Everywhere I turned today, on Around The Horn and SportsCenter and Twitter and boxing websites, all the talk was of Floyd Mayweather’s adviser Leonard Ellerbe saying that Jr. would return May 5 at the MGM Grand and that “We’re looking to make the biggest fight possible and everyone knows what that fight is, the little fella,” i.e., Manny Pacquiao. My reaction to that news was: This doesn’t arouse me. I’ve been teased too long. I’m dead down there for this fight; it’s not that I don’t want it, it’s just that we’ve been talking about it since 2008, and Mayweather keeps saying he wants the fight… only to not take it, and instead invoke the possibility of it to promote whatever he’s doing next — sometimes when Pacquiao is on the verge of fighting someone else, which is the case next weekend.
But everyone’s talking about what Ellerbe said. That means we now have to talk about it, if only to tell you not to get your hopes up, friends in the world of casual boxing fandom. And it’s not as if there isn’t news here. There is information to be gleaned from all this, some of it meta. And what’s more, it might be a turn of the screw, rather than something that makes the fight more likely than before.
First, the news here if anything is that Mayweather isn’t going to have another of his long phony retirements. Even if people dislike Mayweather and don’t believe he wants the Pacquiao fight (more on that later), he still attracts a lot of fans and is one of its two big stars who fight regularly in the United States. Maybe some fans are getting sick of him not fighting Pacquiao, and there are indicators that they might be. But even under those circumstances, he often generates lots of pay-per-view buys, and anytime someone who does that kind of business announces he’ll fight, it’s news. I say it’s the news “if anything” because to trust Mayweather’s word on what he’s going to do is fool’s gold. He changes his mind all the time. Or maybe he knows what he wants to do, but says lots of different things just to keep people talking about his latest twist.
Mission accomplished this time, on saying stuff that gets people talking about him — it’s a tactic that’s worked time and time again. He’s long been using the possibility of a Pacquiao fight to sell whatever he’s doing, specifically. On the same day Pacquiao was to fight Ricky Hatton in 2009, Mayweather announced his next fight was going to be with Juan Manuel Marquez. Mayweather has also used the possibility of a Pacquiao fight to try to upstage whatever Pacquiao’s up to, which, in this case, in a bit of a parallel, will be Pacquiao fighting Marquez Nov. 12 — because Mayweather doesn’t like it when people talk about Pacquiao more than him. Then Mayweather will go back and forth on whether he intends to fight him next multiple times. Before his most recent fight with Victor Ortiz, Mayweather declared, “Pacquiao, you’re next,” then his trainer said after the Ortiz fight that Pacquiao wouldn’t be next, and now they’re back to saying Pacquiao will be next. It’s an ever-swinging pendulum of misdirection.
Among boxing’s hardcore, things roughly break down predictably among fans of Mayweather and Pacquiao about whether Mayweather or Pacquiao is ducking the other, but outside those circles, I was intrigued to see today that nobody on any of the ESPN shows thought that Mayweather truly wanted the fight. Some said they thought it might happen anyway, but that Mayweather is to blame for avoiding it so far. My view is that Mayweather is mostly to blame as of today, but the opinion of some of these analysts who don’t follow boxing reguarly doesn’t necessarily help the case. ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said today that Mayweather-Pacquiao is the last great fight in boxing, as if everyone who works for ESPN wasn’t saying the same thing back in 2007 about Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya. All the ESPN talk says is that among the general sports pundit class, things tilt heavily to blaming Mayweather, and that wasn’t fully evident to me until today, a day after Mayweather’s right-hand man explicitly said that Mayweather wants Pacquiao next. Mayweather has a credibility problem in the world outside boxing.
I’ll summarize my view in three paragraphs here on blaming Mayweather once more, because it comes up so often: In the initial wave of 2009 negotiations, everyone was to blame but Mayweather was most to blame. If he doesn’t make an unprecedented request for Olympic-style random blood testing based on an unproven allegation that mostly originated with Mayweather and his team that Pacquiao was on performance-enhancing drugs, the fight gets made. Everything else was in place — Mayweather’s name would come first on the promotion, money would be split 50-50, everything. I still wish Pacquiao had accepted the modified demand for a 14-day window for random blood testing, and Pacquiao’s reasons for rejecting it were mostly stupid, but again, if Mayweather doesn’t demand it, the fight happens. (And yes, Pacquiao requested an unprecedented big penalty should Mayweather not make weight, but that wasn’t based on any unproven allegation — that was based on Mayweather coming in over the weight limit in his previous fight, an indisputable fact, and Mayweather probably did it because he decided the regular financial penalty wasn’t severe enough for him not to try to get the weight advantage over his smaller opponent, Marquez.)
Later, the Pacquiao camp said it would accept the 14-day window. Mayweather moved the goalposts: It was now unlimited testing or nothing. The Pacquiao camp agreed to that, too. The Pacquiao camp solicited a round of negotiations with the Mayweather camp in the summer of 2010, using HBO as a go-between, and said there was a deal in place — only to say that Mayweather didn’t accept the deal. The Mayweather camp denied negotiations every happened, even though an independent third party in then-HBO Sports boss Ross Greenburg said negotiations did indeed occur. The Pacquiao camp says it still has no problem with unlimited random drug testing, but Mayweather has subsequently decided that testing must be conducted by the USADA only, which would mean Pacquiao would have to switch his training camp pattern from the split Philippines/Los Angeles arrangement to an all-United States camp — and there’s not a fighter alive who would agree to hold his training camp anywhere other than where he wanted to hold it.
Furthermore, Mayweather has a long history of not taking on the best opponent in his division. For the early part of his career until 2002, that wasn’t the case; he faced the best possible junior lightweight (Diego Corrales) and lightweight (Jose Luis Castillo) at least once. Starting in 2002 and going into 2010, he never once took on anyone who could arguably be called the best junior welterweight, welterweight or junior middleweight. Mayweather fans will tell you that was everyone’s fault but his own, that it was so-and-so’s fault for turning down the Mayweather fight. Except somehow, Pacquiao during that period managed to do it multiple times, as did virtually every other top fighter in the world. Mayweather finally ended the trend in 2010, when he faced Shane Mosley, who had an argument (along with one other boxer) for being the best welterweight Mayweather could face — with the one other boxer who had an argument as the best welterweight Mayweather could face being, naturally, Pacquiao. In other words, ducking fights is more in Mayweather’s character than Pacquiao’s, on the balance of their careers.
Which brings us full circle. Pacquiao’s camp has not responded very positively to the idea of fighting Mayweather on May 5 in Las Vegas. On one level, I understand. They don’t like terms like “when” and “where” being dictated by Mayweather’s camp, and the “when” and “where” was already a hard part of the 2009 negotiations, so for the Mayweather camp to just declare he’s fighting on that day and that he wants his opponent to be Pacquiao is rather presumptuous. I also think enthusiasm about a fight with Mayweather has dimmed considerably in the Pacquiao camp, what with the constant stream of things like steroid accusations, racist and homophobic attacks and ever-shifting demands. Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum probably never really wanted the fight to begin with — owing to disliking Mayweather for leaving his banner and disliking Mayweather adviser Al Haymon and perhaps thinking that Mayweather could beat Pacquiao and derail his meal wagon — and Arum has only reluctantly tried to make the fight from the start. I bet they’d take the fight, still, but I don’t think they’re going to go out of their way to make it happen, and nothing Mayweather’s camp has done has suggested that the idea of fighting Pacquiao is anything other than empty talk. On another level, Pacquiao’s camp should be grateful: Mayweather talking about wanting to fight Pacquiao got Pacquiao’s next fight against Marquez in the news for free when it otherwise might not be there.
There’s a whole ‘nother segment of the boxing world that isn’t talking about “Will they or won’t they?” or “Who’s to blame?” Rather, they’re admiring the business acumen of Mayweather, even though many of them will tell you they think Mayweather saying he wants to fight Pacquiao is insincere. In the sports world, only in boxing do fans and writers speak so admiringly of being lied to so well.
And here we are, moving into the fourth year of boxing fans wanting an athletic competition that in any other sport would be mandated, having waited for it so long that Mayweather and Pacquiao have visibly aged before our eyes to appear like something less than the perfect versions of themselves they were when they started. People are still talking about Mayweather-Pacquiao, obviously. But every year that goes by and the fight doesn’t happen doesn’t make it bigger or better — it makes it more tiresome, and less likely to be as good as when we first dreamed of it.