In the wake of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s scorecard shutout of Juan Manuel Marquez in September 2009 and Manny Pacquiao’s 12th-round stoppage of Miguel Cotto two months later, public demand for a Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown reached an all-time crescendo.
Fans wanted it. Writers wanted it.
And, even intermittently, it actually seemed like the fighters wanted it, too.
But when yet another wave of pseudo-negotiation between Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing and the Mayweather Promotions entourage reached the shoreline with barely a ripple, the would-be principals continued floating in their perpetually contrasting directions.
Pacquiao wound up in Texas, sold 50,000 tickets in a football stadium and successfully defended Arum’s interests by winning the lion’s share of 36 non-violent minutes against Joshua Clottey.
Mayweather, meanwhile, made his way back to Las Vegas, shook off Shane Mosley’s last great shot at relevance in the second round and cashed another $40 million check for his troubles.
It was a win-win for the tax attorneys, but a meh-meh for boxing.
Still, as it turned out, the prelude to the booby prizes planted seeds for the sport’s future.
While the two feuding sides haggled over purse splits, drug tests and marquee billing, among the horde of foes suggested as a Manny fill-in for Floyd was a late-teen from Mexico with a prodigious pro record, a punishing left hand and just the right array of promotional allies.
He was dismissed at the time as being too green. Yet, if left to promotionally simmer on a back burner at low heat, it was assumed a day would arrive when he and Mayweather would make a main-course feast.
In the intervening three years, that’s precisely what’s happened.
After Canelo Alvarez emerged from a tight 154-pound spot against Austin Trout with two belts and unbeaten status on April 20, a prospective match with Mayweather officially supplanted a Floyd-Pacquiao bout as the event boxing fans should most hope they’ll see.
And no, it’s not just Oscar De La Hoya who thinks so.
Though Manny presumably remains the sport’s top global brand—thanks in large part to a rabid fanbase back home in Asia—his street cred as its pound-for-pound king has taken a flurry of perception-changing shots since clamor for a showdown with Mayweather was at its most deafening.
He was dominant, but hardly transcendent while sweeping scorecards against a disgraced Antonio Margarito at the close of 2010, then waltzed through 12 more sleepy rounds with an unwilling dance partner in the guise of outpointing a then-skidding Mosley in May 2011.
Another iffy win against Marquez did zero to boost Pacquiao’s momentum at Thanksgiving that year; and a pair of 2012 losses—one debated, one declarative—combined to halt a seven-year win streak and complete a not-so-subtle shift from undeniably excellent to merely entertaining.
Lest we forget, as superfight hype neared a peak, many thought Pacquiao would beat Mayweather.
When he was knocked cold in December at the MGM, just as many thought he’d never fight again.
And while there’s no question Top Rank will cash in on what does remain in Manny’s fists when he returns this November—reportedly in China against either Brandon Rios or Mike Alvarado—his mere participation in such an occasion reeks of a demotion to also-ran level.
At the same time Mayweather is prepping for a turn on the main pay-per-view stage with Robert Guerrero, Arum and Co.—still without a clear Pac victory over Marquez after four tries—are blending their man into a titillating but otherwise irrelevant round-robin with non-belted junior welters.
It’s a tacit admission that he no longer belongs with the big boys.
By contrast, for the next 30 months on Showtime, that should be all that awaits Team Floyd.
Assuming things go well with the “Ghost” this weekend—when he’ll be a sizable favorite in the minds of most odds-makers—the next name on the eternal “He’s got to beat this guy to be an all-time great” list will almost certainly be spelled A-L-V-A-R-E-Z, and not P-A-C-Q-U-I-A-O.
While Manny is two inches shorter (5'6" to 5'8"), nearly as old (34 to 36) and has 56 more rounds of actual in-ring time (371 to 315), the red-haired Mexican looks his potential foil straight in the eye, appears tangibly stronger at 154 and was just six when Floyd turned pro.
It’s all there in the math. But it’s not all about the numbers.
It’s a far easier fight to make because of boardroom rivalry, a far more significant fight to make because of continental geography and simply a better fight to make based on where each of the men now stands on their respective career arcs.
And though a defeat of Pacquiao would give Mayweather a satisfying thumb in the eye of an old promoter, the toppling of a bigger, younger and heretofore untamed new lion would provide another layer of logic to those already believing he belongs among a generation’s best.
After all that’s gone on, it’s the only debate still worth having.