COMMENTARY | In boxing, there is a grand tradition of elite, veteran stars passing the torch to younger fighters. Joe Louis fell to Rocky Marciano, Julio Cesar Chavez lost to Oscar De la Hoya.
Sometimes, the veteran star willingly comes to the battle and graciously hands the torch over to his next generation conqueror. Just as often, the older fighter is practically dragged to the ring, forced to fight and lend his name to building the legend of the younger star.
In either case, the passing of the torch is an important part of the sport and essential in creating the next generation of superstars.
In the case of Manny Pacquiao, the popular Filipino battler went from star to superstar after Oscar De la Hoya inadvertently passed the torch to him in 2008. It would represent the second time De la Hoya allowed another fighter to piggyback off his popularity and star power. Nineteen months earlier, Oscar had helped build the Floyd Mayweather legend by taking on the controversial fighter in a major pay-per-view showcase bout.
After beating De la Hoya, both Mayweather and Pacquiao would move on to mainstream, crossover stardom, much like De la Hoya did after he beat Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker just about a decade earlier.
Now, Pacquiao and Mayweather are the established stars and undisputed cash cows. Both are in their mid-30's with more stellar performances behind them than ahead of them. And, other than the mega-fight that (most) everyone wants, there's not much left for either to accomplish.
At some point, the next logical step in the career of a fading legend is to do what's right for the sport-- Select an accomplished and capable younger fighter with star potential and throw caution to the wind. A victory means continued success at the top of the food chain, a loss allows the torch to be passed to the next generation of superstar. Either way, boxing benefits.
These days, though, a fighter's management team would be more likely to milk a cash cow's success with soft touches rather than risk a loss and a displacement of power. It's getting harder and harder to force fighters to make the bouts they need to make, so the "changing of the guard" type of contest may become, at some point soon, almost impossible to find.
And this leads us to Manny Pacquiao, who is scheduled to face the 39-year-old Juan Manuel Marquez in the fourth bout of a hotly contested series this December 8th. Even should Manny lose, it would hardly have a major impact on the natural flow of the sport. Both fighters, whether one cares to admit it or not, already have one foot out the door when it comes to their career.
Given his promoter's preference for dealing exclusively with in-house opposition, it's questionable whether the popular Filipino pop culture icon will ever be in a situation where, in defeat, he might pass the torch to a next-generation conqueror.
So, Pacquiao's promotional team will likely try to find other ways to transfer Manny's outrageous popularity to some of their fighters without the need for a face to face encounter.
On December 15th, Nonito Donaire will face Jorge Arce in a bout to be showcased on HBO after the tape replay of the previous week's Pacquiao-Marquez pay-per-view bout. It's an obvious attempt from the promotional firm to have some of the Pacquiao magic rub off on "The Filipino Flash."
Donaire, as a talented Filipino star, makes for an obvious heir apparent to the Pacquiao frenzy, but may lack the list of potential legend-defining opponents needed to mark a true legacy.
At one point, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was thought to be a candidate for at least part of the transfusion of Pacquiao mojo. However, two positive drug tests, a DUI arrest, and copious amounts of bad press have turned him into more of a black hat villain than loveable fistic hero.
Mexican-American brawler, Brandon Rios, as well as Filipino prospect, Mercito Gesta, may also be seen as possible recipients of Pacquiao's proverbial torch.
Ideally, the best thing for the sport would be for Pacquiao, at some point, to lose cleanly in the ring to a young lion on the rise. However, the Pacquiao business model will absolutely not allow for that to happen.
As for Mayweather, don't expect him to be so quick to directly pass the torch, either. The likely route for "Money" involves a few more solid fight followed by retirement. Mayweather has shown little interest in tradition or in the overall health of the sport and will not likely change his outlook anytime soon.
If new superstars are to be made in boxing, they will have to earn that stardom without the gracious benefit of the old guard. Don't expect Pacquiao or Mayweather to ever fight another contest where they might be in peril against an elite-level young star.
One could argue that that this is the best business decision to make for both fighters, but it hardly makes for old school drama or a healthy sport.
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Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing.