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This was supposed to be the fight that made it all OK. The one that promised to sweep all of boxing's ills under the carpet. The one where all the nonsense and corruption and hyperbole and alphabet straps and endless politicking was forgotten, because at long, long last, for one blockbuster night, boxing was going to get it right.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao would have been a generational contest, one which for once there could never be enough hype and which would have decided beyond doubt the greatest boxer of modern times.
Its collapse on Wednesday night, following weeks of negotiating hooks and jabs, and even a desperate final round of talks refereed by a former judge, was the end of more than just a fight.
It was the bout boxing craved, the best two pugilists on the planet, a monumental event to compare with anything 2010 had to offer, Winter Olympics, Super Bowl, World Cup, World Series included.
No one is blameless in this sorry saga, not Mayweather nor Pacquiao nor any of their advisors. Egos, pride and self-importance got in the way of something special and exposed so many of boxing's self-inflicted failings in the process.
Sadly, it is those of us who love this sport, warts and all, despite its challenges and problems and fall from grace in the sporting conscience, who will be most hurt by the demise of the match-up that promised so much.
Perhaps the men who are game to step into the ring in this brutal yet intoxicating profession have no responsibility other than to themselves and their own welfare.
Yet giving something back to boxing would hardly have been such a wrenching sacrifice for Mayweather and Pacquiao, not with $40 million each to sweeten the pot.
Instead, the parties conspired to shoot themselves in the foot. Negotiations quickly turned into open warfare, as much about posturing in the media and swaying public opinion than making any meaningful progress. The issue of drug testing created a rift that no one was willing to compromise on, at least not to any level that could realistically allow them to meet in the middle.
It is not a tragedy for boxing – there is only one morbid situation that qualifies for that description – but it is a travesty, a monumental setback which will pick at the seams of the sport's credibility.
What a sick irony that for all the avarice that has often consumed boxing, one of its darkest hours arose from the willingness of Mayweather and Pacquiao to walk away from such mind-boggling paychecks.
Accusations will undoubtedly fly backwards and forwards over the coming weeks, yet the fact is that both sides could have done more, if they were as committed to the contest as they claimed. As a result, both men will lose out on more than they realize right now. For each, the fight that should have taken place on March 13 was the definitive chance to cement a legacy of greatness.
Now it is highly feasible that we will never know how good they really are, as they were prepared to discard the chance at a special place in history without as much as a punch thrown. According to his promoter, Bob Arum, Pacquiao is likely to move forwards with a bout against junior middleweight Yuri Foreman, in search of his eighth world title in different divisions.
Mayweather is looking at squaring off with Paulie Malignaggi. If not for the events of the past couple of months, then either fight would have some kind of merit.
As it is, it is virtually impossible to raise any interest. Boxing faces a long and tough battle to drag itself up off the canvas, and it won't be done by contrived matches such as these.
The sweet science weeps just now, not for what it lost, but for what it might have had.
- Manny Pacquiao