January 07, 2010

Manny Pacquiao's camp says the prospective March 13 megafight with Floyd Mayweather is no longer happening. SI.com's boxing experts weigh in.

1. Is the fight really off?

CHRIS MANNIX: It's finished. Kaput. What was once thought to be posturing between two egomaniacs, a backhanded way of promoting what could have been the most lucrative fight in boxing history, is now dead in the water. It's amazing to me that in a fight that could have generated so much money and could have been the defining moment in both fighters' careers has been scuttled over a drug test. But it most assuredly has and both fighters are moving on.

RICH O'BRIEN: What a brutal one-two for fight fans: Word that Pacquiao-Mayweather is off comes just after the crushing news that the Evander Holyfield-Francois Botha fight in Uganda is being postponed (possibly due to a disagreement over Metamucil-testing procedures). How much can the sport take? Seriously, I guess I believe that Pacquiao-Mayweather is really off, as incredible as that seems. There's still a chance for an eleventh- (thirteenth-?) hour settlement -- but it would have to be in the next day or two at the most, and it doesn't appear likely.

It's always tempting in boxing to look for the angle, to assume that this is all just part of the plan. But it really does feel as if this debacle is something that got out of control -- to the dismay of most of the parties involved. The fight's too big not to happen eventually, however. The question is how much risk and how much damage is going to result from pushing it back to later this year.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Call it baby-faced optimism, but I expect Pacquiao and Mayweather to fight before the end of 2010. Expect both to stay frosty with spring victories against handpicked opponents and reopen negotiations afterward for November or December. Money talks. I simply can't fathom any prizefighter leaving a purse in the neighborhood of $40 million on the table.

2. Who's to blame for the collapse of the negotiations for the March date?

MANNIX: There is more than enough blame to go around, so I'll spread it. I blame Mayweather for taking a sudden interest in whether or not Pacquiao was using performace-enhancing drugs. Pretty Boy Floyd has ducked so many elite fighters in his career, he could teach a class on it. I blame Pacquiao for refusing to comply, a refusal that has irrevocably sullied his reputation and places him prominently on the list of potential PED users. I blame Golden Boy Promotions for the hypocrisy they have shown through all this, as they are quick to ask for drug tests for Pacquiao but wouldn't let Shane Mosley -- an admitted steroid user -- anywhere near a needle in 2008. I blame Bob Arum for inanely suggesting that urine and blood tests yield the same results and that a 30-day blood test would show the same things as a three-day test. I don't know what doctors Bob is talking to but I want to, just to know who I should avoid.

O'BRIEN: Blame? All fingers point to the Mayweather camp. Floyd Sr. made the initial accusations that Pacquiao was using performance-enhancing drugs, and then Floyd Jr. took up the cry. Golden Boy's backing them up at first seemed like part of the negotiating strategy, but it evidently went too far.

Meanwhile, Pacquiao (who, for what it's worth, remember, has never failed a drug test) agreed to testing procedures that exceeded the standards set by the Nevada athletic commission. It's hard to know what more he should be expected to do. Athletes in other sports don't have to submit to extra tests just because they're accused by an opponent.

In fact, not to be too flip about it, but say -- just hypothetically -- that Manny's career-long weight gains were the result of PEDs. You'd think Mayweather would be grateful for any substance that could turn a one-time 106-pounder into a viable welterweight opponent in a bout that could bring Floyd $40 million. But, right now, it's hard not to agree with promoter Arum's assessment of Mayweather as a guy who never really wanted this fight.

GRAHAM: Steroids are a sensitive issue in sports today, a climate Team Mayweather tried to exploit throughout the standoff. Floyd's gambit was simple: Stake the moral high ground by demanding Pacquiao submit to random blood testing all the way until the fight -- and let the public read any reluctance as suggestion admission of guilt. What does Pacquiao have to hide? To a degree, it's worked.

Personally, I wish Pacquiao called Mayweather's bluff and accepted those unprecedented terms. But I understand why he didn't. He's never failed a drug test, so why should he shoulder the burden of proof? Instead, Pacquiao's camp offered a number of reasonable alternatives, including a series of scheduled blood tests during the kickoff press conference, one month before the fight and shortly after the final bell. They even dialed up a retired federal judge to mediate between the parties in a last-ditch salvage effort.

Arum says Floyd never wanted the fight. I don't know. I think Mayweather's reputation as a ducker who avoids the toughest fights is a tad overblown. But it's out there and there's evidence to support it. And in the other corner you've got Pacquiao, who's built a legacy on taking the most difficult opponents available in any division within driving distance. Fair or otherwise, Mayweather risks a permanent stain of his legacy if the Pacquiao fight never happens.

3. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum says Pacquiao will fight in March against Yuri Foreman, an alphabet champion at 154 pounds. Mayweather's next opponent is expected to be Paulie Malignaggi. What do you make of these fights?

MANNIX: Bob might want Pacquiao to fight Yuri Foreman -- it's another big payday for a fighter in his stable -- but I have my doubts that fight will happen. Foreman is a big 154-pounder and as effective as Pacquiao has been moving up in weight, I've heard rumblings that he is adamant at stopping at 147. A palatable scenario could be a third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, but with Marquez you run into the same problem: Golden Boy, who you would think would demand the same blood tests from Pacquiao for that fight. Right now I think Pacquiao's future is very uncertain.

As for Mayweather, if he is intending to bore us all to death he should definitely fight Malignaggi, a skilled boxer with zero power and the killer instinct of a bunny. If Mayweather takes that fight, which seems to be the way he is leaning, he better be prepared to see his pay-per-view numbers plummet as an unforgiving public refuses to stomach another meaningless exhibition by the so called "best fighter in the world."

O'BRIEN: Sit back and wait for the analogies to come rolling in: We were promised steak, now they're serving us tofurkey; we were standing in line to see the Mona Lisa, now we're looking at a couple of LeRoy Neiman reproductions; we ordered a Ferrari, they delivered a pair of Kias. Pacquiao against the well-schooled but utterly unthreatening Foreman is a profound waste of time; every minute of every round will simply remind us of what we're missing. As for Mayweather-Malignaggi, it promises to be a kind of anti-superfight: a showdown between two masters of slippery evasiveness and pointless showboating. There may not be a punch landed in the entire 12 rounds. In fact, they could set up side-by-side rings, put Floyd in one and Paulie, in the other and judge each round like a dance-off. The really obnoxious prospect, though, is that Malignaggi is such a feather-fisted opponent that this is the fight Mayweather decides to be brave and go on the offensive and comes away crowing over a "legacy-defining" knockout.

All in all, it's hard to imagine these two bouts doing anything but hacking off fight fans and making them actually less interested in an eventual Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown.

GRAHAM: Insert your own punch line for Mayweather-Malignaggi, but Pacquiao-Foreman is vaguely attractive. There's the obvious history plotline, with Pac-Man gunning for a title in an unprecedented eighth different weight class. But Foreman could be trouble for Pacquiao. He's a legitimate junior middleweight with a four-inch height advantage. Even some of boxing's greatest upwardly mobile champions hit a ceiling at some point: Henry Armstrong vs. Ceferio Garcia, Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Joey Maxim, Alexis Arguello vs. Aaron Pryor. Let's just hope the predictably tepid pay-per-view numbers for both fights underscore the necessity of Pacquiao-Mayweather sometime in 2010.

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