What does the upcoming Mayweather-Pacquiao Super Fight mean for boxing's future landscape?
In the past, “Super Fights” there often were residual effects from the outcome which set up the next highly anticipated bout. When “Smokin” Joe Frazier clipped the wings of “The Butterfly” Muhammad Ali on March 8, 1971, it set forth a four year period in which Ali fought George Foreman and Frazier two more times as they exchanged the undisputed heavyweight title between the three of them. That period is considered one of the best eras in heavyweight history. And it all started with the super fight in which all super fights are measured, Frazier vs. Ali in 1971, the most widely anticipated and comprehensively covered boxing match ever.
In June of 1980 Roberto Duran 71-1 (55) beat Sugar Ray Leonard 27-0 (18) in the “Brawl In Montreal.” Duran's win as a 9-5 underdog set up a rematch with Leonard five months later. Leonard won the rematch and within a year met undefeated destroyer and WBA welterweight title holder Thomas Hearns 32-0 (30) in a bout that was billed as “The Showdown.” Leonard stopped Hearns in the 14th round of a tremendous give and take bout to become the undisputed welterweight champion. Five months later he was forced to retire due to suffering a detached retina in his left eye. During Leonard's absence after setting the stage fighting both Duran and Hearns, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler emerged as the baddest middleweight in the world. And between the three of them (Hagler, Hearns & Duran) there were some really big super fights which captivated the boxing public circa 1983-85. A few years after Hagler stopped Hearns in three rounds, Leonard fought Hagler in his initial come back bout and won the WBC middleweight title in April of 1987. As you can see as a result of the first Leonard-Duran bout, a series between four all-time greats encompassing nine fights was set in motion, taking place in between 1980-89.
The 1988 undisputed heavyweight championship bout between Mike Tyson 34-0 (30) and former undisputed light heavyweight champ Michael Spinks 31-0 (21) was a monumental bout because it would clear up the confusion as to who the undisputed champ was. After Tyson dispatched Spinks in the first round the consensus was Mike would hold the title as long as he wanted to. With Olympians Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis both turning pro in early 1989 the table was set for them to eventually meet Tyson for the title in future super fights in the early nineties. Then the unexpected happened and Tyson lost the title in his third defense against James “Buster” Douglas 29-4-1 (19) in what many consider to be the biggest upset in boxing history. So it can't be said Tyson-Spinks was a dead end super fight because there were dream fights out there for Tyson had he been able to hold onto the undisputed title a couple of more years as expected.
However, there have been many dead end super fights since the “Fight Of The Century” between Ali and Frazier 44 years ago. Hagler-Leonard, Tyson-Holyfield and Lewis-Tyson come to mind, just to name a few. A dead end super fight is like a match race; its single purpose is to determine the winner between two superstar fighters who have been on a collision course that haven't yet clashed. There are usually no residual effects from them and the result doesn't set up other big fights down the road other than perhaps a rematch.
Hagler-Leonard was huge because Marvin and Ray, along with being all-time greats, were two of the most dominant fighters of the eighties and were close in weight and physical stature. Everyone who even casually followed boxing wanted to find out who was better between them. And after losing a split decision to Leonard in a bout he was certain that he won, Hagler retired from boxing and never flirted with returning to the ring again. Leonard, after scoring the most gratifying victory of his career, milked the public for a few more years, fighting a rematch with Hearns and a rubber match with Duran. Two years after beating Duran in their third bout he was taken apart by Terry Norris in 1991 and that was pretty much it for Sugar Ray Leonard as a superstar fighter. His ill-fated comeback against Hector Camacho in 1996 was virtually ignored by the boxing world, and rightly so.
Tyson-Holyfield I, like Mayweather-Pacquiao, also happened five years after its original sell-by date. And the only reason why it was so big was because everyone wanted to find out after all those years of anticipating–as is the case with Mayweather-Pacquiao–who'd win between career rivals Mike and Evander. The same applied to the Lewis-Tyson and De La Hoya-Mayweather mega bouts. They were nothing more than match races between superstar fighters with one of them on a severe decline (Tyson & De La Hoya). There was no discernible fallout from either bout in regards to being the springboard for another big fight.
When examining Mayweather-Pacquiao under a microscope, it doesn't matter whether or not you believe it will be a terrific fight from an action point of view. But there can be no conclusion other than it really is a dead-end super fight. And that's not because it's happening five years too late….Actually, like the third fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, more commonly known as the “Thrilla In Manila,” Mayweather-Pacquiao can still be an exciting/great bout.
When Ali 48-2 (35) and Frazier 32-2 (27) fought their rubber match during the fall of 1975, Muhammad was four months shy of turning 34 and Joe was four months shy of turning 32. Much to the surprise of many boxing observers, Ali-Frazier III turned out to be a real war and great fight, despite neither being close to the great fighters they were the first time they met four years earlier in 1971. And the reason for that was neither Joe nor Muhammad had much left defensively and couldn't get out of the others' way. The older and slower versions of them landed almost everything they threw at each other, resulting in a back and forth bout in which ruined both of them as all-time greats. But the fight was very relevant because it was the culmination and final chapter of what is truly the greatest sports rivalry in history. So Ali-Frazier III certainly cannot be considered a dead end super fight.
The same cannot be said for Mayweather and Pacquiao, who have never faced each other. They've both defeated practically every big name fighter currently campaigning at welterweight. The biggest reason why the fight between them has finally been made is simply because neither Floyd nor Manny have anyone left to fight that boxing fans really care about seeing them in the ring against. Once they finally fight and the result is history, then what? Where does Pacquiao turn? It's not like the world is waiting with baited breath for him to fight Amir Khan or Keith Thurman. Manny has nothing left to prove to anyone or himself. He's already established himself as one of the all-time great pound-for-pound fighters in boxing history having won a world title in eight different weight divisions. If Pacquiao loses to Mayweather his legacy won't be the least bit diminished, and if he beats him his legend grows in leaps and bounds almost to Roberto Duran-esque stature. Manny Pacquiao is pretty much done as a professional fighter aside from fighting Mayweather again in a rematch.
As for Mayweather…..it all depends on what happens against Pacquiao. If he wins and controls the fight most of the way, I would venture to say we'll never see them fight again. Why? Because it's not like Pacquiao can change his stripes and beat Floyd by fighting a different style in a rematch, and most boxing fans understand that, and if they don't they should. If Mayweather wins a close fight, say 115-113, and the decision is seen as being disputed or controversial, he'll probably have to fight Manny again to erase any lingering doubt. And if the worst possible for Mayweather is realized and he loses to Manny, then he has no choice but to exercise the rematch clause in their contract (which stipulates Pacquiao must give Mayweather a rematch if he wins). Let’s say for argument sake Mayweather beats Pacquiao, which I have no doubt he will. What's next if he doesn't fight him again? Nobody can convince me that there's interest in Mayweather fighting Keith Thurman or Amir Khan after finally beating Pacquiao. Add Canelo Alvarez and Timothy Bradley to the list. Nobody wants to see Mayweather-Alvarez II, and Mayweather-Bradley is something I'd use as a threat to make prisoners watch if they didn't snitch on their partners in crime, that's how terrible that would be to have to sit through. So who or what's left for Mayweather?
Gennady Golovkin for the middleweight title without a catch-weight stipulation? Perhaps, that would certainly be something, but it wouldn't be as big as Mayweather-Pacquiao to quasi boxing fans because they don't know who Golovkin is yet. In the boxing world Golovkin-Mayweather is huge, but not outside of it.
As you can see Mayweather vs. Pacquiao is really just a match race between two world renowned thoroughbreds that have been on a collision course for almost six years. Once it's over only one of two things will happen. Either Floyd and Manny touch gloves once more or, they will fight a swan song bout affording their fans one last chance to celebrate their hall of fame careers before they move onto the next stage of their lives. What does the fight really mean for boxing’s landscape? It's a super fight because of the money it will generate.
But it's one of the only recent super fights along with Hagler-Leonard (1987), Lewis-Tyson (2002) and De La Hoya-Mayweather (2007) that has nearly a dead end, other than a rematch and that's about it.
But that doesn't mean it can't or won't be a terrific fight on the night of May 2nd 2015 regardless of who wins.
Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com