By Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (February 26th 2015)
Fight of the Century?
Five years later than originally desired, and with both combatants having shown significant signs of physical decline, Floyd Mayweather and Emmanuel ʻMannyʼ Pacquaio will finally face each other on May 2nd 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Nevada.
Billed as the ʻFight of the Centuryʼ (we are less than 15 years into said Century) the title may be – albeit unintentionally – perfectly accurate. The last great ʻsuperfightʼ, fittingly at the same weight limit of 147 pounds, between Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, took place in September 1999 and was billed as the ʻFight of the Millenniumʼ, by which stage we were at least some 999 years into the millennium in question.
That fight, which purported to determine the Championship of the Welterweight Division, ended in farce as a seemingly-dominant (but hardly destructive) De La Hoya faded badly down the stretch and elected to run for the final three rounds. Trinidad finished the stronger of the pair and was awarded, bizarrely, a majority-decision victory. A big fight, yes. A great fight, no.
Most boxing fans have steered clear of the more acute hyperbole, preferring to refer to the fight as being just ʻBigʼ. How then, is a ʻBigʼ fight defined?
Before we begin, we draw a distinction between ʻBigʼ and ʻGreatʼ, with ʻBigʼ applying to fights which are scheduled but yet to take place and ʻGreatʼ applied to those fights which have reached stirring conclusions, irrespective of how they were billed or how eagerly they were anticipated.
Boxing cannot be viewed or interpreted in a vacuum. It is a unique sport in that it is a fringe sport with the potential to, at a momentʼs notice, and for one night only, go Global. In this regard, Pacquaio vs Mayweather may well be the biggest fight of this Century, of All-Time, of Right-Now depending on what criteria we apply.
There are fights which mean nothing to the overall historical perspective of boxing but which attract interest and notoriety beyond the talents and accomplishments of the individual participants. Arturo Gatti vs Mickey Ward. Jerry Quarry vs Ron Lyle. Diego Corrales vs José Luis Castillo. Fights which lacked either pedigree, prodigy, or both. Stand-alone bouts, maybe even Championship bouts, that we either looked forward to, or looked back on with fondness, but which did not significantly shape the sport or alter its route in any appreciable fashion.
Mayweather vs Pacquaio may not fall squarely into this category but it comes a lot closer than many might assume.
If the named fights represent the entry-level ʻBig Fightʼ that every hardcore fan wants to see, or recalls with fondness, then Lewis-Tyson, amogst others, expands on the general concept.
Tysonʼs notoriety, violent pre-fight outbursts and the ridiculous perception embedded in the minds of die-hard Tyson fans that Mike was somehow the perfect foil to the ʻchinnyʼ, ʻvulnerableʼ Lennox Lewis, combined to create an event which was far greater than the sum of its individual parts, those parts being a fragmented heavyweight title, a good champion in Lewis, a finished-fighter in Mike Tyson and an average venue in Louisiana.
However this fight did have pedigree and it did have prodigy. Both men either were, or had been, outstanding Champions, and Lewis would go on to cede his title upon retirement, but only after a dogged wretched victory over Vitali Klitschko, who absolutely went on to become the Heavyweight Champion and defend that title.
Lewis, however awkwardly, passed the torch on.
There are then the fights which tick all the boxes. George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard vs Roberto Durán, Joe Frazier vs Muhammad Ali I and possibly III, Sugar Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns I.
It helps that all of the above were exciting bouts, but before they were fought the conclusion had been reached that they were ʻBigʼ fights. The pedigree of the combatants, their proximity to their respective physical peaks, the title at stake, the cross-over appeal between the boxing community and the broader public, the subsequent flourishing careers of both men … were all satisfied to one extent or another.
Does Mayweather vs Pacquaio therefore stay within the rubric of what a ʻBigʼ fight is?
It depends on who one asks.
To some in the boxing community, it is undoubtedly a big fight. We may take this with a pinch of salt, due regard being had to the physical decline of both men. Originally billed for 2008, the intervening period has culminated with Mayweatherʼs recent ʻstrugglesʼ with little more than a glorified bar-brawler in Marcos Maidana. Pacquiao has had his own struggles, being knocked out cold by Juan Manuel Márquez and going the distance with the solid if underwhelming likes of Chris Algieri, Brandon Rios and Tim Bradley.
The Biggest Fight Now?
Is it the biggest fight in Boxing right now? Yes, it is, but simply because there is nothing else comparable out there. The pedigree of both men is assured but not beyond revision. Mayweather cautiously cherry-picked his way up from 135lbs. He fought an ancient Shane Mosley and an ancient, part-time Oscar De La Hoya. He put off fighting Pacquaio for five years. He fought Ricky Hatton at 147 and only fought Miguel Cotto after Cotto had been through the ringer vs Pacquaio and Antonio Margarito.
Pacquaio for his end has been dogged by accusations of performance-enhancing impropriety and has, recently, been knocked cold. Neither Mayweather nor Pacquaio have scored a knock-out victory in years and the suspicion is that both men have agreed to fight merely because each has exhausted whatever cluster of fighters his respective network permitted him to fight.
Aspersions therefore must be cast on the ʻBigʼ nature of the fight, ab initio.
Hardcore fans of this fight will claim that Cotto was still good, going on to beat Middleweight Champ Sergio Martínez. Some basic examination of this superficially sound observation reveals it to be little more than a trite convenience. Martínez, already pushing 40 years of age, had been showing serious signs of decline before being dragged down to 159lbs to fight Cotto, an example of the ridiculous inequality of bargaining power that riddles the sport.
An old, drained and injury-prone Martínez had already arguably been beaten by Martin Murray in Argentina and was within one clean blow of losing to the utterly disinterested and undeserving Julio César Chávez Jr.
Interestingly, the very same American fight fans who are such religious observers of alleged ʻrobberiesʼ in Germany saw fit to look the other way when Murray twice floored Martínez.
Martínez was no more a Middleweight Champ than he was a Middleweight by the time he fought Cotto. Cotto himself was half-ruined by the time he fought Mayweather, and his purported ʻtriumphʼ over Martínez does nothing to detract from that reality.
Then there also are questions regarding the progeny of Mayweather vs Pacquaio. The suspicion is that both men have exhausted their supply of easy, money-making cannon fodder and have been steered into this fight by Networks tired of the expensive soporific meander that both men have been on as of recent.
Should Mayweather win, he will be undoubtedly steered towards another ʻEpicʼ, ʻMassiveʼ showdown with the alleged Middleweight Champion, Miguel Cotto. Any serious fight fan not already smiling wryly at this preposterous charade could do worse than to ask themselves why the consensus-best Middleweight on Earth, Gennady Golovkin, is being studiously avoided by Cotto.
Cotto, desperate to fight Mayweather again at 160 for a massive pay-day, will not risk his title against a man sure to obliterate him. This is justified on the grounds that Golovkin, an undefeated former World and Olympic amateur star, is not a ʻPay Per View Forceʼ. His not getting a fight with Floyd Mayweather is justified on the grounds that he is ʻMuch bigger than Floydʼ. Mayweather fought De La Hoya at 154 pounds in 2007 and paid Juan Manuel Márquez $600,000 as compensation for coming in over the agreed weight limit for their fight in 2009. This perversion is loaned added hilarity by the suggestion that Golovkin, a Middleweight, can alleviate this injustice by fighting much bigger men, like Sergei Kovalev.
Pause them to consider these points. We have Cotto loitering at 160, freezing out Golovkin, like Marvin Hagler, and Tiger Flowers and others were frozen out in their time. We have Mayweather fans claiming that his win over Cotto was good by dint of Cottoʼs win over Martínez . We have Cotto and Floyd refusing to fight Golovkin and Cotto holding out for a pay-day with Floyd after Floyd has finally beaten somebody he should have fought years ago.
Clearly, those looking to tell us that this is a Big Fight based solely on boxing criteria have been obliged to come up with some magical thinking, some Orwellian Newspeak, to convince us that the opposite is the case. Accordingly, they have injected new impetus into their claim with phrases such as ʻPay Per View Forceʼ, ʻPound For Pound Greatnessʼ, ʻPublic Imaginationʼ, (the public must clearly have one, after all, they regard Miguel Cotto as the Middleweight Champ), ʻAmerican Audiencesʼ, ʻLive Gatesʼ and ʻTV Figuresʼ.
This fight will sell and will make more money than any other fight before it. Apparently this is what counts. Notwithstanding the fact that Foreman and Ali were paid bigger purses – $5m is worth over $30m in todayʼs money – the ʻfiguresʼ for this fight will be unprecedented. For years now social-media has dictated what is hot and what is not. Mayweather is heavily hooked into this set-up and Pacquaio – in a more traditional, iconic form – offers an aspirational image to the destitute of the Philippines.
None of this has anything to do with boxing per se, however. The next biggest fight out there for either man, irrespective of who wins, is against another man that both men have already soundly beaten, the afore-mentioned Cotto, who, as discussed earlier, is masquerading as the Middleweight Champion.
At least with De La Hoya vs Trinidad, there was an impression that the winner would be the Consensus best 147lb fighter on the planet. When that did not materialize, at least both Trinidad and Oscar went on to engage in a great many meaningful fights. I see no such outlook for Floyd and Manny. Both are much much closer to retirement than Trinidad or De La Hoya were. A fight with Cotto would reek of farce and convenience.
Mayweather vs Pacquaio is a good fight. It is an intriguing fight. It is an interesting fight. I will watch it. I might even pay to watch it, but I will not be regarding it as closing any chapters nor opening any new ones. I advise fans to approach it with the same mentality. Coming as it is five years too late, the outcome will not satisfactorily tell us who was the better man. Given the charade that is likely to follow, and the advancing years of both men, the fight has no progeny worthy of the name. Enjoy this fight by all means, but approach it, and depart from it likewise, with no small caution.