By Jason Keidel
With more dueling monologues than a presidential campaign, it’s sounding more and more like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao will fight next year. Mayweather has stamped May 2 as the perfect date. No doubt it would be held in Las Vegas, at the MGM Grand, since the loquacious champion calls all the logistical shots.
A report on CBSSports.com quoted Mayweather during an extensive interview he did with fighthype.com. Mayweather waxed rhapsodic, romantic, and erratic about everything, talking about control, promoters, drug testing, and threw in a few musical metaphors, musing about “A Side” and “B Side” fighters. To stretch the pop culture analogy, Mayweather is plugging himself as the “Billie Jean” to Pacquiao’s “Human Nature.”
But the important, unprecedented dynamic is that the sport’s top two pugilists are finally pugnacious.
Well, Pacquiao always has been. And while he did indeed balk at first to rampant and random drug testing, the Filipino fighter long ago acquiesced to Mayweather’s demands. And while Mayweather can continue his semantic subterfuge about Bob Arum leading Pac Man on a corporate leash, ordering him to take lower-tier fights, Mayweather finally feels the wind of public sentiment, which is overwhelmingly at Pacquiao’s back.
This fight has forever died on the negotiating vine because Mayweather didn’t want it. You can decide why. Some say he didn’t want to risk a fight with the one fighter who could beat him. Others think he sees the needle sagging on his PPV numbers and needs this fight to fuel his epic appetite for money.
Or perhaps he’s doing it for the right reasons – the twin verities that the public deserves it and he needs it to cement his legacy as a bona fide boxing legend.
Mayweather says that Pacquiao has finally conceded all the particulars because he owes copious cash to the IRS. It’s no secret that Pacquiao has been fiscally obtuse, but he has been pining for Mayweather for years.
The idea that Pacquiao’s epiphany coincides with a Magna Carta-sized invoice from Uncle Sam is a bit myopic. In a strict boxing sense, Pacquiao is clearly flawed, but also fearless. His quickness, southpaw style, and thunderous power would give pause to any fighter, even one as polished as Mayweather.
This, of course, is the reason the sweet science has lost its way. The best fighters rarely fight each other. Only a sport once ruled by Frankie Carbo and Don King can’t see the logic in grabbing its two biggest stars and forcing them into a ring.
Between corruption, incompetence, and the stark, dark reality that team sports have poached the heavyweight division of its best athletes, boxing has had a slow-drip on its soul since the ’90s.
Perhaps it’s overly romantic or cynical to assert that this is boxing’s final mega fight, but it probably is. No current fighter has the Q Rating of Pacquiao or Mayweather. Gennady Golovkin is a wonderful fighter, but could you pick him out of a lineup? Andre Ward is wonderfully gifted, but it feels like he hasn’t fought since the ’70s. Canelo Alvarez is a fine specimen, but he’s already been schooled by the maddening, Mayweather defense.
The heavyweights are ruled by Russians, a constellation of consonants in a division that was wholly American going back to Joe Louis and Jack Johnson. The boxing fan base has always been equal parts pugilism and patriotism. So while Wladimir Klitschko can knock out every chubby challenger in 60 seconds, not many Americans care. Maybe Mark Breland can get Deontay Wilder to shake up the heavyweight totem pole, but maybe it’s too late for anyone to care.
So it’s up to Mayweather and Pacquiao to give boxing the jolt it needs to keep it on the back page. For too long the sport has been relegated to the back alleys of the sports section, nestled between horse racing and high school wrestling.
Those of us who remember fight night as a singular event, a major slice of Americana, realize that a Mayweather-Pacquiao bout is more than just 12 rounds of high-end fisticuffs. The symbolism matters, the idea that boxing still gets it. And the aftershocks of such a seismic clash would be felt long after the two combatants ducked under the ropes and left the building.
It could inspire the next great fighter to choose boxing instead of basketball or baseball. It could revive a sport in desperate need of revival. For those of us who were born and raised in NYC, we remember when MSG was the main nerve of boxing. It would be nice to feel that again. But it can’t happen unless two men meet in Las Vegas first.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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