Far removed from its various heydays of Ali, Tyson and Arturo Gatti, boxing has become a niche sport, except on nights when Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather are fighting. Pacquaio and Mayweather’s fights are boxing’s mini-Super Bowls, where people who ordinarily couldn’t give less of a damn about the sport come out of the woodwork, buy pay-per-view packages, hit up Buffalo Wild Wings, and later bitch that the fight was a rip-off. As celebrities go, Pacquiao fights get luminaries like Paris Hilton and Jay-Z to buy ringside seats, and Mayweather’s bouts bring in even higher Q-ratings. Ordinary matches bring in RA the Rugged Man, Vinnie Paz, and Big Pussy from The Sopranos.
For the past three years, a whole lot of non-boxing fans have become obsessed with the idea of witnessing the only two boxers they know—or have heard of—face off. Sure enough, their yin and yang seem made for each other. Pacquiao is the cuddly Madison Avenue darling, who fights with a manic and entertaining style, croons with Will Ferrell on Kimmel, graces the cover of Time and is even a congressman in the Philippines. Mayweather, meanwhile, is the supremely talented asshole who rides Segways in his mansion with 50 Cent, has done time on domestic violence charges. He’s thrown racial epithets and steroid accusations at Pacquiao, and has never lost a fight thanks to his technique of very rarely getting punched.
But the negotiations for what would be one of the most anticipated fights—surely the most lucrative—of all time never get very far, and are generally derailed by both camps’ inability to agree on how giant a pile of money each would get. There’s been talk that Pacquiao-Mayweather is possible for November, but similar reports have been circulating for three years, and it’s increasingly likely the two will never fight at all. Both have fights scheduled in the spring and if either loses—unlikely, but a possibility for Pacquiao against this guy in the green shorts —the air goes out of the balloon. It doesn’t help that each fighter’s career is on the wane; Mayweather, 35 at the end of the month, is no spring chicken, and Pacquiao is looking to run for governor of his district in 2013.
A Pac-Mayweather fight that never happens would be the ultimate gristle for boxing’s detractors—including idiots like this guy—who gleefully declare it a dead sport, while passive-aggressively pining for one solitary fight. If the fight does take place, it would be met with outsized expectations, especially with the likelihood that Mayweather would mundanely box rings around a slightly past-his-prime, less refined Pacquiao. It’s like Detox or Chinese Democracy—it might never happen, and if it does it might not be that good.
Perhaps it’s better for boxing fans if it’s the former. The way it’s currently constituted, boxing itself—so rife with absurdity and impropriety that a boxer was once moved up in the rankings despite the fact that he was dead—seems better suited for the underground than the mainstream.
Boxing promoters all loathe each other, which makes it painstakingly difficult for any of them to negotiate matchups people actually want to see. The commissions who govern the sport are laughably corrupt, lording over title belts like mob bosses, and ranking fighters either vindictively or cluelessly (see the dead guy above). Judges’ scorecards are often arbitrary at best, and good luck winning a decision against a fighter in his hometown. Boxing talks about eliminating steroids, but might be going in the wrong direction: Victor Conte, a former funk bassist who did time for distributing steroids to baseball players and track athletes, now works with several fighters.
But those who sift through the nonsense are rewarded with hands-down the most exciting sport to watch live. Many of these fights happen in wonderfully cozy and grimy arenas, and fandom fosters a unique camaraderie with others who have put up with it at its worst to witness the rare moments when it’s at its best. It’d be worth it, of course, to see Pacquiao and Mayweather fight—a bad fight with good fighters is still worth watching, and it's not guaranteed it’ll be bad. But the sanctimony from folks late to the party has been insufferable when either fights; one shudders to think how deafening the echo chamber would be if they met.