Unlike most sports that can survive and thrive even when marquee athletes and franchises aren't on the center stage, boxing has a clear hierarchy that keeps the business flush with mainstream interest and revenue.
Standing at the top of the food chain is Floyd Mayweather, who will put his perfect 45-0 record and welterweight titles on the line against Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas on Saturday night. There's a reason why he's known as "Money," because no one brings in the dollars quite like Mayweather.
There is also the mystique that he carries. He's always front and center on the media front in promoting fights, but there's very little that we actually know about this titan of the sports industry.
As fight day draws closer, both Mayweather and Maidana have a lot to lose in their encounter. Victory is critical for both of these athletes, but who has more at stake? Let's examine what a win would mean for these two welterweight champions.
What a Mayweather Win Would Mean
It's hard to see what the benefit of a win over a fighter like Maidana would mean for Mayweather. We know what a loss would mean—the end of perfection and disintegration of the Money empire that's been building since his professional debut in October 1996.
What would be the biggest story from this fight?
But there's a vast difference between someone fighting not to lose and someone desperate to win. Since everything inevitably comes back to Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, use Pac-Man's recent victory over Timothy Bradley as a test case.
When Pacquiao lost to Bradley almost two years ago, he was a man who was fighting with nothing to gain and everything to lose. The rematch was Pacquiao's opportunity to say he's still one of the best in the world.
A victory for Mayweather in this particular spot would maintain the status quo in boxing. He's already regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world by every reputable source, including The Ring Magazine.
He will also move within three victories of equaling Rocky Marciano's 49-0 career record, though Mayweather told George Willis of the New York Post prior to his last fight against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez that it won't be a big deal until it happens.
"We’ll take one step at a time," Mayweather said. "We’ll take one fight at a time. We only hope for the best. Once we reach 49 that’s what it is."
Maidana, by rankings, isn't worthy of a fight against Mayweather right now. The Ring Magazine lists the 30-year-old as the No. 8 welterweight fighter in the world.
So a win in this fight for Mayweather would ensure that he remains the best boxer in the world, retains his title and can focus on the next challenge in his way. It doesn't sound like much to the rest of the world, but it's everything he's worked 18 years to build.
What a Maidana Win Would Mean
If Mayweather is fighting to retain his legacy, Maidana is trying to build his own and pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent sports history.
As much as the oddsmakers—and fans—are giving Maidana little chance to win this fight, Leonard Ellerbe of Mayweather Promotions told Lem Satterfield of The Ring Magazine that the challenger is as good a puncher as the champion has ever faced: "In my opinion, Maidana's the biggest puncher that Floyd's faced. Maidana's the biggest puncher that Floyd has faced until this point. He has the highest knockout percentage that's out there. Like I said, he's never ever not in an entertaining fight."
Of course, being a powerful puncher actually plays into Mayweather's hands because he's such a great defensive boxer and can counter as well as anyone the sport has ever seen.
As much as Mayweather would suffer by having that "1" in his loss column, a Maidana win would actually be good for boxing. It would turn the sport on its head and set up an easy rematch that can generate even more buzz because we know he can beat Mayweather.
It also opens up the possibilities for Maidana within the Golden Boy Promotions family. He will have his pick of fights, if he wants to move on from Mayweather. Potential clashes with Alvarez, Amir Khan and Robert Guerrero would be on the table.
Boxing needs something to shake up the status quo. Mayweather is on top for now, but how much longer will that last? When he's done, the sport will lose its biggest draw. Someone has to step up at some point.
Maidana, at 30, may be too old to carry that mantle for a long time, but a victory over the sport's biggest star would elevate him into rarefied air.
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