The richest boxing bout in history is upon us, and it only took five years to get here.
It is a fight that has tested the faith of boxing fans to the limit, and it is a fight that comes at a time when the sport is in need of a boost after years of steadily declining interest. Finally though, after years of tedious negotiations and mud-slinging, the two best boxers of this generation, Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather and Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao, will finally take each other on in ‘the fight of the century’ at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Never mind this fight could have happened five years ago were it not for disagreements over money and drug-testing, when the two fighters would have been in their peak rather than heading towards retirement. Never mind that only around 5% of tickets went on sale to the general public, for prices no average Joe could justify spending. Never mind that American fans will have to pay $99 to watch on TV, while UK fans will have to fork out £20 for the one-night subscription. Never mind that Mayweather has a long list of assault convictions against his name that boxing authorities in previous years would have surely come down much harder on.
Nobody pretends that boxing doesn’t have issues. With four organisations (the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF) handing out world titles with no umbrella organisation overseeing them, and with often more money in the sport than boxers and promoters seemingly know what to do with, as well as never-ending disagreements over broadcasting rights, organising a fight is a lot harder than seems truly necessary. Mayweather v Pacquiao is only one example of this.
Mayweather also rarely does much to improve the image of boxing. Undeniably a great fighter in the ring, his lavish spending, obsession with money, overwhelming arrogance, and five domestic violence convictions outside of the ring mean he can count his fans on one hand. His convictions have led to calls to boycott the fight. ESPN’s Keith Olbermann has stated he will not watch, promote or report on the fight.
His lack of fans is probably why he was so willing to have so few tickets made available to the general public. The vast majority of the 16,500 tickets will go to the fighter’s entourages, guests of wealthy corporations, and high-valued clients of the Casino. Who knows what kind of atmosphere we’ll get on Saturday night? The atmosphere during the week at the press conferences has certainly left a lot to be desired.
Rant over. The fight will happen, better late than never, and if you can afford the subscription and are willing to stay up late (the fight is expected to start at 4am UK time on Sunday morning) then there is plenty to be excited about.
Mayweather has won all 47 of his fights, and has won world titles in five weight divisions. Pacquiao has won 57 of his 64 fights, and been a world champion in eight weight divisions. They have been the two best pound-for-pound boxers in the world for the best part of a decade, and are potentially among the all-time greats. Mayweather has astonishing hand-speed and supreme defensive skills. Pacquiao is the all-action boxer with fast footwork and relentless stamina. They may be 38 and 36 years old respectively, but they are still supreme athletes who will go the distance if needs be.
Outside of the ring, Pacquiao is everything that Mayweather is not. Unlike Mayweather, Pacquiao is considerably humble, and has a massive fan base in his native Philippines, where he is viewed with almost God-like status. Having grown up in poverty, he has become the Philippines’ greatest ever sportsman, and is also a serving congressman in his home country. The crime rate has even been known to significantly drop when Pacquiao fights. Over the years his support has grown internationally. Saturday’s fight may be taking place in Mayweather’s home city and country, but Pacquiao can still expect to enjoy the lion’s share of support from the locals.
Unlike Mayweather though, Pacquiao has been beaten, most recently in 2013 when he was knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez, and there are suspicions that Pacquiao’s style of boxing might not have aged as well as Mayweather’s style. Mayweather however will not have fought anyone with Pacquiao’s skill-set before. This really is going to be a difficult one to call.
This will be the richest boxing match in history, and at a time when many have become increasingly disillusioned with the sport, this might just be the fight that boxing needs. Not everything about this fight is perfect of course, but one way or another, boxing is back on the front and back pages, and the authorities would do well to make sure this momentum continues.
So how will the fight pan out? Given that Mayweather has only knocked out 55% of his opponents, while Pacquiao has only knocked out 59% of his opponents, most signs point to this fight going the full twelve rounds. As to who will win though, it’s still anyone’s guess. Mayweather will start as the slight favourite, but most of the world appears to be on Pacquiao’s side. The pressure on the two of them will be greater than it has ever been before. It might just be a question of who copes better with that pressure.
Pacquiao by split decision? Let’s just hope it’s a classic!