NEW YORK — Music blared over the loudspeakers, smoke billowed across the stage, and the curtain dropped to reveal Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley dressed to the nines as a crowd of several thousand inside the Nokia Theater let out a roar.
They won't meet in the ring until May 1 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, but the first stop on a whirlwind, three-city publicity tour Tuesday included plenty of pomp and pizazz.
After lengthy introductions that would have made silver-tongued Michael Buffer blush, the unbeaten Mayweather and the welterweight champion Mosley sauntered to the middle of the stage and stood face to face. Jawing turned to pointing, pointing turned to shoving, and before long, promoters from both camps were rushing forward to separate them.
Perhaps the altercation was staged, but it's hard to fake the animosity between them.
"The thing is this: He may be the champ, but we all know belts don't do nothing but collect dust," Mayweather said, smiling. "I'm in the check-cashing business, baby."
Both should be able to cash hefty checks after this fight, arguably the biggest in the sport not involving Manny Pacquiao. Mayweather and Mosley have been circling each other for years, and the possibility they would finally meet really gained traction when Mosley crashed a post-fight interview after Mayweather defeated Juan Manuel Marquez last September.
Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions brazenly predicted the fight will do three million pay-per-views, which would shatter the record set by Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.
"We have the two best American fighters of our generation," Schaefer said. "Mayweather has become a household name, let's face it. Love him or hate him, he's a household name. And with Shane Mosley, you have the perfect dance partner."
The fight came together after weeks of negotiations between Mayweather and Pacquiao failed to produce an agreement. The Filipino fighter refused Olympic-style drug testing — Mayweather's camp has accused Pacquiao of using performance-enhancing drugs — and he will instead fight Joshua Clottey on March 13 at Cowboys Stadium.
When potentially the richest fight in boxing history fell through, Mayweather (40-0, 25 KOs) turned to the next biggest attraction in the loaded 66.7-kilogram (147-pound) division.
Mosley (46-5, 39 KOs) was supposed to face Andre Berto in a unification fight in January, but Berto's family was severely impacted by the earthquake in Haiti, forcing him to back out.
"It's been a long time since I got a chance to show the world that I'm the best fighter, and that's all that I really want, to be the best," Mosley said. "I'm going to take my hat off to Mayweather, because I didn't think I was ever going to get a fight from any of these top fighters. He said, 'Yeah man, I'll take that challenge. I'll fight you.'"
Both fighters will undergo random blood testing, which they claim will set a new standard for safety in boxing. Such an agreement perked some eyebrows considering Mosley has acknowledged unintentionally using steroids before defeating De La Hoya in 2003.
Mosley claims it was a mistake made by a strength coach connected to the BALCO lab, and insisted again Tuesday that he lives a clean life — even before Mayweather dredged up the past.
"I can't say how many fights Shane has won in the past because we know Shane was using enhancement drugs. That's something we do know," Mayweather said. "It's no different than Pacquiao. I offered Pacquiao the fight. I said, 'We'll give you $25 million.' I never met a man who wouldn't take a $25-million drug test."
While it's hard to forget about the failed fight with Pacquiao, there are plenty of signs that the best alternative is quickly gaining mainstream attention.
Schaefer said the sponsorship portfolio already includes AT&T and StubHub, and that about 14,000 tickets were snatched up Tuesday in the first 15 minutes they were on sale. HBO is also planning the eighth installment of its Emmy-winning "24/7" series during the weeks leading up to the fight, offering behind-the-scenes access to each fighter's training camp.
Then there's the publicity tour, which moves to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday before wrapping up Thursday in Los Angeles.
"This fight reminds me of back in the days of Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns, the fights we saw back in the day, the classic fights that brought boxing back," said De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions, which counts Mosley as a partner.
De La Hoya wasn't shy about a prediction, either.
"I've fought both fighters and I already know what's going to happen," he said, invoking Mayweather's former "Pretty Boy" nickname. "I already know there's going to be a knockout, I already know, and it ain't going to be 'pretty.'"