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.
2007: Mayweather Goes Supernova, Pacquiao Closes a Chapter
April 14, 2007
Manny Pacquiao (43-3-2, 33 KO, Ring Magazine #1) vs. Jorge Solis (34-0-2, 25 KO, Ring Magazine #8 at 126 lbs.); Non-Title
The Fight: Splitting time between 126 and 130 lbs., Solis got the biggest shot of his career at the higher class. He entered with good bloodlines and experience. His brother, Ulises, was a titlist at 108 lbs. and Jorge Solis had a win over eventual 126 lb. titlist Cristobal Cruz.
For the first few rounds, it was Pacquiao’s speed largely controlling the action but the taller Solis was keeping it honest. Solis had some moments late in the fourth and a pretty good fifth round, catching Pacquiao in exchanges. In the sixth, an accidental clash of heads bloodied Pacquiao’s left eye. Pacquiao responded violently.
Upping his output, Pacquiao opened up and began to wear down Solis with quick combinations to the head and body. In the eighth, Pacquiao scored two knockdowns on big left hands. Solis couldn’t beat the count the second time around.
Historical Note: Pacquiao-Solis managed approximately 150,000 buys as an independently produce pay-per-view show in the US, according to Yahoo .
Outcome: Pacquiao KO8 Solis
May 5, 2007
Oscar De La Hoya (38-4, 30 KO, WBC, Ring Magazine #5) vs. Floyd Mayweather (37-0, 24 KO, WBC/Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal at 147 lbs.)
The Fight: Mayweather moved up to his fifth weight class for a crack at the biggest star of the time. De La Hoya, 2-2 in his previous four fights, was coming in off a dazzling beating of Ricardo Mayorga for a belt at 154 lbs. Prior to that, a 2004 stint at Middleweight had proved a bridge too far. De La Hoya was lucky to win a WBO belt against Felix Sturm before being stopped for the first time by Middleweight Champion Bernard Hopkins. De La Hoya, who was trained for several years by Mayweather’s father, opted for Freddie Roach in the corner.
The first round saw De La Hoya trying to establish a body attack. Mayweather used movement and left leads, jabs and hooks, to try to establish a pace. In the second, Oscar had some success with the right hand over the top, a low contact frame. De La Hoya had more success early in the third, responding to a right with a flurry to the body. Oscar had the crowd’s favor with aggression.
He curried the favor of the masses again with a body attack on the ropes in the fourth but he couldn’t find his challenger’s head. Mayweather opened up in the fifth. Buckling De La Hoya at one point with a right off the ropes, he showed off his full arsenal at range and inside for his best round to then.
The next three rounds were better for De La Hoya than the fifth had been. Using his jab more, and slipping shots, De La Hoya and Mayweather played chess. The eighth round saw Oscar winning early but Mayweather firmly took over as the frame wore on. Oscar closed with a big flurry before the bell, though little landed.
Mayweather had a big ninth, chuckling at a bevy of missing blows with his back to the ropes and landing well as they moved back into the middle. The tenth round was more Mayweather, his jab and right hand landing seemingly whenever he wanted. He punctuated the action with a right just before the bell that rocked De La Hoya back on his heels.
Life remained in the defending titlist. Oscar was soundly outboxed for most of the eleventh but showed no quit. A big right late in the round got a cheer. With three minutes to go, Mayweather appeared to have the fight well in hand. De La Hoya hunted for a knockout while Mayweather opened up to secure his victory. The closing moments saw both men swinging in a dramatic closing salvo before an embrace after the bell.
De La Hoya, whose luck with the judges varied in his career, got a generous 115-113 card from Tom Kaczmarek. The other two judges tipped the nod to the man who earned it at 115-113 and 116-112. Mayweather had arrived as a megastar. The economic numbers would underline his value while he added a title in his fifth weight class at age 30.
Historical Note: This was in many ways the fight that launched the modern model for the boxing mega show. HBO’s 24/7 pulled in high ratings and new attention for Mayweather as he transitioned from “Pretty Boy” to “Money.” Mayweather’s colorful personality added much to the box office as they shattered the overall (Heavyweight and non-Heavyweight) pay-per-view sales mark with 2.4 millions buys, besting De La Hoya’s previous high of 1.4 million buys with Felix Trinidad in 1999.
Mayweather weighed only 150 lbs. for the bout and was back at Welterweight for another box office bonanza by year’s end.
Outcome: Mayweather SD12 De La Hoya
Mayweather Record in Title Fights: 17-0, 8 KO
October 6, 2007
Manny Pacquiao (44-3-2, 34 KO, Ring Magazine #1) vs. Marco Antonio Barrera (63-5, 42 KO, Ring Magazine #3); Non-Title
The Fight: Just four years shy of the anniversary of their first clash, and four pound higher, Pacquiao and Barrera met for the second time. Barrera rebounded from his 2003 stoppage loss to Pacquiao with six straight wins before losing a competitive decision to Juan Manuel Marquez in March 2007. During his win streak, Barrera won his third battle with Erik Morales for the WBC 130 lb. title and briefly added the IBF belt with a win over Robbie Peden.
Barrera’s biggest problem the first time they fought was Pacquiao’s sizable advantage in speed. The problem remained. Barrera strategically attempted to nullify it with a patient, countering approach. It meant only sporadic attempts at offense in the first three rounds. Pacquiao picked away, outworking and outlanding Barrera.
A brief skirmish in the fourth gave way to an exciting fifth. Barrera landed hard while Pacquiao was on the ropes only for Pacquiao to come back as the crowd got some of its money’s worth. It would be a highlight of the fight.
Short outbursts of violence were fewer as the rounds tediously ticked along. Barrera wasn’t able to find Pacquiao consistently, the defensive improvements of Pacquiao over the years on display. Also on display was the lost snap of Barrera after years of wars. Barrera was still good enough to keep himself off the floor and proud enough to fire back. When he did land, like a good right in the eleventh, Pacquiao came back with combinations and forced Barrera back into a defensive posture.
A Pacquiao left wobbled Barrera in the last minute of the eleventh. An exchange ended with Barrera cut under the right eye and both men in a clinch. The referee, Tony Weeks, called for a break and as he stepped between them Barrera launched a blatant right hand. Pacquiao went to the ropes appearing dazed and took some time to recover. Barrera lost a point.
The fight ended much the same as it had been all night. There were flashes of action surrounded by technical boxing. Pacquiao won a lopsided decision, winning ten rounds on two cards and seven on another. Pacquiao’s three-way rivalry with Mexico’s finest (Morales, Barrera, and Marquez) closed another chapter.
It was still far from over.
Historical Note: The rematch was, like all three pay-per-view showdowns with Erik Morales, a success for Pacquiao at 350,000 buys . The fight was only the second 12-round decision win of Pacquiao’s career. Oscar Larios, in 2006, was the first.
Outcome: Pacquiao UD12 Barrera
December 8, 2007
Floyd Mayweather (38-0, 24 KO, WBC/Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal at 147 lbs.) vs. Rick Hatton (43-0, 31 KO, Ring Magazine Champion, Lineal at 140 lbs.)
The Fight: Their ships passed briefly at 140 lbs. Hatton defeated Kostya Tszyu for the historical and IBF crowns at Jr. Welterweight in June 2005, just weeks before Mayweather won the WBC belt against Arturo Gatti. Hatton added four more wins after Tszyu, adding a WBA belt with a unification stoppage of Carlos Maussa. He gave up his IBF belt to pursue a WBA Welterweight belt in 2006, winning a debated decision over Luis Collazo. Hatton returned to 140 lbs. and regained the IBF belt from Juan Urango. He gave that up again but remained the lineal king, stopping former Lightweight titlist Jose Luis Castillo to set up the Mayweather showdown.
With a wild, singing, traveling contingent from the UK cheering him on, the mauling Hatton pressed hard in the first. Each man landed hard blows. Referee Joe Cortez made clear from the outset that there was only going to be so much rough stuff inside, breaking early and often.
In round two, Mayweather took some lead lefts and landed some blistering counter rights. There was plenty of clinching and grappling, both men initiating in spots, following landed punches. Cortez warned them twice in the round. Hatton had a third round to his liking, keeping Mayweather in an alley fight but suffering a cut over the right eye. The fourth round started well for Hatton, working hard with Mayweather against the ropes. Mayweather came back in the middle of the ring, carving through the spaces allowed with rights and lefts.
A brawling Hatton kept on top of Mayweather, digging to the ribs, for most of the fifth. Hatton was having a good start to the sixth, landing a right and left to Mayweather’s head before getting carried away. As Mayweather was twisting away, Hatton landed a blatant rabbit punch. Cortez took a point. Hatton’s response was to turn his back to Mayweather before action resumed, sticking his ass out in a taunt and bringing a grin to Mayweather’s face. Mayweather nailed Hatton with some clean lead lefts but for most of the rest of the round it was Hatton who controlled the pace by staying inside and keeping Mayweather on the ropes.
They stayed in the trenches in the seventh with Mayweather increasing his output. Working Hatton to the body, Mayweather was gradually starting to figure out the timing. It got worse for Hatton in the eighth, Mayweather working him to the head and body and hurting him late in the round. Hatton kept digging in, kept coming forward, kept finding holes for the occasional right hand, but the momentum was firmly to the champion.
The action slowed just a bit in the ninth, Mayweather boxing smart and limiting Hatton’s chances by tying up inside. Hatton charged forward to start the tenth. He would charge one time too many. Walking straight into Mayweather in the corner, Mayweather pivoted and landed a perfect left hook as Hatton crashed head first to the turnbuckle and went to the floor. Hatton was up at eight but badly dazed. Hatton tried to hold on but his legs weren’t coming back. Mayweather blistered him with a left hook along the ropes and just missed on another left and right as Hatton swayed sideways and collapsed to the floor. Cortez stopped the fight as Mayweather leapt onto the ropes to celebrate.
It was the last time fight fans would see Mayweather in a boxing ring for almost two years.
Historical Note: Despite his successes in the first seven rounds of the fight, Hatton officially had won only two rounds on one scorecard and one on the two others prior to the stoppage. After years of declaring he could be a megastar, Mayweather had his box office breakout year. After setting the record for pay-per-view buys with De La Hoya earlier in the year, the Hatton fight did an impressive 850,000 buys . Ring Magazine, the BWAA, and just about every other outlet named Mayweather Fighter of the Year.
Outcome: Mayweather TKO10 Hatton
Mayweather Record in Title Fights: 18-0, 9 KO
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