Pacquiao vs. Mayweather: How It Compares to 5 Legendary Fights
It seems like I've written this article before.
In some ways, I have. Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao—will they; won't they? This has been the central topic in boxing during the past few years. It is such a big event that its nonhappening was Ring magazine's "Event of the Year" in 2010. There's an outside chance that this event's nonhappening could be the first-ever repeat winner of that award.
In my article Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. Will Happen Because it Must Happen, I discussed my strongly-held belief that this fight is a manifestation of our collective psyche. It has taken on a life of its own that transcends boxing. It relates to what we all think we stand for. It's a battle of good guy vs. bad guy, of defense vs. offense, of fan favorite vs. much-maligned living legend.
But what historical fights does it compare to? How big can it be?
A look at some of the closest historical corollaries to the potential of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. There are others—Leonard-Duran, perhaps—but these five help establish the scale of how big a Pacquiao-Mayweather bout would be.
Ali vs. Frazier
This is the most natural comparison. The two greatest champions of their time had to wait three years to step into the ring together.
Ali was the loud, arrogant, showy champion with the fastest hands and some of the greatest skills the sport had ever seen.
Frazier (R.I.P. champ) was the tough-as-nails patriotic countryman who rose from humble beginnings to become an undefeated heavyweight champion, but his legacy was questioned because many believed that Ali (who was absent from the sport because he refused to be drafted into the U.S. military) was the true champion.
The fight may have been the most significant in boxing history. James Taylor traded the rights to use Madison Square Garden that night for about 20 tickets (not even good ones) to the fight. Frank Sinatra decided to participate as a cameraman so he could get close to the action.
"The Fight of the Century" ended with Joe Frazier being declared the unanimous decision winner. The duo would fight twice more, with Ali taking the next two, including the "Thrilla in Manila."
No fight may ever again compare to the social, cultural and athletic importance of Ali-Frazier, but Pacquiao vs. Mayweather could be the closest any fight ever comes to that again.
Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling II
Before there was Ali-Frazier, there was Louis-Schmeling II, which may be the only fight ever to rival the social significance of Ali-Frazier. This is another bout that far outweighs a Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup in importance.
As a German heavyweight champion during 1938—the height of the era of Nazi Germany—Max Schmeling was (unfairly) characterized as the embodiment of Hitler's fascism and the African-American Louis as the beacon of America's democratic hopes.
Louis had lost their first bout two years earlier by 12th-round knockout. He didn't train seriously for Schmeling, and the German took advantage of Louis' habit of dropping his left hand after a jab.
In their second fight, Louis came prepared and knocked out Schmeling in the first round. The fight was a blowout—Louis landed 31 of his 41 punches, and Schmeling threw only two. Later, it was found that Louis had actually broken several vertebrae in Schmeling's back—almost unheard of in a boxing match.
The win elevated Louis to the status of a cultural hero, and some cite Joe Louis as the first true African-American hero.
For most of his life, Schmeling was viewed as a symbol of Nazi Germany. However, he was not a member of the Nazi party, and it was later found that he had actually risked his life to save the lives of two Jewish children in 1938.
Hagler vs. Hearns
Dubbed "The War," this 1985 fight is widely regarded as one of the greatest fights in boxing history and undoubtedly the greatest three-round fight ever.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler—the undisputed middleweight champion—entered the fight with 10 straight title defenses, including one by knockout. Thomas "Hitman" Hearns was moving up from junior middleweight (where he had won a title and defeated Wilfred Benitez and knocked out Roberto Duran) and was considered one of the most powerful and dangerous fighters of all time when he stepped in against Hagler.
The fight started off with the most intense round of boxing most observers will ever see. The first round is frequently cited as the greatest round of all time. Two rounds later, after Hagler was threatened with a stoppage due to a cut over his eye, Hagler landed a haymaker that staggered Hearns against the ropes before the ref called the bout off with Hearns out on his feet.
Though this fight has reached legendary status and cemented both fighters reputations (especially Hagler's) among the greatest fighters of all time, its hype and popularity at the time probably weren't as great as the anticipation for Pacquiao-Mayweather. Still, a great fight goes a long way toward cementing its status and legacy, and Pacquiao-Mayweather would have to be an exceptional bout to compare with "The War."
Leonard vs. Hearns
"The Showdown" was a legendary fight, though perhaps not on the scale of some of the others on this list. However, it is included on this list because of how it compares stylistically with the Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup.
Hearns, making his third defense of his WBA Junior Middleweight Title, entered the fight as one of the most feared punchers ever—having won all 32 of his bouts, including 30 by knockout. Sugar Ray Leonard, 31-1, with his sole loss to Roberto Duran, was the more established champion and a 1976 Olympic Gold medalist.
The fight resembles Pacquiao-Mayweather because it pit an explosive, powerful puncher with a slick, technical mastermind with fast hands. The fight ended with some controversy—Hearns was leading through 14 rounds on all three scorecards before he was stopped by the referee, awarding Leonard the victory by TKO. It would be one of many very close decisions that Leonard pulled off in his career.
Though this fight was incredibly significant for the sport and the two fighters involved, it was arguably not generation-defining. Pacquiao-Mayweather—if it ever happens—would likely go down as a much more memorable fight.
Tyson vs. Holyfield
Unfortunately, this rivalry is best remembered for the rematch involving the infamous ear-biting episode, but the first fight actually had some of the makings of a poor man's Ali-Frazier.
"Iron" Mike Tyson, the Baddest Man on the Planet, had recently returned from a lengthy jail sentence, during which time Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield had briefly assumed the throne as a world heavyweight champion and one of the premier heavyweights in the sport.
However, most expected Tyson to destroy Holyfield, who silenced the critics with a dominant performance en route to an 11th round TKO victory.
This fight, though, didn't have the same importance at the time as it did in hindsight. Holyfield's heavyweight reign had ended prior to the fight, and he was one of many great heavyweights of the era, along with Michael Moorer, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, George Foreman and Larry Holmes.
The win would launch Holyfield into true superstardom, and the second fight could have been far greater if it hadn't ended in such controversy.
So for more recent boxing fans, know that Mayweather-Pacquiao will be a greater event than Tyson-Holyfield ever was. That's a pretty significant endorsement. But first, the fighters have to agree to step into the ring.