A Substitute for War

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Mayweather the Coward

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Floyd Mayweather, Jr in a WWE ring. Bradley Ce...

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I’ve got a ton of respect for the kind of rapid strategy you see in boxing that you rarely see elsewhere – but with the move of the sport to pay-per-view, and the utterly inane inability of the sport to actually book good fights, boxing has fallen off my radar.  With that said, when thinking about the biggest narrative shifts in sports for 2010, there was no question that I’d either have Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr. on here.

Mayweather is the one who brought this to a head, so I’ll go with him.

For those unaware of the circumstances here, Pacquiao and Mayweather are considered the two best pound-for-pound boxers in the world, and the boxing world is dying to see them go head to head.  Things were going according to plan until Mayweather added new steroid testing requirements in at the last minute of negotiations.  Pacquiao refused, and the negotiations broke down.    Later Mayweather made news for a racial slur filled rant against Pacquiao.  Both fighters fought another match against lesser opponents, and then word came out that Pacquiao had agreed to Mayweather’s previous ultimatum…only to have Mayweather not respond.  Pacquiao went on to beat another opponents, Mayweather proceeded to get in trouble with the law and raise questions as to whether he’ll be even available to fight outside of prison any time soon.

So, obviously, Mayweather has done a number on his reputation.  If you knew nothing about him before, you now know that he’s a fool.  A variety of characteristically can reasonably be attached to him, but the one that cuts deepest is “coward”.

We’ve got the fight of the decade on our hands here, and it’s not happening because Mayweather doesn’t seem to want to fight Pacquiao.  Among the rational reasons given for this is that unlike Pacquiao, Mayweather  actually has an undefeated professional record and is thus afraid to risk that record against such a tough opponent.  It’s been speculated that Mayweather thinks that because of his record and the abilities he’s already shown, he has a case for being considered the greatest boxer of all time.    Unfortunately for Mayweather though, as long as the “coward” narrative sticks, he’ll go down with less regard than if he had simply gone and lost to Pacquiao, because people will treat this like a loss, and then knock him further for his lack of courage in a sport where courage is paramount.  For his reputation’s sake, Mayweather had better fight this fight.

Meanwhile in Pacquiao’s corner, he’s become the white knight.

1) Mayweather’s demands for unusual steroid testing hinted at something that had been previously whispered:  That Pacquiao’s unprecedented ability to keep moving up weight classes was due to steroids.  However, because of that allegation’s association with Mayweather’s cowardice (along with Pacquiao’s eventual agreement to the demands), mentioning of steroids has for the moment become synonymous with sour grapes on the part of those who doubt Pacquiao.

2) Mayweather’s general bad behavior stands in stark contrast to Pacquiao’s reputation as a champion of the people.   For god’s sake the man came from nothing and now in addition to being considered one of the greatest athletes in history is a congressman in the Philippines.  The idea of Mayweather being elected to anything because of his ability to think about concepts outside of the ring is utterly comical.

3) While Mayweather’s cowardice acts as effectively a loss and then some, it also grants Pacquiao the benefits in the opposite direction.  If both boxers were to retire right now, it is Pacquiao who goes down not only as the star of his generation, but as a force so strong that the next best boxer was afraid of him.

All of this leads an incredible opportunity for Pacquiao.  If in 2011 (or soon after) Pacquiao and Mayweather do fight (assuming neither has a bad fight in the meantime), and Pacquiao emerges in impressive fashion, the sky is the limit for his legacy.  He’ll be a virtual lock to be the first boxer name Sportsman of the Year in three decades, and he’ll do it while also being the first Asian Sportsman of the Year.

Whenever there are comparisons made between athletes of different sports as to who was “greater”, much gets factored in beyond what the athlete simply did during sporting events.  Roger Federer has a great case for being considered “greater” at his sport than Tiger Woods is in his respective sport, but for a variety of reasons, it’s very unlikely that Federer will go down as someone on the shortlist when they talk about the Athlete of the 21st century 90 years from now when we’re all dead.  Because of what Mayweather started in 2010, Manny Pacquiao may very well reach that pantheon.

Written by Matt Johnson

December 31, 2010 at 4:55 pm

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