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Thursday, March 18, 2010

For Mayweather, All Roads Lead to Manny Pacquiao

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Before Manny Pacquiao broke out into the mainstream and turned into the phenomenon that he is today, the boxing world was abuzz with a fighter of a different nature. Before “The Pacman”, there was “The Pretty Boy”. Upon the decline of then consensus Pound-4-Pound best Roy Jones Jr. in the late 90’s, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was primed and ready to take over the sport as its new king. The new king did not disappoint as he displayed pure boxing ability and unparalleled skill that left spectators in awe of what he was capable of. He had been subject to tests that would place him at the top of the sport, and he passed them with flying colors knocking out Emanuel Augustus, the late great Diego “Chico” Corrales, beating Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez and also surviving two wars and then dominating a then prime Jose Luis Castillo. All these battles served as proof that Mayweather’s skills were of elite caliber, in fact, they are still referenced to this day as to why Floyd Mayweather is so great. In 2003 however, a featherweight sensation from the Philippines shot into the scene like a fireball blitzing right through Marco Antonio Barrera, stealing the show from Mayweather.

Enter Manny Pacquiao, the most exciting fighter the boxing world has seen over the past decade. When he beat Barrera, it was definitely a shocker. Barrera just came from a war with Erik Morales, knocking out Kevin Kelley, decisioning Johnny Tapia and dominating Prince Naseem Hamed so you can’t say Barrera was old and washed up, but Manny made him look that way. Manny captured the hearts and minds of boxing experts, he became one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Suddenly, people stopped talking about Floyd Mayweather. Suddenly, it was all about Manny Pacquiao. From 2003 onwards, Pacquiao blazed through weight divisions and won multiple world championships, leaving a trail of fire in his wake. Today he is one of the world’s most recognizable figures, an icon in fight sports. While Manny Pacquiao was busy taking on all comers, Floyd Mayweather sit lackadaisically on his throne atop the sport. With his success and fame, he became lax and complacent, seemingly only content in facing meager opposition to pad his growing undefeated record. What’s worse, it became a habit of his to fight only those who never posed any great threat to him and made up for it by further belittling his opponents and bragging about his incomparable abilities. This resulted in him being branded as a ‘ducker’ or a fighter who avoided certain other fighters that were ready, willing and able to pose a stiff challenge.

Talk to ‘the man on the street’ and he will tell you that he is not impressed with Mayweather’s recent opposition or apparent lack thereof. ‘The man on the street’ will put his foot down and tell you outright that Floyd Mayweather ‘ducked’ a prime Miguel Cotto, a prime Antonio Margarito and yes, a prime Shane Mosley. His reputation has gotten so bad that it caused people who know nothing about the sport, people who don’t even know who he is to change his name from Floyd Mayweather and start calling him “Fraud Gayweather”. All this was happening before his eyes while Manny Pacquiao was busy capturing the heart of millions with his relentless fighting style and warrior heart. Manny had taken from him the sport that he loved. He had become the villain and Pacquiao the hero that would slay him. Not only that, but Pacquiao had also captured US mainstream pop culture appearing on US national television on multiple occasions, he had become the face of hard work and sports apparel giant, Nike, made sure that people knew about it.

Of course there are those who still support Mayweather – those who remember his exciting victories against Boxing’s elite in the early 2000’s, before the world knew of Manny Pacquiao. But these handful of fans that are left are decreasing by the day. Some are full of seeing their hero constantly avoid legitimate challenges and opt to fight older, smaller men (See Juan Manuel Marquez). Others have grown tired of defending him, when Mayweather himself refused to prove his detractors wrong. Some have even joined Team Pacquiao. Pacquiao obviously has the support of millions of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, aside from the fact that Americans are also behind him and so is nearly all of Hollywood. Simply put, Pacquiao’s popularity has surpassed Mayweather’s. Pacquiao is the draw in boxing, despite Mayweather’s claims that he is the ‘cash cow’.

When Floyd Mayweather went into retirement after splitting a decision against Boxing’s ‘Golden Boy’ and knocking out Ricky Hatton, he believed there was nothing for him to prove any longer, that there was no reason for him to return to the sport, that he had done all that he could, that he was Jordanesque. But for the nearly two years that he was inactive, he watched Pacquiao, as did most of us, take Boxing and the world by storm. I truly believe that Floyd Mayweather came out of retirement this time not for money but for legacy. He came back against Juan Manuel Marquez and called it a tune-up fight, and rightfully so. And if you need proof that Mayweather is “in it to win it” this time, look no further than May 1st when he finally takes on Shane Mosley (who by the way is ready to take his head off). Mayweather had grown envious of Pacquiao’s following and success.

Manny Pacquiao forced Mayweather out of retirement and now after he gets past Shane Mosley, Pacquiao will be next. For Floyd Mayweather to recapture the glory he once had as the sport’s best pound for pound fighter, he will have to fight and beat the man they call ‘The Pacman’. I believe this is what Mayweather has set out to do all along. The fight with Marquez, the PEDs accusations, the delays in negotiations and now the fight with ‘Sugar Shane’ were all just devices to buy time – to get ready to fight Manny.

Now with the world watching, he sets foot on his journey back to the top. The Filipino Firebomb is waiting.


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