In a little over 24 hours, boxing's best rivalry since Gotti/Ward will reach what should be its conclusion. Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez will duke it out in the ring for a fourth time in the last eight and a half years with the hopes of finally settling their score. After a draw and two close & controversial decision wins for Pacquiao, not much has been settled between the two. Saturday night, like a Saturday night last November, will carry with it the hopes of all involved that the issue will be settled.
This fight is what boxing needs: real rivalries that feel real because they are real, not just the product of promoters looking for some extra hype for a fight. This rivalry has been built out of the things that make great rivalries in the fight game: intense competition, controversy, a touch of animosity, and the desire for both to prove that they are better than the other in the ring. These things don't exist much in boxing anymore. The sport has become nothing more than promoters and fighters hiding behind each other, taking on easy or lesser skilled opponents out of the fear that a fight against someone at their level or above it might result in a loss and the end of the gravy train. There have been some instances where good fights have been made, with Robert Guerrero and Andre Berto being the most recent. But examples like these are few and far between these days.
And that brings us to the fight that will never be: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Folks, it's not going to happen. If anyone actually still believes that it is, it's time for them to wake up to the harsh truth that both of these fighters are not going to meet in the ring and compete against each other, ever. Mayweather basically sunk the nail into the proverbial coffin recently by demanding a 100% cut of the pay-per-view revenue that would go to the fighters after Pacquiao already had announced that he would take a less than 50/50 split with Mayweather in an attempt to make the fight happen. This was without a doubt Mayweather showing his hand: he doesn't want this fight. Either that or he's a shitty businessman because there was no way that Pacquiao or his people were going to accept that. This writer has no love for Bob Arum, but does respect his business acumen and even Arum isn't that desperate for this fight to happen. At the end of the day, this fight happening wouldn't have changed anything for the sport anyway, so it's not as big a loss as people may want to believe.
This writer recalls the Mayweather/De La Hoya fight in 2007 being called “The Fight That Would Save Boxing” and things to that degree. In the end, it did nothing for the sport as the whole “boxing is dead” b.s. not only continued, but it increased after the fight. Sure, everyone in Golden Boy Promotions, everyone in Mayweather Promotions, everyone in each of the fighter's camps, everyone in each of the fighter's entourages, and the fighters themselves enjoyed a hefty payday, but this major fight happening did nothing else for the sport. Why? Because one fight, no matter how much star power is in it, cannot fix a sport that is dying from the inside. Such is the problem with boxing today.
There is an old adage among pro wrestling promoters; it goes “get the match in the ring.” Boxing promoters should take note of this because it is the biggest problem in the sport today. Sure, having some quality American heavyweights in the title picture would help things a little bit, but at the end of the day the only major star that boxing has created since the Mayweather/De La Hoya fight has been Manny Pacquiao, and his time is almost up. After that, where does the sport go, who are the new stars, or are there even any new stars out there? There are plenty of great and entertaining fighters in boxing today, but that only pleases boxing purists, historians, fans, followers, writers, etc. As for people outside of the sport, the average fight fan, they need something more.
If nothing else, the lack of a Pacquiao/Mayweather fight does point out the most glaring difference between boxing and UFC, and why mixed martial arts has been the king of combat sports for the last six years: in UFC the big fights that need to happen get made. The advantage that UFC has is that with only one promoter (Dana White) in charge of the biggest promotion of MMA on the planet, there's a whole lot less to deal with in making a major fight happen. With that aside, it's mind-blowing that promoters haven't collectively come together and realized that they have to work together side by side for the good of the sport or there won't be much to call boxing in the near future. Because that is exactly where the sport is going and it's not because Pacquiao/Mayweather isn't going to happen, it's because there aren't enough fights like Pacquiao/Marquez happening.
And that's where we come back to tomorrow night's installment in this rivalry.
This rivalry has been the best example of what boxing can be at its best. The pay-per-view buys for this rivalry have gone from solid to great with each passing fight. Along the way, Pacquiao became a megastar and Marquez gained more star power than most probably expected he would ever gain. Fans of all kinds were treated to a fight of the year candidate each time and were left wanting more instead of being left disappointed, as has been the case for many, many major fights in recent memory.
The controversy involving how all three fights were scored is also a good thing because it guaranteed people would come back for more. This is because the controversy wasn't flat-out robbery like with Pacquiao's loss to Timothy Bradley this past summer. No, this controversy came about because each fight was not only extremely close, but extremely difficult to score. With fights like that, there's no way that everyone is going to be happy with the outcome, and that makes people remember and analyze and argue about the fight while waiting for the opportunity to see the sequel. The fact that three fights haven't provided such resolution has made this one, long, very enjoyable ride due to all of the fights satisfying the most basic urges and needs of fight fans: compelling action, violence, and competitiveness.
But maybe the biggest reason that this fight should be celebrated is because it might be the last glimpse we get of either fighter in a boxing ring. Without the Mayweather fight, Pacquiao has nothing left to prove and nothing left to fight for after Saturday night. As for Marquez, he's pushing 40 with a full career in boxing, and no amount of new muscle (however obtained) is going to change the power that age has on the human body. Pacquiao has a political career to think about now and it's obvious that his new non-boxing career along with his religion are number one in his life. That fact more than anything is reason for him to step away from the sport. It's been proven in both boxing and MMA that the moment something outside of the ring, specifically religion, begins to dominate a fighter's life is the moment his fighting begins to go downhill. MMA's example of this happening to a legendary fighter was Fedor Emelianenko, who retired earlier this year. With Marquez, it's not so much that there's nothing left for him to prove as much as there is no more big fights to be made with him. It's doubtful that he would want to continue fighting younger, less known fighters for the next few years and unless a fight with Erik Morales or Timothy Bradley or someone along those lines comes up, there's just not much out there for Marquez even if he were to beat Pacquiao.
It has been a pleasure and privilege for me as a boxing fan to have witnessed this series of fights. It has also been fairly surreal as the sport has gone through some amazing, though mostly negative, changes in the eight plus years that has encompassed the four fights in this rivalry. Part of me almost wants to see another controversial decision or a second draw just so it wouldn't have to end, just so there could be one more fight between these men. I know I am in the minority here as most people didn't want this fight to happen. That in itself speaks to how far the sport has fallen since the two first fought in 2004. There were many who called this a waste of time when it was first announced. Again, another sad commentary on the state of the sport. If the fights have always been good and the landscape is so barren for both men's future possibilities in the sport, why should it matter that these two are going at it for a fourth time? Quick answer: it shouldn't. You think people would've put up this kind of fuss if Arturo Gotti and Mickey Ward had signed on for a fourth fight? No. Of course that rivalry was with two fighters of lower star power and were closer together as far as when they fought their fights, but the principle remains the same: these are great fights put on by two great fighters who still don't know who is better than the other. This is the down to the basics goal of any fighter stepping into the ring against another fighter: to prove they are superior. And if that doesn't happen, there's something in the mentality of a fighter (no matter the combat sport) that will eat at them until the matter is settled conclusively. This is what has kept the Pacquiao/Marquez rivalry alive and what has made these fights some of the most entertaining fights of the last decade, if not longer.
Tomorrow night should be another example of it. Will you be watching? This writer will be. And with an anticipation and glee that only true boxing fans can appreciate.
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