So the scene is set. Boxing has risen from the canvas to offer the viewing public a fight of such dramatic potential it already draws comparison with the magnetic contests boxing was once able to supply from a position of long forgotten significance on an annual basis.
Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino with the smile and an entire people in his corner, neutralised Miguel Cotto with such aplomb last weekend he is now widely projected as the sport’s pound for pound number one. That most unhelpful of yardsticks. And in Floyd Mayweather, he has an opponent of equal brilliance and renown against whom to push his abilities to their limit and in doing so, just maybe, entice and ignite a whole new generation of prize fight followers.
There is no escaping the enormity of their inevitable clash. Not even boxing can wriggle out of a contest which pitches the two finest fighters of the present day together. If boxing’s power brokers acquiesce to the public’s appetite for the fixture it will pit two divergent personalities and two polar opposite fighting styles together, drawing inevitable comparison with the tumultuous clashes between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. Contests etched in the memories of all who witnessed them.
Promotion of the fight will need historic reference points to contextualise and introduce the two fighters to those for whom boxing has grown disingenuous and diluted or to whom it has never been centre-stage or relevant. This isn’t to downplay the importance or attraction of the fight, it is unquestionably a major leap upward from the phony HBO super-fights presented to us when Mayweather and Pacquiao obliterated Hatton and Oscar DeLaHoya or Roy Jones met Joe Calzaghe. Indeed, it will merit recognition alongside the seminal fights of the preceding decades and I will happily travel on the bandwagon too, but it will need the historical context to explain itself to the mainstream fan it has so short-sightedly ostracised since the advent of Satellite and Pay Per View television and the ill-considered acceptance of multiple sanctioning bodies.
With regard to the potential contest itself, there remained enough flaws in the masterpiece Manny Pacquiao crafted on Saturday night to suggest any contest between him and Floyd Mayweather Jnr., the fair-weather of the title, would still present the once retired Welterweight wizard with opportunity aplenty to end the former Flyweight champion’s startling rise. The run has been breathtaking in style, breadth and reach. Taking the thrice defeated champion, who began as a 106 pound debutante from the salubrious but parched backwater of Occidental Mindoro in the Philippines, to the entirely less salubrious and balmy climbs of the Las Vegas strip. His journey from the periphery to centre stage, a decade in the making, arguably began in defeat by way of knockout to Medgoen Sinsurat at the 115 pound Flyweight limit in 1999.
Pacquiao never made the limit again, choosing to leap past the adjacent Bantamweight limit (118 pounds) to the Super-Bantamweight class. Within four years, following success in the new weight division, he overwhelmed Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera at Featherweight and inserted himself into the round robin tournament which began with the Barrera v Morales rivalry but latterly included their compatriot Juan Manuel Marquez. He would lose to Morales in the great champion’s last performance of distinction, and draw with Marquez, two performances offering helpful echoes for those searching for the methods needed to quell his marauding, aggressive style.
It was widely conceived that Pacquiao’s frame could not sustain him beyond the Super-Featherweight (130 pound) ceiling he’d now reached. But the progression in his defence and tactical adaptability continued under the tutelage of Freddie Roach and Pacquiao continued to improve, defeating Erik Morales in a return (and essentially meaningless third contest) and added points victories over Barrera and Marquez. This propelled him beyond this perceived boundary. Victory over David Diaz earned him recognition in the Lightweight class before he trampled on the remnants of Oscar DeLaHoya in the Welterweight class, a new found dominance he employed with even greater verve in knocking out the fading Ricky Hatton in two rounds. Even abreast of these triumphs, outside of the Filipino’s homelands for whom he is politician, movie star, singer and in short a national institution, he still remains the preserve of boxing fans. He is yet to truly crossover, Jerry Maguire may have opined had he handled his fortunes.
Defeating Cotto, even more than the assault and battery of America’s aged Golden Boy (Oscar DeLaHoya), has catapulted him into a new realm. A realm few fighters ever hold without the simultaneous presence of a nemesis or antidote. Muhammad Ali was so good, so renown he had three arch-rivals of this level of repute. Liston, Frazier and Foreman. But for all his athletic prowess, his beauty and ability to self-promote, without Sonny, Joe and George to test his abilities Ali wouldn’t be Ali.
Pacquiao and Mayweather, particularly the latter this writer suspects, will rue the emergence or presence of the other for the inherent risk to their own supremacy the other represents. But ultimately, without each other, they will not transcend the increasingly claustrophobic boundaries and parameters of the sport in which they excel in the manner their talent deserves no matter how good their singing or ballroom dancing proves to be.
It is similarly difficult to resist the swell of bonhomie bequeathed upon Pacquiao. He did after all deposit Cotto on the canvas twice and ultimately stop a fighter who holds victories over Shane Mosley and Zab Judah the two brightest luminaries among a cavalcade of capable contenders. I use the collective noun ‘contenders’ to summarise mess’s Pinto, DeCorley, Clottey, Malignaggi, Torres et al as it strikes me as a far more accurate and timeless descriptive than the ‘former or future world champion’ tags the modern boxing world implores me to hang upon them.
However, although Pacquiao’s fan-pleasing style and the contrastingly crass image Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather is eager to convey encourages observers to make a case for a Pacquiao victory, there is evidence enough in Pacquiao’s performances versus Cotto and Marquez to suggest Pretty Boy Floyd will succeed where so many have failed. Cotto’s early precision and work behind his jab caused Pacquiao problems, and later in the fight, when admittedly Cotto had accepted defeat but fought on, Pacquiao grew frustrated by Cotto’s jab and move tactics. I can only presume Mayweather will be similarly precise, be willing to frustrate Pacquiao without feeling guilty for the occasional exchange he will lose and able to stick to a successful strategy far better than machismo fuelled Cotto could. It was this ‘weakness’ which led to the proud Puerto Rican’s downfall.
Mayweather remains the troublesome factor. Arrogant enough not to succumb to the clamour for him to engage Pacquiao, he is, after all, a fighter who relishes a challenge, providing he chooses it and dictates the terms of engagement. In a duel at dawn he’d want the more powerful pistol and to make two less strides before turning. My great respect for him was eroded when he failed to make the contracted weight for the Juan Manuel Marquez contest despite the knowledge the Mexican was already leaping two weight classes to facilitate the match.
It lacked class. But Floyd Fairweather Mayweather, who once denounced his multi-million pound contract with Bob Arum as “slave wages” despite the fact he couldn’t sell out a 6 seat station-wagon at the time, is fixated on control and respect. An irony given the lack of brevity he afforded to watching his weight for his last fight and for electing to tackle Marquez from the Lightweight division when Shane Mosley, Paul Williams, Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito (suspension not withstanding) all presented challenges of more competitive dimension.
Irrespective of the often charmless image Mayweather demonstrates, there are precious few weaknesses to be found in his displays inside the ring and I’m firmly of the opinion the mooted clash with Pacquiao will be important and thrilling but ultimately prove a step too far for the likeable Filipino.
By Jove, I’ll be watching though.