By Jason Keidel
A report just crawled across my flatscreen, with Bob Arum asserting that the dueling networks, HBO and Showtime, have basically agreed on broadcasting rights for a Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao bout in May. They still have, however, a couple issues to hammer out. Typically cryptic and torturous.
This isn’t cute, clever, or quaint.
We’ve heard about the endless series of summits between Mayweather and Pacquiao, personally and professionally, between publicists, lawyers, agents, and Yes-Men. And there’s a tabloid redundancy to it that is making Americans close to tuning out what should be the most lucrative fight in boxing history.
It seems every important suit in the fight game has thrown down on the five-year mating ritual that is supposed to end with Mayweather and Pacquiao dancing inside the squared circle. Yet it still hasn’t happened.
Despite the fact that they’re the same size, equal stars, and looking at an unprecedented pyramid of cash, it always ends with bruised egos instead of swollen faces, online barbs instead of four-punch combos.
And it seems every negotiation ends with some platitude about process and optimism. Then a day or two later some fabric of the happy tent gets blown over by the winds of greed.
We’re tired of hanging on every vowel on our television ticker. There’s a difference between teasing and tormenting us.
If this fight doesn’t happen this spring or summer, then don’t bother. Don’t come to us with your faux boxing bravado, your claims of dominance, or your desire to give the fans the fight they want. Since grade school we’ve been told talk is cheap. Except in boxing, where it’s incredibly expensive, and close to costing Mayweather and Pacquiao about $200 million in purses.
Both men have no one else to fight. Each man suffers from sagging pay-per-view numbers and a growing indifference over any fight between anyone except each other. And, as we’ve learned from sports in general and boxing in particular, anything can happen if you let a monolithic and meteoric fight like this fall through.
Boxing is a beautiful sport that has suffered from myriad maladies. Some of it is external, from the rise of MMA to team sports poaching the heavyweight division of its talent pool. But it also suffers from internal bleeding, hemorrhaging hubris and blindness. Someone, or everyone, involved is assuming that the world will just hang around until these two men fight.
But Americans won’t punch the PPV button to the tune of $90 – the estimated cost if they fight this year – for two icons in repose, which is exactly what they will be in a year or two.
I’ve drained every drop of symbolic ink on this. I’ve analyzed, dissected, and pleaded. I wrote an open letter to Mayweather, slapping his hind parts and stroking his epic ego. But at some point we’re the fools if we keep frothing over a fight that just may not happen.
Is it a classic children’s parable? Boy who cries wolf? Fool me once? Are we eager fans or obvious suckers?
From every angle, it seems Pacquiao has acquiesced to every Mayweather demand, from the date to drug testing to location to money. But it’s hard to thumb through Bob Arum’s bio and assume he’s not being a Boy Scout here. Mayweather is clearly holding this up, but considering the dubious characters who have dragged boxing through the gutter, from Frankie Carbo to Don King, there are no saints in the fight game.
Mayweather loves to muse in music industry terms. He refers to A and B Side fighters, with the implication that he’s always the A. If you’ll forgive the ’80s analogy, Mayweather may be Michael Jackson, but Pacquiao is Prince. The line between them is so thin, the Q Ratings so close, that it doesn’t really matter who gets the top spot on the glittering marquee. Just do it, make the money, and let us enjoy perhaps the final megafight we’ll ever see.
But no matter which artist you like, these two great fighters are about to go from breaking records to sounding like a broken record.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.