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January 12, 2010

March 13th, HBO and Floyd Mayweather

by Matt O'Brien

Following the collapse of negotiations between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did. Turns out the world’s two best fighters will square off against each other on the proposed fight date of March 13th after all – only they won’t be competing in the ring. Instead they will now host competing PPV events on the same night. The numbers for each event will undoubtedly suffer, meaning both boxers will lose out on vast sums of money as well as credibility. Worst still, after having one of the finest match-ups in a generation snatched from under their noses, the fans will now lose out further by being forced to choose between forking out a small fortune to witness both events, choosing one over the other, or boycotting the whole shambles and seeing neither in action. HBO also now has the unenviable task of choosing which show to host.

Whichever fight/fighter HBO chooses not to screen, they will inevitably alienate a huge number of fans loyal to the their chosen hero who would otherwise tune-in to the broadcast. Based on Bob Arum’s propensity to effectively tell HBO to go forth and multiply and go it alone with PPV shows in the past, and Golden Boy Promotions rather too-close-for-comfort relationship with the American TV giant in recent times, it seems likely that Mayweather will get the slot. Until his opponent is announced though, this is far from certain. The distinction between “fight/fighter” as far as HBO is concerned should here be an important one, and could potentially salvage something from this awful mess. From the ashes of despair may rise the Phoenix of opportunity.

Too often in the past HBO has been guilty of allowing  its top fighters carte blanche in selecting their opponents. Roy Jones is the classic example cited: for years it seemed he was able to earn millions on HBO dates fighting nobodies, the TV giant unwilling to flex its muscles and force Jones into the most compelling fights for fear of losing his signature on the next long-term contract. Floyd Mayweather has similarly been accused of ducking the most serious challenges out there, hand-picking opponents and minimizing any possibility of defeat. Some of that criticism is slightly exaggerated, much of it is well deserved. It is in this regard that HBO – and indeed Floyd Mayweather himself – might yet retrieve some credibility from this terrible mess.

Although personally I am of the opinion that Manny Pacquiao should shoulder the blame for the big-fight falling through, ultimately both fighters reputations will suffer. Just as Manny Pacquiao’s reputation will rightly suffer in many peoples eyes for refusing to submit to a random drugs test – regardless of whether or not his is in fact using them (I happen to believe he most definitely is not a cheater) – so too will Floyd Mayweather’s reputation suffer in many peoples eyes for being scared to face the toughest fighters out there – regardless of whether or not he actually is scared (I also happen to believe this is not the case). The difference though is that regardless of who he fights, the question mark over Pacquiao will remain until such a test is conducted, and has nothing to do with the quality of his opponent. Mayweather, however, has the opportunity to silence his critics somewhat in the choice of his next opponent. And therein lies the importance of HBO’s role: rather than lie back and wait to see the opponent Mayweather selects, they should demand nothing less than a compelling, competitive match-up, or else they will not screen the event.

Pacquiao, of course, already has a potentially exciting battle lined up with Ghanaian Joshua Clottey. It is certainly an interesting match-up. Clottey is largely an avoided fighter in the 147lbs class, clearly stamped with the “who needs him” label across his forehead: big, strong, awkward, skilled and with an iron-chin, without being overly popular or exciting, he is the epitome of a high-risk, low-reward opponent. He is though desperate for a victory in a significant match and a Top Rank fighter readily available to sign on the dotted line (with no possibility of him calling for additional drug-tests). The bout is likely to be action packed and the outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion. Pacquiao will deservedly begin as a strong favourite, but the bout retains a certain amount of intrigue because of the size differential and the amiable style-mesh.

Due to the disappointment of the Mayweather fight falling through, any opponent short of the ghost of Homicide Hank returning to face the Filipino was always going to leave somewhat of a sour taste in the mouth. Certainly no-one can ever accuse the Pacman of taking the easy road by taking on the teak-tough African though. All things considered, it is not a bad match-up at all.

The ball is now in Mayweather’s court – and to a certain extent, HBO’s.

The only way – the absolute only way for Mayweather to retain an ounce of his claim to be the world’s finest pugilist, is for him to tackle an opponent perceived to be even more dangerous than Clottey. By pressing Mayweather to do just that, HBO could  not only ensure they have the most compelling match-up on PPV that evening, they might also tackle some of the criticism aimed in their direction regarding the overall quality of their match-making.

Frankly the names bounded around the internet at present fall well short of achieving the above goals. A fight between Mayweather and Matthew Hatton would constitute nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy, and would be less competitive than shooting fish in a barrel. Paulie Malignaggi is a slick fighter and an honest pro, but he would still struggle to punch his way out of a wet paper bag. Nate Campbell has done little since defeating Juan Diaz at lightweight, and poses about as much risk to Floyd as a blind man with one arm.

Timothy Bradley and Kermit Cintron are steps in the right direction, although for differing reasons. Bradley being an undefeated, skilled and impressive young champion seemingly in the form of his life makes him deserving of  the opportunity, but his size and experience unfortunately count him out of the running. Cintron is slightly less skilled, but his size and punching power would at least give the contest that “what happens if he lands” factor, and provide an air of intrigue. If Mayweather is to really make a statement by tackling a more dangerous opponent than Clottey though, Cintron doesn’t really quite fit the bill either.

Shane Mosley would be the ideal replacement: experienced, a well-known PPV fighter, destined for the hall of fame and the linear welterweight champion to boot. Unfortunately he is already engaged on January 30th in a bout with Andre Berto, and so could not possibly face anyone on March 13th. That leaves one viable name that fits the bill: Paul Williams. Only by fighting such a dangerous proposition could Mayweather legitimately claim to be afraid of no-one, to be taking on the bigger challenge on March 13th, and to be partaking in the more intriguing match-up.

By providing the funds for such a compelling fight to take place, HBO can ensure they are screening an exceptionally good alternative to Pacquiao-Mayweather, and deflect any criticism regarding their commitment to the sport and to making the best quality fights out there.

Will the fight be made? It is highly unlikely. Williams is crying out for such a contest, and swears he only left the 147lbs class because no one there was willing to face him. Would Mayweather be prepared to take on such a high-risk opponent though? That will be the deciding factor. If Floyd Mayweather is serious about being remembered as one of the greatest fighters of all time, he will make the fight. If he wants to make the most money for the least risk, he will fight one of the aforementioned unsuitable names.

It is certainly a ginormous ask of Mayweather; though such are the demands of being a boxing legend. And, really, we are asking nothing more of him than he does not already claim himself – much like with Manny Pacquiao and the request to prove he is not using performance enhancing substances. Let’s hope Mayweather – and for that matter HBO – step up to the challenge. Boxing’s reputation as well as their own will suffer if they do not.

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