On Manny Pacquiao Vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (And The Related Subject Of The Reportedly Stellar Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton Pay-Per-View Numbers)

One must never say never in boxing, especially when contemplating affairs of the negotiating table. Ever seen “The Lion In Winter?” Negotiations for boxing matches put it to shame for sheer conniving, manipulating brinkmanship.

That said, there is legitimate cause for worry that Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather, Jr., which would be the most important fight in decades — and probably the biggest moneymaking fight of all time — will not happen.

One of the reasons, maybe foremost, is the reportedly jaw-dropping pay-per-view numbers that Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton did. Those numbers are, in the short-term, immensely promising for the sport as a whole. For the specific Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, counterintuitively, it could bode poorly despite all the piles of money that everyone could go swimming in a la Scrooge McDuck.

The Case

I see very little reason to rephrase something when I already said it as well as I can. I thusly plagiarize me:

“In the recent HBO documentary The Thrilla in Manilla, someone or the other remarked that what made the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight so huge was that two men, for the first time, had a legitimate claim to the heavyweight title. I’m not at all comparing Pacquiao and Mayweather to Ali and Frazier. But it has a similar dynamic going for it, only not just in one division, but in all of boxing. Mayweather didn’t lose his pound-for-pound #1 status in the ring — he lost it by retiring. Pacquiao has his own legitimate claim to the title — in the eyes of many, he was gaining serious ground on the already semi-retired Mayweather, anyway, but it’s all his right now. Adding spice, both men are the only real contenders for Fighter of the Decade. That would be a huge, huge fight.”

So that covers the “importance” argument, I hope.

The Pacquiao-Hatton Numbers

What would make Pacquiao-Mayweather such a moneymaker is that both men are proven box office draws. Mayweather had the biggest pay-per-view buy year in the history of boxing in 2007. As for Pacquiao? Well, here’s the part where I admit I was wrong about something. A couple things, in fact.

Considering how many casual readers who catch my occasional post think I walk around and stomp around like I could care less about a little something called “facts,” the facts, as reported in this case, are difficult to dispute. I thought Pacquiao-Hatton would do about 750,000 buys. Neither boxer is American, and we Americans often like to see American athletes here in America. I also thought Hatton would bring the bulk of the money to the table with British ppv buys, based on the numbers he did against Mayweather in 2007. Top Rank’s Bob Arum, a lifelong boxing promoter prone to exaggeration (not badmouthing him, it’s in the job description), predicted more than a million buys, and Golden Boy’s Richard Schaefer, relatively new to the boxing promotion game having come from a conservative banker background, predicted more than 500,000. To me, that suggested 750,000 buys, and those kind of numbers would have been very good business. Instead, early indicators are that Pacquiao-Hatton could do as many as 2 million buys, although the range starts at 1.6 million. The source for those figures is Arum, based on figures from cable companies, but Arum, in my experience, has usually been very accurate in POST-fight estimates of unofficial ppv numbers.

If true, and I’m going to assume that it is, that means a few things, many of them staggering. One, American boxing fans have officially crossed the Rubicon of being willing to embrace foreign fighters. This is a potentially huge development for the health of the sport. Boxing is diminished although healthier than many believe in the United States, but it’s as healthy as ever overseas and in many cases healthier than at any time in the sport’s history. If U.S. boxing fans can get excited by foreign boxers, then that opens worlds of possibilities for the growth of the sport here. Many sage hands observed that boxing’s recent down period was related to the power shift in boxing from U.S.-domination to worldwide parity — but in the same breath, they observed that it was a transition period. The NBA, after all, has increasingly adjusted to the globalization of the sport of basketball, where superstars aren’t just American. With the right fighters — in this case, Pacquiao and Hatton — imported boxing can flourish in the United States.

Two, if U.S. sales exceed British sales, as it now looks like they will, then it was indeed Pacquiao who was the true draw, not Hatton, as I once thought. I say that because while I never questioned that Pacquiao was the bigger U.S. draw between Pacquiao and Hatton, I anticipated that the U.S. sales would pale in comparison to the British sales. I don’t doubt that Hatton is responsible for some U.S. sales, but is there any doubt, based on the publicity tours in the U.K. where Pacquiao was mobbed by Filipino fans, that Pacquiao was responsible for some sales there, too? I went round and round with some Pacquiao fans over this question when the fight was being negotiated and Pacquiao was jerking Hatton around on revenue splits. Based on track records and available evidence at the time, my reasoning was sound, which is why Arum and trainer Freddie Roach encouraged Pacquiao to take the 50-50 share. But subsequent evidence has proven my argument, and those of Arum and Roach, wrong. Pacquiao was the draw in the fight, overall, I now say. (There will surely be arguments that I’m stupid, etc., a lot of nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-boo-boo stuff, but as Pacquiao has continually exceeded my expectations, I’ve also repeatedly adjusted those expectations ever higher. You can think I was stupid before, or you can give me credit for acknowledging my errors and adjusting my point-of-view when new evidence presents itself.)

What does this mean for Pacquiao-Mayweather? It means that Pacquiao now has a mighty nice trump card in his back pocket when he goes to argue that he deserves more than a 50-50 split with Mayweather. Before, I would have thought 50-50 made sense. But consider: There are some who have argued that Mayweather is the bigger draw between the two based on the fact that Mayweather did about a million more buys against Oscar De La Hoya than did Pacquiao. I always thought that reasoning was off for a few reasons — De La Hoya’s star was fading, the recession, the skepticism about the match-up, etc. — but now there’s a counter-argument. Mayweather did about 850,000 U.S. buys against Hatton. What if Pacquiao-Hatton eclipses Mayweather-Hatton by MORE than 1 million? And what if that indicates that Pacquiao is the rising tide here? (As I type this, the NBA on TNT crew keeps name-checking Pacquiao-Hatton, and the media coverage for Pacquiao-Hatton has far eclipsed my recall of the Mayweather-Hatton fight; these are mere pop culture indicators, but they are telling.) And is there any question Pacquiao is the bigger worldwide draw than Mayweather?

Because of Mayweather’s ego — it is the giant-est in all of boxing — it’s hard to imagine him accepting less than a 50-50 split against Pacquiao. And unless Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez in July does better numbers than Pacquiao-Hatton, which I strongly doubt it can, I will unreservedly take Paquiao’s side if he insists on better than a 50-50 split. Not only that, I think he gets to dictate the terms. Pacquiao’s team is saying Mayweather will need to come down from 147 lbs. to closer to 140 lbs.(where Pacquiao is now the legitimate champion) to make the fight happen. They’re right. And that comes to the next reason the fight will be difficult to make happen.

How Freaking Scary Pacquiao Is Now

So afraid of losing is Mayweather that I wouldn’t be surprised if he watched Hatton’s eyes rolling around in the back of his head after the Pacquiao knockout and is now sharply reconsidering whether he wants to fight him. Mayweather, contrary to his reputation, hasn’t always avoided his stiffest challenges. He used to live for them. When Jose Luis Castillo fought Mayweather tooth and nail in their first fight and some thought Castillo deserved the decision win that Mayweather received, Mayweather was EAGER for a rematch. Alas, it was the last time Mayweather took a fight that he had the re
motest chance of losing, and that was six years ago. His competition thereafter has been mostly pitiful. I thought the fights with Hatton and De La Hoya were legitimate, but no one thought they presented the stiffest tests. Mayweather can say all he wants that he turned down a multi-million dollar Antonio Margarito bout because he wanted bigger money fights, but he fought the big-hearted but under-talented Carlos Baldomir next for what, according to some accounts, was significantly less cash. I think Mayweather would have thrashed Margarito much as Shane Mosley did. But my impression remains that Mayweather THOUGHT Margarito might beat him. And that’s just one instance.

There are plenty other instances that, collectively, add up to Mayweather being scared of losing his undefeated mark. One of them is his choice of Marquez, who has never fought above 135 lbs, and his apparent insistence that Marquez fight him at 147. To a certain degree, I understand it. If you can make millions upon millions beating competition that has very little chance of upsetting you, and you’re so one-dimensional that all you talk about is money, wouldn’t you do it? Which brings us to another reason Pacquiao-Mayweather may never happen.

The Off Chance Marquez Beats Mayweather

I know I’m on record of being extremely skeptical of Marquez’ chances against Mayweather. But there are some smart boxing heads, including a number of people who frequent this site, who don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion. If Marquez pulls off the upset, Pacquiao-Mayweather is done. Kaput. Over.

And as much as I like the idea of Pacquiao-Mayweather, wouldn’t that actually be the better result in some ways? If Marquez beat Mayweather, it would be so monumental he would be right on Pacquiao’s tail in the all-time great debates. As of now, and I’m just roughly estimating here, Marquez is in the early to mid-40s on the all-time top-50 list, while Mayweather is somewhere in the 30s, probably late 30s. If Marquez beat Mayweather, especially if you consider the strategic size disadvantages at hand, that win would eclipse any single win Pacquiao ever achieved. That would make Pacquiao-Marquez III, given the close way in which their two careers have been linked, EVEN BETTER than Pacquiao-Mayweather. Especially because the first two fights were so awesome. Which brings us to another reason Pacquiao-Mayweather may never happen.

Assorted Other Reasons

One of those reasons is that Pacquiao’s team is pooh-poohing how good a fight Pacquiao-Mayweather would be, aesthetically. Of all the arguments against the fight, this one sounds the most like brinkmanship to me. But Pacquiao’s team has a point. Mayweather at his best is ultra-exciting, to my eyes, but Mayweather at his most defensive-minded is about as bad as boxing gets. What are the odds that Pacquiao-Mayweather is the least exciting Pacquiao fight of all time? I’d say about 100 percent. Any excitement would almost assuredly be only in the importance of the match-up rather than in its quality.

Another tidbit of importance is that Arum, although he has spoken invitingly at times of Pacquiao-Mayweather, has a tremendous dislike for Mayweather (who left Arum’s stable, followed by some litigation) and his adviser, Al Haymon (with whom Arum has had several dealings that left him angry). If you think Arum isn’t the kind of cat who’d let a little bad blood get in the way of giant mounds of moolah, then you haven’t been paying attention. He’s had feuds that have dragged out for years with, at various times, Golden Boy, Gary Shaw and Don King, preventing major fights from happening. (All three of those promoters have engaged in similar feuds, so Arum is not unique here at all.) Arum is making a big show of trying to arrange a fight between Pacquiao and his other top star, Miguel Cotto. It could be only a show. But there’s no doubt it’s an easier fight to arrange for Arum than a fight with Mayweather, a fighter he doesn’t like personally.

Yet another tidbit is that we don’t have any idea how much longer Mayweather or Pacquiao will hang around if the each take separate second fights in 2009. Pacquiao may only fight once more so that he can run for elected office in the Philippines in 2010, according to his trainer Freddie Roach, and if Cotto’s up next, that means no one else is. Mayweather’s return may or may not have anything to do with money woes, and if Marquez plus a late 2009 fight with, say, Shane Mosley, fills his fuel gage up to “F,” then maybe he walks away.

All in all, there are a lot of reasons the fight might not happen. But just the same, there’s one overpowering reason it very well might: Money. “Idiocracy”-style garbage pile-size stacks of money. I’m not ruling out that Pacquiao-Mayweather could still happen. I’m just sounding a note of caution. Because, you know, I also like telling children Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.