Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Time’s Perfect Record
Monday afternoon Manny Pacquiao signed on to face Timothy (Desert Storm) Bradley in a June 9 welterweight title bout, and deal that joins with last week’s pact between Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto to give boxing fans a pair of high-profile springtime bouts nobody asked for.
Few observers feel Mayweather will do anything May 5 besides thrash Cotto, who lost to Pacquiao in November 2009.
But at least he’s taking on a bigger fighter, moving up to 154 pounds, facing the WBA light-middleweight champion on his terms and for his title.
After surviving Juan Manuel Marquez in November, Pacquiao enters his second straight fight against a guy moving up in weight, raising serious questions about which man — Pacquiao or Mayweather — is out to slay giants and which one really enjoys picking on smaller guys.
Fight followers and casual sports fans are figuring it out, and as badly as they’d love to see the fight they’re also tiring of never-ending prelude.
When Mayweather signed to fight Cotto and speculation swirled that Pacquiao and 140-pound champ Bradley would square off, somebody (I wish I could remember who) tweeted that watching these fights would be like seeing the Packers and Ravens in the Superbowl.
It’s more like the Pats and Giants winning their conference titles then postponing the Superbowl because playing an endless string of semifinals against lesser teams generates a ton of money with significantly less risk.
After facing Cotto, Mayweather will spend the summer in Clark County jail, while Top Rank is discussing matching Pacquiao with the winner of a proposed showdown between Marquez and Lamont Peterson. Taken together it means fight fans won’t see the sport’s Superbowl until winter 2013 at the earliest.
But by that point the passage of time and the miles piling up on each fighter’s odometer might have pushed this fight past its stale date.
I don’t mean the spectacle surrounding the bout.
As long as Mayweather and Pacquiao are active interest in seeing them meet will never expire. A fight between them is the biggest event in sports, whether it takes place right on time or when each fighter is well on the wrong side of his prime. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if you paid attention when Lennox Lewis fought Mike Tyson in 2002.
Of course you did.
That fight did nearly 2 million pay per view buys even though Lewis was a year away from retiring, and even though Tyson peaked before the collapse of the Soviet Union, bringing little to the fight beyond a big name and a highlight reel of 15-year-old knockouts.
Put the two biggest names in the sport in opposite corners and the show generates attention and cash no matter how late you stage it.
But delay the matchup too long and the in-ring product suffers.
That’s why the first two bouts between Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran are seared into sports fans’ memories, while their third bout can double as a sleep aid.
It’s why the Roy Jones-Bernard Hopkins rematch was so sloppy I demanded my money back — and I watched it for free online.
And it’s why a Mayweather-Cotto showdown once made hardcore fans salivate but now just makes them shrug. It’s a significantly bigger event now that Cotto is well-known and Mayweather is mainstream famous. But the matchup was much more interesting when it was first discussed in 2005, when both men had undefeated records and bulletproof confidence.
Seven years later Mayweather remains near the top of his game, while we’re still not sure if Cotto will ever heal from the beating Antonio Margarito and his plaster gloves laid on him in 2008.
And two-plus years into the Pacquiao-Mayweather mating dance you have to wonder how time will diminish each man’s skills by the time they overcome their cumbersome egos and agree to the fight.
By then Mayweather will probably be 36, which was early adolescence for Archie Moore but is geriatric for a welterweight. And Pacquiao will be 34, an age when even the fastest fighters slow a step.
At this point we’re past the idea of a Mayweather-Pacquiao matchup determining which of the men fights better. Instead the fight, if it happens, will merely measure which ages better, and that’s a completely different contest.
A fighter’s career trajectory isn’t too different than a 100-metre dash, and the late-race surges that win medals are actually optical illusions. Elite sprinters can hold their top speed for about 20 metres in the middle of the race, but after about 65 metres they all start to slow down. The guy who looks like he’s shifting gears to pull away from the field is really just the guy who decelerates the least.
And past a certain age no fighter improves. He can only hope to slow the erosion of his skills.
If that immutable law applied to Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali, it applies to Pacquiao too.
Yes, he’s undefeated.
But so is time.
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