Anatomy Of A Superfight

In a Boxing Monthly preview piece from 1999, Steve Farhood carried out an analysis of boxing “superfights” over a 20-year period. In order to determine just how many of the sport’s biggest nights were what they had been purported to be, the writer used a three-point criteria, which was as follows: Are both fighters in their primes? Are both at their best weights? Are both legitimately great fighters?

The piece is worth a second look because of the recent maneuvering of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

Mr. Farhood whittled down 33 bouts considered from 1979-1999 to just the following eight bonafide, classic match-ups:

1. Ray Leonard-Wilfred Benitez (1979)

2. Salvador Sanchez-Wilfredo Gomez (1981)

3. Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns (1981)

4. Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns (1985)

5. Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor (1990)

6. Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield (1992)

7. Michael Carbajal-Chiquita Gonzalez (1993)

8. Roy Jones-James Toney (1994)

A quick flick through the history books would suggest that since his list was published, the following bouts have squeezed between the superfight goalposts:

9. Felix Trinidad-Oscar De la Hoya (1999)

10. Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera (2000)

11. Shane Mosley-Oscar De la Hoya (2000)

12. Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales II (2002)

13. Manny Pacquiao-Marco Antonio Barrera (2003)

14. Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez (2004)

Selecting those that made the grade is of course tricky. It’s difficult to bestow greatness on men who are still throwing leather for money. Time and perspective help to assist in the measurement process, hence the Hall of Fame’s induction criteria (a fighter must have been retired five years before receiving consideration).

The selections above along with omissions made are sure to fire debate; should any of the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez fights qualify, for example? Aside from this, what does the list tell us about what we have lost in the aftermath of the Pacquiao-Mayweather farce and what we may have gained with the announcement of Mosley-Mayweather?

Firstly, are either of the two fights above eligible for superfight status?

All three men are undoubtedly great fighters. There’s no real argument there, which puts a tick in the box for each.

As for primes and best weights, here’s where it gets problematic. There are those who will argue that Floyd was at his best as a junior lightweight circa 2001 and Mosley as a lightweight circa 2000; that’s quite a while ago.

Pacquiao is a different beast again. As a fighter, he just keeps on improving, yet thanks to the weight stipulations he’s insisted on in two of his last three bouts, he has wound up fighting at all manner of odd poundages. Indeed Manny has yet to fight at the full welterweight limit (although he’s scheduled to do just that next up against Josh Clottey).

Mosley is 8-3 up at 147 lbs, with big wins over Oscar De la Hoya and Antonio Margarito offset against defeats to Vernon Forrest (twice) and Miguel Cotto. He currently rates second behind Pacquiao at welterweight.

Mayweather meanwhile is 5-0 at welter, yet it can be argued that his only victory over a fully blown 147-pounder came against the limited Carlos Baldomir. He currently rates third at the weight behind Pacquiao and Mosley.

Despite this, Ring magazine lists all three at the top of its pound for pound ratings, albeit it in a different order to the way they rank at welter (Mayweather is rated second above Mosley). This indicates that Mayweather’s previous exploits away from his current division weigh heavily in his favour and would seem to dispute that he’s currently fighting in his best weight class.

I would contend that Mosley-Mayweather does not qualify for superfight status on two counts, these being:

1. Mosley is 38 years of age and 10 years removed from the lightweight phenom who dominated the 135lb division with a startling blend of speed and power. Only his most ardent supporters would contend that he remains in his prime years, although if he can beat Mayweather, conventional logic goes out of the window.

2. Mayweather hasn’t fought enough quality opposition at welterweight. A win over Mosley however would help to right this significantly and would help to earn any subsequent Pacquiao-Mayweather bout true superfight status as per the Farhood equation (a cause helped also if Pacquiao can score a legitimate welterweight win over Clottey). Should the pair struggle significantly in their next bouts, however, questions will arise as to whether their peak years and their best weights have been left behind.

If Mosley-Mayweather is a near miss, it joins the ranks of modern era bouts such as Pernell Whitaker-Julio Cesar Chavez, Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran, Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield and Erik Morales-Manny Pacquiao, among others. So can we still expect to see a great fight?

As I explained earlier, 25 of the bouts originally examined missed the cut. Of these, only Leonard-Duran, Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello and Wilfredo Gomez-Lupe Pintor resulted in great fights (although arguments can be made for Marvin Hagler’s brace of bouts against Leonard and Duran).

Leonard-Duran and Pryor-Arguello failed the three-point test due to Duran and Arguello being matched above their best weights. In each case, the smaller guy overcame this handicap in order to be competitive (and in Duran’s case, to win). Gomez-Pintor, on the other hand, fell down due to the writer not having perceived Pintor as having been a great fighter, which only serves to highlight his remarkable performance in pushing Gomez to the wire.

In all other instances, as one would expect, the great fighter in their prime and at their best weight had far too much for the opponent who couldn’t hit all three markers (an example being Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks). This inevitably resulted in disappointment with punters being left to mutter, “Spinks was no heavyweight” or “Chavez was too old” (against De la Hoya) etc.

For Mosley-Mayweather to be a great fight, we’ll require Mosley to demonstrate that he can still fight close to how he did in his prime, which is the unknown quantity here.

Of course, not every fight from the 14 selected resulted in classic action.

Roy Jones-James Toney fell short due to the problems “Lights Out” had making weight. Unable to be competitive, James was dominated by Jones in a virtuoso performance from the Floridian.

Oscar De la Hoya-Felix Trinidad was perhaps the biggest disappointment of them all. With the stakes sky high, neither man seemed prepared to reach for greatness in a dissatisfying bout which left many questioning both men’s true worth.

The only other encounter from the crop which failed to measure up was the 2003 battle between Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera, a fight Pacquiao surprisingly dominated. Barrera mitigated his disastrous showing with claims that his mental state had been affected due to leaked medical records (detailing that he’d undergone brain surgery) and a tumultuous training camp. Whatever the reasoning, he clearly underperformed.

With a true superfight being made on average once every couple of years, there are some who have poured scorn on observers lamenting the “death of the sport” after the collapse of Pacquiao-Mayweather. Whilst the regularity of classic match-ups is surprising, one would argue that there have been only three from the last 30 years which held true cross-over appeal to the masses; Leonard-Hearns, Hagler-Hearns and De la Hoya-Trinidad, with the last of those coming 11 years ago.

It’s the reason fans should probably be pulling for two guys they don’t feel like showing much love for right now in upcoming bouts with Messrs Mosley and Clottey.

About Tim Starks

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