It wasn’t long ago when the best fighters in the world sought out the other best fighters in the world to find out who was the best of the best. It was a natural, easy thing to do, a way of finding out which fighter was the undisputed featherweight, bantamweight or heavyweight champion of the world. There was no need for discussion because we had watched the best fighters fight each other. We knew our champions.
Making those fights never seemed to be that tough. They just seemed to fall into place, as natural as the two best teams playing in a World Series or a Super Bowl.
To put those fights together, one guy from each camp – usually the fighter's manager - would meet with a promoter and after a little negotiating, they would agree on a time, a place and a purse. They’d end the conversation with a handshake and the nod of a head. A few months later, we’d turn on the TV and watch the two best welterweights in the world duke it out.
If the fight was close, if the outcome wasn’t obvious, they’d usually do it again, have a rematch, the same type of negotiating bringing us a second big fight or even a third or fourth.
But the thing was we never doubted that sooner or later, the best fighters would meet in the same ring to settle things. We didn’t worry about promotional ties, or protecting fighters or mandatory drug testing. We didn’t have three or four different world champions because that was like saying we had three or four different World Series champions.
It was all pretty simple, really. It’s why Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali fought three times. Why Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta kept showing up in the same ring. Why Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler were usually mentioned in the same sentence. They put on great shows and no one could predict the winner. But whoever it was, he was considered the best in the world, at least until the two fought again.
But then something ugly happened. Somewhere along the line, we lost touch with the truth. Promoters, cable TV, politics and greed started elbowing their way into the fight game, and the simplicity of the two best fighters in a division actually facing each other became almost obsolete. Promoters didn’t want to risk losing their champions, their money cows, and some fighters worried about losing their titles.
It became easier and safer to duck the top contenders or ignore another champion in another alphabet organization, and fight someone a little ways down the list of top contenders.
What do you think would have happened if Sugar Ray Leonard had never fought Tommy Hearns or Marvelous Marvin Hagler? If Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello had never fought? Those fights helped define their careers, completed their legacies. Without those fights, they would not have reached the level of greatness they did.
Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to understand why Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., have never fought. Say what you want, if they were fighting 25 years ago, you can bet the house they would have already fought each other. Probably two or three times.
But things are different now, and promoters like Bob Arum seem to cradle and shelter their champions. The reason Pacquiao and Mayweather haven’t fought is because Arum doesn’t want them to fight. It’s as though he wants to protect Pacquiao for as long as possible. If he did want the fight, you can be damn sure he would have found a way to make it work by now. After all, he is Bob Arum.
Arum recently said there is “no development” in the talks about the fight. Speaking from the Philippines, he said they are waiting on Mayweather and if the fight does come off, it wouldn’t be until late May.
“The problem remains the same in that no one from Mayweather’s side would guarantee his purse,” Arum was quoted as saying in a Manila newspaper. “I can only guarantee Manny’s purse, but if Floyd wants to make a deal with me, then I’m open to that. I can guarantee his purse but then I will have to have a share in his revenue.”
Pacquiao, meanwhile, sounds ready to step up to the plate as long as it’s an even split in the purse between him and Mayweather.
But that’s how it should be. It’s Pacquiao’s legacy that’s at stake, not Arum’s. If and when they fight, we’ll remember who won and how. We won’t remember or care how much they were paid or who the promoters were.