Rick Sarro Thursday, May 14, 2015 0

My interest in boxing runs deep.

I remember my late grandfather from Italy, who immigrated to the United States and lived in New York and Chicago, telling me tales of the great heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano. He was idolized by Italian-Americans, and Marciano’s legend grew as the stories were passed down through the generations.

Before the days of pay per view, primetime television boxing was relegated to radio for live coverage. There I was, huddled in my darkened bedroom in 1971, listening to an AM radio broadcast of the first of the three legendary Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier wars.

The mental images of that fight still linger today. Years later, I was able to see the fight film that finally brought that iconic bout to life in color. It was as big and glorious an event as it was made out to be. Most of the mega-fights of that generation lived up to the hype and billing.

Forty-four years later, I expect … no, I know the long-awaited Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao championship fight will also rise to the global expectations.

This bout between 150-pound welterweights will go down as one of the biggest fights in boxing history. Former heavyweight champ George Foreman put this bout alongside the rematch between Max Schmelling and Joe Louis and that 1971 Ali versus Frazier fight as the three most historical bouts in the sport’s storied history.

It’s hard for me to argue with Foreman, but I would add Marvin Hagler versus Sugar Ray Leonard to that group of history-making fights.

The sheer number of years it took to finally put these two great champions in the ring adds to the historical perspective and global appeal. It goes without saying that Mayweather and Pacquiao have been the world’s two dominant fighters over the past 10 years, and their respective ring brilliance has meant this was and is the only show the entire world wanted to see.

In this day and age, money must be factored into any discussion of what fights can be considered the greatest of all time. Mayweather versus Pacquiao will shatter boxing’s all time pay per view record and total revenue set back in 2007 when Mayweather versus Oscar De La Hoya had 2.7 million households (including yours truly) buy the PPV package and made north of $120 million.

I wouldn’t be shocked if Mayweather tops his previous record with 3 million in PPV buys and $200 million in revenues.

The world will truly be watching when these two mini-titans finally do battle at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The world has been waiting for more than five years to see what could be a Super Bowl and World Cup championship all in one night, in one ring.

The long saga, drama and controversial history between these two men just adds to what has been a frustrating story filled with lies, egos, power brokers, millions of dollars, accusations of performance-enhancing drug use, lawsuits and drug testing demands.

At the heart of it all were two history-making boxers, who had to know that one day they would eventually fight. Their legacies wouldn’t be complete if they didn’t.

It all started in December, 2009, with a reported eight-page simple contract for a fight in 2010. Pacquiao’s camp reportedly put the contract on the table, but Mayweather’s team denied a pact was ever presented.

This went on for some time, with both sides talking about deals and fight contracts that never seemed to materialize.

Then came Mayweather’s accusations that Pacquiao was using PEDs, and before any fight could possibly happen, Pacquiao would have to undergo Olympica-style drug testing performed by the U.S. drug testing agency.

Pacquiao filed a defamation lawsuit against Mayweather, which was settled out of court. The bad blood was already beyond the boiling point by then, with both sides accusing the other of ducking the fight.

One hold up was Mayweather’s insistence that Pacquiao undergo drug testing the day of the bout, which meant his blood would be drawn hours before the fight. Pacquiao’s long-time trainer Freddie Roach said all along that drawing blood on fight night went against his boxer’s mind set. Pacquiao believed it would weaken him and that Mayweather was playing mind games.

Pacquiao did agree to a 24-day testing window, which did not fly with Mayweather. The fight was off the table for another two years.

The belief was Mayweather was stalling with the stringent drug testing demands because he didn’t want to face Pacquiao, who at the time was beating everyone pretty handily. It was a theory I agree with — especially after Pacquiao relented and agreed to same-day drug testing.

And still Mayweather would not sign the contract.

More precious time went by. The fighters were not getting any younger. Pacquiao had already lost back-to-back fights in 2012 to Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley. Mayweather had retired. Unretired. Went to jail for 60 days on a charge of domestic abuse.

He kept winning and remained unbeaten, but his bouts were unspectacular and uninspiring.

Meanwhile, boxing was losing its edge and demographic appeal to the UFC’s mixed martial arts crew.

Five years after this drama began, a chance meeting between the two fighters at a Miami Heat NBA game in January saw Mayweather whisper in Pacquiao’s ear, they made some eye contact and shook hands.

The dead deal was alive again and talks resumed.

Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum, a central figure in this soap opera, was able to get TV executives from CBS, Showtime and HBO together to hammer out the pay per view, production, marketing and rebroadcast rights. This was a critical domino to fall, because after that agreement — reportedly — Leslie Moonves, CEO and president of CBS Corp., went to Mayweather and told him to sign the contract.

Mayweather did and the fight was on.

Which brings us to the question of how this long anticipated bout will play out and who will win.

Pacquiao is a relentless attacker, with a deadly combination of speed and power that belies his 5-foot, 7-inch, 145-pound frame. He throws punches from all angles in blinding flurries. He is an experienced and well-trained tactician in the ring, schooled for the past 10 years by his well-respected trainer Freddie Roach.

Because of his intense aggression, the 36-year-old Pacquiao leaves himself open to counter punches. Never was this more evident than in his shocking one punch knockout in the sixth round at the hands of Marquez, who caught Pacquiao flush and dropped him to the canvas, out cold.

Roach later admitted he thought Pacquiao was dead when he was lying in the ring because he was so still.

But after those back-to-back defeats, Pacquiao won three impressive unanimous decisions over Brandon Rios; Tim Bradley (a rematch); and an outmatched Chris Algieri to run his record to 57-5-2.

Mayweather is two years older at 38, and a tad bigger at 5 feet, 8 inches and 150 pounds. He has never been knocked down or out as he has amassed a 47-0 record with 26 knockouts.

His boxing moniker is “Money” because he is the world’s highest paid athlete, with a reported net worth of $280 million.

Before all the millions Mayweather was called “Pretty Boy” — a nickname that dated back to his younger years as an amateur Golden Gloves champion — because his face was nearly free of scars from cuts or punishment.

That unmarked face is one of the keys to his long success. Mayweather could very well be considered the greatest defensive fighter of all time. His defensive techniques, mostly his adept use of the practice of rolling his left shoulder up and in to block punches, is legendary for avoiding damaging head shots.

He is an extraordinary counter puncher, with the sport’s fastest hands and decent power. His ring knowledge and experience are equal to Pacquiao’s, and he is an extremely intelligent boxer who has a style and plan of attack that he executes flawlessly.

Mayweather has fought every champion and top flight talent that Pacquiao has and beaten them all (minus Bradley). Both have boxed and defeated Marquez, De La Hoya, Shane Mosely, Rickey Hatton and Miguel Cotto. They simply have not fought each other until now.

The two men could not be more different in and out of the ring. Mayweather is a loud, brash, mouthy champion who doesn’t mind playing the villain role at times. He rubs people wrong by flaunting his wealth and confidently declaring that he, not Ali, should be considered the greatest boxer of all time.

Pacquiao is the polar opposite, soft-spoken, respectful and extremely spiritual as he praises God and gives him credit for all his success. Pacquiao is a father of five and was recently re-elected to a second term as a congressman in his native Philippines.

Both men were born fighters who survived rough childhoods. Mayweather grew up in a heavy drug environment. (His mother was addicted to drugs; his father a convicted and jailed drug dealer). Abject poverty and hopelessness forced a 14-year-old Pacquiao to leave home and turn to professional boxing at 16.

Pacquiao and Mayweather have held 10 titles over 8 and 5 weight divisions respectively. Mayweather is the current WBC, WBA and Ring Welterweight champion. Pacquiao, who was voted the Fighter of the Decade for the 2000s, is the WBO Welterweight champ.

All this means is that their boxing resumes are impeccable and they are still unquestionably the two best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.

This match-up should have happened at least four years ago, when both fighters were at the apex of their abilities. But I don’t believe their immense skills have diminished much, even to a well trained eye.

I believe Pacquiao will come out fast and unleash a measured attack to force Mayweather out of his defensive comfort zone. Pacquiao will throw a lot of punches, and because of that ratio, will land a certain percentage and score points.

Mayweather will know this and will have to counter punch and get off his offensive shots as well in order not to lose the early rounds. I don’t think he will change his tactics much. He will dodge and move; roll his shoulders to block punches, as he’s done for years; and rely on his lightning-quick punches in hopes of keeping Pacquiao at a safer distance.

Pacquiao, with those strong, muscular legs — look at the thickness of his calves — will attempt to bull rush Mayweather for close combat to penetrate those defensive blocks.

It has been years since either man scored a knockout, so one on this historic night would be shocking.

I see Pacquiao’s fast hands (as fast as Mayweather’s); his use of a bit more power punches; and most of all, his will and desire after years of waiting for this fight; carrying him to a razor-thin split decision victory over Mayweather.

It’s a legacy fight for two great and proud warriors.


Get Rick Sarro’s perspectives on sports on Soundoff 60, which airs Monday through Sunday nights at 9 pm on Suddenlink Channel 60 and Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10 am as well.