Saturday, November 28, 2009

Inside Boxing: Suddenly, it's 'Money' who needs the big fight

Floyd "Money" Mayweather really has no choice now.

Prior to the Miguel Cotto-Manny Pacquiao fight, there was considerable doubt a Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown would ever happen. The modest Pacman felt, and still feels, no urgency to fight Mayweather simply because being No. 1 is not important to him. That would have allowed Mayweather the luxury of continuing his claim to the mythical pound-for-pound title without risking a loss to Pacquiao.

After all, did not Mayweather convincingly beat Juan Manuel Marquez, who had fought two wars with Pacquiao that could have gone either way? Plus there was still some doubt that Pacquiao could get past Cotto, a very good fighter who had already beaten some very good welterweights, including Shane Mosley.

But in the wake of Pacquiao's total annihilation of Cotto, it is a whole new ballgame. Ask 100 fight fans today who is the best pound-for-pound fighter and you'll get at least 99 votes for the Pacman.

Pacquiao didn't just pass the Cotto test, he knocked it (and Cotto) out of the ballpark. It started out as a competitive fight, but that lasted less then four rounds. Just when it looked like Cotto was coming on in the fourth, he was knocked down a second time by Pacquiao. The impact of that knockdown (after Cotto had landed his best shots without so much as a blink from Pacquiao) was written all over Cotto's face as he staggered to his feet, dazed and confused. This wasn't supposed to happen.

It was a mismatch from there on. His will broken, his confidence shattered, Cotto valiantly fought on but took a brutal beating before referee Kenny Bayless mercifully stopped the slaughter in the 12th.

The debate now is not about who is the best fighter on the planet, it's about where the Pacquiao stands among the all-time greats. He is being mentioned in the same breath as names like Armstrong, Robinson, Ali, Leonard ... that's not to say he's as good as those ring legends, but he's in that group.

Pacquiao insists he doesn't want to be compared with the great fighters of the past.

"I'm just doing my job, to give a good fight," he said. "My goal is to give happiness to all those who watch me."

"I'll compare him to those guys," said his trainer, Freddie Roach. "He is as good as any of them. He's the greatest fighter of his generation, that's for sure."

HBO commentator Larry Merchant probably summed it up best: "We knew going into the (Cotto) fight that Pacquiao was a great fighter, but he has exceeded our expectations yet again."

Like most great fighters, Pacquiao brings a unique style to the ring. He doesn't have the silky smoothness of a Robinson or Ali, who seemed to glide about the ring, their feet barely touching the canvas.

Pacquiao doesn't glide. He is perpetual motion, bouncing on the balls of his feet to a rhythm only he hears. Look at his legs and they seem almost out of proportion with the rest of his body. They are sturdy and muscular, not the spindly legs of so many small fighters. The footwork is important because it enables him to punch with power from seemingly impossible angles.

"I didn't know where the punches were coming from," said Cotto.

The punches come in incredibly swift combinations before he bounces out again to gauge the damage. The attacks are relentless, but measured, calculated, precise. He landed 43 percent of his punches overall against Cotto and 49 percent of his power shots, an extraordinarily high percentage.

Before the Cotto fight, Mayweather could still have made unrealistic demands on a Pacquiao-Mayweather megafight. He could have bided his time, waited for Pacquiao to retire or get lazy. The fight would have been on his terms. But that's all changed now.

Pacquiao is king and he doesn't need to fight Mayweather to prove it ... Mayweather now needs Pacquiao. A victory over the little Filipino is the only way Mayweather can regain the No. 1 spot and secure his niche in history among the all-time greats. And that's more important to Mayweather than it is for Pacquiao.

And that's why there will be a Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown, probably in May or June, what could be the richest single event in the history of sports.

Truly a fight for the ages.

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