Long overdue Mayweather-Pacquiao fight will not save boxing

Columnist

For years now, when blessed with a free moment, Freddie Roach would pull up video of Floyd Mayweather fights and look for weaknesses. He was devising a strategy just in case his fighter, Manny Pacquiao, actually one day got a shot at the unbeaten champ.

Manny Pacquiao defeats Chris Algieri in November. (AP)
Manny Pacquiao defeats Chris Algieri in November. (AP)

Over and over, shoulder roll after shoulder roll, Roach, maybe more than any participant, promoter or fan, dreamed of the dream matchup.

"It's a huge challenge for Manny, no question," Roach told Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole. "But I think it's a fight that he can win."

Now, or at least on May 2, we'll find out.

The mega-fight is signed and what will come in a 2½-month blitz of promotion will be big hype, big talk and big money. The bout promises to shatter all sorts of records, from total gate to pay-per-view purchases until both parties rake in more than $100 million each.

What it won't do is "save" the sport or anything along that vein, even if that's what will almost certainly become a media narrative.

Boxing isn't going to be saved by anything. This is a different era, a different time. No one fight can spin the calendar back to the 1960s. In many ways, it doesn't need to be saved. There remains a vibrant base of fans, just more heavily centered on African-Americans and Hispanics.

Older white fans, obsessed with mainstream stick-and-ball sports, will always lament the lack of a compelling heavyweight division, but reality isn't changing.

Boys of that size are going to be pushed to basketball and football, where more money, opportunity and scholarships await.

Boxing has always been a sport for the poorest of the poor. Pacquiao left his boyhood home in General Santos City in the Philippines at age 14 because his parents had too many mouths to feed. Mayweather simply went into the family business, following his father Floyd Sr. and uncle Roger.

This is the reality of boxing. The lower weight classes, where other pro sports opportunities are limited, are where the action is. The result is lots of intrigue for the diehards and an occasional burst into the mainstream when two greats get together.

The nightmare for boxing was if this slipped by entirely, a casualty to ego and anti-competitiveness.

The last fight to "save" boxing was Mayweather's 2007 fight against Oscar De La Hoya. It generated huge media, captured the nation's attention and did a record 2.5 million pay-per-view buys.

It didn't save boxing.

If that didn't do it, this won't.

Floyd Mayweather (L) on the defensive against Marcos Maidana in September. (AP)
Floyd Mayweather (L) on the defensive against Marcos Maidana in September. (AP)

That fight served a purpose by launching the then 30-year-old Mayweather, who won, into the sport's biggest draw. Both Floyd and Manny are already established and nearing the twilight of their careers, so there will be no bounce outside of a possible rematch if this is close or controversial.

Boxing needs to save itself and has made some steps to do that. HBO's "24/7" series, pushed by Mayweather for years, helped humanize fighters and cut through the lack of boxing-centric media. The new NBC-televised boxing series run by Mayweather's manager, Al Haymon, is the latest effort.

Even then, there is only so much ground that can be gained.

Time will tell if the action can come close to matching the buildup, but even after years of delays and both men now in their upper 30s it's a tantalizing matchup between offense and defense.

"I am very happy that Floyd Mayweather and I can give the fans the fight they have wanted for so many years," Pacquiao told Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole. "They have waited long enough and they deserve it. It is an honor to be part of this historic event. I dedicate this fight to all the fans who willed this fight to happen and, as always, to bring glory to the Philippines and my fellow Filipinos around the world."

Yes, it shouldn't have taken this long. That doesn't mean the making of the fight should be brushed aside as irrelevant. Would it have been better in 2009? Sure. Is boxing in position to brush it aside? Hardly.

May 2 will be a great day for boxing. Any suggestion otherwise is contrarian ridiculousness.

Mayweather will be 38, but still 47-0. Pacquiao is 36 and after two setbacks in 2012 – one an extremely controversial decision – sits at 57-5-2, but can still flatten you with that straight left of his. Both men have slowed a bit, but that just adds to the dynamic.

Although it's Pacquiao who has lost fights and looked at times like a lesser man, the fact Mayweather was tagged a few times by Marcos Maidana in their two bouts of late suggests the once unhittable might be vulnerable.

This is the best boxing is going to provide, and gives the sport a chance to move to the forefront for a few days as everyone gets drawn into a strategic battle that will be surrounded by every imaginable bit of pageantry.

Manny Pacquiao and his trainer Freddie Roach talk during a pre-fight press conference in Shanghai on August 2014 (AFP)
Manny Pacquiao and his trainer Freddie Roach talk during a pre-fight press conference in Shanghai on August 2014 (AFP)

This is what it's supposed to be about, because no matter how self-destructive boxing can be, there is nothing quite like a big prizefight on the Vegas Strip. The fact tickets to the MGM Grand Garden will be among the toughest the town has ever seen, let alone the possible $100-a-pop PPV orders around the globe, will prove that.

Boxing is boxing, and its best option here in 2015 is to stop apologizing for that, stop lamenting that time slipped by for this fight, and just sit back and bask in the coming storm.

Mayweather-Pacquiao. Pacquiao-Mayweather.

They've been staring each other down for years now – trainers even grinding footage for hints of a far-off flaw.

So relax and enjoy it. At this point, for this sport, it's as good as it gets.

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