By Jason Keidel
Three weeks. 21 days. 504 hours. 30,240 minutes. 1,814,400 seconds.
That’s how long it is until Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. finally bump gloves in Las Vegas. (If you start counting tomorrow, around 11 p.m. ET, to be exact.)
Cynics will stretch the countdown back to 2009, when many say the fight should have happened. And I was a member of that purist faction.
But what does brooding achieve? The truth is that the timing is flawless. The accidental brilliance, the confluence of timing and talent, made this the preeminent event of the year, if not the decade. No one intended it to work this well. But many of the good things in life are serendipitous.
The biggest fear was that some calamity would befall the fighters. And something did. Manny Pacquiao got knocked out. Not one of those opaque, regrettable referee moves that have killed boxing, but rather an old-school, bare-knuckle KO.
But it only seems to add cash, cachet, and mystique to the bout. We know the boxing maxim that styles make fights. But how does that compute in this fight? Sure, Mayweather destroyed Juan Manuel Marquez, who turned the lights out on Pac Man. But Pacquiao smoked Miguel Cotto, who gave Mayweather fits.
Everything is relative in boxing. Especially in boxing. Judges gave Timothy Bradley the nod over Pacquiao in the first fight, when no one else in the arena did. Even Bradley could be seen muttering “I couldn’t hit him” right after the final bell rang. So it’s safe to argue that Pacquiao has really lost one fight, not two, since ’09.
There was a wonderful piece in The New York Times about the last man to officially beat Mayweather, in the 1996 Olympics. Not even that decision was clean. Nor is the life of the man who emerged victorious. Serafim Todorov, a Bulgarian journeyman who has fallen on rather hard times, claimed he was robbed in the gold medal round.
Some say Pacquiao has to KO Mayweather to win. Some say the opposite. Indeed, with Pacquiao the traditionally busier fighter, perhaps it will be hard to outpoint someone who triples your punch total.
But Mayweather is a master counter-puncher. And Marquez, if nothing else, gave Mayweather the blueprint in anti-Manny strategy. But while Mayweather is renowned for his epic, nocturnal work ethic, he’s not known for epic film study. He ascribes to the old-school coda that the opponent must adapt to him, not the reverse.
When I asked Marvelous Marvin Hagler whom he thought would win, he refrained. Not to be cute, but because he said he needs to see the men interact a couple weeks before the fight. The Marvelous Metric is hatred, says Hagler. He can read a fighter’s eyes and see who’s hot to fight and who’s not.
But there’s not likely to be a staring contest or any kind of grip-and-grin before they square-off in the squared circle. So we’re left with our limited source matter, and each man’s sprawling bio.
When I spoke with Thomas Hearns – this fight fan’s favorite boxer – he said he went into every fight wondering if he did enough, his head a mass of conflicting impulses. Did I do enough road work? Enough sparring? Enough study? Enough Already!
April 15 is the 30th anniversary of the iconic, “Eight Minutes of Hell” – a fight that needs no preamble. Just the words “Hagler” and “Hearns” summon a brutal yet beautiful montage, what many consider the greatest fight any of us will ever see. It was boxing’s apotheosis, back when the sport still had command of your adrenal gland.
We can only hope this fight on May 2 has a fraction of that bout’s traction. Maybe Manny and Mayweather will forget their legacies and just go at it, remembering, for a moment, how they got where they are, before they became brands over boxers.
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.