By Steve Kim
As a boxing scribe, I am going to hate myself for writing this column. It's a subject that was beaten to death ad nauseum for the better part of 2010 and 2011 and it highlighted the acute problems that afflicted the boxing business. But it has to be said that in the wake of Floyd Mayweather's most recent exhibition of mastery over Canelo Alvarez, the biggest fight that now remains to be made in the sport is still Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao.
Yeah, I feel a bit guilty in admitting this. After all, it's a subject I've called for a moratorium on in the past as it became an exercise not only in futility, but in self-interest by everyone involved. It didn't seem that there were any real negotiations to make this fight come to fruition -- just a contest of spin control akin to a dirty political campaign. The debates among fans of the two factions often devolved into tasteless and nonsensical arguments that were divided among racial and cultural lines.
When all was said and done, though, Mayweather and Pacquiao never happened because the bottom line was that, financially, the fighters really didn't need the fight to happen -- they were more than able to make tens of millions even without facing each other.
But a few things have taken place in the past year that may have changed this dynamic, or at least heightened the sense of urgency to finally make this fight a reality.
First, the 34-year-old Pacquiao has lost twice. 2012 was not kind to "Pac Man" as he dropped a highly controversial decision to Tim Bradley last June -- but, more alarmingly, was knocked cold by his Mexican rival, Juan Manuel Marquez, last December in shocking fashion. Mayweather, 36, who signed a much-publicized multi-fight pact with Showtime at the beginning of the year, has kept up his winning ways by dispatching Robert Guerrero and now Alvarez, preserving his undefeated record as a pro. The Alvarez fight was said to be tracking at more than two million pay-per-view buys (an official announcement from Showtime is expected later this week). But there is this reality: Mayweather, who announced he will be returning to the ring next May, will most likely face the usual cast of characters that are being trotted out by Golden Boy (Amir Khan, Devon Alexander, Danny Garcia, etc.). Moving forward, fights like those will do more in the neighborhood of what the Guerrero fight did than Alvarez in terms of revenue.
Pay-per-view success is about stars and having recognizable faces that the general public is familiar with -- and it's not even all that important that these fights take place when the participants are in their prime. Case in point: when Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson squared off in 2002, the fight was at least five years late in terms of real competitive balance, but it still tallied 1.9 million pay-per-view purchases.
Since the sunset of Oscar De La Hoya's career, the two biggest stars in the sport have been Mayweather and Pacquiao. There certainly has been a debate over whose star shone brighter, but it's clear that nobody else is even close to their stratosphere. Pacquiao's upcoming bout on Nov. 23 against Brandon Rios in the exotic locale of Macau is still expected to garner between 600 and 700,000 buys. While that pales in comparison to the totals expected for Mayweather-Alvarez, it will most likely be the biggest pay-per-view event this year not involving "Money."
Back during the first and second round of failed negotiations to make Mayweather-Pacquiao happen, the most pressing issues were the division of revenue and Mayweather's demands for random drug testing. These issues are probably much easier to settle at this particular time. Even the most ardent supporters of Pacquiao would admit that his value has diminished while Mayweather's has continued to be enhanced. And now Pacquiao is participating in more stringent testing.
Some will say that whatever window of opportunity that Pacquiao may have had to defeat Mayweather has closed, but the reality is that he probably wouldn't fare any worse than Guerrero or Alvarez. If Pacquiao can bounce back against Rios -- which is no guarantee -- it could be argued that, stylistically, this is still the most appealing fight that could be made for Mayweather. Unlike Alvarez, Pacquiao is a high-volume puncher who won't try and play chess with boxing's Bobby Fischer.
Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, said on Monday afternoon, "All we're looking at now is November 23rd. If he beats Rios, then all options are open. ALL options."
Now Arum, of course, would never lie or deceive anyone, so we'll take him at face value (I know, I know). But if you look at the landscape that currently exists, there is no other fight that brings the economic clout of Mayweather-Pacquiao. And does the public still yearn for it? Well, judging by my Twitter timeline they absolutely do. There is still a curiosity for this matchup. So what are the possible hold-ups?
Well, a few things, actually.
1. The "Cold War" between Golden Boy and Top Rank. The two promotional titans who have engaged in a Spy vs. Spy-like battle for supremacy in the marketplace have not done a major co-promotion since 2009 (when Pacquiao faced Ricky Hatton). They seem more intent on monopolizing the sport -- and at the same time, driving each other out of it -- than actually doing any business with each other. Which means that a whole range of attractive fights would be non-starters. While Top Rank promotes Pacquiao, Golden Boy -- while not the official promoter of record for Mayweather -- has staged all his events since 2007, the ones in which he has basically mowed down their roster of fighters (De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, Guerrero and Alvarez).
2. Network alliances. Golden Boy is ensconced at Showtime after being told to hit the road by HBO earlier this year, and Top Rank believes that it was basically banned by Showtime as Stephen Espinoza, a former attorney for Golden Boy, took over the reigns of that network at the beginning of 2012. Mayweather has a commitment with Showtime; Pacquiao is an HBO fighter. This issue will be problematic. It has been overcome in the past, but it has also killed some anticipated fights. Regardless, loyalty to the network is always expected, if not demanded.
3. Mayweather and Arum hate each other. From the beginning of his pro career in 1996 to 2006, Mayweather was under the Top Rank banner. And if this were a divorce, it would be boxing's version of Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards. To say that there is animus between the two would be an understatement -- they have had some brutal legal disputes and verbally sparred throughout the years. I've always gotten the sense that Mayweather never wanted to engage in business with Arum, ever again, and Arum couldn't fathom having Pacquiao lose to his former client.
So there you have it. Mayweather-Pacquiao is still the most anticipated fight that can be made in boxing. And, once again, it may be a fight that simply will never occur.
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Steve Kim began covering boxing in 1996 and has been writing for Maxboxing.com since 2001. He is also a regular contributor for Boxing News. He can be reached at email@example.com and he tweets (a lot).