Why The Biggest Fight in Boxing History Still Has Not Happened

Why has the biggest fight in the history of boxing, and the most lucrative sporting event ever not been made? Ben Cohen investigates why Floyd Mayweather refuses to fight Manny Pacquiao.
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Why has the biggest fight in the history of boxing, and the most lucrative sporting event ever not been made? Ben Cohen investigates why Floyd Mayweather refuses to fight Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao-Mayweather-tale-of-the-tape

Over the weekend, Manny Pacquiao put on a devastating display of speed, accuracy and power against an overmatched but game opponent, Chris Algieri in Macau, China. While fans were happy to see a vintage Pacquiao performance, it was still a fight nobody asked for. While Algieri was a tough competitor with very good boxing skills, he was largely unknown and didn't really have much business being in the ring with Manny Pacquiao. As Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach said before the fight of the sparring partners they brought in to help him prepare, "All three of them are better than the opponent."

The fight the public are desperate to see is of course, Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather - the two best welterweights in the world, and guaranteed future hall of famers. A fight between the two of them would be the biggest in boxing history, and the single most lucrative event in sporting history with some valuing it at an astonishing $1 billion.

It is a fight that should have been made five years ago when both men were at their absolute peaks, yet the two sides have been unable to come up with a workable deal due to a variety of contactual, logistical, and legal obstacles. The long and short of it goes something like this:

1. When the fight was proposed initially, Floyd Mayweather demanded unheard of Olympic style drug testing if he were to face Pacquiao (implying the Filipino was taking performance enhancing drugs). Pacquiao at first refused to comply, citing his unease at giving blood too close to the fight given two days before fighting Erik Morales in 2005 he was subjected to a blood test and he felt it hampered his performance (Pacquiao tested negative for PEDs).

2. Pacquiao then agreed with Olympic style drug testing, but both sides continued to disagree on how close to the fight blood could be taken.

3.  A series of high level negotiations either did, or did not happen between Mayweather Promotions, HBO, Top Rank (Arum’s promotional outfit) in 2010, although all sides dispute exactly what happened. Either way, no fight agreement was reached.

4. In 2011, Pacquiao’s camp agreed to completely random testing, but disagreed on the organization. Pacquiao wanted the Olypmic  Organization drug testing as opposed to USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency). There was still no agreement reached.

5. In 2012, Mayweather offered Pacquiao a flat fee of $40 million with no cut of the pay per view or ticket sales. Pacquaio declined stating he would agree to a 45/55 split in Mayweathers favor.

6. In 2013 Mayweather stated that he would not fight Pacquiao because he was promoted by Bob Arum (his former promoter). "We all know the Pacquiao fight, at this particular time, will never happen, and the reason why the fight won't happen is because I will never do business with Bob Arum again in life, and Pacquiao is Bob Arum's fighter,”  said Mayweather. Pacquiao signed a two year extension with Bob Arum earlier this year.

8. Mayweather Promotions hasn’t until very recently actually had a promoters license meaning it had to work with Golden Boy promotions to put fights on in Las Vegas. Recently departed  Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaeffer also refused to work with Bob Arum.

9. Floyd Mayweather signed a six fight contract with Showtime after ditching HBO.  Manny Pacquiao is contracted to fight on HBO.

10. Making the fight would require competing promoters to work together, competing networks to work together and fighters with vastly different business interests to work together.

(A more detailed history can be found here).

In short, it is a mess. But, there is a precedent. Showtime and HBO managed to work together to put Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson on back in 2002, creating the most lucrative sporting event in boxing history (until Mayweather fought Oscar DeLaHoya in 2007). It can be done again, but it requires both men to genuinely wan the fight.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Marcos Maidana

Mayweather claims to be 'The Best Ever' (TBE)

And that is the catch -- Pacquiao has always stated that he wants to fight Mayweather, whereas Mayweather, despite claiming to be "The Best Ever,'" has never explicitly stated he wants anything to do with the Filipino.

"A fighter doesn't start like Manny Pacquiao, just ordinary, and then when he gets over the age of 25 he becomes an extraordinary fighter," said Mayweather on a radio show in 2010. "It just doesn't work like that in the sport of boxing."

It’s fairly easy to parse this sentence, and it reveals quite a lot. Mayweather accepts that Manny Pacquiao is ‘an extraordinary fighter’ (a notion he has contradicted himself on many times before), and he also believes Pacquiao he has taken performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to become ‘extraordinary’.

Manny Pacquiao has never failed a drugs test in every single one of his professional fights, has never been accused by anyone other than Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Floyd Mayweather, Sr. (Mayweather’s father) of taking PEDs. Pacquiao complied with all drug tests stipulated by the various boxing commissions and has always been completely clean. This is not to say emphatically that Pacquaio has not been taking PEDs, but there isn’t a shred of evidence other than his development into a truly elite fighter. Yet the Mayweather camp has consistently stated that they believe it to be impossible for someone to rise through the weight divisions while maintaing his power, and get better over time.

It is worth examining the Mayweather camp's claims a little more closely to see whether they hold up to serious scrutiny.

Mayweather claimed that Pacquiao suddenly became  great fighter at the age of 25. It is true that Pacquiao improved tremendously under the guidance of Freddie Roach after he moved to the Wild Car gym in Los Angeles in 2001, but of the 41 fights he had before the age of 25, he knocked out 29 of his opponents (a ratio of 71%) and had 14 world title fights, losing once, and winning all but two by way of knockout. By any measure, that is extraordinary.

As one would expect, Pacquiao’s knockout ratio started to decline as he moved up in weight, despite the Mayweather camp’s insistence that something was awry.  While Pacquiao is still incredibly quick and dynamic, he has only scored two knockouts over 140 lbs. in the past five years. Furthermore, by comparing Pacquiao’s rise in weight over the years, it almost identically follows that of Mayweather’s (see the chart below:).

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It should be noted that Mayweather has more knockouts than Pacquiao above the 140lb weight category (four fighters haven't gone the distance with him). It is certainly true that Pacquiao has developed tremendously, but he never had an elite trainer while fighting in the Philippines, and partnered with one the greatest trainers in the sport, Freddie Roach.

Speaking with ESPN, Roach had the following to say about meeting Pacquiao and experiencing his raw talent for the first time:

I had no idea who he was, I had never heard of him before," Roach recalled recently. "His manager asked if I could work the mitts with him; they had heard I caught punches well. After one round, I went over to my people and said, 'Wow. This kid can fight.' And then he went over to his manager and said, 'We have a new trainer.'"

Over the next few years, Roach improved Pacquiao's right hand and worked diligently on his balance and footwork to create the modern version of Pacquiao - a complete fighter with elite skill to match his power. The talent had always been there, but unlike Mayweather who was born into a family of professional fighters, no one had shown him how.

So what exactly is going on here?

There’s a saying in boxing that ‘styles make fights’, alluding to the notion that certain styles mesh well for action, while others do not. The term is also used when a 'better' fighter has trouble with a seemingly less able fighter who gives him or her serious problems. Muhammed Ali is regarded as the greatest heavyweight of all time, but Kenny Norton gave him fits in their three bouts, with many observers believing he won all three of them (Norton officially lost two of the bouts). Ali had real trouble dealing with Norton’s herky jerky movement, and struggled in all their contests to get his rhythm going.

It is no secret in boxing that Mayweather has long had an aversion to fighting left handed fighters (southpaws). And Manny Pacquiao is one of the greatest southpaws in the history of the sport. Speaking to ESPN 1100, Bob Arum had the following to say about trying to get Mayweather in the ring with anyone left handed:

I know the guy and I know what his problem is, Mayweather, because we had him for 10 and a half years and his problem was he hated, he never wanted to face a southpaw and a southpaw that can move and punch with his left hand makes Mayweather completely vulnerable. All you have to do was watch him in the (DeMarcus) Corley fight where he didn't realize Corley was one when he made the fight. Corley shook him up and had him in trouble. Why? Because Mayweather is a sensational defensive fighter but that's against an orthodox guy. If he goes against a southpaw he opens himself up. You saw that happen in the Cotto fight because Cotto is a right handed fighter but he's really a southpaw that's converted and Cotto hurt him because he doesn't have a good defense to the left hand.

Judah, Corley and Cotto are good fighters (and Cotto potentially a great fighter) but none are close to Pacquiao in terms of speed, movement and dynamism.  After going 12 rounds with Pacquiao last year, the highly rated Brandos Rios had the following to say about fighting Pacquiao:

What got me was just the speed and the awkwardness....I think that's what got me, the awkwardness. I was trying, I tried, man. I tried my heart out. ... I'll say it over and over: the speed is what got me. The speed was the factor in this fight. He's very fast. He's faster than I thought he was. Motherfucker's fast.

It is that speed and awkwardness that has kept Mayweather from wanting to fight Pacquiao for more money than anyone has ever made from a boxing match in history. While Mayweather has dealt with speed and awkwardness before, he has never been in the ring with someone who possesses the intangibles Pacquiao has - an indomitable will to win and the ability to fight through extreme adversity. Fighting men almost 25 pounds heavier than him, Pacquiao has shown astonishing resolve in taking on the most dangerous fighters of his era (below is a clip of Pacquiao fighting the significantly larger Antonio Margarito):

After Pacquiao's performance over the weekend, the calls for the fight are growing louder and more desperate as the fighters advance in age. In 2015, Pacquiao will be 36 and Mayweather 38, making the fight significantly less important from a historical perspective. Any later than this and the fight is almost meaningless.

"I've stopped getting angry about Mayweather refusing to fight my guy," Freddie Roach said in an interview earlier this year. "But we've agreed to everything - a 60/40 split of the purse, blood testing, whatever it is... and then he comes up with something else."

There are glimmers of hope yet again after Pacquiao's performance over the weekend, and Roach has apparently started watching tapes of Mayweather to prepare for a possible showdown in the coming months.

"It will haunt them forever if it doesn't happen," Roach stated when asked about the fight not materializing again. "They will always be in a conversation and someone will say 'why didn't you fight him?' Maybe calling (Mayweather) out, calling him chicken, we will embarrass him into it."

After making almost $400 million in earnings, it is unlikely 'Money May' has any thoughts whatsoever about being embarrassed.

"With or without Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather is OK," Mayweather told Bob Costas in 2012, providing further insight as to why he refuses to fight Pacquiao. "Floyd Mayweather fights for Floyd Mayweather. At the end of the day, Floyd Mayweather has to be happy."

"I'm in the game to win, not just in the ring, but outside the ring," he continued. "And my health is more important than anything."

Which is fair enough, but great fighters fight other great fighters if they want to be remembered as 'The Best Ever'. And Mayweather has not fought the only other great fighter in his weight division in his era, proving his claims to be The Best Ever' are nothing more than hype.