By Ivan G. Goldman
Is Floyd Mayweather-Saul “Canelo” Alvarez a better action fight than Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao, a pairing that used to make the whole world salivate? Maybe.
Mayweather deserves all the credit in the world for accepting a Sept. 14 match with the dangerous young Canelo. It’s a fight everybody wants to see, pitting the most popular Mexican fighter out there, charismatic, powerful, quick, and still-improving, up against Number One pound-for-pound Floyd, a lightning fast, smart, super-conditioned veteran, one of the most talented pugilists in history.
As for Pacquiao, conventional wisdom assumes that after Juan Manuel Marquez stretched him out last year, the Philippines Congressman was no longer a credible opponent for “Money” Mayweather. After all, not only did Mayweather beat Marquez easily, Marquez couldn’t hurt him even when he connected. But conventional wisdom doesn’t always get it right.
Let’s go back in time to the Fight of the Century, in Madison Square Garden. Undefeated Joe Frazier versus undefeated Muhammad Ali. Tickets were so scarce Chairman of the Board Frank Sinatra had to hire himself out as a photographer for Life magazine in order to get ringside. It turned out to be a heck of a fight in which Frazier knocked Ali off his feet and beat him handily.
But then two years later, in January 1973, Big George Foreman knocked down Joe Frazier six times and stopped him inside of two rounds. So didn’t that mean Ali was therefore an unworthy opponent for Foreman? Conventional wisdom said so, and undefeated Foreman was an automatic heavy favorite after he consented to the Rumble in the Jungle. There were experts who feared for Ali’s safety. No one predicted his suicidal strategy, allowing Big George to pound his body until Foreman punched himself out. And if gamblers were tipped off about the crazy tactic they’d have bet even more heavily on Foreman. Result? Eighth round knockout victory for Ali.
When they say styles make fights (an overused phrase) usually they mean just because Fighter A defeated Fighter B and Fighter B beat Fighter C, that doesn’t necessarily mean Fighter A will beat Fighter C. The sweet science proves this to us over and over. Sugar Ray Leonard knocked out Thomas Hearns, and Hearns knocked out Roberto Duran, but Leonard had to fight Duran twice in order to get a victory.
Also, even if Floyd versus Canelo is the biggest pay-per-view pairing out there, that doesn’t make it the best possible contest. The largest pay-per-view bout in history was Mayweather versus Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, which garnered more than 2.4 million pay-per-view buys. But it wasn’t a particularly good fight. Ask fans what they remember about it and most of them would talk about a few moments of the last round, when there finally was a meaningful exchange. Had ESPN2 put on a main event like that the announcing crew would have been apologizing.
Big Money has a way of influencing conventional wisdom, and Big Money doesn’t want Mayweather to fight Pacquiao, ever. Floyd and Pacquiao are tied to powerhouse networks that are in turn owned by giant corporations. Neither will allow its fighter to appear on the other network, and asking them to do a joint broadcast would be like asking the Hatfields and McCoys to plan a double wedding. And anyone betting that arch enemies Golden Boy and Top Rank will ever again cooperate for a joint event is betting on a horse that limps.
I’m looking forward to Mayweather-Alvarez as much as anybody, but I’m also naturally inclined to want the fight that the promoters and networks don’t want us to want. In the bout that supposedly put him out of contention, all three judges had Pacquiao ahead until Marquez caught him with a monster punch in the sixth round.
If Pacquiao doesn’t do well November 11 against Brandon Rios, who’s never competed as a welterweight, I’d have to agree that his standing would be pretty well shot. But if Mayweather and Pacquiao both win — or if they both lose — Mayweather-Pacquiao is still a good fight that plenty of fans would want to see, regardless of what conventional wisdom or Big Money tells us.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, is due out this month. It can be pre-purchased here.