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.
But it is not merely the urgency of an impatient Father Time that is heightening the prospect of the bout being made. On the 28th January, at an NBA Miami Heat game, the two competitors locked inquisitive gazes for the first time. Apparently both attending coincidentally, our protagonists went one step further by cautiously shaking hands and boldly exchanging phone numbers. This most assertive act of matchmaking, in which Mayweather seemed to enrol as the alpha male and Pacquiao the stand-offish damsel, was declared to have been the opening of communication avenues between the two fighters. Presumably, after years of stalemate, the public is supposed to credulously believe that Manny spends his evenings giggling flirtatiously and winding the phone cord around his index finger as he playfully flatters and cajoles Floyd into the multi-million dollar fight of the century!?
Cynicism aside, four days ago, a video emerged on Floyd’s twitter page of a further private meeting between the pair in a hotel room. A product of Mayweather Editing Incorporated, the video was leveraged by ‘The Money Team’ (Mayweather’s preferred moniker for his entourage) to convey that Floyd is the proactive party in the fight negotiations. Irrespective of bias, the video signalled yet more irrefutable proof that meetings were taking place and an announcement could be impending. The fight of the century was within reach of our restless grasp once more.
Unfortunately, recent sunrises have not endowed fight fans with the coveted news they plead for. Media blackout has displaced the slaloming timeline of encounters, press release and news coverage. The collective sigh of uncertainty returns.
To the mainstream fan who customarily only takes a passing interest in boxing it must be perplexing as to why a sport with its own interests at heart can not resolve itself to organise a lucrative match-up between its two most marketable competitors. In football, we are treated to Real Madrid versus Barcelona atleast bi-annually, whilst the racquet wielding community can savour Federer – Djokovic on countless occasions amid the tennis calendar. Why is it then that budding writers are left reporting the glacial ebb and flow of fight negotiations rather than the flurried back and forth of blows that can leave any sport lover’s mouth agape?
Firstly, much culpability can be assigned to the proliferation of sanctioning bodies that preside over the fractured world of boxing. In any weight division, of which there are seventeen, there are at least four major titles at stake – the World Boxing Organisation, the International Boxing Federation, the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association trinkets (I’m not even going to broach the void topic of ‘Silver’ belts and Champions in recess). This equates to atleast four recognised champions in each division each with their own obligations to adhere to and mandatory challengers to face. The wealth of championship titles available has discredited the sanctioning bodies and their titles to a point where many fighters simply sidestep title belts during fight negotiations as ensuring a belt is on offer only injects more political wrangling to the rigmarole of making a fight.
To aid understanding, close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine a dystopic state of English football where the Football Association had ruptured into four separate governing bodies each with their own league season, which in turn celebrated four recognised champions in four separate leagues. Each club desires to face the opposing champions, but has to first receive pardons from their league, as the club champions are mandated to face the second ranked team in their own league (the number one contenders). Oh, I forgot to mention, on top of this premise, each sanctioning body is run by a self-interested tyrant who expects extortionate fees from the clubs to appear in each league. Suddenly, the nauseating amount of bureaucracy in the analogy leads fans to disengage from the sport of football and to never expect the best facing the best. Thankfully for popular culture in Britain, this is not modern football but the convoluted landscape of boxing at present!
Whilst many would concur that the duelling governing bodies have befogged boxing business, arguably a more self-destructive trait of the sport lies in the indisputable notion that it has become more business than sport. Only Formula One rivals boxing in that both are disposed to value financial greed over the wellbeing of the sport. In the stupefying case of Mayweather – Pacquiao, we are faced with rival television networks in the form of Showtime and HBO both salivating at the prospect of staging the event, yet trying to wipe the dollar signs from their rheumy eyes. To cordially broker a deal to mutually showcase the event will require television executives to part with their inherent desire to amass income in favour of securing an event that could resuscitate boxing in the eyes of mainstream fans. An unlikely outcome perhaps but it does have a precedent in the form of the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis joint promotion back in 2002.
Equally, we have the snivelling, rapacious weasel known in boxing circles as the promoter. To backtrack, unless you go by the name of Don King, perhaps this depiction is a touch unjust. Nevertheless this unsavoury stereotype of a boxing promoter exists because all too often they shield their charge from the most challenging opponents, or more indefensibly, their abrasive characters sour relationships with boxers, managers and networks alike curtailing many potential fights before they are even conceived. Pacquiao promoter, Bob Arum, fits the profile of the shrewd, but to some, unpalatable business manager whose practices have estranged many in the boxing community. Fatally for fight fans, one of the estranged is none other than Mr Mayweather himself who formerly promoted by Arum, acrimoniously severed ties with the CEO of Top Rank Promotions in 2007 due to accusations that he had been underpaid. Harumph.
Once more, I hear that collective sigh reverberating throughout boxing fandom. Too many fingers in the pie to even consider constructing a pastry lid and too many bakeries jostling for the recipe.
Upon reflection, the recent flurry of unbaked hearsay surrounding Floyd – Manny negotiations only serves to shed cold light on all the disquiet that prevails in the shrouded wasteland of boxing. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Away from the social media mud-slinging of late are sporting treasures of such mesmerism that they will go untarnished and undimmed regardless of how far boxing’s halo slips: Ali goading Foreman in as “The Greatest” lounges against the top rope; Hagler and Hearns jettisoning caution in favour of thunderous reckless abandon; Tyson poleaxing a doe-eyed Spinks in 91 seconds. Who needs the formality of first names and dates when these moments comprise the backbone of the 20th century sporting experience – moments that have inflamed the imagination of talented, young men for decades.
This is why boxing fans stomach the iniquity of the boxing establishment. For all its wrongs, the sport has the capacity to redeem itself with another timeless moment. All can be forgiven. The prizefight with the most potential to unfurl this moment at present is Pacquiao v Mayweather. Come tomorrow sunrise, for all the lament, the first thing myself and many others will do is type ‘Pacquiao v Mayweather’ into Google News.
Has it been made? Give us the show.
By Michael McEwan