It finally happened. After a years-long “will-they-or-won’t-they” on par with the greatest of TV sitcom romances, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather put their differences aside and have agreed to a fight on May 2. The sports world now rejoices as two of boxing’s most legendary fighters will at last meet in the ring to settle who is the better brawler. Considering the money each man is slated to make ($120 million for Floyd, $80 million for Pacquiao), it’s tough to blame them for finally signing on the dotted line.
But is it really such a good thing that the fight is happening?
Pacquiao is 36. Mayweather is about to turn 38. While both have sterling career records, they’re clearly in a different stage of their lives in the ring. And while there is no denying their historical greatness, there’s also no denying that their individual primes are well over.
The idea of this fight is so exciting, so tantalizing that it has collectively blinded us from the truth.
The idea of this fight is so exciting, so tantalizing that it has collectively blinded us from the truth. Sports fans love narrative, and Mayweather-Pacquiao certainly has had plenty of that. The media frenzy demanding a fight between the two started back in late 2009, when Floyd had come out of retirement and Manny was simply destroying everybody he faced. Negotiations for a March 2010 fight fell apart over drug testing procedures, and renewed conversations later that year went nowhere. Since then, the only sparring the two have done since has been through barbs launched in the media.
Let's face it: boxing, generally, is not the most media-friendly sport. We live in an era where there are fewer fighters than ever who have transcended the sport itself to become iconic pop culture figures. Someone like Mike Tyson could single-handedly keep the 24-hour news cycle going, but that guy just doesn't exist in 2015. Indeed, the closest we've come to finding that guy is either Mayweather or Pacquiao, and once it became a realistic possibility that these two would actually settle the "who's better" debate in the ring, it's been a complete media feeding frenzy.
There were flickers of hope for a more legitimate meeting of the two in 2011 when Pacquiao supposedly agreed to Mayweather's blood testing demands. The two spoke on the phone in 2012 and agreed on how to split up the money. They settled a defamation lawsuit soon thereafter, and again there seemed to be a chance. But then in January 2014 Floyd ripped Pacquiao in an interview with Fight Hype, offering up the following insult:
"Pacquiao got IRS problems. Pacquiao got pay-per-view number problems. Pacquiao's boss name is Bob Arum. Pacquiao owes $68 million in taxes. Pacquiao's got 5 losses. He still got Timothy Bradley problems and Marquez problems...So this guy's got all these problems and he wants Floyd Mayweather to solve them for him, huh? First he didn't need me; now he needs me."
Pacquiao tried to grab the moral high ground last March, suggesting that the two fight for charity. He was met with silence.
.@FloydMayweather's testimony to the commission on All Access' authenticity tells me everything I need to know about his desire to fight me.— Manny Pacquiao (@MannyPacquiao) September 24, 2014
A video posted by Floyd Mayweather (@floydmayweather) on Nov 25, 2014 at 11:58pm PST
While this lack of fighting has done nothing to resolve who is the better boxer, it’s been vital in fueling interest in a bout between the two. From a marketing perspective, the failure to successfully negotiate a fight in 2010 was absolutely brilliant. All of a sudden, this simple fight between the two best boxers in the sport became a larger-than-life spectacle with expectations beyond anything in recent boxing history.
And if that fight had happened in 2011, it might have actually lived up to the hype. But it’s not 2011. It’s 2015. A lot has changed.
At their respective peaks, pound-for-pound these guys were two of the best to ever do it.
Pacquiao, especially, has not looked like the same guy. After losing a controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley in June 2012, he followed that up by getting epically knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez that December. It was so bad, he even had to have his brain tested. He’s fought three times since then, winning all of them but failing to knock anybody out.
As for Mayweather, at this point he’s making as many (if not more) headlines for his antics outside the ring as he is for his actual fighting skills. While he’s looked a bit more vulnerable in his recent fights, it’s tough to argue with his lifetime 47-0-0 record. Even if his exceedingly defensive, countering style is not the most exciting to watch, he still gets the job done.
Does this sound like a recipe for a good fight? Maybe. But as great a fight as it has been built up? No chance.
At their respective peaks, pound-for-pound these guys were two of the best to ever do it. In case you needed a reminder, Pacquiao has made a career out of knocking guys out absolutely cold:
And Mayweather was no slouch himself either when it came to putting bodies on the canvas:
But those guys are gone. The mystique behind Mayweather-Pacquiao has surpassed what we could ever realistically hope to see unfold when they actually lock up in a little over two months. Guys in their mid-to-late-30s rarely leave us with an enduring display of spectacular athleticism, and that is especially true in boxing. For every Bernard Hopkins success story, there are dozens of guys like Evander Holyfield and James Toney, who simply held on for too long even as their reflexes and punching power told them it was all over. Even "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali was a shade of himself in his later career, as he spent his last five years in the ring fighting like a glorified punching bag. Boxing is simply not a profession where older guys can be at the top of the sport, and it's unreasonable to expect Mayweather or Pacquiao to defy what a century of boxing history has taught us.
To be clear, this is not to say we won’t see an entertaining bout; both guys have simply too much on the line not to deliver a solid show. In the end, though, what we’ll likely be left with is a nagging feeling that the idea of Mayweather-Pacquiao was far more enjoyable than the actual fight.