The crowd at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas had just laid witness to Manny Pacquiao's brutal beat-down of the hopelessly overmatched Miguel Cotto. They watched as Pacquiao triumphantly raised his arms the same way a quarterback raises his after he completes a touchdown pass. And it was at that moment that they began to chant, that they began to let the outside world know exactly what was in their collective hearts.
Who did the fans want Manny Pacquiao, the devastating Filipino fighter who had just won an unheard-of seventh world title in his seventh different weight class, to fight next?
Well, let's hear from them...
"WE WANT FLOYD! WE WANT FLOYD! WE WANT FLOYD!"
The Floyd they were chanting for of course is Floyd Mayweather Jr., the fleet-footed, undefeated tactical defender who, before he (briefly) retired a couple of years ago, was the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.
Mayweather (40-0, 25 KOs) and Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 KOs) are the two brightest stars in a sport that has faded in popularity over the last 10-15 years. And that's why yesterday's news that negotiations between the two camps had begun has the entire sports world on edge. Because in reality, when was the last fight to come along to generate this much interest? When was the last time the sports world salivated at the prospects of the two most talked about boxers in the world getting it on in the ring?
I don't know the exact answer to the questions I'm asking. I only know its been a long time. I remember as a kid when these kind of fights seemed to be an annual event. I remember going to a neighbor's house who paid the pay-per-view fee and who invited everybody from the neighborhood to his house to watch.
As long as they bought either money or something to eat or drink (of course).
Since I'm an '80s baby, I vividly remember the super-fights of that decade that featured such superstars as Sugar Ray Leonard, "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns, and Roberto Duran. There are few sporting events that rival the intense excitement that a boxing super-fight can generate. It's a cultural event, one that attracts the attention of people who don't even follow the sport. Although the super-fights of the '80s happened more than 20 years ago and, although I was just a kid, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on those fateful nights when boxing history was made.
There are millions of people around the world who understand exactly what I'm talking about.
And doesn't it always seem like these super-fights have fantastic behind-the-scenes drama that only heightens the suspense? As even a casual fan will tell you, boxing is a sordid and dirty sport. No one who gets involved is ever the same, not with its behind the scenes manipulations, unethical business dealings, public name-calling, and overall sliminess. And the (inevitable?) Mayweather/Pacquiao fight has a juicy storyline that only adds spice to the overall narrative.
Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, is the president of Top Rank, the promotional company that Mayweather fought for until 2005 when he ended his contract because he believed that Arum was Don-Kinging him (meaning Arum took money out of his purse).
These type of accusations are nothing new in boxing, of course. And it does seem as if Arum is willing to put his considerable distaste for Floyd Mayweather aside in order to make this fight happen. He said as much to the Los Angeles Times when he was quoted as saying that a deal between the two fighters will not hinge on whether or not he likes Mayweather because, in his words, "I don't."
And then there's Mayweather's father, Floyd Sr., who when it comes to celebrity dads who gets on people's nerves, is somewhere between Jon Gosselin and Michael Lohan. In one breath he says that he's confident his son would "whup" Pacquiao. And in the very next breath he says he doesn't think his son should fight him before insinuating (once again) that Pacquiao, the only boxer to win seven world titles in seven different weight classes, and who is now 40 pounds heavier than he was at the beginning of his career, is using performance-enhancing drugs .
Does he have proof?
Of course not! But when did proof ever stop the loquacious Floyd Sr. from speaking his mind?
And when did one side totally monopolize the trash-talking?
In response to Floyd Sr., Alex Ariza, Pacquiao's strength and conditioning coach for the last five years delivered his own salvo shot:
"When he first started saying that stuff, I didn't really address it because it was coming from Floyd. But things like that can snowball. I'm not saying this to be demeaning, but Floyd never finished high school and I'm not sure he knows the difference between steroids and supplements, which can be confusing. Nouns, subjects, and verbs can also be confusing. I'm just not sure Floyd knows the difference."
As Dave Chappelle used to say on The Chappelle Show,
Don't you just love when someone says "I'm not saying this to be demeaning" right before they say something that is totally demeaning?
And like all great fights, the two (inevitable?) combatants could not be more different.
Pacquiao, the polite boxer who packs a powerful punch, is a national treasure who is beloved in his home country of the Philippines. Meanwhile, Mayweather is probably more loathed in America than loved due to his brash, cocky personae and to his look-at-me-I'm-rich-and-you're-not opulent style of living.
To the surprise of no one, the biggest obstacle will come down to, in the words of the Wu-Tang Clan, "dollar, dollar bills ya'll." Pacquiao's defeat of Miguel Cotto sold a yearly high of 1.25 units on pay-per-view and grossed $70 million. Mayweather's return to the ring and subsequent defeat of Juan Manuel Marquez in September sold slightly over a million buys on pay-per-view. It is the first time since 1999 that two fights hit the million dollar benchmark in the same year.
It is very likely that their (inevitable?) showdown would break the all-time record of 2.44 pay-per-view units sold for Mayweather's 2007 defeat of Oscar De La Hoya. Both fighters have $150 million reasons to make this happen. It is widely believed that financial issues was the prime motivator for Mayweather's return. And Pacquiao has a hard-charging lifestyle that he needs to accommodate as well.
But ego and greed are two sides of the same coin and should never be discounted.
Will Mayweather accept a 50-50 split? It is perhaps unlikely, since he thinks he's the bigger star. And he may just raise the stakes to something ridiculous like say, 65-35, so that he can purposely negotiate himself out of the fight because deep down he knows that, even though his record is unblemished, and even though he has prided himself in being so good defensively that he's never really been hurt, Pacquiao can hurt him. And he knows Pacquiao can most certainly beat him.
Perhaps Mayweather is asking himself, "Why should I run the risk of damaging my legacy?"
Boxers are a prideful bunch, and someone with as superb a resume as Mayweather would, and I would assume rightfully, question the merits of getting into the ring with a foe who is every bit his equal.
Will the stain of not fighting Pacquiao be stronger than the stain of defeat?
Only Mayweather knows the answer to this question.
The questions that we the desperate fans have is,
When? And Where?
Will it be in May before Pacquiao's reported run for office (in his native Philippines). And will the fight take place on the Vegas Strip, in Yankee Stadium, or in that spaceship Jerry Jones calls a football stadium in Dallas?
Those are the only questions we care about. And we pray they get answered.
HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg called Pacquiao's 12-round destruction of Miguel Cotto, and Floyd's defeat over Marquez "the semifinals."
If that's the case (and it most certainly is), then the "Pac Man" and the "Pretty Boy" will be The SuperBowl of boxing, a worthy prelude to the World Cup, and the most heavily anticipated fight in a generation.
John Whisler, a sports columnist for mysanantonio.com, said it perfectly,
"Someone's going to have to get awfully stupid for this fight to not happen."
What we want is the fight the world wants to see. It was Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell who said that "boxing is about pain. It is a night out for the carnivore in us, the hidden beast who is hungry."
That hidden beast is not just hungry, it's starving. And this fight is only thing that will curb its appetite.