Two or three times a year, usually immediately after one of them dispatches some hopeless contender or overmatched pretender, the boxing establishment turns its attention to the only fight that matters to the mainstream masses—Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The two men are boxing's biggest stars, dual heirs to the Oscar De La Hoya throne, responsible between them for more than $1.3 billion in pay-per-view revenue.
Beyond economics, they are the two most brilliant fighters of their era, opposites who have somehow failed to attract.
Pacquiao is violence personified, constantly on the attack, a product of a culture that saw him literally fight during the day in order to eat at night.
Mayweather, in turn, is the consummate defensive master, the prodigiously talented scion of a boxing family. An artist in the ring, he deflects any assault with a cool, calm, almost contemptuous ease.
|Pacquiao and Mayweather by the Numbers|
|Fighter||Total Pay Per View Buys||Average Since 2012|
"When they were at the height of their powers, Manny overwhelmed the best in the world and Floyd made them look like they'd never boxed a day in their life," Jack Slack, historian and author of Elementary Striking, told Bleacher Report.
"The more we see of both men, the more they become parodies of themselves. Manny is fighting worse opponents and desperately hunting for the knockout, while Floyd is so concerned about his undefeated record that he basically refused to box against Marcos Maidana and instead offered a clinic in tie-ups.
"It would still be the biggest fight on earth and even at this late stage could transcend the boxing world and become the biggest sporting event of the year, but I think we've all grown accustomed to the two men talking and threatening, and then refusing to risk it against each other."
Nearly a perfect match in size, age and skill, only the interminable politics of boxing has kept them apart.
For years fans have clamored for this fight, one sure to set box-office records and delight purists and casuals alike. And, for just as many years, the cries and clamor of the paying public have meant next to nothing—neither man, it seems, will budge.
Once again, in the wake of Pacquiao's utter destruction of Chris Algieri, boxing fans are daring to dream. Rumors abound that the two are finally circling closer and closer, both instinctively aware that time is no longer on their side.
"The window is certainly closing. Both Manny and Floyd seem to be a little bit slower than they were in 2010, which is no surprise considering both of them are nearing 40," striking analyst and host of the Heavy Hands podcast Connor Ruebusch said
"All the same, I think both men could travel back in time and more or less re-win all of their previous fights even in their current state.
"Floyd continues to show new wrinkles to his game, making up in intelligence what he's lost in athleticism. The same goes for Manny, who is no longer the wrecking machine he once was but also no longer the willing target."
So much energy, and so many words, have been devoted simply to getting the two men to step into the ring that scant attention has been paid to what will happen if that dream finally comes to pass. Say we finally get the two best boxers in the world nose-to-nose, Michael Buffer goes through his schtick and the bell rings to start the fight.
What happens next?
|Boxing's Pound-for-Pound Best|
|1. Floyd Mayweather||(46-0, 26 KOs)||147-154 pounds|
|2. Manny Pacquiao||(57-5-2, 38 KOs)||140-147 pounds|
|3. Roman Gonzalez||(41-0, 35 KOs)||112 pounds|
|4. Wladimir Klitschko||(63-3, 53 KOs)||243 pounds|
|5. Timothy Bradley||(31-1, 12 KOs)||147 pounds|
"It's hard to pick against Floyd considering his unbeaten record, but Pacquiao has a very real avenue to victory against him," Ruebusch said.
"Mayweather is what I would call a tactician, a very pure one, and not a strategist. The distinction is this—tacticians tend to think in terms of the how. How do I counter his left hand? How do I land my jab? How do I walk him into my hook?"
Strategists, Ruebusch believes, aren't nearly as interested in how they might accomplish a task in the ring. They're more concerned with figuring out why to do something in the first place. This, he says, isn't how Mayweather's brain is wired.
"Everyone is capable of thinking in terms of both, but most people tend to lean one way or the other," Ruebusch continued.
"Floyd is almost purely a tactician. He's obsessed with beating his opponents in the moment and is always figuring out ways to do whatever you do to him better than you could ever hope to do it.
"That's part of why fighting him is so damn demoralizing. He'll often fight the exact kind of fight you want and then completely outclass you anyway...
"Floyd's obsession with besting his opponents in their element means that against a fighter like Pacquiao, who more or less always fights the fight he wants, Floyd could very well lose sight of the long-term goal. He could get so obsessed with the how of figuring Pacman out that he forgets the why, leading him to fight Pacquiao in his element."
Mayweather, for all his defensive moxie, has a style built to diffuse the attack of an orthodox right-handed fighter. His feints, shoulder rolls and impeccable timing can sometimes lead to a conventional opponent almost freezing in place, eyes wide, unsure how to proceed.
Pacquiao has never been that kind of conventional boxer. But with age, he's becoming one. While that might help prevent a repeat of the devastating knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, it might also prevent him from upsetting Mayweather's careful control of any and every situation.
"There is, however, the possibility that Pacquiao's evolution into a more scientific boxer-puncher has made him easier to figure out," Ruebusch said.
"Marquez credited Pacman's refinement as the reason he was able to knock him out in 2012. In their first two fights, Pacquiao had no discernible rhythm.
"Pacquiao used to fight in a way that no traditional boxer could understand, like carrying on a debate in another language. In the last two fights, on the other hand, Marquez was able to solve the riddle because Pacquiao has finally begun speaking the same language as every other boxer, even if it is something of a pidgin form of that tongue."
While styles, as you've no doubt heard, make fights, so do many other factors, big and small. Athleticism, age, training, illness—many things can end up being the difference between winning and losing.
More so than mere style and approach, the key to a potential Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight might actually turn out to be all about the stance.
Left-handers, from the ordinary Robert Guerrero to the exceptional Zab Judah, have had better luck figuring out Mayweather's defensive puzzle. Much better luck at times. And Pacquiao? He's only one of the very best southpaws in boxing history.
"Much of it comes from Mayweather's love of that stonewall defense—dropping the lead hand and hiding behind the lead shoulder just as his father and uncle did," Slack said.
"That method becomes a little trickier against southpaws just because of the angles involved changing.
"Against an orthodox fighter, the right hand pats away jabs and hooks from the opponent's left hand, and the lead shoulder rolls off the right hands. Against a southpaw, those left hands are longer, power blows that aren't so easy to parry or stop in the glove, and the right hands come from closer in and can trace different angles."
It's this combination of combustible elements, including a legitimate question about who wins, that makes this fight matter in a way most fights simply don't. Who's better? Mayweather? Or Pacquiao?
In the end, even the smartest analysts like Slack and Ruebusch can't say with any certainty how the fight will play out in the ring. You can't predict how a fighter will do against either Pacquiao or Mayweather because there are no fighters like them.
That's what makes them special—and makes this fight compelling, even after all these years.
Jonathan Snowden is Bleacher Report's Lead Combat Sports Writer. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes acquired firsthand.