LAS VEGAS — We probably were spoiled by Manny Pacquiao’s amazing run from 2003 to 2008, when he engaged in a seven-fight series against the great Mexican trio of Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales.
Every fight seemed to be more exciting than the previous one as Pacquiao grew into a star.
Then came Pacquiao’s ascension to superstardom. First, he stopped David Diaz. Then, in what was deemed a mismatch in his opponent’s favor, he stopped the great Oscar De La Hoya. Then, in his most-spectacular victory, he dispatched Ricky Hatton with a single punch in the second round. And then he stopped a still-capable Miguel Cotto.
He had become a living legend.
Which is why his last two fights, his showdown with Shane Mosley on Saturday and a possible meeting with Juan Manuel Marquez are so disappointing.
Joshua Clottey? Good fighter but relatively anonymous. And the fight was horrible. Antonio Margarito? Utter mismatch that never should’ve happened. Now Mosley? The guy is pushing 40 and looked like hell in his past two fights. And possibly Marquez next? Good idea at 135 or even 140 but not at 147, which would be a disaster.
Is that any way for the No. 1 fighter in the world to behave?
I say no. I say a champion who seemed to take pride in fighting the best-possible opponents at one time is cheating the fans and himself by taking part in questionable matchups.
Of course, Pacquiao secured his legacy a long time ago. He can afford to cash in on his remarkable earning power against less-than-compelling opponents and still cruise into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
And years from now we’ll probably remember his greatest successes rather than these marginal matchups late in his career.
Still, at this moment, the fact Pacquiao’s wonderful run of one thrilling fight after another has degenerated into one dud after another is profoundly disappointing.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Michael Koncz, Pacquiao’s advisor, has said openly more than once that the primary goal of Team Pacquiao at this time is to generate as much money as possible. Promoter Bob Arum said he’s in the entertainment business, meaning competitive matchups aren’t necessarily the ultimate goal.
And Pacquiao doesn’t seem to be willing to step in and say I want to fight a live body. He has said more than once, “I leave that up to my promoter. I’m just a fighter. My job is to train hard and fight.”
All that is understandable. That doesn’t mean we have to feel good about it, though.
The choice of Clottey as his opponent on March 13 of last year is the most-defendable of the four matchups in question but there was a compelling option.
Some background to consider: Pacquiao and Co. – as well as the rest of us — assumed all along that they would be fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. on that date. It was only when negotiations broke off that Top Rank needed an opponent.
The most-compelling option at the time might’ve been lightweight titleholder Edwin Valero at 140 pounds, the weight at which Pacquiao held THE RING title at the time. Valero’s stunning record – 27 fights, 27 knockouts – would’ve been a tremendous selling point and the action would’ve been riveting.
Alas, Arum wasn’t interested in that fight. Instead, the first name to pop up was limited junior middleweight Yuri Foreman, who was deemed by Pacquiao to be too big even though it would’ve been a mismatch. Clottey was ultimately selected because he was coming off a close split-decision loss to Miguel Cotto and had given Antonio Margarito a tough fight a few years earlier. In other words, he was a credible opponent in the welterweight division.
He wasn’t well known but that didn’t seem to matter much; Arum simply built the fight around his star and a remarkable venue, glittering Cowboys Stadium. And it wasn’t Pacquiao’s fault that Clottey provided only token resistance in what turned out to be a boring fight.
We wanted more thrills. And had we gotten them, had Clottey actually summoned the fortitude to fight Pacquiao rather than merely survive, the Ghanaian probably would’ve been knocked out and we’d remember the fight fondly. Instead, the most-interesting aspect of the matchup ended up being a football stadium. That’s not exactly what we had come to expect from a Pacquiao fight. It should’ve been Valero.
The Margarito matchup, on Nov. 13, was almost completely indefensible.
Team Pacquiao tried again to make a megafight with Mayweather only to see talks fall apart again. Arum had Margarito in the wings just in case, though, convinced he could sell the fight. And he was right.
The fight made sense from a business standpoint. First, Pacquiao would be trying to win a title in a record eighth different weight class, 154 pounds. Second, Margarito was deemed a challenge because of his size advantage if nothing else. And, third, Margarito had been banned from boxing after he was busted with loaded wraps before his fight with Mosley and was making a grand return.
That doesn’t mean the matchup wasn’t miserable, though. Freddie Roach said it well: “Antonio Margarito is a tough guy. And tough guys don’t beat fighters like Shane and Manny Pacquiao.” In other words, Margarito was hired to be a punching bag for Pacquiao, which turned out to be the case.
Arum didn’t care. Again, he knew the fight would sell. He wouldn’t have made it otherwise. He also believed fervently that Margarito was screwed by the California State Athletic Commission, which he believes prevented the fighter from making a living with insufficient evidence. The promoter had the chance to right a wrong by giving Margarito a lucrative fight against the biggest money maker in the sport. In the end, he rewarded Margarito with his biggest-ever payday for cheating (in the opinion of most).
A better option at that time? How about unbeaten Timothy Bradley? That would never have happened because Arum wouldn’t’ allow it, saying Bradley and other fighters at his stage of development didn’t have the requisite name recognition for a big promotion (as if Clottey did). He also said he didn’t want fighters outside his stable piggy-backing on his hard work and making huge paydays.
The result was a pathetically one-sided fight that should never have happened.
Arum himself disparaged this matchup, dismissing Mosley as a used up fighter after his draw against Sergio Mora, before he realized it could actually happen. Then, of course, Mosley became an ideal opponent.
Again, the fight is marketable. Mosley is a well-known commodity, a decent B-side to the biggest attraction in the sport. One could even argue that he has earned the payday ($6 million guaranteed) because of his body of work.
And Mosley is a much more defendable opponent that Margarito, which isn’t saying much. I could even argue that we shouldn’t read too much into Mosley’s loss to Mayweather and draw with Mora, fights against opponents reluctant to engage Mosley.
But there is a reason the MGM has made Mosley a 6½ underdog, which is the casino’s way of saying he has only a small chance of winning the fight. They know what they’re doing. Mosley is too old to compete with a monster like Pacquiao.
Arum mentioned Andre Berto as a possibility but then dismissed him for a familiar reason – lack of name recognition. Berto has since lost to Victor Ortiz but, at the time, he would’ve been a better opponent than Mosley because his then-perfect record and youth.
Marquez also would’ve been a better option on that and the previous dates but only at 140 or below. He and Pacquiao engaged in two close, controversial fights, a draw and a victory for Pacquiao. A third fight makes perfect sense at the right weight.
Instead, we’re stuck with this fight. Mosley might surprise us by putting up a good fight or score what would be a significant upset. More likely Pacquiao will dominate him over 12 rounds and win a one-sided decision, his third in a row.
And, finally, there is the possibility of Pacquiao fighting Marquez in November. Again, it’s a great idea … at 140 or below. The problem is that Roach has said Pacquiao will fight only at 147 pounds.
We’ve already seen what Marquez looks like in that division. Marquez, a natural 135 pounder at most, bulked up to 142 for his fight against Mayweather and was so slow that looked as if his feet were in quick sand. The result: A near-shutout loss.
The only way Marquez makes that a competitive fight is to come in at his natural weight and take his chances, which doesn’t seem likely. Fighters don’t use common sense.
The probable result? A fourth consecutive fight in which Pacquiao is matched against an unworthy opponent.
Alas, there is hope. Pacquiao probably will fight several more times before he retires. And Team Pacquiao could yet choose to face opponents who belong in the ring with him even if current evidence suggests they won’t.
Amir Khan? Awkward because Roach trains both fighters but fascinating. Bradley? Still works, particularly because he’s having trouble making a deal to fight Khan. Zab Judah? Works for me. And how about Ortiz if Arum can find a way to work with Golden Boy Promotions? The new welterweight titleholder made an enormous statement against Berto.
My fingers are crossed.