Photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank
On May 2, 2015, Floyd Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs) and Manny Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) will meet at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. For many boxing fans, this bout is long overdue. The two fighters have been circling each other for years and have finally agreed to clash for pound-for-pound supremacy.
Based on the fighter’s accomplishments, skills and economic clout, this bout is a potential “super fight” in the Welterweight division. HBO and Showtime, working together for the first time since Mike Tyson met Lennox Lewis in 2002, will deliver the bout live on pay-per-view.
Super fights capture the hearts and minds of the hardcore boxing fan as well as both the fringe and non-fan alike. To put it in perspective, you don’t have to be a boxing fan to recognize a Sugar Ray Leonard or a Muhammad Ali, men who transcended the sport and became household names in the process.
The same applies for both the 38-year-old Mayweather and the 36-year-old Pacquiao. They are as well known to the non-boxing fan as they are to the diehards. As their careers have developed, each has become more-and-more known to the mainstream public around the world.
A super fight not only lives up to the pre-fight hype and build up, it exceeds it inside the ring. It carries a story of a long lasting relationship between the fighters leading up to their bout, what happens in the ring, and forever links their names together in history after the final bell.
In modern times there have been only two fights that this writer deems qualified to meet these requirements. Those two fights are Muhammad Ali meeting Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Leonard facing Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Nearly 45 years ago on a Monday night, March 8, 1971, Ali met Frazier at the Mecca of Boxing, the fabled Madison Square Garden in New York. Their long anticipated meeting in the ring brought with it a story for the ages.
Ali, the recognized Heavyweight champion of the world, won the title by upsetting Sonny Liston in 1964. He dominated the division until, standing by his principles and religious beliefs, he was stripped of his title for refusing induction in the United States military. As the war in Vietnam raged on, Ali was banned from fighting and was denied a boxing license in all 50 states.
During three and a half years of inactivity, from March of 1967 to October of 1970, Ali was in essence exiled from the sport. Unbeknownst to many he would meet privately with Frazier, who won the vacant title in March of 1968 by knocking out Buster Mathis, who gave him money while he was inactive.
Finally, Ali scored a victory in Federal Count and was granted a license, first in Atlanta to fight Jerry Quarry and then in New York to meet Oscar Bonavena.
Finally, the Heavyweight champion, Frazier, would meet the former Heavyweight champion, Ali. Each fighter was guaranteed $2.5 million dollars, the largest single payday for any athlete at the time. It is estimated that 300 million people across the world watched this fight.
Clearly both men were the best in the division and each was undefeated. Tensions rose when Ali openly called out Frazier, infuriating him and his camp, saying he was both “too dumb” and “too ugly” to be champion.
Ali established himself as the anti-establishment hero. He was then able to cast Frazier as the fighter who represented the establishment and drew the battle lines right down the middle of the ring. Fans seemed evenly split on who they wanted to win the fight.
The bout was nicknamed “The Fight of the Century” as both men battled for 15 rounds. Frazier enacted a measure of revenge against Ali by flooring him in the 15th round and winning a unanimous decision.
The fight not only lived up to, but exceeded the pomp and circumstance that surrounded it.
Just over 16 years later, Sugar Ray Leonard would meet Marvelous Marvin Hagler at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The anticipation and build up lasted several years.
Hagler, the Middleweight kingpin, had not lost a fight in over 10 years. While he tore through the Middleweight division, Leonard was doing the same at Welterweight.
While training for a bout in June of 1982, Leonard began experiencing issues with his vision and doctors discovered that he had suffered a detached retina. Surgery was required and on advice from his physician, Leonard would retire.
Speculation about a Leonard comeback was rampant. In the fall of 1982, Leonard held a gala black tie ceremony at the Baltimore Civic Center. The event included invited guests and was attended by Muhammad Ai, Howard Cosell and Marvin Hagler.
Given the invitation to Hagler, many believed that the event was to announce his comeback and that Leonard would indeed fight Hagler. Instead, Leonard surprised the audience when addressing the potential match, “To Marvin Hagler, a fight with this great man, this great champion, would be one of the greatest fights in the history of boxing. But unfortunately it’ll never happen.”
Hager was infuriated, “He’s looking right at me, and then that’s when he came out with that, ‘It will never happen.’ I was like, who does this guy think he is?”
After a 27-month layoff, Leonard would return to the ring and stop Kevin Howard in nine rounds, but not before being floored for the first time in his career. He would again retire after the fight simply saying, “It’s just not there. I have retired…for good.”
Two years later, as fate would have it, Leonard attended Hagler’s 12th title defense against John “The Beast” Mugabi in 1986. The fight was a brutal, physical war. After Hagler stopped Mugabi in the 11th round, Leonard is said to have said, “I can beat him.”
The roles had now reversed as Leonard was chasing Hagler. At 32, Hagler seemed comfortable laughing off the potential fight as he was now the established champion. While making commercials and hitting the talk show circuit, he was just two fights away from tying the record of 14 consecutive title defenses.
After years of “what if’s” and “might have been’s,” the fight finally was set for Monday night, April 6, 1987. It was broadcast on closed-circuit television and watched in 75 countries around the world. Few gave Leonard, the 3-1 underdog, a chance given his inactivity and his move up to Middleweight for the first time in his career.
While Hagler wanted a war, Leonard was content to move, box and avoid toe-to-toe confrontations. After 12 rounds, Leonard would win a brilliant, but highly controversial split decision.
The debate still rages on as to who won the fight.
Now, 28 years after Leonard met Hagler, we now approach May 2. We are witnessing a similar build up as the two great champions prepare to meet each other after years of speculation, lawsuits, losses, and retirements.
Add to the mix the defamation lawsuit filed by Pacquiao in 2009, against Mayweather, and then later settled in 2012.
Mayweather retired after beating Ricky Hatton in December of 2007. He relinquished his pound-for-pound status in the process. Pacquiao then took over as the pound-for-pound king and blasted Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosely and Antonio Margarito. He struggled against the superior counter puncher, Juan Manuel Marquez.
Pacquaio has been able to sustain himself despite the knockout loss to Marquez and the very questionable decision loss to Timothy Bradley.
When Mayweather returned to the ring in September of 2009, he took Marquez to school winning an easy 12-round unanimous decision. He simply continues to win.
As the two have now agreed to face one another, the build up and the hype has begun and the anticipation is at a high level. It will certainly intensify as we get closer to fight night. Fans across the globe will be watching as the fight is estimated to top, according to Forbes, a record breaking 200 million dollars.
There are several similarities in the build up to Mayweather vs. Pacquaio as there were in the Ali-Frazier and Leonard-Hagler bouts. From retirements, the verbal back and forth, and an overwhelming public interest in the fight, the stage is now set as we await to see what happens in the ring.
My father’s generation had Ali-Frazier. My generation had Sugar Ray and Marvelous Marvin. Boxing fans and the general public now eagerly await a fight that may very well bring the next generation’s super bout that will be debated and talked about for years to come.
Only time will tell.