This Saturday, in the fittingly majestic MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will finally deliver the fight every boxing fan has been waiting for. The showdown – almost six years in the making – was announced back in February and as fans finally get to witness the two best boxers of their generation come head to head, it is difficult not to think of what might have been had this fight occurred when both men were at the height of their powers
Negotiations for this fight supposedly began back in 2009. That year Pacquiao came up against Ricky Hatton, inflicting only the second defeat of the British fighter’s career. Mayweather had destroyed “Hitman” Hatton two years before. Following this, Mayweather then defeated Marquez while Pacquiao also beat Cotto six months after he dispatched Hatton. The time seemed right for the two men to finally meet after they had both defeated the last few candidates who could possibly have rivalled their claim to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the division. But it was clear once the negotiations had started that both fighters were more interested in making life more difficult for each other pre-fight than they were in actually focusing on the fight itself.
To begin with, the purse was a constant source of issue with Pacquiao wanting an even 50:50 split, whereas Mayweather reportedly wanted a much larger cut, somewhere in the range of 70:30 in his favour. Another problem was that of the medical tests that were to be carried out before the fight. Mayweather insisted on having Olympic-style drug tests before the fight to make sure that Pacquiao wasn’t taking any performance enhancing drugs as there were (unfounded) rumours that he had. Pacquiao opposed this request, citing a fear of needles and claiming that Maywaether’s requests were unreasonable and an attempt to weaken him.
The fight was teased to boxing fans over the next five years with a reported second round of negotiations later in 2010 proving to be false. Many rumours and contradictions were thrown out in the five year gap with both fighters saying they would go back on their previous reasoning for not having the fight. Mayweather said he would not agree to a 50:50 split of the purse but said that Pacquiao would receive a flat fee of $40million for the fight, win or lose. Mayweather also said he would not fight Pacquiao due to his relationship with promoter Bob Arum, with the American saying he would never do business with Arum again.
Pacquiao then also retracted his stance on the blood tests and said he would do a test on the night of the fight if needs be. He also responded to Mayweather’s jibe in early 2014 that he only wanted the fight to ease his tax problems by proposing that all the proceeds of the fight go to charity and just fight for the enjoyment of the fans. So after five years the fight will finally go ahead. But in that half a decade both fighters have aged and are now out of their prime getting dangerously close to that ‘one fight too many’.
Mayweather and Pacquiao may still be two of the top fighters in the sport, but both men are shadows of what they were five years ago, when talk of a ‘superfight’ began. Mayweather would be 38 on fight night. That’s ancient in boxing years. And while Mayweather hasn’t taken the same amount of punishment in the ring as most of his peers, his fragile hands and arduous training regime have both contributed to a noticeable decline as he’s aged.
Pacquiao, at 36, is slightly younger than Mayweather, but has taken infinitely more punishment in the ring, most notably an absolutely devastating knockout at the hands of longtime foe Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012. Perhaps less notable to the occasional fans was the slide Pacquiao had been on for years leading up to the Marquez fight. Even against ordinary competition like Joshua Clottey and an elderly “Sugar” Shane Mosley, Pacquiao looked flat and insipid. In recent years, Pacquiao has divided his attention between boxing, acting, his role as a congressman in his native Philippines, and even a stint as a professional basketball player. Heavily in debt to both American and Philippine tax authorities, Pacquiao sometimes looks like a man just going through the motions. The magic that made him the most electrifying fighter in the sport in 2008 and 2009 remains infuriatingly elusive.
This world welterweight title unification bout has arrived at least five years too late, yet it is a fight which needs to deliver if boxing is to regain its place in the global consciousness, with the growth of MMA drawing fans way from the ring and to the octagon. It may seem hyperbolic to claim that the fate of boxing is resting on this fight, but a disappointing fight after all the hype will leave many a casual fan cold and disheartened with the sport. This fight will undoubtedly be the biggest fight of the last ten years but it features two brilliant fighters who are unfortunately past their best and will not be a true reflection of what would have happened if they had fought six years ago. The bout is set to make around $300 million in revenue, with the 1,000 tickets that went on sale to the general public selling out in less than a minute and then beginning to change hands for almost $100,000 each. But is it the biggest fight of all time? Fifty years from now, will it be remembered for anything other than the huge purse involved?
From the standpoint of catching both boxers in top form, a matchup between 2009 and 2011 would have been ideal. Now, although Mayweather’s commercial appeal is nearly the highest of his career, Pacquiao and Mayweather aren’t the fighters they were several years ago. Even if the fight happens, Mayweather and Pacquiao will have taken so long to iron out its details that they will have missed the opportunity for a classic bout between two all-time greats at their respective peaks.