Brilliant Pacquiao's prime is being squandered

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

The fans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas poured boos down on the ring, expressing a sentiment shared by many pay-per-view customers. Sugar Shane Mosley was running from Manny Pacquiao, making consumer disappointment and anger understandable.

So too was this emotion: sadness.

Saturday was another wasted night of Pacquiao’s prime, the competitive circumstances and raw politics of boxing robbing what could’ve been a night of greatness tested.

Instead, we got another lopsided decision, Pacquiao winning as an overwhelming favorite against a 39-year-old opponent who had no intention of actually fighting.

Mosley was once a great champion and remains a likable ambassador for the sport. He never stood a chance against Manny, though. That was something promoter Bob Arum acknowledged at the outset, only to realize he was so out of opponents for the Filipino that he had to make the fight anyway.

Mosley was the second of Pacquiao’s last three opponents to enter the ring and not even attempt to win. Fourteen months ago Joshua Clottey covered up for 12 rounds. Even after he was shut out on the scorecard, Clottey lifted his arms in triumph and posed for pictures with his team. The goal was to survive, not actually box.

Before you blame Clottey and Mosley, consider what happened to the last several guys who decided to stand and trade with Manny:

Antonio Margarito, pummeled repeatedly, broken orbital bone, sent to hospital, career in jeopardy. Miguel Cotto, pummeled repeatedly, TKO’d, sent to hospital. Ricky Hatton, knocked out cold, sent to hospital, hasn’t fought since. Oscar De La Hoya, pummeled repeatedly, TKO’d, sent to hospital, hasn’t fought since. David Diaz, pummeled repeatedly, TKO’d, sent to hospital.

We could go on. Manny Pacquiao hasn’t lost a fight in six years.

And he probably isn’t losing one anytime soon, leaving fans stuck watching an iconic fighter dominate inferior opponents just for the sake of watching said icon.

Sadness isn’t a new feeling in boxing. It’s just usually reserved for those horrific nights when an aging champion is getting battered by the sport’s inevitable, and swift, circle of life. It’s sad to watch greatness gone. It’s sad to fear the damage done.

This is completely different – sadness born from frustration. It's like watching Michael Jordan playing minor league basketball, cheating everyone from years of thrilling moments and memories on the basketball court.

Critics of boxing are always saying it needs charismatic headliners. Well, what then is Manny Pacquaio? He’s willing to fight exciting fights, test himself against bigger, stronger men. He smiles. He laughs. He’s smart. He has a real life as an elected politician. He sings on late-night talk shows and performs fan concerts after fights. There’s almost nothing like him in sports. And Saturday, Top Rank put on a great show around him, complete with a rare entertaining undercard featuring the return of ex-champ Kelly Pavlik and a dramatic 12th round, come-from-behind-TKO by Jorge Arce of Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr.

Then the main event bombed, the cold reality of the era ruining everything.

Arum talked about a potential November fight between Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, who earned a draw with Pacman in 2004 and lost a close decision in 2008. Those bouts took place in the featherweight or super featherweight divisions, however. That's 20 pounds ago for Pacquiao, who fought at 147 on Saturday.

Marquez is a warrior, but he struggled to get to 142 pounds when he was outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2009. It was Mayweather’s un-retirement fight and considered a somewhat safe one because Marquez was so small. If he’s too small for Floyd, then he’s of little threat to the 2011 version of Manny.

Marquez would also become the fourth recent Pacquiao opponent first “softened up” by Mayweather, joining De La Hoya, Hatton and Mosley.

The obvious solution is to get Pacquiao and Mayweather in the ring together and stage the richest fight in history. Then do it again in a rematch. That seems less likely now than ever, though. Mayweather hasn’t fought anyone in over 13 months and spent Saturday night, he claims, watching a Lady Gaga concert on cable.

We should be in the middle of an epic trilogy between these two – their styles seemingly perfectly suited to challenge each other. It’s rare when the two best pound-for-pound fighters of a decade are essentially the same weight. Yet money, pride, politics, bad blood, allegations of doped blood, slander suits, domestic violence charges and all sorts of other nonsense stand in the way.

We’ve been through the Mayweather-Manny debate before. Right now, it isn’t getting solved. It may never.

So we get what we get and the crowd gets upset.

“What could I do if my opponent doesn’t want to fight toe-to-toe? It’s not my fault,” Pacquiao argued, and really no one was blaming him. “I’m happy, because I know I won the fight. But I said my first concern is the satisfaction of the people. I want the people to be satisfied with my performance and to leave happy.”

The Mosley fight should never have been made. Same with Clottey. And it’ll be the same with Marquez.

There is virtually no one left for Pacquiao to fight. He’ll still get big numbers at the gate and on pay per view because he’s such an attraction, such a talent, but it increasingly feels like a waste of time. He’s stuck in B-grade bouts. You can’t shine a sneaker.

Zab Judah is another option, but he’s lost to Clottey, Cotto and Mayweather.

Timothy Bradley, the dynamic, unbeaten, 27-year-old Californian, is a potential long-term challenger to Pacquiao. Is he ready to step up as soon as November? He may have to be. For my money, it’s the most intriguing fight.

At least Bradley is a fresh face. At least he has a future. At least, we presume, he’ll stand up and actually try to win.

These days with Pacquiao that’s all we can hope for; a sad indictment on a sport that is stalling when it should be soaring.

Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
Lakers' reign ends in embarrassment
Bryce Harper is baseball's next big thing
Tony Romo fails in U.S. Open bid