by Cliff Rold
On May 2, 2015, boxing will finally have its Super Bowl. After five long years of he said-he said, it’s finally here.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Manny Pacquiao for the Welterweight Championship of the World.
But what if the road didn’t really begin at the negotiating table in late 2009? What if this collision course began just months apart, before anyone could have predicted this finish line?
In the second half of 1998, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao each won their first major titles and have stayed in or near the championship ranks for almost two decades since. The seeds of a showdown were planted then. They are blossoming now in what will be, even adjusted for inflation, the most profitable and maybe even most watched prizefight ever.
Over the course of this series, we take a look back at the championship years of each man, beginning with each of his first title wins and working our way towards May 2nd. Their development, historical achievements, highs and lows will be reviewed fight by fight with an eye towards the context of each contest.
Where were they in their careers? Using various ratings and historical resources as reference, how were they and each of their opponents regarded at the time of the fights? At the end, a comprehensive statistical review of each man will culminate in a final preview and prediction for the fight itself.
This is Mayweather-Pacquiao: 17 Years to a Superfight.
2004: A Rivalry for the Ages is Born
May 8, 2004
Manny Pacquiao (38-2-1, 29 KO, Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal) vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (42-2, 33 KO, WBA/IBF, Ring Magazine #1)
The Fight: Marquez won 13 in a row after a narrow decision loss to then-WBA titlist Freddie Norwood in 1999. He captured the IBF title in 2003 with a seventh-round stoppage of veteran Manuel Medina. Two fights later, he added the WBA belt with a technical decision win over Derrick Gainer.
Pacquiao’s left hand was the early story of the fight. He dropped Marquez once, twice, and then a third time in a memorable opening stanza. The third knockdown, caused by a left and then right, was followed with a finishing left as Marquez dangled with one arm on the ropes and another on the canvas. Marquez went to his back, got his bearings, and finished the round fighting back. Blood gushed from his nostrils.
For the next three rounds, Marquez worked his way back into the fight in steady, competitive rounds. In the fifth he seized the momentum. Marquez stunned Pacquiao more than once and cut him over the left eye. Marquez rattled Pacquiao with a massive right again in the sixth. Pacquiao’s massive early lead from the first round loomed but the fight was growing closer.
Both men landed impressive shots in a tense seventh, Pacquiao having an excellent eighth. Round nine again saw both men with big moments, the round steadily building in excitement. Pacquiao rattled Marquez in the tenth and closed the round strong only for Marquez to find the better spots in the eleventh. Fittingly, each warrior landed fiery shots in the closing three minutes and they embraced at the bell.
It was a scoring nightmare, one judge for Pacquiao (115-110, or 7-5 in rounds) and another favoring Marquez (115-110, or 10-2 in rounds with an odd 10-8 round for Pacquiao in round eight). Burt Clements couldn’t break the tie, scoring the bout at 113-113, or 7-5 in rounds favoring Marquez. Clements was the only one of the three judges to score the first round 10-7, rather than 10-6, Pacquiao.
Both men successfully defended and left with the titles they entered with. It was the sort of fight that demanded a rematch.
Historical Note: Depending on how one looks at Pacquiao’s historical claim to the title, this could be viewed as a unification match. Both men were announced and promoted as defending their respective claims to the Featherweight crown.
Outcome: Pacquiao D12 Marquez
Pacquiao Record in Title Fights: 7-1-2, 7 KO, 1 KOBY including lineal (6-1-2, 6 KO, 1 KOBY, WBC/WBA/IBF/WBO only)
May 22, 2004
DeMarcus Corley (28-2-1, 16 KO, Ring Magazine #5) vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (31-0, 21 KO, Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal at 135 lbs.); Non-title
The Fight: Corley was making his first start since losing the WBO belt at 140 lbs. to Zab Judah via split decision in July 2003. Prior to the Judah loss, Corley won eleven in a row and made two defenses of the WBO belt. He won the then-vacant diadem with a first-round stoppage of Felix Flores in 2001. Mayweather was making his debut at Jr. Welterweight, ultimately vacating his claims to the Lightweight crown.
On commentary for HBO, Emmanuel Steward saw the fight breaking out early. He noted the first round as “one of the most physically challenging” of Mayweather’s career. Both men were landing, Mayweather rocking Corley late. Corley had success in the second landing his southpaw right flush over Mayweather’s jab. Mayweather continued to land hammering straight rights and left hooks. Corley got a big straight left in shortly before the bell.
Inside the final minute of the third, a Corley left badly buckled Mayweather’s knees. Mayweather collected himself and came forward, both men battling at close quarters. Corley hurt him worse seconds into the fourth, a right hand freezing Mayweather and sending him stiff-legged into the ropes.
Leaning on the strands, Mayweather avoided clean shots to the head and Corley worked the body. Mayweather turned the tide with a left hook and it was toe to toe. Halfway through, Mayweather hurt Corley with a right and Corley went to a knee. The referee ruled a slip and then Corley came back, hammering Mayweather with a right on the ropes and another at center ring. Both men landed big lefts in the last thirty seconds and went to the corner with bloodied noses.
The feverish pace of the first four began to abate in the fifth and sixth, Corley still plugging away but showing a loss of snap. By the eighth, it was a one-sided beating. A left and right dropped Corley and Mayweather could have been credited another knockdown in the closing seconds.
Corley slipped again in the ninth and Mayweather helped him up, a show of respect for a game foe. Corley went down for real on a left at the beginning of the tenth. Corley attempted to rally and Mayweather met his fire with a blaze of shots. A jawing Mayweather tried to lure Corley into the sort of combat that could produce a finish in the eleventh but Corley was destined for the distance. Mayweather won ten rounds on one card and eleven on the two others.
Outcome: Mayweather UD12 Corley
December 11, 2004
Manny Pacquiao (38-2-2, 29 KO, Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal) vs. Fahsan 3-K Battery (43-7-1, 23 KO, Ring Magazine Unrated)
The Fight: Thailand’s Battery entered the bout off a win but had gone 1-1-1 in his previous three bouts. His defeat had come in an IBF eliminator at 122 lbs. The fight with Pacquiao was both a defense of Pacquiao’s Ring and lineal claims and an IBF eliminator at 126 lbs.
Battery landed a right on Pacquiao in the first and Pacquiao opened up on his fellow southpaw. Battery went down on a slip in the first. A Pacquiao left sent him down in the second. Another left dropped Battery at the bell to end the third, Battery taking the count and then a seat in his corner. A left uppercut dropped Battery at center ring in the fourth and the Thai challenger got up again. Another uppercut sent Battery to his back and the fight was halted, Pacquiao back to winning ways after the classic draw with Marquez. Pacquiao had his second successful, and first winning, defense of history’s Featherweight crown. It would be his last fight in the division.
Historical Note: Pacquiao’s short tenure at Featherweight produced a record of 3-0-1 with three knockouts.
Outcome: Pacquiao TKO4 Battery
Pacquiao Record in Title Fights: 8-1-2, 8 KO, 1 KOBY including lineal (6-1-2, 6 KO, 1 KOBY, WBC/WBA/IBF/WBO only)
2005: Welcome to Pay-Per-View
January 22, 2005
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (32-0, 21 KO, Ring Magazine #3) vs. Henry Bruseles (21-2-1, 13 KO); Non-Title
The Fight: Bruseles entered off a technical draw in his previous bout with a mark of 4-2-1 in his previous seven overall. Largely seen as an appearance bout for Mayweather going in, the fight met those expectations. Bruseles gave an honest effort, focusing his attack to the body. Mayweather picked him apart, annoyed by a shot at the bell after the second and warned for forearm/elbow shoves in the fourth. Mayweather was otherwise in his zone, brutal at close quarters and at range, lashing Bruseles with an array of leather. In round seven, Mayweather correctly predicted the New England Patriots would advance to the Super Bowl but in round eight gave the nod to the Atlanta Falcons to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles, saying “I like Michael Vick.” This happened during the rounds. The latter was the only thing Mayweather got wrong all night. Mayweather dropped Bruseles with a body shot and again with a left to the head and the corner of Bruseles stopped the fight.
Historical Note: The Patriots defeated the Eagles in Super Bowl 39 by a score of 24-21.
Outcome: Mayweather TKO8 Bruseles
March 19, 2005
Erik Morales (47-2, 34 KO, Ring Magazine #2) vs. Manny Pacquiao (39-2-2, 30 KO, Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal at 126 lbs.); Non-Title
The Fight: Morales was making his first start since a majority decision loss to Marco Antonio Barrera in November 2004. The third in an epic trilogy, it was named the Fight of the Year by multiple outlets. Both of Morales’s losses entering the Pacquiao fight had come in the Barrera series. Between those defeats, he won six straight and three major titles. In November 2002, he captured the vacant WBC belt at Featherweight with a decision over Paulie Ayala. In February 2004, he won the WBC Super Featherweight belt with a decision over Jesus Chavez and added the IBF belt in July with a decision over Carlos Hernandez. Morales had captured titles in three divisions in his career to then. Pacquiao was making his debut at 130 lbs. and would ultimately vacate his title claims at Featherweight.
Morales came out behind a high guard, looking to establish his jab. A Pacquiao attack sent him to the ropes, Morales fighting back and sending Pacquiao’s leaning through the top two ring ropes. Both men took turns firing bombs, Pacquiao wobbling Morales to the body only to be driven back again before the bell.
It was only the first round.
Establishing his jab and keeping his distance, Morales used Pacquiao’s reliance on straight lefts to make him miss and countered well in the second. Showing excellent timing and upper body movement, Morales boxed beautifully in the third, making Pacquiao miss and making him pay. Morales rocked Pacquiao in the fourth and had him going backwards for healthy stretches. Mixing up his attack in the fifth, Pacquiao was having success but a clash of heads opened a nasty cut over his right eye. A long look from the ring doctor didn’t end the fight and Morales went to work targeting the cut.
Morales absorbed some violent assaults from Pacquiao in the sixth, mocking Pacquiao’s penchant for holding his hands up high after being tagged. Pacquiao started strong in the seventh but a Morales left wobbled him. Pacquiao came back with combinations but the Morales right rocked him a few times down the stretch. Morales continued to outfight and outbox him in the eighth only for Pacquiao to rally in the ninth, wobbling Morales more than once. Morales fired back to stave off a serious momentum swing.
Round ten saw moments for both men. Morales, drilling Pacquiao with rights, had the bigger ones. It was more of the same in the eleventh; Morales weathering some stormy spots and driving Pacquiao back on several occasions. With three minutes to go, Morales appeared to have it in the bag.
That wasn’t enough for the consummate Mexican warrior. With less than two minutes to go, Morales switched to southpaw and Pacquiao rocked him. Morales dared Pacquiao to stop him, eating massive rights and keeping his feet in a dramatic show of risk and guts. He briefly switched back to orthodox before the ten second warning only to go back to southpaw again right away, refusing to concede what was a total victory. Morales took the fight on unanimous scores of 115-113, or 7-5 in rounds. It was Pacquiao’s first loss in 15 fights and first defeat since losing his Flyweight title.
Historical Note: Officially, Mayweather entered the Bruseles fight at 139 lbs., unofficially rehydrating to 142 lbs. according to HBO. Pacquiao entered the Morales bout officially at 129 ½ with an unofficial rehydrating to 139. The creep closer was continuing. Pacquiao’s debut on pay-per-view, with a Morales who had appeared on the platform before, came in at approximately 345,000 buys according to Yahoo .
Outcome: Morales UD12 Pacquiao
June 25, 2005
Arturo Gatti (39-6, 30 KO, WBC, Ring Magazine #1) vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (33-0, 22 KO, Ring Magazine #3)
The Fight: Gatti, a former titlist at 130 lbs., accepted the challenge from Mayweather having won five in a row and six of his previous seven since a loss to Oscar De La Hoya at Welterweight. The only other loss in that stretch came in the first of three consecutive classics with Mickey Ward, the first and third of which earned Ring Magazine Fight of the Year honors. In January 2004, Gatti won the vacant WBC belt at 140 lbs. with a decision over Gianluca Branco. He made two knockout title defenses over former titlists Leonard Dorin and Jess James Leija. Gatti was attempting his third defense. Mayweather was making his third start at Jr. Welterweight.
Both men looked to establish the jab in the first. Mayweather’s advantage in hand and foot speed was palpable, touching Gatti at will. Late in the round, Mayweather missed a left and Gatti bent over. With his arm on the neck of Gatti, Mayweather landed a shot underneath and then another as Gatti rose up. Gatti turned to complain to the referee and Mayweather dropped him to a knee with a left. Gatti got up, arguing as the referee finished the mandatory eight.
Mayweather battered Gatti with lead power shots in the second, both of Gatti’s eyes beginning to swell. A low blow from Gatti in round three was his lone significant offense, the fight a massacre for Mayweather. Keeping Gatti’s landed blows in the single digits almost every round, Mayweather accelerated off a vicious body attack in the sixth. Teeing off to the head and torso, Mayweather sent Gatti to the corner on weary legs and the corner mercifully stopped the contest. At 28, Mayweather had a title in his third weight class.
Historical Note: While Mayweather had a belt, history’s title at 140 lbs. belonged to Ricky Hatton. Hatton stopped Hall of Fame Jr. Welterweight Kostya Tszyu earlier in the month for the crown. A showdown with Hatton would wait as Mayweather exited the Jr. Welterweight division immediately to chase glory seven pounds north. Mayweather’s record at 140 lbs. would finish at 3-0 with 2 knockouts. The Gatti win was Mayweather’s first time in a pay-per-view headliner. The bout garnered 340,000 buys according to ESPN.
Outcome: Mayweather RTD6 Gatti
Mayweather Record in Title Fights: 14-0, 8 KO
September 10, 2005
Manny Pacquiao (39-3-2, 30 KO, Ring Magazine #3) vs. Hector Velasquez (42-10-1, 31 KO, Ring Magazine Unrated); Non-Title
The Fight: Velasquez was riding a five-fight winning streak and was 9-1-1 in his last eleven. The lone loss in that run came to then-undefeated Olympian Rocky Juarez. He also had a win over former 126 lb. titlist Guty Espadas Jr. While he had four stoppage losses is his career, Velasquez hadn’t been stopped since 1997.
For two rounds, the fight was relatively competitive. Pacquiao’s quicker hands and better technique allowed him to take over in the third and begin a gradual breakdown of Velasquez. In the sixth, a lead right hook stunned Velasquez but he survived a barrage in the corner. Trapped on the ropes again with seconds to go, Velasquez took a left and another sent him to his knee. Velasquez beat the count but the referee halted the abuse.
Historical Note: The HBO card was intended as a set-up for a proposed rematch between Pacquiao and Morales. That rematch was still to come but it lost some luster on the night. Morales debuted at 135 lbs. against former US Olympian Zahir Raheem and lost a wide decision with a lackluster effort. Pacquiao-Velasquez was, to date, the last time anyone has seen Pacquiao live anywhere but pay-per-view.
November 19, 2005
Sharmba Mitchell (56-4, 30 KO, Ring Magazine Unrated) vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (34-0, 23 KO, Ring Magazine #1 at 140 lbs.)
The Fight: Mitchell, a former titlist at 140 lbs., entered at low ebb in his career. One year earlier, Kostya Tszyu ended an eight-fight Mitchell winning streak in an anticipated rematch. Mitchell was destroyed in three and opted for a move to Welterweight. His only fight in the division was a technical decision win against Chris Smith. Mayweather was making his debut at Welterweight against the southpaw Mitchell with a challenge of then-undisputed Welterweight Champion Zab Judah, also a southpaw, being considered.
Mayweather came out early to test the legs of Mitchell, who suffered from knee problems in his career. Mayweather found plenty of openings for the right hand down the stretch of the first. Mitchell tried to work the body and use movement to create opportunities but he couldn’t escape Mayweather long. In the third, a right hand dropped Mitchell. Mitchell beat the count and kept trying. His hand speed allowed Mitchell to occasionally get through but not enough to mount real offense. In the sixth, a Mayweather right hand to the gut dropped Mitchell to his knee. Mitchell was up at nine but the referee halted the one-sided affair.
Historical Note: This would be the last time to date Mayweather has appeared off pay-per-view. In terms of interesting parallels, Mayweather and Pacquiao won their first titles months apart in 1998, debuted as pay-per-view headliners months apart in 2005, and exited all non-pay-per-view platforms months apart the same year.
To be continued…
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]