Mayweather/Marquez vs. Pacquiao/Cotto Could Be the Fight of 2009

Though it’s been an interesting year in boxing to this point, by far the most important fight of the year – Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton – was a mismatch, consequential only because of the stunning way in which Pacquiao won, a savage knockout that created a crossover buzz around the mighty Filipino and solidified his stature as an international superstar.

As far as the Fight of the Year in 2009 goes right now, my choice is the Juan Manuel Marquez/Juan Diaz lightweight title fight from back in February. That was a thrilling contest, no doubt, with the smaller Marquez dominated early before solving (and cutting) Diaz in the middle rounds and ultimately earning a hard-fought stoppage in the ninth.

Still, compared to the heroic FOY’s of recent vintage – the Israel Vazquez/Rafael Marquez fights, Pavlik/Taylor I, Corrales/Castillo I – Marquez/Diaz seems just a little thin in both content and narrative to be remembered as the definitive fight of 2009.

Of course, there are two gigantic fights looming on the fall schedule, each with narrative out the proverbial wazoo. The oddsmakers will tell you that neither of these bouts will prove FOY material once they hit the ring, and though I’m not entirely sold on that opinion, I at least can see where it’s coming from. In any case, recent news has me thinking that the real of fight of 2009 will not be any one bout taken on its own, but rather a bout that features bout-on-bout, the epic contest that is shaping up to be Mayweather/Marquez vs. Pacquiao/Cotto.

In a telephone press conference yesterday to announce the Mayweather/Marquez undercard (a pretty damn good undercard as well), the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, Richard Schaefer, fired the first official shot of this upcoming battle when he said that “This is certainly, without a doubt, going to be the biggest pay-per-view event of the year.” He was adamant that Mayweather/Marquez would outsell the Pacquiao/Cotto fight and even went so far as to suggest that it had the potential to outsell the 2007 De La Hoya/Mayweather fight, which right now, at 2.4 million PPV buys, is the most lucrative fight in the history of boxing.

Strong words, indeed. Across the internet yesterday, Schaefer’s comments were met with widespread derision by boxing fans along the lines of the old “dude, are you high?” variety. On the whole, the buzz generated among boxing heads by Pacquiao/Cotto, scheduled for November 14 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, has dwarfed that generated by Mayweather/Marquez, scheduled for September 19 in the same arena. Even though Floyd has been away from the ring for almost two years, most people feel like his fight with Marquez is a mismatch merely because of the size differential involved. The bout is being contested at a catch-weight of 144 pounds, and while Mayweather has fought comfortably as a welterweight (and once as a junior middleweight), Marquez has only fought above 130 pounds twice, and he looked small in his fight with Juan Diaz as a lightweight. Though no one in the boxing community disrespects Marquez’s renowned skills, the idea that he can jump two weight classes to beat a fighter as resourceful and disciplined as Mayweather seems like the longest of long shots. Throw in the fact that Marquez has never been a big box-office draw, and that both men are devoted counter-punchers, and you have the potential for not only a mismatch, but a tactical one that is less than exhilarating and that fails to capture the imagination of the public.

Compare that to Pacquiao/Cotto. Pacquiao is a heavy favorite in that fight, but not in nearly the same way that Mayweather is over Marquez, not among boxing pundits anyway. Despite his destruction of Oscar De La Hoya last December, many questions remain about Pacquiao’s ability to fight as a welterweight (or near-welterweight – he’ll face Cotto at a 145-pound limit), especially against a big welterweight like Cotto in the prime of his career and possessing proven speed and very heavy hands. Add to that drama the fact that Cotto is a much bigger star than Marquez, along with the furor that still surrounds Pacquiao following his destruction of Hatton, and you have a fight that on paper promises to be an infinitely bigger draw than Mayweather/Marquez.

For myself, however, I see at least the possibility for an upset in this contest. The question for me is not about the drawing power of Pacquiao/Cotto. That fight will do big numbers, without a doubt. For me the question is about Mayweather/Marquez, and its potential between now and fight night to make up the differential in anticipation that currently exists between the two events.

The main avenue for that will be a familiar one, I think: HBO’s 24/7 series. Mayweather/Marquez 24/7 premieres on August 29, and it may be the most important edition of the lot thus far, because to my mind it has the most riding on it in terms of how it can influence the relative success or failure of a fight. Mayweather has been the breakout star of the 24/7 franchise since it debuted in the spring of 2007, and one could argue that 24/7 made him the star he is today (and vice versa, actually). Floyd is unquestionably great television, as are his curmudgeonly and villainous father, Floyd Sr., and his uncle/trainer, Roger. These three have made for the most compelling 24/7 material by far, and to push the Mayweather/Marquez promotion out of the doldrums in which it currently dwells into the pay-per-view ether, they’re going to have to bring their A-games to this latest incarnation of the series.

Of course, they’ve already suffered a setback on that front – Roger’s recent, grisly run-in with the law. This incident, in which he was found by police choking a woman-boxer who he formerly had trained, is far too ugly to be cast in anything but the darkest light, and it makes Roger Mayweather, who once came off on 24-7 as lovable but dangerous, seem merely dangerous, hideously so, utterly criminal and otherwise unredeemed.

I sense, however, that both Floyd’s braintrust and HBO will be able to find a way to keep the Roger story from completely overshadowing the task at hand. And I see that potentially happening in one very definitive way. If Floyd really wants to take a sure path towards making this fight enormous, and if he wants to immediately supersede any other news that surrounds him or his camp or the fight as it is posited right now, he has it in his power to do so.

All he has to do, with his inimitable gusto, is insult the honor of Mexican boxers, Mexican people, and Mexico itself. Then, oh man … then all hell would break loose.

This to me is the x-factor in the Pacquiao/Cotto vs. Mayweather/Marquez war at the box office, the puncher’s chance, the one reason why, if you gave me the opportunity right now at even money, I still wouldn’t bet on Pac/Cotto doing better PPV numbers than Floyd/Marquez. No one in boxing today (and no one since Duran, I would argue) is so gifted and compelling a villain as Floyd Mayweather. I’ve written at length on this topic before. Floyd wears the black hat with effortless and contagious spirit, and he has built his current fame on the fact that people love to hate him, and watch his fights in droves in the hope of seeing him catch a beating, just as they did in the early 60’s with a Louisville loudmouth named Cassius Clay.

Highlighted by the fact that Mexico City, as the site of Marquez’s training camp, will play a starring role in this upcoming 24/7, if Floyd goes out of his way to insult Mexico and Mexicans on the show, it will do for the fight what Marquez himself probably can’t – bring the Mexican fight-fan masses into the pay-per-view equation in a big way. Marquez has never quite connected with the Mexican fight community in the way of his iconic peers, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. But if suddenly he were fighting for the honor of his country against a trash-talking dissmaster on the order of Floyd, well, Marquez would be transformed into a national icon in a heartbeat.

And even beyond the way it would mobilize the Mexican public, should Floyd choose to hate on Mexico in the lead-up to this fight, it would immediately cast the bout as a classic contest of good versus evil on the grandest scale. As for the effects of that on the American scene, I don’t know if you’ve taken a look at a Hollywood blockbuster lately, but cartoonish struggles between the forces of light and the forces of darkness tend to rake in beaucoup bucks at the box office these days. And the more cartoonish, the better. Americans like their good guys good, and their bad guys baaaaaaaaaaad, and our man Floyd can really deliver on that front. How much badder could he get than aiming some gutter-mouthed low-blows at a noble, hard-working, dignified Mexican like Marquez?

I admit that such a strategy would be a bold move for Mayweather, but on the other hand, what does he have to lose? Based on the PR work he’s done to this point in his career, he’s already going to be the bad guy in this fight, and if he wins it, he’s likely going to be the even badder guy in his next fight, which most would expect to be Manny Pacquiao (should he get past Cotto). Pac Man has the good guy market cornered at the moment and for the foreseeable future. At this point, let’s face it – a Pacquiao/Mayweather fight is pretty much Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader territory as far as the public consciousness goes.

That’s why I would not be at all surprised to see Floyd, who always has been bold as bold can be, say “damn the torpedoes” and go for the Mexican jugular in the upcoming 24/7 series, thereby transforming what so far has been a ho-hum promotion into a barnburner. In this emerging battle between Pacquiao/Cotto and Mayweather/Marquez, it would indeed be a very dirty tactic on Floyd’s end, and yet on the other hand, it may be his only shot at scoring a knockout in a fight where right now his opponent seems to hold all the advantages.

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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