July 26, 2010

Another event, another catch ... weight, that is.

Nothing but disappointment and grumbling has been expressed in the wake of yet another failed attempt to match Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Manny Pacquiao, universally regarded as the two best fighters in the world today.

In a perfect world, a worthy alternative would be offered with at least the promise of something greater waiting in the wings. Instead, we get whatever promoters and networks elect to feed us.

Rather than a matchup to determine who's the best active fighter (and welterweight) in the world, we get a repeat of what we were already asked to pay for last year: Team Pacquiao inventing another weight class for the sake of chasing history.

From the moment promoter Bob Arum revealed in his after-hours conference call more than a week ago that the options for Pacquiao's next opponent were limited to two of his own fighters, it was clear that the final choice would come down to the one more willing to bend over and take it however the Vegas-based promotional company wanted to give it to them.

Arum stated on the call that he was confident that a deal could be reached within 10 days, though also claiming that negotiations had never yet begun with either Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito -- the two finalists in this year's Pacquiao opposition sweepstakes.

The comment was peculiar considering that Pacquiao -- for all of his charm, humility and in-ring greatness -- has proven in recent years to be a bear to deal with at the negotiating table. Deals to face Cotto, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya all dragged on until the last possible minute, with all three fights in limbo at one point or another before being finalized.

At the heart of most negotiating complications is money, but the deal struck with Cotto went well beyond that. The sales pitch for their November 2009 showdown was Pacquiao pursuing a title in a record seventh weight class, just months after having become the only fighter in boxing history to capture lineal world championships in four separate divisions.

The biggest hang-up most had with the manner in which he was gunning for Cotto's title was his unwillingness to honor the actual welterweight limit. Cotto held his ground for as long as he could, demanding that the fight either takes place at 147 pounds for his title -- or at Pacquiao's suggested catchweight of 145 but without the alphabet hardware at stake.

With nobody looking out for his best interests -- Arum promotes both sides but was never going to tell Pacquiao to back down -- Cotto eventually gave in, agreeing to the catchweight and accepting the payday that came with title fight.

We are now at the same exact point, only the circumstances are far more suspect.

Without a deal in place, Arum has already claimed on the record that Margarito -- who has now emerged as the frontrunner to face Pacquiao on Nov. 13 -- is willing to concede to Team Pacquiao's demand for a catchweight of 150 pounds. That's a full four pounds beneath the junior welterweight limit.

If it were for any given fight, it wouldn't be much of an issue -- the weight or the fight itself. More than a few fans and media members have voiced their displeasure over Margarito being rewarded with a big payday while still being without a license to box in the United States. Those same outspoken critics have called for his banishment after being caught with loaded hand wraps prior to the eventual beatdown he would catch from Shane Mosley in their January 2009 fight. More so than the act itself, what doesn't sit right with most is Mararito's tendency to stop just short of accepting full responsibility for what took place that night whenever pressed.

But all of that stuff merely casts Margarito as the villain when the deal to face Pacquiao in November is finalized.

A villain is precisely what has been missing from Pacquiao's last several promotions. That's all the more reason why a showdown with Mayweather -- who has perfected the role of Public Enemy No. 1 for any given event in recent years -- would've resulted in the most lucrative prizefight ever.

You can argue that De La Hoya wore the black hat when he faced Pacquiao in December 2008, simply from the perspective of his having spent the past 11 years at 147 or higher while calling out a fighter who at the time had never fought heavier than 135. It was the first time in years that Pacquiao entered the fight as a considerable underdog, making it that much easier to root for him and only adding to the promotion.

Since then, the choice of opponents have hardly been the type of cats that you love to hate -- Ricky Hatton, of whom there's only one; Cotto, whom most either love or are simply indifferent two; and Joshua Clottey, who -- even if you dislike him -- never carried with the fans that level of interest to significantly add to any promotion.

From that perspective alone, Margarito serves a purpose -- one more reason to root for Pacquiao, one more reason to hate Margarito, one more reason to buy the pay-per-view event.

That was never going to happen with a Cotto rematch; if anything, it would detract from Pacquiao's popularity. Arum's sales pitch that Cotto brings enough to the table to make a second fight enticing never went very far; the lopsided beating is still far too fresh in everyone's memory -- as is the lousy undercard that preceded the main event.

Even worse, any record books that would recognize Pacquiao as an eight-division world champion -- had he won -- would've shown two wins over Cotto at two separate weight classes, neither of which would've come at the true divisional limit.

Sadly, part of that statement will still read true after Nov. 13, should he get by Margarito.

At stake for this event will be a belt that was vacated by Sergio Martinez -- to be contended by two fighters who between them account for zero notable wins at the 154-pound limit.

Margarito's most recent fight came at the junior middleweight limit, taking a 10-round decision over fringe contender Roberto Garcia. Prior to that fight, it was six years since he fought at the weight -- dropping a decision to Daniel Santos in their September 2004 rematch -- and even longer since he won a fight above welterweight.

In other words, nothing to earn the right to challenge for a title of any kind.

While Pacquiao arguably earns the right to fight for the belt of his choosing on social status alone, it's been more than two years since he's fought for any title sanctioned by the alphabet group who will recognize the winner of this fight as their junior middleweight champion. That fight for Pacquiao came three weight classes south, against David Diaz for a lightweight belt.

Pacquiao won that fight with ease, but never defended the belt or even returned to 135. That win came on the heels of his rematch win over Juan Manuel Marquez for the lineal junior lightweight championship, only to bolt from that division immediately after the fight.

His two-round blowout over Hatton for the lineal junior welterweight crown remains his only fight to date at the 140-pound weight limit. Several publications (including BoxingScene.com) continue to recognize him as the champion, even though he hasn't fought at the weight in more than a year, nor is it likely that he ever drops back down below the welterweight division.

In fact, for all of his belt-collecting in recent years, his 12-round whitewash over Clottey earlier this year marked the first successful title defense at any weight since he campaigned as the world featherweight champion more than six years ago.

Now, one fight into his welterweight reign, he eyes a belt in yet another division.

He doesn't want to pursue it the old-fashioned way -- by earning it -- or even by pursuing one of its many other beltholders, but instead by cherry-picking his way towards a vacant title ... in a fight where the participants could potentially weigh no heavier than four pounds below the actual divisional limit.

The demands for last year's Cotto fight -- while not universally embraced -- were at least somewhat forgiven, considering the fact that Pacquiao was at least facing a recognized beltholder.

But there are only so many times that a fighter and his team can keep dipping into the same well and expect his paying audience to come along for the ride.

Pacquiao's history-making run in recent years has proven that he's capable of sustaining his greatness even as he adds pounds to his frame and challenges himself in the ring against top-notch fighters.

But in the wake of failing to make a fight happen with Mayweather, and considering that there are plenty of other fighters in and around the welterweight division against whom the fans would much rather see him, the time has come for Manny Pacquiao and his handlers to stop cheating history.

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