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Consumer Class Actions Over Boring Boxing Match Dismissed

Pre-fight concealment of boxer’s injury did not give consumers a cause of action

Late last month, in the Central District of California, a federal court dismissed a group of consumer class-action lawsuits filed by fans unhappy with the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view boxing match in 2015. The fight generated over $400 million in revenues, mostly through sales of the pay-per-view broadcast. The basis of the lawsuits was the failure to disclose the fact that Pacquiao entered the fight with an injured shoulder. The lawsuits, which were consolidated by the Panel for Multi-District litigation, alleged that the class members would not have shelled out about $100 to watch the broadcast had they known Pacquiao was in less-than-optimal condition. Two years after Mayweather defeated Pacquiao by unanimous decision in a not-so-exciting fight, the Court ruled that boxing fans had no legally protected right to see an exciting fight or even a fight between two totally healthy boxers.

The following details are taken from the opinion written by United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner with only minor edits:

The lawsuit arose in the aftermath of the highest-grossing professional-boxing match in history: the 2015 welterweight boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather which Mayweather won by unanimous decision. Over four million American households paid about $100 to view the fight. The fight lacked excitement because Pacquiao, unbeknownst at the time, fought with an injured shoulder and was unable to mount any real aggression. Meanwhile, Mayweather chose to fight defensively. When news of Pacquiao’s injury was revealed after the fight, disappointed fans filed numerous class action lawsuits across the United States. Named as defendants were Pacquiao, Mayweather, and their respective teams and promotional companies, as well as the networks responsible for the pay-per-view broadcast.

The lawsuits claimed the defendants concealed Pacquiao’s serious shoulder injury, which precipitated the fight’s monotony. The various lawsuits were all consolidated, and in late August, Judge Klausner dismissed them, reasoning: “The Court is sympathetic to the fact that many boxing fans felt deceived by the statements and omissions made by the Fight’s participants and promoters. [But] the proper remedy for such unscrupulous behavior when it implicates the core of athletic competition, is not a legal one. Disappointed fans may demand that fighters be more transparent in the future, lobby their state athletic commissions to impose more stringent pre-fight medical screenings and disclosure requirements, or even stop watching boxing altogether. They may not, however, sustain a class-action lawsuit. In this case, Plaintiffs ultimately received what they paid for, namely: the right to view a boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, sanctioned and regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Plaintiffs had no legally protected interest or right to see an exciting fight, a fight between two totally healthy and fully prepared boxers, or a fight that lived up to the significant pre-fight hype.”

Here is a detailed look at how the boxing industry dealt with Pacquiao’s injury, as alleged in the lawsuits:

On February 20, 2015, Mayweather and Pacquiao, two of the best active professional boxers in the world at the time, reached an agreement for a fight to take place between them on May 2, 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. This matchup was highly anticipated in the boxing world. Soon after agreeing to the Fight, Pacquiao and Mayweather started training for it and promoting it as “the Fight of the Century.”

During a training session on April 4, 2015, Pacquiao sustained a severe injury to his right shoulder.  An MRI exam soon revealed that Pacquiao had torn his rotator cuff, and his doctors began giving him regular cortisone shots in an attempt to stem the inflammation.  Nonetheless, the injury significantly altered Pacquiao’s regular training regimen, as he was largely unable to punch with his right hand. As a result, Pacquiao’s sparring partners were sent home and were instructed not to publicly disclose his injury. When it was reported that Pacquiao had ceased conducting sparring sessions prior to the Fight, his head trainer Freddie Roach stated that this was designed to reduce the risk of Pacquiao burning out or peaking too early.

When it was reported that Pacquiao was training primarily with his (uninjured) left arm, Roach stated that this was designed to sharpen Pacquiao’s left punch, and joked that “we’re at a point where Manny could beat [Mayweather] with his right arm tied behind his back.” On April 22, 2015, Pacquiao and Mayweather signed the final contract for the Fight, and on April 23, 2015, tickets for the Fight went on sale. Pay-per-view and closed-circuit-distribution sales for the Fight also commenced around this time. The Fight was expected to gross over $400 million from ticket sales, pay-per-view sales, and corporate sponsorships, making it one of the highest grossing fights of all time.

Despite his injury, Pacquiao and his team continued to promote the Fight, advertising it as “the Fight of the Century.”  Pacquiao claimed that he was “conditioned 100% spiritually, mentally, [and] physically”  Members of Pacquiao’s inner circle also made numerous pre-fight statements about his fitness, with Roach stating “I’ve never seen him in better shape in our decade-and-a-half partnership than now.”  Roach elaborated that “[Pacquiao’s] speed is faster. His punches are harder. He’s looking really good.” Roach further remarked that he had never seen Pacquiao in “such pristine condition,” and Pacquiao’s chief promoter Bob Arum claimed that Pacquiao was “better than I’ve ever seen him,” “super confident and relaxed,” and promised that fans were “going to see the best Manny.”

On April 30, 2015, just days before the Fight, Pacquiao declared that he was feeling “good and ready,” and noted that there was nothing unusual about his training regimen. HBO was invited to extensively cover Pacquiao’s training camp leading up to the Fight as part of its documentary “Mayweather/Pacquiao: At Last.” Because HBO camera crews observed and recorded Pacquiao’s training, Plaintiffs allege that HBO knew about Pacquiao’s shoulder injury. Despite this alleged knowledge, however, HBO never publicly disclosed the injury and continued to affirmatively help Pacquiao promote the Fight. The Mayweather Defendants also allegedly knew about Pacquiao’s injury. Before the Fight, Mayweather and Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather Promotions’ Chief Executive Officer, alluded to the existence of a mole in Pacquiao’s training camp, bragging that they “knew everything” that was going on there. 

The lawsuits thus alleged that the Mayweather Defendants must have known about Pacquiao’s injury. Nonetheless, the Mayweather Defendants chose not to disclose Pacquiao’s injury and continued to promote the Fight. In a press conference on April 29, 2015, Mayweather stated that “the Fight is an event you cannot miss—it will be the biggest fight in boxing history.”

On May 1, 2015—the day before the Fight—Pacquiao and his personal advisor completed and signed a Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) Pre-Fight Medical Questionnaire. Despite having suffered a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, Pacquiao and his advisor/manager, Michael Koncz checked “no” next to a question that asked if the boxer had suffered any shoulder injury, as well as next to a question that asked if the boxer had any serious medical illnesses or conditions of any kind.

Pacquiao also failed to inform NSAC physicians about his injury during his pre-fight weigh-in interview that day. Consistent with NSAC’s regular practice, neither the Pre-Fight Medical Questionnaire nor the details of the pre-fight interview with NSAC’s physicians were made publicly available before the Fight. 

On May 2, 2015—the day of the fight—a member of Pacquiao’s team finally informed NSAC and its physicians about Pacquiao’s shoulder injury for the first time. In making this disclosure just three hours before the fight, Pacquiao was hoping to get approval to receive an anti-inflammatory cortisone injection. But NSAC physicians denied Pacquiao’s request because he had not disclosed the injury the previous day in the Pre-Fight Medical Questionnaire. The NSAC physicians did, however, medically clear Pacquiao to fight.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m. local time on May 2, 2015, Mayweather and Pacquiao squared off live in the main event in Las Vegas. After twelve rounds, the fight came down to the NSAC judges’ scorecards for a decision. While each of the three judges gave Pacquiao between two and four rounds, in the end Mayweather was declared the overall winner by unanimous decision. 

Following the Fight, Pacquiao revealed publicly for the first time that he had suffered a shoulder injury during his training camp, and he admitted that he was “not really 100%” during the Fight. On May 5, 2015, Top Rank released a statement on its website confirming Pacquiao’s injury, but stating that Pacquiao decided to proceed with the fight “[w]ith the advice of his doctors.” 

The lawsuits started the following Monday, alleging that Defendants were motivated by huge profits to conceal Pacquiao’s injury from the public, and still affirmatively promoted the fight to boost ticket, pay-per-view sales, and closed-circuit-distributorship sales. The lawsuits say the public was induced by Defendants’ misrepresentations and omissions regarding Pacquiao’s injury to purchase tickets, pay-per-view subscriptions, and closed-circuit-distributorship rights that they would otherwise not have purchased. Two years later, the lawsuits were dismissed.