Mayweather v Pacquiao five years on: Blockbuster fights we had to wait for

By Sports Desk May 02, 2020

When it comes to whetting the appetite for the big event through a combination of chicanery, politicking and delaying tactics, boxing is a sport in a league of its own.

But, while most leading promoters view their abilities to let an anticipated bout "marinate" as something akin to an art, frustration among fans generally sets in long before the fights they want to happen come to fruition.

Floyd Mayweather Jr's unanimous points win over Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas five years ago today is a case in point.

Talk of pound-for-pound king Mayweather taking on Pacquiao first emerged when the Filipino sensation jumped two weight classes to batter a shopworn Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008. The intervening period did Pacquiao and the sport itself few favours.

As the list below shows, it takes a special fight to handle the weight of such expectation.

JOE FRAZIER v MUHAMMAD ALI I (MARCH 8, 1971)

We can't really blame promoters for the wait for this one, as Ali endured an enforced three-and-a-half-year ring absence following a refusal to be drafted for the Vietnam War. In his absence, Frazier became a formidable heavyweight champion in his own right and, four years on from his previous title defence, Ali had the chance to regain his title at an expectant Madison Square Garden.

Was it worth the wait?

Absolutely. It takes a special fight to live up to and surpass the promotional banner of 'The Fight of the Century'. This was special. Ali's quicksilver skills were to the fore early on but Frazier was typically unrelenting and turned the tide on 'The Greatest'. A signature left hook shook Ali to his boots in round 11 and another put him on the seat of his shorts during a dramatic final round. Frazier won a unanimous points verdict and the most riveting rivalry in boxing history was on the road to the gripping and horrifying brutality of its final act in Manila.

MARVIN HAGLER v TOMMY HEARNS (APRIL 15, 1985)

Middleweight king Hagler was slated to face Hearns three years earlier before the latter suffered a hand injury. A delay became a cancellation, something that left simmering animosity within Hagler. That was stoked by a press tour of 21 cities to promote 'The War'. Enough was enough and, when the first bell sounded at Caesars Palace, the two men promptly set about trying to take each other's heads off.

Was it worth the wait?

Yes, yes and thrice yes. The eight minutes of unruly mayhem Hagler and Hearns shared together are frequently cited as the best fight of all time and serve as a barometer against which all other pretentions for boxing entertainment are measured. The first round remains scarcely believable as both men unloaded a torrent of heavy shots. Both were hurt, Hagler was cut badly but the exertions took more out of Hearns, who was unable to beat the count when 'Marvelous' deposited his exhausted frame on the canvas a minute into round three.

LENNOX LEWIS v MIKE TYSON (JUNE 8, 2002)

After sparring as teenagers, Lewis was unlikely to have anticipated both he and Tyson would be approaching 40 by the time they met in a professional ring. But the Briton's first reign as heavyweight champion coincided with Tyson's prison sentence for rape, while he won the title for a second time against an Evander Holyfield with infamously diminished ears following a rematch with 'Iron Mike'. Throw in both men being on either side of the HBO and Showtime pay-per-view divide, Lewis' shock loss to Hasim Rahman and Tyson biting his foe at the initial media event and it's a wonder their Memphis meeting ever came to pass.

Was it worth the wait?

Lewis will certainly think so because it left him emphatically as the last man standing from a great heavyweight era, with nothing left to prove. However, Tyson was a far cry from the 'Baddest Man on the Planet' by this stage and offered little after a moderately encouraging first round. There was even a sense of Lewis propping him up until the round-eight finale to prolong the punishment. In hindsight, Lewis scrambling through adversity against a prime Vitali Klitschko next time out stands as a better achievement, while Tyson was on his way to back-to-back losses against Danny Williams and Kevin McBride and a sorry career end.

BERNARD HOPKINS v ROY JONES JR (APRIL 3, 2010)

Waiting 17 years and the duration of a record-breaking run as middleweight champion for revenge would drive most men insane. Hopkins is not most men. During their initial fight in 1993, Jones befuddled him over 12 rounds. Both would go on to achieve greatness but stay away from one another's orbits for almost two decades.

Was it worth the wait?

Like Lewis, Hopkins took huge satisfaction from this redemptive triumph. But the wily veteran's age-defying exploits at the end of his career were often more enjoyable on paper than they were in the ring. A defensive master to frustrate the best, Hopkins in his 40s was never particularly easy on the eye. And, while the Philadelphia great extended his peak impressively, Jones' best days were far back in the rear-view mirror. Either side of this fractious, foul-stained encounter, he was knocked out by Danny Green and Denis Lebedev.

FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR v MANNY PACQUIAO (MAY 2, 2015)

As the sport's biggest draw, Mayweather was a master at making sure he fought the best on his terms at a time of his choosing. Did the Pacquiao who scythed through Ricky Hatton and beat up Miguel Cotto in 2009 represent too much of a risk? Nine fights and five years later, 'Pacman' was yet to record another stoppage and had been brutally knocked out by his nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez. The Money Team were ready to do business.

Was it worth the wait?

Mayweather was truly masterful here, perplexing Pacquiao and running out a clear winner. However, a brilliant performance does not necessarily make for a brilliant contest – a near constant during Mayweather's peerless late career. The prospect of Pacquiao throwing fewer punches than his rival would have been unfathomable five years earlier, when this contest would have been far more competitive and rewarding.

GENNADIY GOLOVKIN v SAUL 'CANELO' ALVAREZ I (SEPTEMBER 16, 2017)

Mayweather's astute timing of when to box an opponent was also evident when he schooled a greenhorn Alvarez in 2013. The Mexican pretender to his pound-for-pound crown was paying attention. Middleweight title wins against Cotto and Amir Khan came at catchweights below the 160lb limit before he stepped down a division to dethrone Liam Smith as opposed to facing Golovkin, who was busy standing a succession of full-fledged middleweights on their heads. After an all-Mexican grudge match against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, the time was right.

Was it worth the wait?

Yes - a big drama show! Canelo and GGG served up 12 rounds of high-skilled, pulsating action and soaked up one another's best shots – a particular novelty for any Golovkin opponent. Few doubted the Kazakh superstar had done enough to take the verdict on the cards but a split decision draw meant they were obliged to reconvene in Las Vegas a year later. That time another disputed decision in an even better fight went Alvarez's way and a third encounter is in the works.

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    5 - Bryant won the NBA championship five times with the Lakers, in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.

    2 - He was twice named MVP in the NBA Finals, in 2009 and 2010.

    18 - Bryant was a fixture in the NBA All-Star team, named to that side in 1998 and then each year from 2000 to 2016, the year that he retired. Those 18 appearances put him second on the all-time list, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing in 19 of the games.

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    9 - He was named nine times to the NBA All-Defense first team, matching the all-time high. Kevin Garnett, Michael Jordan and Gary Payton achieved the same total.

    17 - Bryant was an NBA player of the month 17 times, and 32 times the player of the week.

    2 - Bryant's success was not limited to NBA action either. He won Olympic gold medals with the United States in 2008 and 2012.

    1 - He won an Oscar too, after his playing career ended, landing the Best Animated Short Film prize at the 2018 Academy Awards for Dear Basketball.

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