I still remember it. The cold winter day that Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao and Floyd “Money” Mayweather expressed their intentions to fight. Of course, like any other fight fan, I couldn’t wait. The fight was set to be an absolute thriller; the most anticipated welterweight contest in boxing history since the days of Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns all the way back in 1981. Such a showdown would pit the two juggernauts of the modern boxing era against each other in a fascinating contest of styles: the ferocity and strength of Pacquiao against the dazzling hand-speed and boxing genius of Mayweather. It is no wonder, therefore, that this fight was valued at a staggering $100 million in PPV estimates, predicted to break all records in fight attendance and global interest. But tragically, the greatest contest in boxing is also killing boxing. Why? That cold, winter day was over two years ago…
Mayweather-Pacquiao is an elusive prize for fight fans; like a juicy carrot left dangling before our eyes, only to be drawn away at the very last moment. For the last two years, the only ring the two prize-fighters have stepped into together has been a raucous media circus, with blows being traded only in the bland form of name-calling and cheap jibing. As I’m sure you’ve worked out, the fight, set initially for May 5th2010, was cancelled. Mayweather’s outrageous insistence that Pacquiao must undertake a series of random drug tests, independent of and including those set by the boxing commission, was enough to see the end of that.
Over the last few years, through interviews, alleged phone calls and meetings that have dragged all the big power players in the business to the negotiating table, we are constantly informed that the fight is “just around the corner”, with contracts signed and the fissiparous issue of drug testing overcome, only for some shady figure associated with one side to release a statement inevitably saying negotiations have broken down. Fight fans don’t even get surprised anymore.
But the current situation frankly, reads like a badly-scripted soap opera. Mayweather recently wrote on his twitter account “Manny Pacquiao I’m calling you out, let’s fight May 5th and give the world what they want to see…My jail sentence was pushed back because the date was locked in. Step up punk”. I don’t know what’s more ridiculous; the fact that the most vicious blow dealt out by Mayweather this year was calling Pacquiao a “punk”, or that he is facing imminent incarceration on June 1st for battery domestic violence and harassment. This means that May 5th 2012 is a potential date for the fight, but even this looks tenuous. Furthermore, money as ever is an issue. Mayweather is allegedly not willing to take a 50-50 split of the purse, despite an estimated $100 million in lucrative spoils to share. Earlier this week, rather paradoxically, the head of the World Boxing Council (WBC) Jose Sulaiman reported that the fight will indeed go ahead, not in the UAE this November. We can forgive fans for thinking differently…
It isn’t just that this fight isn’t being made that disappoints us. Yes, fans have waited a very long time for such a bombastic match-up of boxing titans. But what really rankles is that this fight is killing the sweet science, reflecting all that is chaotic, corrupt and incompetent within its framework. Intrinsic to the watching of any sport is the idea that you will see the best of the best face each other at some point and it is this maxim that legitimises everything from the FA Cup to the IPL. But in boxing, this is shamelessly flaunted. The lack of any all-encompassing organisational body like FIFA, NFL, the IRB or the ICC exacerbates the factionalism within the sport and allows fighters at the top level, as Mayweather and Pacquiao both undisputedly are, to throw their weight around and make unrealistic demands. In a perplexing sideshow, Pacquiao’s manager has suggested that his fighter’s next opponent may not be Mayweather after all, but Miguel Cotto: a man who was mauled by the Pacman in 2010. So why has a name like Cotto been thrown around? Because Bob Arum is Cotto’s manager too: a reflection on just how great the role of promoters and managers is in making fights happen, and conversely how little the influence of boxing commissions is in these contests.
Much has been said of the sport’s unceremonious decline over the last twenty years since the heady days of Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali, and there is some truth in this. But equally true is that just a small series of high-quality, exciting fights lift and elevate the sport back into the popular arena. Fights exactly like Mayweather-Pacquiao will not single-handedly “save” the sport from its position in the periphery, and I am under no illusions of this. But it will give boxing a much needed shot in the arm and re-generate interest in the sport. The current failure and inability to put match-ups like this into the ring sees boxing plunge further and further into obscurity.
So will this fight take place? The boxing community will have to stay optimistic on that one. But more worryingly for observers is the inability of the powers that be to put a fight of this magnitude together; it reflects badly on boxing’s organisational structure and reeks of factionalism and the prominence that promoters like Arum play within the sport’s framework. Age is another consideration. Within a few years both fighters will be long past their prime in a sport that is truly unforgiving of father time’s effects: this, and the weight of the boxing world’s frustration and disappointment, must surely not be lost on them.