Mayweather-Pacquiao is here, kiss the record book goodbye
With apologies to Jim Lampley, it happened: IT HAPPENED!
After more than five years of breathless anticipation, soaring hopes, crushing disappointments, endless accusations and behind-the-scenes intrigue, the dream fight the boxing world has longed for is finally becoming a reality: Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao. On May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, “The Sweet Science” will give the world something it has sorely lacked for the longest time – a fight that will stop the world on its axis.
For one night, boxing will wake up the echoes of Johnson-Jeffries, Louis-Schmeling II, Frazier-Ali I, Leonard-Hearns I, Hagler-Hearns, Leonard-Hagler and Tyson-Spinks, fights that warranted simultaneous front-page and sports-page coverage in newspapers, ignited the passions of longtime boxing fans and sparked the intense curiosity of everyone else. It is the kind of fight that will engender strong opinions from all strata of society, from the most powerful titans to the most anonymous of souls. Office water coolers will buzz with fight talk and with every passing hour before the first bell the intensity of the interest will increase exponentially.
Although the purists will correctly point out that this fight is taking place several years after both reached their zeniths, those concerns will be trumped by a tidal wave of ticket sales, hotel room reservations, mainstream media coverage, enormous debate on social media and pay-per-view buys.
The money associated with Mayweather-Pacquiao will be nothing short of staggering. The fight is expected to smash the records set by Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez for most lucrative fight ($150 million), live gate ($20 million) and pay-per-view price ($74.95 for the high-definition broadcast) as well as obliterate the 2.5 million PPV buys generated by Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. In fact, last week one online sports book established an over/under of 3.15 million buys and a final number approaching 4 million wouldn’t be out of the question. Even now, with both fighters in their late 30s, the fight is that big.
Not only is Mayweather-Pacquiao huge in terms of potential box office might, it also is one of the most historically significant fights of the past quarter-century. For the first time since Julio Cesar Chavez-Pernell Whitaker in 1993, boxing will stage its first head-to-head meeting for the mythical pound-for-pound championship. Yes, Wladimir Klitschko currently occupies THE RING’s No. 2 spot in its P4P rankings but “The Pac Man” has a strong case for owning that slot given his impressive performances against Brandon Rios, Timothy Bradley and Chris Algieri during the past 12 months. As for Mayweather, he has been the undisputed No. 1 for several years now and though his undefeated skein has grown to 47 fights thanks to his superlative skills, he showed just enough vulnerability against Miguel Cotto and Marcos Maidana (first fight) to spark whispers of decline.
For those who pay attention to the belts awarded by the four “major” sanctioning bodies, Mayweather-Pacquiao will see three 147-pound titles put at risk as the Filipino is the WBO beltholder while “Money” owns the WBA and WBC baubles. Theoretically, since the fight will be staged at welterweight, Mayweather’s two belts at 154 could also be in play, as will his RING championships at 147 and 154. If that happens, the winner won’t have enough space on his body to strap everything on; he’ll have to hire someone to pack them away in a storage trunk.
To historians, Mayweather-Pacquiao represents the final piece of the puzzle in terms of judging both men’s legacies, especially if the fight produces a definitive winner. While both are first-ballot locks for Canastota, this fight will go a long way in determining their respective spots at the higher levels of boxing’s Mount Olympus. By winning the trilogy against Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali occupies a higher place in the heavyweight pantheon while Sugar Ray Robinson is held in higher esteem than Jake LaMotta because of his hard-fought 5-1 lead. In a poll of writers and historians that appeared in the October 2014 issue of THE RING, Mayweather was ranked the 12th best post-World War II fighter while Pacquiao rated 27th. That gap would close should Pacquiao become the first man to stain Mayweather’s pristine professional record – especially if he wins by KO – but if Mayweather turns back Pacquiao he will cement his own status while damaging that of his rival.
Should he win, especially impressively, Mayweather will reap an extra benefit — quieting those critics who long have accused him of ducking serious challenges. While Mayweather can’t turn back time and face the likes of a prime Paul Williams, a surging Antonio Margarito, the undefeated 140-pound versions of Cotto and Ricky Hatton, the 1999 model of Sugar Shane Mosley – or the 2009 version of Pacquiao – a win over a Pacquiao that still occupies the higher rungs of the pound-for-pound list would represent the defining moment of an already brilliant career.
In Pacquiao he will face a combination of styles that have presented issues to him in the past: the lightning-quick left-handedness of Zab Judah and DeMarcus Corley and the pressure tactics of Jose Luis Castillo and Maidana, the latter of whom added high volume to the equation. Never has Mayweather faced such a package in a single opponent and should he defeat the best version of Pacquiao at this stage of his career it will help build an unassailable, untouchable claim to greatness. He may never credibly wear the “TBE” label that most historians bestow to “the original Sugar Ray,” but he can state a strong case that he is the best of his generation.
The announcement of Mayweather-Pacquiao comes at a most fortuitous time for the sport of boxing. Thanks to Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series, pugilism will return to free, over-the-air network television on a consistent basis for the first time in more than a generation, with several shows airing during prime time. Also, boxing’s reach on basic and premium cable is set to widen and just a few weeks ago the heavyweight division crowned its first American-born champion in more than seven years in the hard-punching, charismatic Deontay Wilder.
Over the years boxing has endured more than its share of wounds, both self-inflicted and otherwise. Scores of superfights such as Lennox Lewis-Riddick Bowe, Salvador Sanchez-Eusebio Pedroza, Ray Mancini-Aaron Pryor and Sugar Ray Robinson-Archie Moore have fallen by the wayside because of outside influences. For years it looked like Mayweather-Pacquiao would join that discouraging roll call but, against all odds, the fight is about to exit the world of speculation and enter the world of certainty, and, hopefully, history.
Boxing has always been the most resilient of sports and now that its version of the Super Bowl has been announced it is poised to regain its rightful place near the top of the sports pantheon. If all goes well – and given the sport’s fortunes that’s a huge if – this great sport will take a giant step toward regaining what it has lost.
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 12 writing awards, including nine in the last four years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.