GRAPEVINE, Texas – In the days and weeks before he would fight Diego Corrales in Las Vegas in 2001 in the first major fight of his career, Floyd Mayweather Jr. railed against the evils of domestic violence.
Corrales was facing a prison term on charges of spousal abuse, and Mayweather taunted him about it relentlessly. He promised to defeat Corrales on behalf of battered women everywhere.
Now, nearly a full decade later, there is a certain sad irony in the fact that what would be the richest fight in boxing history may never be made because Mayweather is facing a potential lengthy prison sentence because of a domestic violence charge pending against him.
Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are the two best fighters in the sport. Some prefer Pacquiao because he's become an offensive dynamo whose fast hands have led to destructive wins over the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto. Others prefer Mayweather, whose amazing defensive instincts make it next to impossible for mere mortals to land a haymaker.
Either way, it doesn't matter. They're 1 and 1-A, and nobody else is close.
They're also the two biggest draws in the sport. Pacquiao is expected to draw a huge crowd to Cowboys Stadium on Saturday, when he'll meet Antonio Margarito for the vacant World Boxing Council super welterweight title that Mayweather once held. Promoter Bob Arum said there is a chance that there could be as many as 70,000 people in the stadium, but it's a slam dunk that the figure will exceed the 51,000 who showed up in March to watch Pacquiao take Joshua Clottey apart.
Mayweather's 2007 fight with De La Hoya established records for most pay-per-view sales, at 2.45 million, and largest gate, at $18.4 million.
There were two aborted attempts – one late last year and the other this past summer – to make the fight, and each time it fell apart. In the summer negotiations, things were so bad that the Mayweather side tried to insist there were no negotiations.
But now, there is no other legitimate challenger for either man. In January, after talks broke down the first time, Pacquiao turned to Clottey and Mayweather turned to Shane Mosley. Clottey was viable because most believe he deserved a win over Miguel Cotto when they fought, and that only a bad judging decision cost him the victory. Mosley was viable for Mayweather because he'd destroyed Margarito in 2009, had two wins over De La Hoya and was regarded by most experts as one of the top 10 fighters in the world.
Pacquiao routed Clottey and Mayweather did the same to Mosley. Mosley was also lackluster in fighting to a split draw with Sergio Mora in September.
Assuming Pacquiao defeats Margarito on Saturday – Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach not only predicts a knockout inside of eight rounds but insists Pacquiao won't lose a second of the fight – the only man for Pacquiao is Mayweather and the only man for Mayweather is Pacquiao.
Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum said Pacquiao wants the Mayweather fight and will say that on Saturday if or when he defeats Margarito. If not, Arum added, the choices for Pacquiao's next opponent would be Mosley, Cotto or Juan Manuel Marquez.
None of the three are remotely attractive anymore. Mosley is 39 years old and clearly on the downside of his career. He was horrific in the fight against Mayweather and lackluster at best against Mora. Pacquiao already destroyed Cotto, stopping him in the 12th round of a bout that could have been – and probably should have been – halted four or five rounds earlier. Pacquiao and Marquez have fought a pair of sensational fights, battling to a 2004 draw in a featherweight match before Pacquiao pulled out a split-decision victory in a 2008 super featherweight title fight.
Marquez is a lightweight, however, and Pacquiao is a welterweight. Pacquiao will no longer fight lighter than about 144 pounds, meaning Marquez would have to move up. And while Marquez is clearly one of the world's finest fighters, he proved conclusively in a 2009 loss to Mayweather that he's no welterweight. He was slow and didn't have his usual fire.
The possibilities for either man, then, are limited. They need each other.
Not only does Mayweather face potential jail time, but his trainer/uncle – Roger Mayweather – does as well. On the same day that Floyd Mayweather Jr. must appear in a Las Vegas court for a preliminary hearing, Roger Mayweather is set to stand trial on charges he assaulted a female boxer he once trained.
Arum said he'd reach out to Mayweather next week if Pacquiao wins on Saturday, seeking permission to speak with Mayweather's highly regarded Las Vegas defense attorney, Richard Wright, about his case. Arum does not want to put up millions of dollars for a fight if the domestic violence case is going to interfere.
Whether Mayweather will grant that permission is dubious, given his bitter relationship with Arum. Even if he does, there are huge obstacles to making the fight.
Mayweather likely wouldn't want to fight without his uncle in his corner, so not only will Floyd's legal issues have to be resolved but Roger's as well.
They'll need to come to a deal on the drug testing that Mayweather was insisting upon previously, and which ultimately scuttled the first fight when everything else seemed settled.
They'll need to agree on a purse split. Arum said even if Pacquiao's fight with Margarito does more pay-per-view sales than the 1.4 million that the Mayweather-Mosley fight did, he'll agree to 50-50. Whether Mayweather will agree, however, is anyone's guess.
Given the intense feelings in the relationship between the sides, the little things will also be big – and could prove to be stumbling blocks.
It makes sense for Pacquiao-Mayweather to be the next fight on the agenda for each man, but as we've seen already in this mess, common sense rarely prevails. Don't hold your breath waiting for the match, and consider yourself extremely fortunate if you ever get to see it.
- Manny Pacquiao