The debate on whether boxing is the premium combat sport over mixed martial arts is generally a hollow argument dressed in ignorance. After all, they are two vastly different fighting disciplines only linked by their mutually destructive aim of rendering an opponent unconscious. You are unlikely to wage an impassioned discussion of the respective merits of Rugby versus American football, so why afford the column inches to the tedious boxing – UFC dispute?
Nigel Benn- Michael Watson- Chris Eubank: three names that perhaps do not signify pound for pound pedigree but a trifocal of British pugilists that waged successive wars against each other across the early nineties. Frankly, any boxing purism would have been out of place in a hellish round robin of barbaric contests between the trio predicated upon genuine animosity and bloodlust that were more reminiscent of trench warfare than of any sporting endeavour. For the pleasured served up, tolls were taken, with Michael Watson suffering a cruel brain injury in his bout with Chris Eubank that would permanently alter his life. Speak to the irrepressible Watson today though and not a modicum of self-pity or regret will be detected in his attitude.
It’s July 16th 2005 in a stiflingly airless MGM Grand arena. After a scrappy, evenly contested encounter a landmark juncture in modern boxing history has been reached. A dumbfounded crowd of 12,000 have bore witness to the end of Bernard Hopkins’ historic reign of twenty straight defences as Middleweight Champion; the man to upend him is a young buck from Little Rock with a jarring jab, a follow-up right and a porous defence. These tactical observations matter little, as the new Middleweight kingpin holds aloft his hard-earned belt in one hand and his adorable kid in the other. Speaking to Larry Merchant after the bout he is respectful of Hopkins, exudes gratitude to HBO for the opportunity and initiates every answer with a deferential “Yes, Sir.” Every inch the modest all-American hero, right? The scene elapses, the audience spills into the Las Vegas night and life moves on.
After half a decade of strained negotiations, social media sparring, racial slurs and break-ups over drug testing protocols, it appears that boxing’s two most prized assets may finally be prepared to trade in their intolerable courting for a one-night, dysfunctional marriage of fistic brilliance. Notice the choice of the modal verb ‘may’; quite simply, the certainty of a ‘will’ or a ‘must’ has seemed and still seems a tad fanciful in the context of a Floyd Mayweather – Manny Pacquiao landmark bout.
Why the renewed optimism for the premiere bout being launched then? Well, coming into 2015, widely acknowledged pound for pound kingpin, Mayweather, is entering the final year of his lucrative contract with US television network Showtime which guarantees him two further fights this year. With the ripened age of 38 less than a month away, Mayweather has admitted for some time that 2015 will be his last rodeo; one in which he hopes to deliver a brazen exclamation mark to his protestation that he is the greatest fighter of all-time. With his perennial rival Pacquiao, battle hardened at 36 and with a myriad of bruising encounters lining his recent history (not least a knock out loss at the hands of Welterweight Juan Manuel Marquez in 2013), then the marketability and plausibility of the mega-fight are all reaching an apex at this juncture. With this in mind, the projected date of May 2nd, or never, is the forecast for the fight amongst the boxing intelligentsia.