The talk of the boxing world, and the talk of boxing in the non-boxing world, is whether we might finally get Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. The interest is understandable (if not comical, based on the various inaccurate reports about whether the fight is finalized). For a subset of boxing fans, the subject of Mayweather Pacquiao is an eyeroll in waiting. For a subset of non-boxing fan, the lack of Mayweather Pacquiao is a justifiable excuse not to follow the sport. But at a certain point, it can’t be ignored entirely by even the most obstinate boxing blog. So let’s delve into the questions we hear most often here at TQBR.
Will Mayweather Pacquiao happen?
The safe bet remains, as always, no.
Just think about it. Negotiations for the Mayweather Pacquiao fight started, the first time, in late 2009. It’s 2015. That’s six years of us talking about this fight, and six years of it not happening. Why would you want to get optimistic, after that long? (Hey, I can ask you questions back, too!)
That said, are there reasons to think this latest round of negotiations might actually come to fruition? The answer is, “More than usual, anyway.” Just keep in mind that the “usual” is six separate years in which Mayweather Pacquiao has not yet happened, so “more than usual” only equals “more than ‘definitely not.'”
There have been about three rounds of sincere negotiations, so far as anyone knows, including now. In the original negotiations, it was right on the verge of being finalized, then fell apart at the last minute based on a dispute over drug testing. The second time in 2010, it apparently never really got close; Mayweather and his team insisted there were no negotiations, but an objective third party, HBO, verified that there were talks with Mayweather’s side. Still, there’s no evidence they made all that much progress.
Since then, until recently, there have been no evident negotiations. Both sides have, instead, talked at various times about how they want the other next, only for nothing to happen. It always seems to have been SOMETHING holding these two up. Most of it has seemed as though one side is using the other side for marketing purposes. “Watch this fight!” they say. “Mayweather Pacquiao is next!”
So we can conclude that because right now, there are real negotiations — all sides have verified as much, and we’ve seen Mayweather and Pacquiao in the same room, talking it over — there’s a higher than usual chance of the fight happening.
Why might there be negotiations right now? Both men are nearing the end of their careers. If you want to be generous, perhaps both realize they need this fight for their legacies. Both will have an asterisk on their career achievements if they don’t fight each other before they retire. If you want to be less generous… Maybe one side or the other thinks the other side is weakened and diminished and the fight is safer now. Maybe one or both sides are finally desperate for their biggest paydays. That leads us to the next question.
Who’s most to blame if Mayweather Pacquiao doesn’t happen?
If you take off the “most” part — “Who’s to blame if Mayweather Pacquiao doesn’t happen?” — that one’s easy to answer. It’s the same as it always has been: “Everyone.” At some point, every single faction involved in making this fight has done something to make it less likely to happen since the notion was first conceived.
There have been times where Mayweather’s side said it wanted the fight and Pacquiao’s side turned it noses up at it, and vice versa. At any one time, the wheel of blame spins around and the pointer lands on somebody new. Sometimes, it’s unintentional. After Pacquiao got knocked out savagely by Juan Manuel Marquez in late 2012, there was no reason for Mayweather to want the fight, so why blame him?
The easiest way to look at this is on a continuum. Let’s say we were trying to single out the people most interested in Mayweather Pacquiao happening and the people least interested. It would look something like this…
Least: Floyd Mayweather, Bob Arum
Mayweather has not, until recently, seemed like someone who genuinely wants the fight. You can still question his interest today, but generally it seems like he’s trying. That said, it’s not as if he has been a model citizen while talking about the fight.
Overall, he’s thrown up any number impediments over the last six years. If he doesn’t request advanced drug testing, the fight happens in 2010. (Whether it was reasonable for him to request that is a separate question, but it was an unprecedented ask at the time and it became a barrier.) He has frequently altered the conditions under which the fight can happen. Pacquiao’s side long ago agreed to the aforementioned drug testing regime Mayweather sought, but since Mayweather has talked about only signing the fight if Pacquiao left his promoter, Top Rank, or if Pacquiao agrees to a very specific dollar figure.
Why Mayweather has mostly not seemed interested in seeking the fight is speculation. For a long period in his career, Mayweather took on the best challenges, then had a very long lull where he never did, and lately has taken on many of the best challenges OTHER than Pacquiao. He cherishes his undefeated record, and perhaps he saw Pacquiao as a threat to that, which, going by that theory, means he might view Pacquiao at his current age as finally presenting the right mix of marketability and safety. Perhaps he genuinely thinks Pacquiao was juicing, although that theory was always odd, since Mayweather has always talked down Pacquiao’s abilities and said he would easily beat him or whatever. And maybe he thinks he isn’t any longer, since the man he seemed to blame for Pacquiao’s juicing (Alex Ariza) is no longer with Pacquiao (and, weirdly, Ariza had begun hanging out with Mayweather around his last fight).
Arum, as the boss at Top Rank, is the other most guilty party. He hates Mayweather, whom he once promoted. For many years, he hated Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather’s de facto promoter for a long stretch (whom Arum also once promoted, when De La Hoya was a fighter). He hates Mayweather’s powerful adviser, Al Haymon. Arum is as brilliant outside the ring as Mayweather is inside it, but has always been crotchety, and when he has a grudge, everything else goes out the door.
What’s more, it’s entirely possible that Arum doesn’t believe, and never did believe, that Pacquiao could beat Mayweather, and he’s not usually interested in getting his most profitable fighters beaten. Arum has had some misfires, but he’s pretty good at the same kind of “perception of risk vs. reality of risk vs. marketability peak relative to that” calculation Mayweather is good at, and it’s possible, if not plain likely, that he has been interested in protecting an asset.
At times, he has appeared to vigorously represent the desires of his client on Mayweather Pacquiao, sure. But he’s been such a fly in the ointment for the latest stretch of negotiations with his various public pronunciations about what’s happening in the negotiations and how much Mayweather is to blame for the fight not happening yet, that representatives of all sides have publicly or privately dissed him.
Most: Freddie Roach, the networks
Pacquiao’s trainer Roach, by contrast, has pushed hard for the fight. Maybe he is salivating for a percentage of Pacquiao’s career-best purse. Maybe he genuinely thinks he can train Pacquiao to beat Mayweather. Maybe he looks at the possibility as worth the risk of snagging what would be the capstone of his own legendary career. Maybe it’s all of the above. He’s not the one risking the beating, though, so maybe it makes sense that he is willing to at least try.
Meanwhile, while the disparate networks of Mayweather (Showtime) and Pacquiao (HBO) have had to work things out among themselves, and while the pair fighting on separate networks has made the fight harder overall, mostly they seem to be ready to go on a joint broadcast. The network divide for Mayweather and Pacquiao is a relatively recent development in the history of the would-be fight, with HBO very eager to make the fight when both men regularly fought on the network.
There’s a soft middle here with Pacquiao. It’s hard to ascertain what Pacquiao really wants because he has rarely, if ever, spoken with any passion about what fight he wants. He’s a laid back dude who usually says something like, “I will fight whoever my promoter wants me to fight/I fight to make the people happy.” He has appeared more passionate of late, perhaps motivated by his various reported financial woes. And at times he’s been a detriment. If he doesn’t throw up the whole “I’m scared of needles” excuse over drug testing back in ’09, the fight happens.
A less obvious answer to the question about who’s most to blame is “the entire sport.” The structure of boxing is such that anyone who doesn’t want to fight anyone else doesn’t have to, because there’s no body that can mandate any particular competition. The culture of boxing is such that personal grudges and petty ego-driven motivations rule all. The pattern of Mayweather Pacquiao fits well within both those structural and cultural flaws.
If it happens, will Mayweather Pacquiao be any good?
This is the hardest one. It depends on your definition of “good,” and what makes something good, and whether that definition includes whether it will be good relative to how good it might’ve been.
Mayweather and Pacquiao remain, in 2015, the best two fighters alive, pound-for-pound, and the best two fighters at welterweight. They remain the best of their generation, with Bernard Hopkins having an argument for being in the discussion since the start of the new century.
By that standard, it’s a helluva fight. It’s rare, crazily rare, for the two best fighters in a period to be around the same weight class, and then fight. You have to go back to Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Pernell Whitaker in 1993 to find anything comparable. And that fight was a blockbuster: 65,000 people attended. Mayweather and Pacquiao are the two biggest attractions of their generation, to boot, so the fight would be a monetary megalith. It would exceed all previous financial records and might even exceed all pay-per-view buy rates, even if it was offered at an absurd $100 per buy. It would be a major event, not quite Super Bowl level, but major, major for the sport of boxing in a way that hasn’t been seen since the days of prime Mike Tyson, or even better.
By another standard, it’s well beyond it’s sell-by date. Pacquiao is 36 and past his prime. Mayweather is 37 and past his prime. If it happens, we will always have a “What if?” as it pertains to Mayweather Pacquiao. That “what if” is about the fight happening in 2009, when both men were at the peak of their powers. And by another standard, it always would’ve been a letdown. There’s a school of thought, and it’s a sound one, that Mayweather was a horrendous match-up for Pacquiao from time immemorial. Pacquiao struggles with slick, well-schooled types (see: Pacquiao-Marquez I-IV), and Mayweather is the peak of that style. He might also be the naturally bigger man, having arrived at welterweight well before Pacquiao despite their similar ages and having competed more competently above welterweight than Pacquiao.
My view is that both standards must be taken into account. It’s still a great fight, by the first standard. By the second standard, it is not the epic all-time holy-shit fight it would’ve been at its most absolutely ripe in 2010. Altogether, Mayweather always would’ve had a stylistic advantage, and that’s unchanged today.
But as much as Pacquiao might have slowed down, he has demonstrated since the Marquez knockout that he remains a top fighter, one that even some other top fighters can’t beat. In 2014, he beat Timothy Bradley clearly, and Bradley was the Fighter of the Year in 2013, and Bradley (a fairly slick black fighter, yes?) remains one of the 10 best or so fighters alive even post-Pacquiao loss. What’s more, Pacquiao retains some of the qualities that have troubled Mayweather over his career. He’s a lefty (Zab Judah, DeMarcus Corley). He’s speedy (Shane Mosley, Zab Judah). He’s unconventional (Marcos Maidana, Emanuel Augustus). And Mayweather isn’t quite as mobile as he was once upon a time. About the only quality Pacquiao lacks that Mayweather-troubling opponents have had is a top-notch jab. If Pacquiao could wade through Mayweather’s counters without getting wobbled like Maidana — a big if — he could out-Maidana Maidana, who arguably scored a draw in the first fight. To be sure, some of that is counterbalanced by how some of Pacquiao’s flaws feed into Mayweather’s excellence.
But ask yourself this. It’s 2015. Who would you rather see Mayweather, the best active fighter alive and boxing’s top attraction and its #1 welterweight, face? Who would you rather see Pacquiao, the second best active fighter alive and boxing’s second best attraction and its #2 welterweight, face? And there is a strong history of over-the-hill greats facing one another amounting to a tremendous fight (see: Ali-Frazier III [ignore: Jones-Hopkins II]).
Absolutely, it’s disappointing that it hasn’t happened by now. Absolutely, it’d be a letdown for it to happen in 2015 vs. 2009. There’s a certain cynical repudiation of boxing at the center of Mayweather Pacquiao 2015 vs. Mayweather Pacquiao 2009. But would it be a bad thing if it still happened? Far from it.
Just refer back to question one before you get too excited about the chances, and don’t get excited or pessimistic about what Mayweather Pacquiao means for the sport as a whole based on the fact that a dream fight finally happened, too late.