The Sour Science


Mayweather vs MarquezBy Julie Cockerham – Floyd Mayweather invited disaster with the superfluous demands he made on Manny Pacquiao in anticipation of their super bout. It’s not unusual for him to exercise his mouth liberally before a fight, but this time his posturing had an effect greater than mere annoyance. This time, his posturing ended with a far more dimensional conclusion than his common ranting. In fact, it gained all-out relevance.

When Mayweather insisted on amplifying the drug testing requirements, he opened a bag of worms. The issue polarized opinions. Understandably, there were those who felt that he was using it as a means of avoiding Pacquiao, cleverly dressing his excuse in legitimizing clothing. Understandably, there were those who felt that Pacquiao should have simply agreed to the demands if he had nothing to hide. Between the two poles, the issue of drug testing itself stuck.

With concern for safety in the sport being called to the forefront, Mayweather was left to be pelted by the sand from the storm he had created. Quibbling over purses was likely to be a prime factor in endlessly flustering the negotiations as well, but once Mayweather’s idealism had entered the picture, he had himself backed against the ropes.. At that point, he couldn’t allow money alone to influence his decision to fight. He had to maintain his convictions about safety and fairness before entering the ring, or risk being branded insincere and greedy.

And so the next move became Pacquiao’s. If he wouldn’t agree to Mayweather’s demands, even if they were stripped some by compromise, the best fight in boxing would be sent to the bone yard.

The worst element to rise from the eye of the storm has nothing to do with the issue of drug testing, or the safety of boxers, or the fairness of competition. It has to do with the spotlight being turned on the business aspect. It has to do with giving it such a broad forum, where all sides spit accusations of blame at one another without a punch ever being thrown. It’s about the pettiness of disagreement being allowed to permeate a sport that, at its core, should represent definitive resolution.

Everything here is backwards.

When the business is given the grand stage, the dark and seedy bits are exposed. Boxing is at a natural disadvantage when compared to other sports in one regard. Too much is dependent on the whims and wishes of those involved. It is doomed to be this way, because there is no logical, solid framework to guide it otherwise. In other sports, winning entities automatically stand in line to challenge the next opposing entity. They continue facing challenges until all opponents have been eliminated. This is how progress is made, and how quality is measured. There is never an option for the winners to be satisfied with two or three preliminary victories, declare themselves the best, and withdraw from further competition because there is nothing else to prove. The thought is laughable.

But in boxing, the thought is serious, and the thought too frequently becomes material.

And so once negotiations between Mayweather and Pacquiao fell through again, attributable either to missed deadlines, obstinance, or apathy, there was no question of who wouldn’t step forward to offer a solution. Enter the all too human element.

Floyd Mayweather has never painted himself the hero; he plays the part of villain. Rationally, nothing else could be expected of him, not without forcibly mutating his character into something it isn’t. Mayweather does not want to be the knight in shining armor, and boxing is not his damsel in distress. He seems comfortable being on the prevailing end of “what if” affirmations.

But if the responsibility to save the day couldn’t be entrusted to Mayweather, it certainly would be wrong to lay the burden at Pacquiao’s feet. Pacquiao has never done any less than everything he is capable of at all times for the sport. He fights for his fans and he fights fearlessly. He doesn’t approach his strategy like certain fighters nowadays who concentrate solely on the winning formula. He throws punches in combinations and with impressive speed and power, because that is what people like to see. He is honestly concerned with entertainment value and his performances are clear reflections of that concern. He is a tremendous asset to the sport because he exemplifies its virtues at their best.

It is probably naïve to believe that a promoter would seize the opportunity to take up the sword and defend the sport’s merits. But is it still naïve when viable possibilities lay in every direction? It is harder than not to avoid selecting a worthy challenger. The quality of the welterweight class increases with constant accolades for its fighters. Three of the most promising, Tim Bradley, Devon Alexander, and Andre Berto, are all undefeated. At the conclusion of his last bout, Bradley stood on the mat and called Pacquiao out. He wants to fight him.

Top Rank could have exploited the opportunity laid at their hands with ease. Their failure to do so flirts with the absurd. The next test of Pacquiao’s illustrious career is set to be nothing more than a grand “getting to know you again” party for the ostracized. Antonio Margarito is slated to stand opposite Pacquiao in November. A stranger choice would be difficult to conjure.

Too much has already been said about Margarito, the gloves, and the moment of infamy. What is known conclusively is that Bob Arum didn’t turn his back on the Mexican fighter. It seems like he’s been looking for a chance to reintroduce him. But the circumstances he has chosen for the reintroduction are at best, inappropriate, and at worst, thoroughly undeserved.

The mechanics alone are unconvincing. Margarito is too slow, too inflexible, too linear in his movement to present any real danger to Pacquiao. At one time, Margarito was seen as the ultimate stalker; unrelenting, powerful, and indestructible. But after the glove incident, he was beaten up and demoralized by Shane Mosley. If Margarito has in fact lost his power with the absence of his trusty gloves, he will have only one feature to present against Pacquiao: a tireless, forward plodding, and exposed chin.

This fight will not increase the legacy of Pacquiao. Too many people are turned off by the notion of Margarito’s return as it is. How can Top Rank even attempt to justify their selection? They’ve certainly made a bold statement in doing so. The next outing for their superstar will be more or less an exhibition, allowing Pacquiao to mesmerize those who are rabid enough to pay the cost of the viewing.

Here, the promoter’s move serves only to slight Pacquiao, a brave and willing champion who would be game for better. It serves to slight the heady contenders in the welterweight division — high quality opposition who would be willing to provide for better.

And what of Mayweather? Now that the storm has subsided for the time being, what will he do?

It is a pattern that has been witnessed before. After the demise of the first round of negotiations, Pacquiao took on Joshua Clottey with expedience. He tried to seal over the gaping hole that was steadily swallowing up hope of the mega bout ever coming to fruition. The replacement fight with Clottey ended up lacking the competitive spark, but few thought he was an unwise choice.

Manny Pacquiao’s urgency to come to the rescue was admirable, but it also caused something interesting to appear as an outgrowth of his unswerving productivity.

Floyd Mayweather’s pool of challengers began constricting. Fighters that he had neglected to oppose were being dispatched in a torrent by Pacquiao. Oscar De La Hoya had wanted another stab at Mayweather after giving him a good fight in 2007. Mayweather declined. And so it was Pacquiao who took up the charge and punctuated the event by retiring him. Miguel Cotto’s name was often brought up as a possible opponent for Mayweather, but he wouldn’t take the fight. Pacquiao did, and beat him in a rousing display of sly aggression. Pacquiao is always the first to make the move and he is held in high regard for it.

But while Mayweather allows Pacquiao to patch over the disappointment of their nonexistent clash, watching as he inserts other competitors in his place, he is inadvertently creating for himself harsher challenges. He may seem like one who incessantly avoids risk, but as Pacquiao continues to constrict the pool of viable contenders, Mayweather is forced into greater trials when he steps through the ropes. He was practically forced into fighting Shane Mosley, who, up to that point, was enjoying a rejuvenated air of menace after felling Margarito. No one was enticed by the prospect of fighting him, because he had reasserted himself as somewhat of an unknown quantity. Mayweather had to fight him, because he was left there. Whoever is passed over by Pacquiao is likely to find himself standing in the opposing corner of Mayweather.

And now here again, Pacquiao is set to fight first. He takes on Antonio Margarito. He passes over the likes of Tim Bradley, Devon Alexander, and Andre Berto. They are all left there. They might fight each other, or they may choose to be tested further against other opponents. Either way, they’re in the pool; all dangerous, all greater threats than Margarito.

Mayweather’s fist may well end up forced again, and this is a good thing.

The possession of the greatest talent is not in question for him, it is the execution of that talent that is. Mayweather may be internally lacking in the drive to prove himself. His past conduct suggests nothing less. Maybe he is quietly disturbed by the thought of becoming the prey of a searing, monolithic talent. But what is assured is that Mayweather cannot both stay in the game and continue to make the rules. To be respected as a champion in the highest regard, he has to trust his gifts.

He has to trust that legitimacy is his only hunter.