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.

2008:  Alone at Center Stage

March 15, 2008

Manny Pacquiao (45-3-2, 34 KO, Ring Magazine #1) vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (48-3-1, 35 KO, WBC, Ring Magazine #2)

The Fight: By way of an unofficial process of elimination at 130 lbs. documented along the way in this series, Pacquiao and Marquez emerged as the top two fighters in the division. The winner would re-establish the lineage left vacant at 130 lbs. when Floyd Mayweather vacated and moved up in weight in 2002.

Marquez entered having won four straight, including a WBC title win over Marco Antonio Barrera in March 2007. He’d made one defense, a dominant decision over former Olympian Rocky Juarez. His lone loss in seven fights dating to the first Pacquiao clash, a decision at Featherweight against Chris John, was worthy of debate.

Both men had moments in an intense, thoughtful opening stanza. The same was true in the second, Marquez landing a left hook late to rock Pacquiao. Marquez was having a good round through much of the third but Pacquiao rallied inside the final minute. A perfect left hand dropped Marquez hard. Marquez rose and was nearly felled again by a right, firing back at Pacquiao to get an ounce of flesh back.

Pacquiao had a strong fourth round as Marquez found him a tougher target than the first time around. Marquez still landed enough to keep it close. A deliberate Marquez found the holes he needed to the body and landed good rights upstairs in the fifth and sixth.

A clash of heads in the seventh, ruled accidental opened a cut over the right eye of Marquez. Pacquiao attacked, trying to speed up the slowed pace and landing some of his best stuff since the fourth. Marquez came right back at him. In the eighth, a cut over the right eye of Pacquiao swung the pendulum to Marquez. Pacquiao, fighting with some panic, left himself open to the countering combination skill of Marquez.

Round nine was Marquez in the first half and Pacquiao in the second. Marquez suffered a second cut over the right eye from a Pacquiao left. Marquez walked right into a Pacquiao left moments into the tenth, his legs loosening and sending him stumbling. Pacquiao stung him along the ropes but could keep Marquez trapped. Pacquiao controlled most of the three minutes, losing his mouthpiece late and ending with a final left hand.

Marquez got a warning for a low blow in the eleventh, the shot causing a brief break in the action. It was a close round with little to choose from between the two and plenty of drama with three minutes to go. In the twelfth, Pacquiao landed some good lefts and a few spot flurries while Marquez landed some firm right hands and backed Pacquiao up more than once.

It was, as it had been before, a tough fight to score. Pacquiao got the nod at 115-112 on one card, Marquez 115-112 on another, or 7-5 and 8-4 on rounds respectively. The deciding verdict, with the knockdown making all the difference, gave Pacquiao the victory at 114-113, or six rounds apiece.

At age 29, Pacquiao was a champion again for the first time since 2004 in his fourth weight division.

Historical Note: Pacquiao was recognized by Ring Magazine as the true champion of the division with the win. It was Pacquiao’s third lineal crown along with history’s honors at 112 and 126 lbs. Pacquiao would not return to Jr. Lightweight, ending his tenure in class with a mark of 7-1, 4 KO. Continuing the trend of his time in the class, Pacquiao ballooned in weight unofficially by fight night. His official scaling was 129 lbs. Unofficially, according to HBO, he entered the ring at 145 lbs. Marquez grew a more modest 130 to 141 lbs. by the same measures.

In terms of revenue, the long anticipated rematch drew approximately 400,000 buys,

according to USA Today

. That was, and remains, a record in the 130 lb. division.  

Outcome: Pacquiao SD12 Marquez

Pacquiao Record in Title Fights: 9-1-2, 8 KO, 1 KOBY including lineal (7-1-2, 6 KO, 1 KOBY, WBC/WBA/IBF/WBO only)

June 28, 2008

David Diaz (34-1-1, 17 KO, WBC, Ring Magazine #3) vs. Manny Pacquiao (46-3-2, 34 KO, WBC/Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal at 130 lbs.)

The Fight: Diaz, a 1996 US Olympian, was 8-0-1 since a stoppage loss to eventual 140 lb. titlist Kendall Holt in 2005. He won the interim WBC Lightweight title against Jose Armando Santa Cruz in August 2006 and successfully, if narrowly, defended against Erik Morales one year later. It was Morales’s last fight, after his series with Pacquiao, until 2010.

The clash of southpaws was an interesting look for a Pacquiao more used to seeing orthodox fighters. That look was aesthetic alone. There was little in the way of competition. While Diaz would land the occasional clean straight left, the fight was a showcase for the offensive arsenal of the dramatically faster Pacquiao. Uppercuts, crosses, hooks, and blasts to the body had Diaz cut over the right eye by the end of the second.

Using his right hand exclusively for long stretches, Pacquiao showed off all of the little things he’d added over the years since bursting from the pack as a left handed tornado at 122 lbs. The doctor took a look at Diaz in the fourth, letting the carving continue. Diaz used his left to make a brave stand in the fifth, his face drenched crimson.

The doctor took a look at Diaz again in the sixth and let it go on. Pacquiao continued to beat Diaz up, swelling both eyes even as Diaz kept punching back until he took one shot too many. In the final minute of the ninth, a vicious left sent Diaz face first towards the floor. He made a move to rise but the referee leapt in immediately to halt the bout.

At 29, Pacquiao had a title claim in his fifth weight class. In July 2008, Pacquiao would relinquish his Ring Magazine title at 130 lbs., thus ending his brief reign as lineal kingpin at Jr. Lightweight.

Historical Note: The Diaz clash did

modest pay-per-view business at 206,000 buys

. Pacquiao opting to face the least regarded of the Lightweight titlists at the time may have played a factor. A pair of March 2008 fights defined the top of the Lightweight division prior to Pacquiao-Diaz. Nate Campbell scored an impressive upset of undefeated Juan Diaz to win the IBF, WBA, and WBO belts. The lineal and Ring champion, Joel Casamayor, rebounded from a terrible decision ‘win’ over Jose Armando Santa Cruz in 2007 to score a memorable stoppage of undefeated Michael Katsidis. Pacquiao would never fight at 135 lbs. again, opting for bigger names and bigger game further up the scale.

Between the Marquez rematch and the Diaz clash, Floyd Mayweather appeared in a match at Wrestlemania 24 to further his brand but retired from the ring, leaving the boxing world with a void to fill. Pacquiao’s win over Diaz set the stage for the fight that would accomplish just that.

Outcome: Pacquiao TKO9 Diaz

Pacquiao Record in Title Fights: 10-1-2, 9 KO, 1 KOBY including lineal (7-1-2, 6 KO, 1 KOBY, WBC/WBA/IBF/WBO only)

December 6, 2008

Oscar De La Hoya (39-5, 30 KO, Ring Magazine #5 at 154) vs. Manny Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KO, WBC, Ring Magazine #2 at 135 lbs.); Non-Title

The Fight: De La Hoya had fought only once since losing the WBC 154 lb. belt to Floyd Mayweather in May 2007. A rematch clause was rendered moot when Mayweather retired and De La Hoya went looking for other big names. He looked down the scale, agreeing to move back to Welterweight for the first time since 2001. Pacquiao would move up two classes from Lightweight for the biggest stage of his career.

The much taller De La Hoya seemed to tower over Pacquiao at the start. Pacquiao was unfazed, landing his first big left about a minute into the fight. Pacquiao, feinting and snapping the right jab, was being chased. De La Hoya couldn’t catch him. Late in the opening round, with Pacquiao near the ropes, De La Hoya attempted a flurry. Pacquiao blocked and slid away from the salvo, escaping to mid-ring.

The next three rounds were dramatic in their one-sided nature. De La Hoya would land token body shots but the head kept slipping away. Pacquiao, showing off what all the right-hand practice was about in the Diaz fight, swelled the right eye of De La Hoya and beat him at will. Lead lefts, lead right uppercuts, combinations…Pacquiao was in a zone.

De La Hoya upped his output in round five, his most competitive of the fight. Pacquiao still outlanded him and in round six mixed in a hard shoeshine to the body with the stream of rights and lefts to the head.

By the seventh, Pacquiao had De La Hoya almost completely done. Trapping the larger man on the ropes, he relentlessly beat on the “Golden Boy.” De La Hoya came back before the bell with an attempt at offense. He ended right back along the strands, his right eye all but shut. The eighth round was less punishing until the very end. A Pacquiao combination lifted one of De La Hoya’s feet off the ground in the corner, pride keeping him afoot. De La Hoya, on the advice of trainer Nacho Beristain, would fight no more. His night, and career, ended on the stool.   

Historical Note: De La Hoya exited the stage with one last big dollar blowout, his fight with Pacquiao capturing

approximately 1.25 million pay-per-view buys

. The scales told an interesting story. Officially, De La Hoya outweighed Pacquiao 145 to 142. Unofficially, according to HBO, Pacquiao outweighed De La Hoya on fight night 148 ½ to 147.

Pacquiao, with quality wins in three different weight classes, was near universally hailed as the 2008 Fighter of the Year. De La Hoya would retire following the defeat. To his credit, by intention or not, the decisions to face Mayweather and Pacquiao passed the torch to a pair of box office heirs.

Outcome: Pacquiao RTD8 De La Hoya

2009: The First to Four (and Seven) & an Un-Retirement

May 2, 2009

Ricky Hatton (45-1, 32 KO, Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal at 140) vs. Manny Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KO, Ring Magazine #2 at 135 lbs./#5 at 147 lbs.)

The Fight: Pacquiao moved down a division to challenge Hatton for history’s crown at Jr. Welterweight. While Hatton was shorn of the most recognized sanctioning body titles, he had continued to reign at 140 lbs. after his loss to Mayweather with two title defenses in 2008. A shaky defense against Juan Lazcano was ultimately a successful escape. Hatton looked back to better form against Paulie Malignaggi, handing the slick New Yorker his first stoppage loss in a dominant performance. Malignaggi’s only previous loss to that point had come via decision versus Miguel Cotto.

As was the case for his showdown with Mayweather, Hatton brought a rowdy contingent of fans to Las Vegas. They found out they were there to witness Pacquiao’s most devastating performance, his personal equivalent to Louis-Schmeling II, Gomez-Zarate, or Tyson-Spinks.

Pacquiao landed a huge right hook as Hatton came forward just thirty seconds into the bout. Tying Pacquiao up, Hatton tried to maul, digging short hooks to the body with the free hand. He kept swinging at the body even as they were being separated. Hatton briefly caught Pacquiao to the body on the ropes only for Pacquiao to escape and drill him with a 1-2. Another left and right had Hatton wincing before a right hook wobbled Hatton and forced him to hold. Inside a minute to go, a right hook dropped Hatton for the first time. Hatton got up and Pacquiao swarmed with leather until a left hand dropped him again with seconds to go in the round.

Hatton made it to the corner where frantic trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. warned him to keep his hands up. The ever fearless Hatton charged out to start the second, winging hooks and trying to give Pacquiao something to think about. A Hatton left hook was met by a Pacquiao combination. Beating Hatton to the punch in volume, Hatton was reduced to loading up with single hooks while trying to find a way to come forward. Finally, blinding Hatton with a quick jab, Pacquiao caught the champion leaning forward with a perfect left cross. Hatton went down statuesque to his back, unable to rise, knocked out. Hatton would remain out of it for several minutes after the fight as Pacquiao celebrated a historic triumph.  

Hatton would fight only once more, suffering a ninth-round knockout loss to Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2012.

Historical Note: With the win, the 30-year old Pacquiao became the first fighter in the history of boxing to win lineal crowns in four weight divisions, including prior historical reigns at 112, 126, and 130 lbs. He added an overall title claim in his sixth weight division, tying Oscar De La Hoya for that record.

It was another big night at the bank for Pacquiao,

amassing between 825-850,000 buys on pay-per-view

. It would be, as was the case at Lightweight, one and done for Pacquiao. He was 1-0 with a knockout win in each weight division. Pacquiao was officially 138 for the Hatton fight, unofficially 148, consistent with the in-ring weight for the De La Hoya fight. He would be a Welterweight from Hatton on.

Outcome: Pacquiao KO2 Hatton

Pacquiao Record in Title Fights: 11-1-2, 10 KO, 1 KOBY including lineal (8-1-2, 6 KO, 1 KOBY, WBC/WBA/IBF/WBO only)

September 19, 2009

Floyd Mayweather (39-0, 25 KO, Ring Magazine Unrated) vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (50-4-1, 37 KO, WBA/WBO/Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal at 135 lbs.); Non-Title

The Fight: Marquez bounced back from his 2008 loss to Pacquiao with a pair of sensational wins. In September of that year, he became the first man to stop Joel Casamayor in a pitched, oft-forgotten, battle for the lineal Lightweight title. In his first defense, Marquez added the vacant WBO and WBA titles with a stoppage of Juan Diaz in what would be hailed by Ring Magazine, the BWAA, and multiple other outlets as the fight of the year. When Mayweather had his fill of ‘Big Show’s’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ Marquez got the call as his comeback foe and moved up two weight classes.

Mayweather was making his first start since December 2007. Whatever rust some might have expected Mayweather to acquire in his time away never appeared. Taller and longer than Marquez, Mayweather established the jab early and started to apply lead left hooks. A Marquez right landed in the second and drew a grin from Mayweather. He replied moments later with a lead left and dropped Marquez on his rear.

Mayweather grinned again in the fourth when another right hand got through, a brief glimmer of hope in what was otherwise a whitewash. Marquez, forced to press rather than counter and look for his vaunted combinations, was technically outgunned.

By the sixth, Mayweather was all but toying with one of the great fighters of his era. Smirking and making Marquez miss badly, Mayweather ended the round popping Marquez in the corner.

Nicked over the right eye and far behind, Marquez fought with pride and determination the next three rounds. Aiming to the body and looking for something big, Marquez let his hands go. He still wasn’t finding much and Mayweather stayed in the trenches longer to exact a price.

The frustration of it all showed for Marquez at the bell for the tenth as he landed a shot late, aggravating Mayweather and starting a quick staredown. It didn’t mean fireworks in the last two rounds. Mayweather completed a near shutout, losing one round on one judge’s card, two on another, and pitching perfect on the third. 

Sharing the ring with Mayweather in the HBO post-fight interview, “Sugar” Shane Mosley issued a challenge while talk on the air also centered on what appeared a huge, looming showdown with Manny Pacquiao.

One of those fights would be next for Mayweather in 2010.

Historical Note: Originally contracted as a 144 lb. catchweight contest, Mayweather sweetened the purse for Marquez and came in at 146 the week of the fight. Despite some skepticism about Marquez’s first trip to Welterweight in the press, fans responded in a big way to the match. Mayweather-Marquez generated one million buys on pay-per-view.

Outcome: Mayweather UD12 Marquez

November 14, 2009

Miguel Cotto (34-1, 27 KO, WBO, Ring Magazine #2) vs. Manny Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KO, Ring Magazine Champion (140)/Ring Magazine #5 at 147, Lineal at 140)

The Fight: Cotto, who held a title at 140 lbs. from 2004-06, was enjoying his second reign at 147 lbs. He captured a vacant WBA Welterweight belt in 2006 and made four defenses including impressive wins over former champions Shane Mosley and Zab Judah. In his fifth defense in July 2008, he lost a brutal war to Mexican juggernaut Antonio Margarito (later mired in controversy over whether or not Margarito may have used doctored hand wraps). Cotto bounced back with a pair of wins. He beat Michael Jennings for the vacant WBO belt and defended with a debated decision against Joshua Clottey.

Fighting at a catchweight of 145 lbs., Cotto had a good first round behind a hard left jab. He closed with a nice right hand to let Pacquiao know he was in with a serious Welterweight. Slipping right in the second, Pacquiao started to land popping lead lefts and escaped when Cotto nearly trapped him on the ropes. Asserting his edge in speed, Pacquiao dominated Cotto in the final minute, working in combination and landing power with both hands.

Waving Cotto forward at the start of the third, Pacquiao stayed first in the exchanges. A right hand sent Cotto to the deck before a minute was passed. Cotto was up quickly and pressed forward. Pacquiao ate heavy body shots, and hooks and uppercuts upstairs, as Cotto surged down the stretch. It was enough for Cotto to finish with a 10-9 score from two official judges despite the knockdown.

Cotto again came after Pacquiao to start the fourth, backing the challenger up. Pacquiao planted his feet and let his hands go. A wild exchange erupted, both men landing at mid-ring before Pacquiao was forced to the ropes and raked to the body. Pacquiao turned Cotto around, taking over the action. Finishing a violent volley, Pacquiao sent Cotto to the floor with a left, badly stunned. Cotto rose and finished, swinging back before taking some survival steps backwards as the bell sounded.

Rebounding in the fifth, Cotto went back to the body, wobbling Pacquiao with a left hook late. It was Pacquiao landing last and then landing better for much of the sixth. Forcing Cotto back, Pacquiao nearly dropped Cotto again in the closing seconds. Cotto stayed up and appeared to stun Manny against the ropes before the bell.

His eyes swelling and his face increasingly a mess, Cotto was down to mostly token offensive spots throughout the seventh. Pacquiao was rolling, punches flowing from all angles. A bad cut would open over the left eye of Cotto as the beating ticked on, round by agonizing round. Cotto was fighting to finish, no longer to win, as Pacquiao piled on through the eleventh.

With Cotto in full retreat, referee Kenny Bayless eyed Cotto closely at the start of the twelfth and final round. A final blasting left hand sent Cotto into the ropes and Bayless stopped the fight. One fight after capturing history’s crown at Jr. Welterweight, Pacquiao had added a belt at 147 lbs.

Historical Note: Pacquiao, still only 30, surpassed De La Hoya’s overall divisional title record, winning a belt or lineal world title in his seventh division (five with major sanctioning body titles). He was the first former Featherweight champion to capture even a share of the Welterweight crown since Henry Armstrong.

The fight did an impressive 1.25 million buys, further establishing Pacquiao’s bona fides as a superstar draw. For the second year in a row, and third time in four years, Pacquiao would be named almost universally the fighter of the year with several outlets also declaring him the fighter of the decade.

With both men coming off pay-per-view shows that

crossed the million buy threshold

, it seemed only logical for Pacquiao and Mayweather to be on an immediate collision course.

If that had been the case, this would be called “12 Years to a Superfight.” 

Outcome: Pacquiao TKO12 Cotto

Pacquiao Record in Title Fights: 12-1-2, 11 KO, 1 KOBY including lineal (8-1-2, 7 KO, 1 KOBY, WBC/WBA/IBF/WBO only)

To be continued…

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Research Note: Records compiled with the use of

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