George Foreman thinks Saturday’s Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao bout will be the Fight of the Generation. Here’s why
On Saturday, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the two best pound-for-pound fighters of their generation, will do battle in the squared circle at the MGM Grand Arena — that great cathedral where sport and commerce intersect. The winner unifies the welterweight titles and gets a diamond studded belt worth a million dollars. Actors, singers and other high-rollers would have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to be in the few square feet surrounding the ring. Millions would have bought PPV tickets. The two men in the middle could well be splitting $ 400 million when it is all over. Undoubtedly this is the richest, the biggest fight of all time. And, depending on whom you ask, this may even be the greatest — the Superfight of this century.
With the breathless anticipation has come a distinct backlash. The bout is hype. The boxers are past their prime. Richest, okay, but to call this fight the greatest is sacrilege.
There is an element of truth to all this.
The biggest fights have been among the most primal spectacles of modern times, speaking to us like no other sport can. The financial aspect is but one indicator — what also matters is the relevance of the fight to the narrative of its era, the pedigree of the participants, the timing and competitiveness of the match-up.
The first incidence of boxing as a metaphor of its times would have been when Jack Johnson, the first black man to win the world heavyweight crown, defended it in 1910 against Jim Jeffries, the former champion who came out of retirement to try to prove the superiority of the white race. Riots ensued across the US after Jeffries was knocked out in the 15th round. Less than 30 years later, a black man would be hailed as a hero of American values: just a year before the outbreak of WW2, Joe Louis would knock out the German Max Schmeling, a future elite paratrooper with Hitler’s Luftwaffe, in the first round at Yankee Stadium. Ali-Frazier 1, of course, drew its context from the Vietnam War, Ali’s rejection of the draft, and the subsequent stripping of his world crown.
May-Pac is unlikely to be a historic fight in that sense. But it too is relevant to its time. Thanks to competition from mixed martial arts, boxing doesn’t dominate eyeballs the way it once did. With its alphabet soup of governing bodies (WBO, WBC, IBO, IBF, etc), retreat from network TV, allegations of corruption, it’s hard even for an aficionado to stay invested. But it is precisely this context that makes this bout special.
Mayweather and Pacquiao are both so luminously talented that even an ordinary fan can discern them in the gloom that otherwise surrounds the sport. This is undoubtedly the fight of this generation at least. George Foreman, he of Rumble in the Jungle, thinks so. Foreman ranks May-Pac behind only Louis-Schmeling and Ali-Frazier 1.
The fact that the hype isn’t over a heavyweight belt discomfits some. Best man standing at 147 pounds sounds weird. But hardcore fans have always been beguiled by the welterweights, especially now when the heavyweight division has declined.
147 is that sweet spot that embodies boxing perfection — the best balance of power, speed and technique. Boxers in the division — most notably Sugar Ray Robinson — have long been marked as the best pound-for-pound. Unlike the often ponderous heavyweight bouts, welterweight contests are attritional scraps. They have produced some of the more memorable battles of the last 30 years — Roberto Duran’s ‘no mas’ rematch loss to Sugar Ray Leonard, his earlier upset win over the same opponent, the Golden Boy Oscar De La Hoya ending his career with his corner throwing in the towel against Pacquiao in the ninth.
In this most fascinating of weight classes, little is more fascinating than May-Pac. Mayweather (47-0) is undefeated professionally; Pacquiao (57-5) is the only fighter with titles in eight different divisions. The trope of boxing as a morality play is rekindled once again. ‘Money’ Mayweather is the arch villain of boxing, the king of bling, trashtalker extraordinaire. He flashes his money and women, goes to jail for assaulting the women, and then wins them back with gifts. Pacquiao is the mild-mannered Filipino congressman who fights for his people and sometimes croons love songs (he covered the already cloying Dan Hill single Sometimes When We Touch)
The boxing odometer for both is running down — Mayweather is 38, Pacquiao 36 — but there is value still. Legacy. For a boxer, it is tied not just to belts held, but whom he beat. Ali wouldn’t be Ali if he hadn’t been to war with Frazier and Foreman. Rocky Marciano (49-0) isn’t rated among the best heavyweights simply because he never had a career-defining opponent.
Mayweather is obsessed with legacy. His clothes are emblazoned with TBE — ‘The Best Ever’. Champion half his life (18 years), he has beaten 20 himself. But despite humbling tough guys (Marcos Maidana) and big names (Shane Mosley), presumed successors (Alvarez Canelo) and legends (Oscar De La Hoya), recognition hasn’t been due. It has been said his opponents were too slow, old or young, or didn’t have punching power. In any case, they weren’t Manny Pacquiao. The same is true for Pacquiao. After recent losses to Juan Marquez and Tim Bradley, he needs this win to stand with the all-time greats.
Both boxers have deteriorated a bit over the last few years. But Mayweather is the best defensive boxer of his generation, Pacquiao the relentless attacker. While Mayweather’s ability to shoulder roll and counter appeals to purists, it leaves him open to being called boring. He knows retirement is nigh, he may be willing to take more risks.
May-Pac has enough at stake for it to be a classic. The proof will lie in the punching.