Manny Pacquiao Vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr & The Top 10 "What Ifs" in Boxing History
Boxing history is filled with extraordinary characters and dramatic, rags-to-riches story lines. For proof, just look at the greatest sports films in history: of the four movies about athletes to win a Best Picture Oscar, three have been boxing movies (On The Waterfront, Rocky and Million Dollar Baby. Chariots of Fire was the other).
But fates can often be decided in an instant, and for every stunning triumph, there is another story that feasibly could have happened, but never did. It is the stuff that fuels ongoing debate and speculation among boxing fans.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s prospective fight is no doubt the most talked-about fight in boxing today, despite a very real possibility that it may never happen. However, it is just one among many such stories.
A look at the Top 10 "What Ifs" in boxing history.
10. Julio Cesar Chavez Vs. Meldrick Taylor
Ask 10 boxing fans to name the greatest Mexican fighter ever, and eight or nine will probably say "Julio Cesar Chavez." For good reason. Chavez is a living legend, a gritty, lion-hearted six-time champion of the people who began his career with 87 straight victories and ended with a career record of 107-6-2, a win total that is unheard of in boxing's modern era.
But before there was Julio Cesar Chavez the legend, there was Julio Cesar Chavez the hard-to-market champion. He never learned to speak English, didn't have extraordinary one-punch power, and many of his victories came in Mexico over unfamiliar names, so he was underappreciated or unknown by many U.S. fight fans. If it weren't for a fateful two seconds, it might have stayed that way.
The buildup to Chavez's long-anticipated match against 23-0 Meldrick Taylor on March 17, 1990, was overshadowed somewhat by Mike Tyson's stunning defeat to Buster Douglas a month earlier. True boxing enthusiasts, however, were eagerly anticipating this fight, which became 1990's Fight of the Year.
From the opening bell, Meldrick dominated the fight. Two of the three judges had him ahead by margins of five or more points going into the 12th round. With 90 seconds left in the fight, Jim Lampley said "at this moment, Chavez doesn't have the stuff to win this fight." But Taylor was clearly slowing, and a beleagured Chavez managed to knock him to the ground with 16 seconds left on the clock.
Before Larry Merchant could finish saying "If he gets up, he wins this fight," Meldrick had already stood up at the count of six, as referee Richard Steele finished his 8-count. He asked Taylor "Are you alright?" and stunningly, Taylor didn't respond. With two seconds left on the clock, Steele called off the fight. A screaming Lou Duva came into the ring to protest Steele's call, but the decision was final.
It was one of the most dramatic finishes in boxing history, and added to the great legend of Chavez. His reputation grew and he continued to draw big fights, winning 18 more (including a rematch against Taylor) before finally suffering his first career defeat. Taylor went on to have a very impressive career as well, but it's hard not to wonder how both fighters' careers would have been different had it not been for that fateful two seconds.
9. Joe Cortez in Ricky Hatton Vs. Floyd Mayweather
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is one of boxing's two biggest stars, and his fight with Ricky Hatton may be the most famous of his career. Hatton fought valiantly but was knocked out in Round 10, just minutes before Mayweather announced his retirement. We all know Floyd ended up returning just 18 months later.
Looking back, it was probably Hatton who came closer to retirement that night. He suffered his first career loss, and a year later would end his career after a stunning second-round knockout defeat at the hands of Manny Pacquiao.
However, many British boxing fans believe it didn't have to end that way, and their argument hinges around the refereeing of Joe Cortez. Cortez is one of the most respected referees in boxing today, but is known as a fairly activist ref—getting involved in situations where most referees would not. Even in the first round, announcers from England's Sky Sports expressed frustration at how Cortez was calling the fight.
Hatton was always a fairly straightforward fighter, but at the peak of his career he did that better than anyone and was considered one of boxing's top five pound-for-pound fighters. In the Mayweather fight, he used his usual tactics of punching his way inside and then hitting Mayweather from close range, much like Frazier did against Ali in their first fight.
But whereas most referees would have let the action continue inside for a few seconds, Cortez consistently stepped in and broke up the fighters. He must have done this dozens of times, which eliminated one of Hatton's best strategies and favored Mayweather's longer-range defensive style. Watching the fight with the Sky Sports announcers makes it hard to disagree with them on this point.
The question, then, is whether this fact could have changed the outcome of the fight. Keep in mind that Hatton was younger and more confident during this time, and Mayweather, while good, had recently pulled off a fairly narrow decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya. It still seems likely that the immensely-skilled Mayweather could have adapted to Hatton's crowding style and won the fight anyway, but there is a possibility that Hatton could have pressured the American enough to hand Mayweather his first career victory. If this had happened, the boxing world would be a very different place. No longer would Mayweather be considered a "top dog." He would simply be one more one-loss fighter and Hatton would have probably fought longer than he ended up doing.
Though it may seem alien to us now, there was a golden age in boxing when world champions were truly world champions. There was a time when the best fighters fought the best fighters, and promoters were focused on making quality fights rather than sellable brands.
Slowly but surely, this ideal faded into the muddled mess that we now see everywhere in boxing.
We now have 17 weight divisions and five major governing organizations. That means 85 world champions at any point in time. And oftentimes those titlists don't even have to lose because the organizations mandate that the title be vacated if a fighter doesn't take on some random scrub or if the fighter gains five pounds.
This creates a messy situation where even with 85 belts, a lot of the top fighters choose not to pursue any title because they'd rather just have lucrative careers. So the organizations create more make-believe titles—the diamond championship, the "super" champion emeritus. Even the most die-hard boxing fans can't tell you who holds what, and if it weren't for Manny Pacquiao setting weight-division records, the titles would be nearly meaningless.
Add to that the different promoters, who have decided that rather than giving us good fights, they'd rather have two of their own guys fight, or build up one of their fighters against mediocre but semi-convincing opposition.
Like government programs and stains on clothing, it's a lot harder to take back what we've created, but I'm optimistic that this generation will get boxing back where it belongs. Unsuccessful governing bodies will fold, lucrative mergers will happen, and younger-generation promoters will realize that the way to make money is by making good fights. It's just a matter of when.
7. Tony Ayala, Jr.
In the summer of 1981, 18-year-old Tony Ayala, Jr. was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as one of boxing's rising stars. Less than two years later, problems with drugs and the law would essentially end his career.
Boxing writer Michael Katz said Ayala was the best young fighter he had ever seen. Muhammad Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, said Ayala could have been one of the best ever. At the time of his burglary and sexual assault conviction a month before his 20th birthday, he was already a 22-0 fighter who had been winning a fight every six weeks or so. His next scheduled fight was a title bout against Davey Moore.
However, the 1983 crimes were not his first run-in with the law. He had two prior assault convictions and also later admitted to using heroin before a fight. Under a repeat offenders law, and deemed a danger to the community, he was sentenced to 35 years.
He would serve 16 years before being paroled in 1999. At age 36, he mounted an unlikely comeback, winning six high-profile bouts by knockout before being stopped by Yori Boy Campas. He would then win four of his last five fights, retiring with a 33-2 record in 2003.
Sadly, the Tony Ayala story doesn't end there. He had been shot in the shoulder in 2000 while trying to burglarize a home, and in 2004 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being stopped for speeding. He had been driving without a license and had heroin and pornography in his car.
Tony Ayala could have been one of the greatest boxers ever, but tragically, his personal failings affected the lives of so many people in an extraordinarily negative way.
6. Margarito Was Using Plaster Against Cotto
Antonio Margarito was known as a respected Mexican brawler with a tough chin before his reputation was damaged forever when he was found with a plaster-like substance in his hand wraps prior to his fight against Shane Mosley in January 2009. Mosley's trainer Naazim Richardson should be commended for the astute observations that could have saved his fighter's career, or possibly his life.
After getting caught and having to re-wrap his hands, Margarito lost almost every round en route to a ninth round TKO loss.
It was a fight Margarito was expected to win. Part of his loss could be justified by him being distracted by fears of impending punishment, but his shaky performance made us think back to a fight he wasn't supposed to win: his match four months earlier against Miguel Cotto.
Cotto was 32-0 prior to his loss to Margarito, and he probably won four or five of the first six rounds in the Margarito fight too. But then he was slowed down and his face was showing clear signs of punishment. By the end of the fight, he was taking a lot of damage from Margarito's punches, and lost by TKO in the 11th. At the time of the loss, Cotto was tied or 1 round behind on all scorecards.
I personally think Margarito was cheating in that fight, too. At the time, they attributed the win to Margarito's impressive chin, but looking back, Cotto was taking too much damage from those punches.
After that loss, Cotto seemed like a different fighter. He was still the best opponent Pacquiao has had in the past three years, and he rebounded impressively against pillow-fisted Yuri Foreman in Yankee Stadium, but we're left to wonder how things would be different if Margarito would have been caught stone-handed a fight earlier.
5. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Vs. Manny Pacquiao
The title of this slide show hinted at this one, and it certainly belongs on this list. This is the biggest fight in boxing right now, and there's no indication that it will ever actually take place. If Ring magazine's year-end awards were based on popular voting, then this could be the first imaginary matchup to win the Fight of the Year award.
That's how big this fight could be. It dominates the headlines like nothing we have seen in years. It's very rare that we get the two greatest fighters in the world, in the prime of their careers, fighting in the same division. It would be a monumental event, and would bring in a new generation of serious boxing fans.
The reason this fight is so interesting is because nobody knows how it would go. Anyone who says they know is a liar. Anyone who tries to discount either of these two fighters as anything other than one of the top two fighters in the world is venturing a bit too far from the shores of sanity.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a great fighter who happens to have a brash, frustrating personality. Manny Pacquiao is a great fighter who happens to be a likeable, popular hero in his home country. But above all they are great fighters, which is why we are talking. This fight is an absolute dream for boxing fans.
4. Edwin Valero
In one of the saddest stories in recent boxing history, Edwin Valero was a two-time world champion who, at age 28, murdered his wife on April 18, 2010, and hanged himself in jail one day later.
A southpaw blessed with amazing punching power and deceptively good boxing skills, Valero was considered by many to be the heir apparent to Manny Pacquiao. He won his first 16 pro fights by first round knockout, and died with a 27-0 record. He is the only fighter in the history of the WBC to win every one of his boxing matches by knockout.
He was just becoming famous, coming off his first U.S. appearance on Showtime at the time of his death, but his psychological problems were long known by those close to him. In 2001, he suffered a fractured skull in a motorcycle accident and had surgery to remove a blood clot. This injury would later lead to psychiatric problems and brain-scan irregularities would later stall his career several times.
After his death, reports surfaced that he had assaulted his sister and mother about six months prior, and his wife had gone to the hospital several times with bruising and more serious injuries. He was undergoing psychiatric rehabilitation at the time of the murder-suicide.
Edwin Valero was an extraordinary boxing talent and a rising star in the sport. Boxing fans everywhere mourn his death, and wonder how things would have gone if he hadn't had such a horrific motorcycle accident that led to his psychological problems. To this day, I still occasionally catch myself thinking about the next time I can watch Valero in the ring. Unfortunately, that day will never come.
3. Ezzard Charles Vs. Rocky Marciano II
Rocky Marciano is a heavyweight legend, and by far the most famous fighter to ever retire undefeated. He fought consistently tough opponents and handled them all easily, except for one: Ezzard Charles.
While less famous than Marciano, Ezzard Charles is consistently ranked among the all-time greatest fighters. IBRO ranked him No. 11, Ring Magazine ranked him No. 13, and ESPN ranked him No. 27 all-time. A former middleweight champion, he moved up to light heavyweight impressively (in 2009, he was ranked No. 1 light heavyweight of all time by Boxing Magazine), and then became a heavyweight champion.
In their first fight on June 17, 1954, Charles became the only person to ever last 15 rounds with Marciano, but lost a fairly close unanimous decision.
Only three months later, on September 17, they had a rematch in 1954's Fight of the Year. Charles was knocked down for a two-count in the second round, but broke Marciano's nose soon thereafter. The bleeding was so profuse that Marciano was on the verge of being stopped, but he rallied back to TKO Charles in the 8th round.
But many people thought Charles had backed off for fear of doing further damage to the badly-marred Marciano. Earlier in his career, Charles had won a 10-round knockout against a fighter named Sam Baroudi, who died later due to injuries sustained during the fight. Charles was so shaken that he almost retired, and it changed him as a fighter. As a friend of Marciano's, it's easy to see why Charles might not have given it his all to knock out the undefeated Italian-American.
The rest is history. Marciano fought two more fights and retired 49-0. He is among the most revered fighters ever, and Sylvester Stallone based the character "Rocky" on Marciano and Chuck Wepner. Charles' financial troubles led him to fight for years after he should have retired, and he lost 25 fights before succumbing to Lou Gehrig's disease at age 53.
But their memories would be very different if Charles had gone for the stoppage instead of stepping off the gas in his second fight with Marciano. It would have changed boxing forever.
2. Ike Ibeabuchi
There are two types of boxing fans—those who respect Ike Ibeabuchi, and those who don't know Ike Ibeabuchi. In the late 1990's, Ike "The President" Ibeabuchi quickly established himself as the heavyweight division's most promising prospect.
A 6'2", 235 pound Nigerian immigrant, Ike was not considered a can't-miss prospect early in his career. Sure, he won his first 15 fights against token opposition, but there was no way he could handle 27-0 David Tua. Until he did...by unanimous decision...while setting a heavyweight record for punches thrown in a single fight.
Three fights later, Ike faced the highly favored 26-0 Chris Byrd, an Olympic silver medalist and defensive mastermind who would later hold two heavyweight titles. Byrd didn't make it out of the fifth round.
By this point, Ike's hand speed, power and boxing talent made him the heavyweight division's next big thing. But he had stopped taking his medications for bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, fearing a loss of motor coordination.
He started to display signs of his illness after the Tua fight, abducting his ex-girlfriend's son and getting into a car accident. That earned him a two-month stint in prison, but he stayed out of trouble for another few years. Then, in 2001, after an incident with a lap dancer who refused to take a check from Ike for her services, he was convicted of battery and attempted sexual assault and sentenced to 5-30 years in prison. He has been denied parole on the second charge several times, and likely won't be released until he is in his forties.
No one knows for sure how good Ike Ibeabuchi would have been. Would he have been able to beat the Klitschkos? Would he stand up to champions like Lennox Lewis? He certainly would have won a couple of titles, as Byrd even went on to win two titles. However, the rest is a point of constant speculation for heavyweight fans, and one of the greatest unanswered questions in boxing.
1. Mike Tyson
The Mike Tyson story had the makings of a fairytale, but his star-crossed career did not have such a happy ending.
Growing up in an impoverished part of Brooklyn, and taunted for his high-pitched voice and lisp, Tyson learned violence early. He had reportedly been arrested 38 times for petty crimes by age 13. However, a juvenile detention center counselor who was also a former boxer saw Tyson's boxing talent, and trained him for a few months before introducing Tyson to aging boxing trainer Cus D'Amato, who would become his legal guardian when Tyson's mom died when he was 16.
Cus was the first father figure Tyson had ever had, and though Tyson certainly wasn't entirely a changed man, he showed tremendous improvements personally and did stay out of legal trouble while Cus was training him to become the next great heavyweight champion. Tyson went professional in 1985, winning 15 fights in his first year en route to becoming the youngest heavyweight champ ever, winning the title at age 20 in 1986.
However, 77-year-old D'Amato died after Tyson's 12th career fight, and though Tyson kept training under Kevin Rooney, his promotional rights fell into the hands of Don King. Three years later, in 1988, after Tyson destroyed Michael Spinks, King convinced Iron Mike to fire Rooney. Tyson's training slowed to a halt, and only two fights later he was famously shocked by Buster Douglas in Tokyo.
Tyson was never really the same, and the rest of the story is well-known. A caring but doomed marriage with Robin Givens, a rape conviction, and the various antics that Tyson is often remembered for today.
But what if Cus hadn't died, or Don King hadn't gotten his filthy hands on Tyson? Tyson was on a trajectory to be the greatest heavyweight champion. However, this was not his fortune. His early career still qualifies him as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, and he is certainly deserving of being a first-ballot hall of famer this year, but "Iron" Mike Tyson's unrealized potential puts him atop boxing's long list of "what ifs."