[UPDATED: This is all official. More details at the end of the post.] Today at noon Pacific Time, Golden Boy Promotions will make a “major boxing announcement,” and The Los Angeles Times, ESPN and BoxingScene all report that the announcement is that Floyd Mayweather, Jr., will unretire to face Juan Manuel Marquez on a July 18 pay-per-view.
The good news is that Mayweather, the former pound-for-pound king with transcendent skills who instantly becomes the biggest American boxing star now that Oscar De La Hoya is gone, is returning. The bad news is that Mayweather, who apparently has never met a smaller boxer he doesn’t want to fight and who was dragging the sport down in a number of ways before he left, is returning. The other bit of good news is that Marquez, currently no worse than the second boxer in the world, will presumably be getting a long overdue mega-payday. The other bit of bad news is that Marquez, a natural featherweight who will be fighting nearly 20 pounds higher than his most comfortable weight, is likely in over his head to such a degree that this fight has been called a “tune-up” for Mayweather in some quarters.
My love of boxing corresponds heavily with the revelation to me of Mayweather’s otherworldly skills. But I grew tired of making excuses for him as he continued to fight one handpicked non-threatening opponent after another, and by the end, when he was talking about consecutive rematches with boxers (Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya) he’d already beaten rather handily, I began to think the sport would be better off without him. He was inflating his own image, and I can’t begrudge him that — in fact, I wish other boxers would learn from his appearances at Wrestlemania, Dancing With The Stars, and other crossover marketing tactics — but he was doing it as a part-time boxer, and as one who was wasting his considerable talents. He sucked up oxygen that other fighters should have, by rights, been earning fair and square, rather than obtaining primarily via smoke and mirrors.
Still, Mayweather, while boring at times, can be utterly magnificent to watch when he’s aggressive. The man has talent that would make him a formidable match-up for many of history’s greatest, even if he’s nowhere near those greats because he hasn’t fought the level of competition of a, say, Sugar Ray Robinson, the man he claims to be better than. With no clear American heir to De La Hoya, his return offers a shot in the arm to boxing in this country, even as it flourishes elsewhere. And his return deepens a rich array of possibilities in the welterweight division, junior-flavored and plain-flavored. Manny Pacquiao, the current pound-for-pound king. Ricky Hatton, Pacquiao’s opponent this evening. Shane Mosley. Miguel Cotto. And Marquez.
As Mayweather dropped from atop the list of my favorite fighters, Marquez ascended. He did a lot of the things Mayweather did that I liked — incredible ring intelligence, flashy combination punching — but his career arc was toward greater challenges and increasingly exciting battles, rather than Mayweather-like play-it-safe choices in opponent selection and inside the ring. Even still, of the elite fighters in and around welterweight, Marquez remains the one on the short end of the payday stick. Pacquiao, Hatton, Mayweather, Mosley and Cotto have all received bigger paychecks than Marquez, who was also left flustered by not getting a deserved third fight with Pacquiao. It’s why he called out Mayweather, and it’s why I can’t complain that he’s getting himself into a potential mismatch, because he asked for it. And I want my favorite fighter to get paid fully, as Ol’ Dirty Bastard says, “whether it’s troof-fully or untroof-fully.” Mayweather-Marquez, as of right now, doesn’t strike me as a “true” fight. Marquez is currently the lightweight division champ. Their fight — at 144 lbs. — would be nine pounds north of that. As good as Marquez has looked at lightweight, everyone knows he’s really a featherweight who’s masquerading as a lightweight. The idea of moving up to junior welterweight is new, one born of his desire to fight Pacquiao again, or, at worst, Hatton.
Now, let’s say Marquez beats Mayweather. Hypothetically, Mayweather’s rusty, and his love of boxing, which was on the wane, remains in remission — as everyone knows, he’s had problems with the IRS, with owning too many cars, with robberies of his jewelry, and so on and so forth. This could be a cynical return for a quick payday. Mayweather, in this hypothetical scenario, is unfocused and disinterested, and as big as Mayweather’s boxing brain is, Marquez, who has one of the two finest boxing brains in the sport right now (Bernard Hopkins is the other) outsmarts Mayweather and proves better than expected at his new weight, just as he did at lightweight. There are people out there who think this is a very dangerous comeback fight for Mayweather, because Marquez is, unreservedly, a great fighter.
If that happens, wonderful. I would freak the hell out, just as a Marquez fan. And that would make a third Pacquiao bout — the fight I covet above all others in the sport — essential. I just don’t see it as anything but an unlikely, if not remote, possibility that it plays out in that fashion.
But let me set aside my Marquez fandom for a second and think about it this way. There will be a great clamor, deservedly, for the winner of Pacquiao-Hatton to fight the winner of Mayweather-Marquez. If Hatton beats Pacquiao, a Mayweather-Hatton rematch — especially if it’s at a catchweight of 144 or so — is more plausible, because one assumes that a Hatton upset of Pacquiao will be due in part to Hatton’s vast improvement under the tutelage of… Floyd Mayweather, Sr., thereby making the rematch potentially more competitive. But if all goes according to conventional wisdom, that will mean we’ll end up with Pacquiao-Mayweather. It’s still a little annoying in the sense that Mayweather would once again be picking on a smaller man in both these scenarios, but Mayweather-Pacquiao has a lot going for it.
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.
And a loser’s bracket of Marquez-Hatton doesn’t sound half-bad, either, now that I think of it. Maybe this could work out for my interests as a fan, and for the sport as a whole. It’s just that, right now, it’s a decidedly mixed bag, and I’m having trouble looking on the bright side, for reasons that are personal and less so.
[That promised update — first, the fight is at 143, not 144, and the closer it is to 140, the better for Marquez. BoxingScene isn’t as skeptical of the fight as me. Fightnews has some quotes of note. Below are the texts of the two news releases. Kevin Iole’s Twitter page has a moment-by-moment accounting, and Mayweather was surprisingly complimentary of Marquez; some of it, though, may have been just designed to bait Pacquiao.]
FLOYD MAYWEATHER RETURNS TO THE SWEET SCIENCE
Las Vegas, NV (May 2, 2009) – Sixteen months after one of the greatest fighters ever to grace the sport of boxing had his last fight and subsequently announced his retirement, the former six-time world champion and 2007 Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Year, Floyd “Money” Mayweather announced his return to the sweet science at a press conference today in Las Vegas.
“When I made my decision to retire last year, I felt like it was time for me to go as I had been boxing my whole life and felt like I had done all that I could do,” said Mayweather, whose success and popularity in and out of the ring made him a household name and one of the sport’s biggest attractions. “But after I had time to rest, enjoy life with my family and friends, I started to miss the competition and my fans. I am ready to return to boxing and give people another dose of the Mayweather experience.”
Much to the surprise of the sports world, Mayweather left the ring at the top of his game, having amassed an undefeated professional record of 39-0, 25 KOs and
championships in five weight divisions. The then-recognized best pound-for-pound fighter in the world was coming off of back-to-back 2007 mega-performances with his historic May 5 victory over Oscar de la Hoya – in the highest grossing pay-per-view event in all of sports history – followed by his stellar December 8 tenth round knockout over the previously undefeated Ricky Hatton. These fights catapulted Mayweather near the top of the all-time money-earning list in the sport.
That same year, Mayweather’s star-power and crossover appeal were reaching new heights. His appearances on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars and his main event performance in the WWE’s WrestleMania XXIV helped to elevate his worldwide recognition to even higher levels. Proof of Mayweather’s staying power came with his recent appearance in an AT&T High-Speed Internet commercial that has been showing nationally, including multiple airings during CBS’s coverage of this year’s Masters Golf Tournament, despite him having been a retired athlete.
More importantly, while Mayweather stepped away from the sport, the world’s top fighters continued to ask to fight him and fans everywhere were asking for him to come back to the ring.
“I retired from the sport, but it was as if I had never made an announcement,” said Mayweather. “Fighters were constantly calling me out and fans would stop me all the time and ask me to make a return. It feels good to be back and trust me, I will deliver the same electrifying performances I always have throughout my career.”
Mayweather makes his return against the dangerous and highly-touted five-time world champion in three weight divisions Juan Manuel Marquez, who is rated among the top fighters in the world today and considered to be a very aggressive selection by Mayweather for his first challenge after his long layoff. The bout will take place on Saturday, July 18 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and will be broadcast live on HBO pay-per-view
“I am not wasting any time with a tune-up fight,” said Mayweather. “I’m going straight to the top. Marquez called me out immediately after his victory over Juan Diaz in February and now he gets his wish. What he is going to find out is that you should be very careful what you wish for.”
Mayweather continued, “the rest of those fighters who called me out can get in line too because they are going to get their chance…one at a time and slowly but surely. It’s going to be a great return and a wonderful ‘experience.’ Don’t blink – I’M BACK!”
MAYWEATHER vs. MARQUEZ:
“NUMBER ONE/NUMERO UNO”
SET FOR JULY 18 AT MGM GRAND IN LAS VEGAS
AND LIVE ON PAY-PER-VIEW
LAS VEGAS (May 2, 2009) – The boxing world received two gifts this week, not only the announcement that six-time world champion in five weight divisions Floyd “Money” Mayweather has returned to the sport, but also that he was immediately putting his undefeated record on the line when he faces the dangerous and highly touted five-time world champion in three divisions Juan Manuel “Dinamita” Marquez in MAYWEATHER vs. MARQUEZ “Number One/Numero Uno” on Saturday, July 18 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada which will be broadcast live on HBO Pay-Per-View beginning at 9pm ET / 6pm PT. Mayweather’s return and the fight were announced today at a press conference at MGM Grand.
“That’s right. I’m back and you can all get ready for another chapter of the Mayweather experience!” said Mayweather. “I told my CEO Leonard Ellerbe from the start that I wanted to come back fighting the best fighters out there and Juan Manuel Marquez is one of the best in boxing today.”
“To be considered the best in the world, you have to fight the best, and I have made it clear even when Mayweather was away from the sport that he was the only man I really wanted to fight,” said Marquez. “I’m happy that he’s come out of retirement and accepted my challenge. Unfortunately for him he might be sorry he came back at all.”
The summer showdown between Mayweather (39-0, 25 KO’s) and Marquez (50-4-1, 37 KO’s) will be promoted by Mayweather Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions in association with Marquez Promotions.
“Mayweather Promotions is proud to announce the return of Floyd Mayweather after a much needed rest,” said Ellerbe. “But he is coming back with a vengeance and clearly Marquez is a significant challenge for his return. It is going to be an extremely competitive and exciting fight.”
“Floyd Mayweather is back and Juan Manuel Marquez is ready to fight,” said Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer. “Mayweather is clearly making a statement by accepting this challenge to fight the dangerous Marquez in his first fight back. Having seen Floyd perform live in his two previous fights, I know a big challenge brings out the best him. Boxing is in for a great night on July 18th.”
“Floyd Mayweather vs. Juan Manuel Marquez has the potential to be one of boxing’s all-time great fights,” said Oscar De La Hoya, President of Golden Boy Promotions. “Not only are they two boxers destined for the Hall of Fame and two of the greatest technicians of this era, but they also both have a warrior’s spirit that comes out when they get tested. I know that they’ll push each other to the limit when they step into the ring July 18th.”
“MGM Grand is thrilled to host Floyd Mayweather’s return to the ring and welcome back the great Juan Manuel Marquez,” said Richard Sturm, President of Sports and Entertainment for MGM MIRAGE. “We anticipate this to be one of the hottest fights of the year and look forward to the exciting night of boxing these two champions will deliver to the MGM Grand Garden Arena.”
“Floyd Mayweather is a special athlete and it’s heartening to see him return in such a big fight against an accomplished opponent in Juan Manuel Marquez,” said Ross Greenburg, President of HBO Sports. “Boxing fans will be intrigued by this mid-summer match-up.”
For these two future Hall of Famers, all that really matters is what happens when the bell rings on Saturday, July 18 and with Mayweather’s return to the ring in a quest to reclaim his pound-for-pound title by taking on Marquez, a man looking to add once again to his amazing legacy, this is a true mega-fight which will determine who is the premier boxer of this era.
Information on ticket availability will be made available shortly.