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.
2006: Another Crown for Floyd and A Rivalry Completed
January 21, 2006
Erik Morales (48-3, 34 KO, Ring Magazine #2) vs. Manny Pacquiao (40-3-2, 31 KO, Ring Magazine #3); Non-Title
The Fight: Despite a Morales loss to Zahir Raheem at 135 lbs. between his first two fights with Pacquiao at 130 lbs., the fans roared for both like it had never happened.
Showing more head and upper body movement, and blocking well, Pacquiao employed an intelligent game plan for the rematch. He couldn’t avoid them all, Morales affecting him with some rights in the first. He was noticeably missing more.
That was less the case in a wild second, Morales wobbled only to roar back. The two men were firing furiously, Pacquiao winning more of the exchanges. Rounds three and four may have slightly favored Morales. He wasn’t catching Pacquiao as often as in the first fight, but his jab and length was again a remedy for Pacquiao’s speed. At the end of five rounds, it was possible to see it as wide as 4-1 Morales or 3-2 for Pacquiao.
In round six, Pacquiao effectively solved his rival. Hurting Morales at the beginning and end of the round, Pacquiao outfought and outboxed Morales, making him miss and returning fire with a variety of hard combinations. His left eye swelling and cut over the right, Morales started the seventh with a hard salvo. He couldn’t sustain it. Notable was the effectiveness of Pacquiao’s body attack in taking over the fight. Pacquiao consistently slid under the Morales right and threw leveraged shots in multiple to the ribs.
By the end of the ninth, Pacquiao’s relatively more patient game plan had Morales in a bad way. Pacquiao was taking his share of shots, but he was still avoiding far more. His predictable patterns of the past were replaced with a varied attack Morales couldn’t handle.
In round ten, hurting Morales to the body, Pacquiao drove him to the ropes and blocked Morales’s attacks at mid-ring. Inside the final minute, a countering left from Pacquiao sent Morales to his knees for the first real knockdown of his career. Morales rose, covering up as Pacquiao came forward to finish. A flurry drove Morales down again and the referee stopped it.
It was the first stoppage loss for Morales. For Pacquiao, it was the most intelligent, complete performance of his career to then.
Historical Note: What Raheem fight? The rematch between Morales and Pacquiao topped their first outing at the box office with approximately 360,000 buys on pay-per-view.
Outcome: Pacquiao TKO10 Morales
April 8, 2006
Zab Judah (34-3, 25 KO, IBF, Ring Magazine #3) vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (35-0, 24 KO, Ring Magazine #1 at 140 lbs.)
The Fight: An intended showdown for the Welterweight crown became a source of debate amongst boxing fans. Already planning a pay-per-view showdown with Mayweather, Judah was upset by unheralded Argentine Carlos Baldomir in January 2006 for the undisputed Welterweight title. Mayweather, citicized for a perceived lack of tough enough competition in the previous two years, went forward with the Judah fight anyways. When Baldomir refused to pay their sanctioning fee, the IBF let Judah keep their belt to defend it against Mayweather despite the loss. Judah, a two-time former titlist at 140 lbs., had won four straight including a knockout of Cory Spinks for the 147 lb. crown before the Baldomir loss.
Judah’s southpaw speed and patience was the story of the first half of the fight. In round one, he showed he could land the straight left. In the second, a lead right rocked Mayweather’s whose glove touched the canvas. Referee Richard Steele missed what should have been ruled a knockdown. Mayweather was more aggressive in the third and both had moments but Judah was dictating the pace. Judah had a big fourth round, stunning Mayweather with a left and driving him to the ropes early. He found holes for more lefts, and a nice right counter. Mayweather was firing back.
Mayweather began to rally in the fifth. Adjusting his guard, he started to block the left of Judah, moved closer to land lead right hands, and started digging to the ribs. Judah was feeling the attack but in the closing seconds gamely found a left and engaged Mayweather in trash talk.
The fight slowed in the sixth with both having moments, Floyd landing late for the last notable contact. Mayweather controlled the first two minutes of the seventh, working Judah over in the corner early and bloodying his nose. Judah came back in the last minute, punctuating his effort with a firm left before the bell. The same pattern, Mayweather until the final minute, held in the eighth. Mayweather broke the pattern in the ninth, dominating Judah for most of three minutes.
With little more than token offensive spots in the tenth, Judah was being surgically carved up. Inside the last ten seconds, what appeared a blatant low blow and shot behind the head sent the fight off the rails.
Steele called time out and while pointing to the neutral corner, trainer Roger Mayweather entered the ring shouting and pointing at Judah. Steele restrained him as Judah’s father and trainer Yoel entered. Zab went after Roger and punched Mayweather associate Leonard Ellerbe in the back of the head before grappling with Roger. All hell broke loose.
Police and security entered to separate members of both camps. The only person seeming to stay out the fray was Floyd. Roger was thrown out of the fight, a better outcome than a potential disqualification altogether for Floyd. Of interest, neither corner even lost a point.
The two fighters touched gloves and finished the last eight seconds of the round without another punch. Mayweather didn’t learn his uncle was gone until he came back to the corner. It didn’t change anything in the ring. Mayweather carefully outboxed Judah in the eleventh. They hugged before the twelfth and Judah may have taken the round on effort, Mayweather taunting and pointing at his chin as Judah’s needed miracle shot wasn’t to be found.
Mayweather won the unanimous decision and, at age 29, had a belt in his fourth weight class.
Historical Note: Judge Glen Hamada’s 119-109 score was bad enough to be remembered for posterity. Mayweather earned the win. He didn’t win eleven rounds. Judah had slipped to third in Ring’s ratings after the Baldomir loss, behind Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley. Like Pacquiao-Morales II, one man entering off a loss didn’t seem to deduct from the receipts. Mayweather-Judah did approximately 375,000 buys on pay-per-view according to the Los Angeles Times.
Outcome: Mayweather UD12 Judah
Mayweather Record in Title Fights: 15-0, 8 KO
July 2, 2006
Manny Pacquiao (41-3-2, 32 KO, Ring Magazine #1) vs. Oscar Larios (56-4-1, 36 KO, Ring Magazine #2 at 122 lbs.); Non-Title
The Fight: Larios moved to 130 lbs. for the opportunity to face Pacquiao one fight after losing his WBC 122 lb. title on a cut stoppage in his third fight with Israel Vazquez in December 2005. Vazquez had scored a knockdown in the first round. Prior to that, Larios had won 27 of 28 dating to 1998. His lone loss, a highly controversial decision against Willie Jorrin, was reversed by first round knockout. Larios had wins along the way over Vazquez (in a 2002 fight; Vazquez knocked him out in one 1997), former Pacquiao foe Nedal Hussein, and former Bantamweight titlist Wayne McCullough.
Despite rising in weight, Larios held a near two-inch height advantage. Bouncing, feinting, and picking spots for combinations, Pacquiao won the first and turned it up more in the second, cutting the left eye of Larios.
Larios responded in the third, hammering Pacquiao with a right and stiffening Pacquiao’s legs with a left on the ropes. Larios landed six more clean rights hands before Pacquiao could get off the ropes and circle away. Pacquiao turned the tide halfway through the round, backing Larios up and winning exchanges.
For the next three rounds, Pacquiao was increasingly dazzling. Showing his evolution, he was sitting down rather than lunging with his left (also true in the Morales rematch), leaving him more leverage for shots after his money punch. In the seventh, a right after a left produced a knockdown. Larios rose and survived some monstrous shots on shaky legs, still firing back after the bell.
It was a matter of how much Larios could take. Brave throughout, he kept firing even as he lost rounds and took mounting punishment. Larios managed a rally of sorts in the tenth, landing some of his best stuff since the third. In the final round, with a minute to go, a Pacquiao left put Larios on the seat of his trunks. Larios came up swinging and finished the fight. Pacquiao earned the unanimous decision with the judges giving him 9, 10 and 12 rounds respectively.
Historical Note: This would be, to date, Pacquiao’s last fight in his native Philippines. Broadcast in the US via independently produced pay-per-view, the fight did a modest 120,000 buys.
Outcome: Pacquiao UD12 Larios
November 4, 2006
Carlos Baldomir (43-9-6, 13 KO, WBC/Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal) vs. Floyd Mayweather (36-0, 24 KO, Ring Magazine #1)
The Fight: Baldomir was the Cinderella story of the year. He upset undisputed 147 lb. champion Zab Judah in January, leaving with only the WBC title and opting not to pay sanctioning fees for the other bodies. Baldomir was unbeaten in 21 fights dating to 1998. Along with the win over Judah in that run, he had a disqualification victory over then-undefeated future titlist Joshua Clottey in 1999. In a lone defense of the Welterweight crown, Baldomir knocked out Arturo Gatti in nine rounds to set up the Mayweather clash.
Mayweather was without trainer Roger Mayweather due both to a suspension in the state of Nevada (emanating from the Judah fight melee) and incarceration for domestic violence. Floyd was not without pomp and circumstance, entering the ring dressed as a gladiator.
The slow of hand and foot Baldomir didn’t have the tools to force gladiatorial combat. He tried in the first, attempting to rough Mayweather up inside and suffering a cut for his trouble. It got worse. Struggling to land within inches of Mayweather in many spots, Baldomir was little more than a target.
Mayweather landed whatever he wanted in the first half, tagging Baldomir with lead rights, lead lefts, and body shots, before moving away and making the Argentine chase. Baldomir, through sheer volume, would land the occasional grazing shot but his lack of power left little effect.
As the fight progressed, the commentary on the HBO broadcast became more interesting than the fight. Mayweather won every round. Baldomir couldn’t land above single digits. By the ninth and tenth there was continuous chatter about why Mayweather didn’t try to finish.
After twelve rounds, one judge inexplicably had given two to Baldomir. The others scored a shutout and Mayweather looked to the fight he’d wanted for years. Mayweather claimed a hurt right hand had limited his offense after the fight. A contentious interview with HBO’s Larry Merchant foretold mounting on-air tension between the two.
For Mayweather, a win was enough. He had his eyes on another prize. A showdown with the megastar of his generation, Oscar De La Hoya, was within reach.
Historical Note: ESPN reported 325,000 buys on pay-per-view, a step back from the numbers for the Gatti and Judah fights. Mayweather was a lineal champion in his third weight division at age 29. He joined luminaries like Barney Ross, Roberto Duran, and Pernell Whitaker in holding history’s crown at 135 and 147 lbs. He was the first fighter, according to the CBZ and classic Ring Magazine title recognitions, to win the historical crowns at 130 and 147 lbs.
Outcome: Mayweather UD12 Baldomir
Mayweather Record in Title Fights: 16-0, 8 KO
November 18, 2006
Manny Pacquiao (42-3-2, 32 KO, Ring Magazine #1) vs. Erik Morales (48-4, 34 KO, Ring Magazine #3); Non-Title
The Fight: Morales took no tune-ups prior to what would be his final fight at 130 lbs. The time off did nothing to refresh him. Noticeably sluggish, Morales landed a good right in the first but was otherwise an easy mark for Pacquiao. Pacquiao clocked him with some hard lead rights and lefts.
Morales went for it in the second, initiating exchanges and landing some clean rights. Nearing the final minute, a Morales right sent Pacquiao towards the ropes. Firing, Morales was wide open for a counter left to the head and went down. Inside thirty seconds, Morales ate a combination, talked trash, and attacked to force Pacquiao backwards. They were exchanging in the middle of the ring at the bell.
Morales was still fighting, still looking to win, until a right hook stunned him in the third. The follow-up attack saw Pacquiao beating Morales from one side of the ring to the other, a left hand dropping Morales hard for the second time. Morales got up. With no real legs beneath him, he made one last stand, stinging Pacquiao with a couple rights before being forced to tie up under fire. A final left hand sent Morales flying from mid-ring towards the ropes and finally the floor. The legendary warrior sat up, his face a mask of defeat. He shook his head while looking towards his corner as the referee finished the count. It was an honorable surrender.
Historical Note: According to ESPN, the rubber match did approximately 350,000 buys. The three-fight series was the richest in the history of the Jr. Lightweight division. Morales would challenge David Diaz in his next fight for the WBC Lightweight title, scoring a knockdown and losing a razor thin decision before retiring until beginning a comeback in 2010. Watching the scale, both men weighed in officially at 129 lbs. but according to HBO Pacquiao unofficially outweighed Morales in the ring by five pounds at 144. Mayweather, for Baldomir, was officially 146 and unofficially 149.
Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writer’s Association of America would name Pacquiao the 2006 Fighter of the Year.
Outcome: Pacquiao KO3 Morales
To be continued…
Research Note: Records compiled with the use of www.boxrec.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org