Mayweather needs to fight -- and beat -- Pacquiao to define legacy
Floyd Mayweather will fight rising star Victor Ortiz on Sept. 17 in Las Vegas
Eventually, though, Mayweather needs to step up and fight Manny Pacquiao
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NEW YORK -- The Paper Champion made his way toward the stage, arms raised, a toothy smile creasing his face. These are the moments Floyd Mayweather lives for and craves, those meticulously planned, carefully choreographed entrances where all eyes lock on him. They feed his ego and reassure the most insecure star in sports that, indeed, he is still No. 1.
Here was Mayweather, back in the spotlight, back in front of hundreds of adoring fans who had poured into Hudson Theatre in Times Square on Tuesday -- the first stop on a glitzy press tour to promote his Sept. 17 fight against Victor Ortiz in Las Vegas -- basking in the moment. He waved to the crowd, glad-handed the media and listened as television, hotel and boxing executives fawned over his skills and thanked him profusely for gracing the world with his return.
They have to, of course. A Mayweather fight means a sold-out hotel for the MGM Grand corporation and a lucrative pay-per-view and a highly-rated 24/7 series for HBO. They have to extol his virtues. They have to smile and nod when Mayweather says he "absolutely" wants a fight with Manny Pacquiao even though, privately, most know he will continue to do everything he can to avoid it.
That's what it all circles back to, isn't it? There's nothing wrong with fighting the 24-year-old Ortiz, a ferocious-punching titleholder who is a rising star. There is a reasonable amount of danger for the 34-year-old in an Ortiz fight because, historically, Mayweather has had trouble with southpaws and even more trouble with fighters who back him up with consistent pressure. But it's not the one fight, the only fight, anyone around boxing really wants to see.
Mayweather says he doesn't need Pacquiao, and too many people are starting to believe him. He says his victories against Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Shane Mosley are enough to elevate him to the level of greatest of all time, while his status as a pay-per-view giant -- 6.9 million buys and counting -- makes him a bona fide star.
The truth: Without Pacquiao, Mayweather is incomplete, a paper champion with a résumé at which Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran would sniff. He is the LeBron James of boxing, an extraordinarily talented phenom who has never lived up to his potential. Whereas LeBron has shrank in big moments, Mayweather simply avoids them. He has had too many chances to fight Pacquiao, far too many to dismiss as bad timing or bad luck. Last summer he dispatched adviser Al Haymon to hammer out a complicated deal with Top Rank's Bob Arum and HBO's Ross Greenburg. When Haymon came back, Mayweather simply told him he wasn't interested anymore. Another adviser, Leonard Ellerbe, bizarrely denied that negotiations had ever happened.
Mayweather is enabled, too, by a boxing press corps that, predominantly, refuses to challenge him. During a 35-minute meeting with reporters, he was lobbed softball after softball, "questions" like why he doesn't get enough credit for elevating the sport or why his past opponents are criticized while Pacquiao's conquests -- several of which appear on Mayweather's list -- are praised. So comfortable is Mayweather in dictating to the boxing media that, while addressing a question about the most recent assault allegations against him, he had the audacity to tell the gaggle that he would "appreciate it if they write the story like I give it to them."
This is the bubble in which he lives, where his boorish behavior is ignored and grossly inaccurate statements are met with nods and "You're right, champ" affirmations. An example: While discussing performance-enhancing drugs in sports, Mayweather wondered why the public has been so quick to jump on Barry Bonds while "some guy from another country" (Pacquiao) can go from "106 pounds to 150-something." Never mind that it wasn't until the BALCO link to Bonds was established and his grand jury testimony was leaked that the embattled slugger came under a microscope. To date there has been no direct link between Pacquiao and steroids and, thus, no reason to lump him into Bonds' category. And never mind that in 1993 Mayweather was a 16-year-old, 106-pound amateur while in '95 Pacquiao, at the same age, was fighting professionally at the same weight.
These are insignificant details to Mayweather, whose opinions have been hardened by the legion of friends and advisers telling him that he is right. His assault on Pacquiao's character is pathetic, from the suggestions of steroid use to the racist, homophobic rant on Ustream last year that has since gone viral. He insists he will never fight Pacquiao without blood testing, but Arum and Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, have claimed that they have agreed to every one of Mayweather's demands.
This fight with Ortiz will be entertaining. It will sell out the arena and probably pocket close to 1.5 million PPV buys. But it will do nothing to enhance Mayweather's credentials, nothing to alter the opinions of anyone who matters. Until he faces -- and defeats -- Pacquiao, he will be a Hall of Fame fighter with a third-ballot résumé, a Paper Champion with great skills but without a truly defining win.