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Validation in Vegas

/ 12:20 AM April 16, 2015

Before the first punch is thrown, before Michael Buffer drawls his trademarked invitation for fans to get ready to rumble, the May 3 bout between Filipino ring icon Manny Pacquiao and undefeated American superstar Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been tagged with superlatives.

It’s the “Fight of the Century,” according to the hype. Others have been so bold as to call it the “Fight of the Millennium.”

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Well, why not? For five years, fans, pundits and journalists have clamored for this fight to happen, begging through every available media platform for the two pound-for-pound greats to decide once and for all who should rightfully sit on boxing’s mythical throne.

Now that it’s soon to happen, everyone is assuring everyone else that it would be the sport’s most important fight ever.

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And yet we have only one metric by which this fight can be judged: The fact that it is expected to gross close to $400 million will make it the richest fight ever, and it isn’t even close. There already is the guaranteed $200-million purse that the boxers will share on a 60-40, Mayweather-slanted split. And then there are the pay-per-view and ticket prices, already the most expensive that boxing has ever seen.

But history will remain the final judge on where this fight will stand in the annals of sports and fight culture. Comparisons to Hagler-Hearns and to Ali-Frazier have been whipped up by the publicists of the two camps—quite unfairly, if we may say so. After all, we can now look back at the two boxing classics with a discerning eye, and we can only view Pacquiao-Mayweather on the basis of what the two fighters have accomplished so far.

Pacquiao, the former street urchin who rose to boxing superstardom by blurring weight class lines on the way to an unprecedented eight division titles, is a ring dynamo, a bottomless well of energy whose blazing mix of speed and power is a sight to behold.

Mayweather, though accused of cherry-picking his way to greatness, is undeniably the most cunning craftsman of his generation. And no matter how critics look at it, 47-0 is no easy feat, not when you’re painting bull’s-eyes on your back with an air of arrogant flamboyance, practically egging on the world to try pin that one loss on you.

In itself, the road they took to get where they are now guarantees that this fight deserves a spot in the sport’s pantheon. What spot exactly, it is for them to show.

Pacquiao’s role in pushing this fight to legendary status is hardly in doubt. We know that the Pacman will stride into the ring with every intent of putting on a show for the fans. His camp has promised a blitz right from the opening bell.

With Mayweather, we can only guess. The American has been known to rely on ring smarts, defense and accurate but limited punching to build his perfect record. His fights have been criticized for being too calculated, too… boring. But with his legacy on the line, it would be too much to expect him to change his ways.

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And yet, we must ask him. The five-year striptease before this fight was finally signed deserves an explosive closure. The price people have to pay to watch this fight demands a fight for the ages. Mayweather can stick to his formula, but in a sport where style makes fights, he must come out with a willingness to put on a show for the fans.

It is not enough that these two warriors clamber into the ring. They must give the fans the show they deserve. Hagler-Hearns and Ali-Frazier are now classics, best remembered for the startling skill and bracing artistry that marked them. For Pacquiao-Mayweather to earn its place up there, it cannot rely on hype and labels. It must be a validation of the fighters’ worth.

History is mostly written through the eyes of its witnesses. And for Manny Pacquiao and, most especially, Floyd Mayweather Jr., there will be millions of witnesses to their tussle. There will be millions of witnesses deciding this fight’s place in sporting history. And many of these witnesses will have burned a hole in their pockets for their slice of the action.

It is up to the two fighters to make sure that when history comes around to judging their bout, they would be ranked up there among the legends.

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TAGS: Boxing, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Joe Frazier, Manny Pacquiao, Marvin Hagler, Muhammad Ali, Thomas Hearns
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