NEW YORK — It seems Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao will be forever linked, regardless of whether they ever face each other in the ring.
The two have danced around the richest fight in boxing for several years, unable to come to terms. Meanwhile, their animosity has grown to the point that Pacquiao has a pending defamation lawsuit alleging Mayweather unfairly accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs.
So it’s not surprising that Mayweather spent just as much time answering questions about Pacquiao on Tuesday as he did about Victor Ortiz, the welterweight champion whom he’ll face in his next fight on Sept. 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“I’ve never said that Manny Pacquiao was taking steroids, I never said he was taking enhancement drugs,” said Mayweather, who failed to turn up for a court-ordered deposition in Las Vegas earlier this month involving the defamation suit.
“I want to fight the best they got out there, not just him, the best they got out there,” Mayweather said, “and if he’s on the list as one of the best guys, then absolutely.”
Mayweather said he’s willing to fight Pacquiao if there is random blood and urine testing, which is more stringent than the protocol used by most state athletic associations. Mayweather said Pacquiao’s team would only agree to blood and urine testing at certain times.
“It’s not just Pacquiao, it’s sports, period,” Mayweather said. “If you look at sports in the Olympics, they’re cheating. Everyone is cheating. And I never once said Manny Pacquiao was cheating, only thing I said was this: Me and any other opponent I face must take the test.”
Mayweather will be returning to the ring for the first time since defeating Shane Mosley in May 2010, though the undefeated former champion has made plenty of news since then.
Last Friday, 21-year-old Anthony Cliff filed a lawsuit accusing Mayweather of ordering his bodyguards to attack the man outside the Palms Casino Resort on March 27, 2010.
The lawsuit accuses Mayweather of assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention of employees.
Mayweather also faces felony charges stemming from a domestic argument and misdemeanor harassment and battery charges in separate cases.
“When you’re young, black and rich, you go through things in life,” Mayweather said. “But I’m a strong individual. I can survive through anything.”
Mayweather’s adviser, Leonard Ellerbe, declined to discuss the litigation.
“We focus on the business part and the boxing part,” Ellerbe said. “We let the attorneys handle the legal stuff.”
Mayweather and Ellerbe joined several hundred fans inside the Hudson Theater in New York City to kick off a promotional tour for the fight against Ortiz, who is coming off a career-defining victory over Andre Berto that made him the WBC welterweight champion.
Ortiz said he doesn’t mind that people want to talk about Pacquiao — even if that person is Mayweather — because he’s staring at the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I’m supposed to be a piece of nothing, I’m not supposed to be here, according to the statistics,” said Ortiz, whose parents abandoned him when he was young, forcing him and his five siblings to live in foster care. “I’m tired of, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.”’
Early in his career, Ortiz was anointed the next Mexican-American superstar by Oscar De La Hoya, whose company promotes him. But his meteoric rise met a wall when he fought Marcos Maidana two years ago. Ortiz was losing after six rounds and essentially quit in the ring, one boxing’s cardinal sins, and fans and the media were quick to write him off.
Ortiz has been spectacular on the slow road to redemption, though, and in April climbed off the canvas twice to beat Berto as the heavy underdog and win the welterweight championship.
“I realize he’s a great fighter, but since I was 9 years old, I always said I’d fight Mayweather one day as champion of the world, and check it out,” Ortiz said. “It’s crazy.”
Ortiz said he asked to fight Mayweather or Pacquiao after his most recent fight, even though he heard whispers from people — including some in his own promotional company — who said he was overmatched or out of his mind. But he wanted to fight the best in the world, and depending who you ask, he may have achieved that by landing a shot at Mayweather.
As for Mayweather’s plan to fight Pacquiao next?
“There’s only one problem,” Ortiz said. “I’m fighting Pacquiao next.”