legally protectable right to see “an exciting fight.” A 9th Circuit panel on Thursday affirmed his decision.
It found that “spectators disappointed by a sporting event” didn’t suffer a legally cognizable injury and that they “essentially got what they paid for — a full-length regulation fight between two boxing legends.”
Circuit Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen starts the opinion with late broadcaster Jim McKay’s iconic quote about the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, explaining that uncertainty is a part of competitive sports. “On any given day, an underdog may defeat a champion, and a highly anticipated match may end up a total bust,” she writes. “And the ‘Fight of the Century’ between world-champion boxers Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. turned out to be a ‘yawner,’ which prompted this lawsuit.”
The boxers went a full 12 rounds and the still-undefeated Mayweather was unanimously declared the winner by decision. After the fight, Pacquiao told reporters he’d injured his shoulder training a month before the fight. Everyone sued — well, more than a dozen class actions worth of people did so.
Nguyen notes that this is the first time the 9th Circuit has considered the rights of a disappointed spectator. After consulting case law from other circuits, ultimately, the panel sided with the boxers.
“Whatever subjective expectations Plaintiffs had before the match did not negate the very real possibility that the match would not, for one reason or another, live up to those expectations,” writes the judge. (Read the full opinion below.)
The panel also notes that holding defendants liable for misrepresentations about Pacquiao’s physical condition before the fight would open Pandora’s box.
“The nature of competitive sports is such that athletes commonly compete — and sometimes dramatically win — despite some degree of physical pain and injury,” writes Nguyen. “Taken to its logical extreme, Plaintiffs’ theory would require all professional athletes to affirmatively disclose any injury — no matter how minor — or risk a slew of lawsuits from disappointed fans.”
Mayweather was represented by a team from Greenberg Traurig led by Mark Tratos, and Pacquaio was represented by a team from O’Melveny & Meyers led by Daniel Petrocelli.