So begins our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2011, Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz on Sept. 17. Now: The stakes of Mayweather-Ortiz. Next: Get to know Ortiz.
In the proxy war with his chief rival for the dual title of boxing’s best fighter and biggest superstar, Floyd Mayweather’s third parties in the last two years have been more formidable than those of Manny Pacquiao. Last May, Mayweather fought the last vestiges of a viable Shane Mosley; this May, Pacquiao fought a further decomposed version of Mosley. This weekend, Mayweather will fight Victor Ortiz, the legitimate #2 welterweight in the world behind only Pacquiao. In November, Pacquiao will fight Juan Manuel Marquez, the lightweight champion, at 144 lbs. — more than two years after Mayweather did the same thing, in a victory that (rightfully) no one at the time gave Mayweather any credit for whatsoever.
But those are mere battles. The real war? That’s one that Pacquiao is winning.
Because the two have yet to fight and show no signs of ever doing so, some in boxing, myself among them, have taken to evaluating each of their separate fights on their own merits. What’s the point in spending nearly two years — and it’s been that long since Mayweather vs. Pacquiao became a point of discussion and negotiation — wringing hands over the most depressing, damning storyline in boxing? But as much time as we’ll spend in this space this week breaking down Mayweather-Ortiz, we’d be remiss in our praise of Mayweather for fighting Ortiz compared to Pacquaio for fighting Marquez if we left out one very important thing:
Mayweather himself is the chief obstacle to Mayweather vs. Pacquiao.
Why Mayweather-Ortiz Trumps Pacquiao-Marquez III
At the risk of repeating myself, Mayweather (pictured above on the left) vs. Ortiz (on the right) is simply the much, much more defensible fight. Statistically, bettors see them as very similar. But one man is fighting a fresh, young welterweight contender. The other is fighting the overall better boxer, but a 38-year-old who is moving up two full weight classes in a division where he’s a proven failure.
Ortiz is the better opponent of the two. If Ortiz and Marquez fought at welterweight, I’d pick Ortiz to win fairly easily. If Marquez fought a welterweight who could barely crack the top 20, I’d pick the welterweight. The size issue is that defining. At his one welterweight fight, Marquez was impotent. He was as slow as a mud slide, which made the already-difficult task of hitting Mayweather even harder. And when he did connect, Mayweather literally laughed at him, so feeble were his punches at the weight.
Say what you will about the size difference between Pacquiao and Marquez being negligible on fight night; there wasn’t much difference between Mayweather and Marquez, either, I suspect, and besides, all sizes aren’t equal, even when they’re equal. Some fighters can weigh the same as their opponent but not be the same size as them. Observe how ineffective Ricky Hatton was at 147 lbs. after ruling 140 lbs. for several years. Pacquiao is comfortable at welterweight. Marquez is useless.
Some have argued that, stylistically, Marquez has shown in his two previous fights with Pacquiao that he knows how to exploit Pacquiao’s weaknesses. But the Pacquiao of 2011 is leagues better and multi-dimensional than the Pacquiao of 2008; Marquez, in the interim, has only declined. Stylistically, Ortiz has his own argument for being able to beat Mayweather, who has been troubled by southpaws and quick opponents. He might have no more chance of using a favorable style to beat Mayweather than Marquez does to beat Pacquiao. He just doesn’t have the handicaps of size or age that Marquez does.
There are reasons to be interested in Pacquiao-Marquez III outside of how defensible the match-up is, like the history of bad blood between the two getting a decisive conclusion. The are reasons not to be interested in Mayweather-Ortiz outside of how defensible the match-up is, like finding Mayweather to be a distasteful character. But as match-ups go, Mayweather-Ortiz trumps Pacquiao-Marquez III.
Why Mayweather Is To Blame For Mayweather-Pacquiao Not Happening
There are several different whys, even. Most objective journalists have pointed the finger at Mayweather, overall, with Mayweather loyalists the only people really pointing at Pacquiao. Originally, I was willing to spread the blame around a little more. But over time, it’s become increasingly obvious that Mayweather is the guilty party.
The first reason: In late 2009, Mayweather insisted on a blood testing regime that he had no basis for insisting upon and that was without precedent. Whatever his personal suspicions about Pacquiao taking steroids, there is no evidence of Pacquiao taking steroids and no credible allegation from anyone with knowledge that he did. He basically invented a contract demand based on faith, or, if you want to be generous, reasonable assumption. Mayweather is entitled to insist upon any contract terms he wants. But he was asking for something that boxers had not asked for before from a future opponent, and that kind of unique demand means that the party that turns it down is less culpable. After all, Pacquiao was only doing what usually happens in fight negotiations. If Mayweather hadn’t raised this unprecedented contract term, the fight would have happened in 2010.
The second reason: In mid-2010, all indicators are that Mayweather walked away from a deal to fight Pacquiao. His adviser, Al Haymon, had negotiated with Pacquiao’s promoter, Top Rank, using HBO’s Ross Greenburg as an intermediary. Mayweather’s other adviser Leonard Ellerbe denied those negotiations took place and that there never was any deal. Greenburg — an objective party in the dispute — publicly said negotiations did take place. Since Ellerbe was lying about whether negotiations happened and Top Rank’s Bob Arum was not, there is every reason to believe that when Arum said he believed he had a deal with Haymon, Arum was telling the truth about that, too.
The third reason: Mayweather shifts the contract demands every time Pacquiao agrees to them. Originally, Mayweather’s team said they could live with a 14-day window right before the fight where no blood testing would be conducted. When Pacquiao agreed to that, Mayweather decided to take 14 days off the table. When Pacquiao lifted all objections to blood testing prior to the fight, Mayweather insisted that Pacquiao must be tested in the United States only — something that Mayweather knew would never happen because Pacquiao trains for part of his camp in the Philippines. If Pacquiao agrees to move his entire camp to the United States, wanna bet Mayweather doesn’t come up with yet another unprecedented contract demand?
What Mayweather-Ortiz Instead Of Mayweather-Pacquiao Means
Mayweather is fighting a legitimate opponent Saturday night. He has fought a lot of them in recent years: Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Carlos Baldomir, Zab Judah. He’s fought some bad ones, too. But his recent run of competition is better than Pacquiao’s.
That’s not to say there aren’t some major similarities between their competition. Both got to the highest level of the sport fighting and defeating top-notch opponents. But once they got there, they stopped fighting the best available and started fighting something less than that; often, a big name that was compromised in some major way, either by age or wear or weight.
The last time Mayweather fought the best available opponent was in 2002, when he took on top lightweight Jose Luis Castillo in a rematch. Once he moved to junior welterweight, he fought Henry Bruseles, DeMarcus Corley and Arturo Gatti instead of the far better Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton or Kostya Tszyu. Once he moved to welterweight, he fought Hatton over his best weight, Marquez over his best weight, Mosley over his best age, Baldomir and Sharmba Mitchell instead of the better likes of a younger version of Mosley, Cotto, Antonio Margarito or Paul Williams.
Pacquiao has taken a similar path since 2010, at no point fighting the best available opponent.
But there’s a major difference.
Pacquiao tried to fight the best available opponent: Mayweather. Mayweather didn’t try to fight the best available opponent: Pacquiao.
I’m interested in Mayweather-Ortiz, out of context. It’s an intriguing match-up in many ways, some of which I’ll describe further in future posts.
But at the very heart of the matter, it’s a reflection of boxing failing its fans that we still don’t have Mayweather-Pacquiao. And more than anyone, that’s on Mayweather.