Mayweather next? Pacquiao wins biggest if they don't fight
Saturday night at Texas Stadium Manny Pacquiao faced the most daunting challenge of his career and conquered it with style.
You could argue (And I would -- loudly) that Antonio Margarito deserved neither the shot at the WBC super welterweight title nor the $3 million payday that came with it, not after attempting to enter the ring with with plaster-reinforced hand wraps for his January 2009 title bout with Shane Mosley, and not after the California commission shot down his attempt at reinstatement.
When Floyd Mayweather declined the opportunity to meet Pacquiao on Nov. 13 he gave Bob Arum (who promotes both Pacquiao and Margarito) the room to do an end run around the California commission's suspension, get Margarito licensed in Texas and give him the pay-per-view date with Pacquiao.
But even if Margarito's main event credentials rested on a flimsy premise -- specifically that he belonged in any ring after what he tried to pull against Mosley -- he presented a credible threat to Pacquiao. At 5-foot-11 he's huge for his weight class and has built a career on crushing smaller fighters' spirits with his concrete chin (and gloves?) and relentless pressure, and Saturday night he entered the ring with a 17-pound weight advantage.
Pacquiao still made him look like a sparring partner, survivng tense moments in the second and sixth rounds but overall dealing the bully a massive beatdown. Margarito left that bout with a career-high paycheque, a fractured oribital bone and swelling on his face that won't subside for days.
And Pacuiao left the ring with a world title in an unheard-of eighth weight class and a familiar question facing him:
Is Floyd Mayweather next?
We asked the same question this time last year when Pacquiao dismantled Miguel Cotto, but after 11 months of bickering boxing's two brightest stars have sparred at the negotiating table still haven't squared off.
And that's a shame because before Saturday Mayweather was the only other fighter in the world with a legitimate claim to the pound-for-pound crown, and remains the only fighter alive with the skill set to cause Pacquiao problems. Pairing those two in 2011 would produce the most important fight of our generation and the biggest single sports event of the year.
But if it never happens I won't be surprised, and if Pacquaio's the one who refuses to fight I won't blame him.
It's not just because, after Saturday's lopsided win, Paquiao's legacy in more than set. With titles in eight world classes he doesn't need a Mayweather win to vault him into the all-time top 10.
Instead it's because if Mayweather is honest with himself he knows he needs to beat Pacquiao, both for the $50-million payout and to cement his status as the top fighter of his era. And the best way for Pacquiao to ensure a resounding victory over Money May -- and repay Mayweather for 11 months of insults, delays and drama -- is to never face him.
Not duck him.
Just leave him alone.
Move on to other things while Mayweather scrambles for a big payday and a career-defining win.
Saturday night HBO analyst Max Kellerman pointed out that Pacquiao absorbed more punches -- 229 -- than he normally does. Citing that stat compared Mayweather to a mid-1980s Ray Leonard, who had a standing invitation to face middleweight king Marvelous Marvin Hagler but waited for Hagler to endure grueling bouts with Thomas Hearns and John Mugabi before emerging from retirement to make the fight.
But unlike Hagler, Pacquiao doesn't have to rally to salvage wins. He took punches because he always takes punches, but he's still winning by wide margins.
So instead, picture Mayweather as Leonard circa 1990, coming off a draw in a rematch with Hearns that most people felt he lost and looking to remain relevant with a big money bout against another old foe.
Leornard wanted Hagler to end his three-year retirment, but Hagler was happy doing what he was doing -- living in Italy and making straight-to-video feature films.
He stayed retired, and instead of another superfight Leonard settled for a February 1991 bout with Terry Norris, and absorbed more punches for less money than he would have against Hagler.
This isn't to suggest that Mayweather's skills are about to abandon him, or that Pacquiao should retire to concentrate on his singing career.
But Pacquiao has never had more clout than he has right now after thrashing Margarito, while Mayweather's declining profile is a fact he needs to face.
Over the summer Pacquiao's camp decided to comply with Mayweather's request for Olympic-style drug testing and boxing fans worldwide thought the fight of the decade was finally on.
Yet rather than accepting the fight Mayweather let the opportunity lapse, refusing to explain the move and leaving his girlfriend to hint without elaborating that Pacquaio situation is more complex than it seems.
Instead of beginning training camp for a megafight Mayweather spent September butting heads with his ex-girlfriend, a confrontation that netted him nothing but a string of charges.
And instead of facing Pacquiao in the ring Mayweather blindsided him in a racist rant on Ustream.
As Mayweather's behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre the profile he gained by dominating Shane Mosley in May bleeds away, and so does the leverage he needs to compel Pacquiao to face him on fair terms.
Do you see Mayweather facing Paquiao for the short end of a 60-40 purse split?
Neither do I, but with their stocks rocketing in opposite directions Mayweather might need to accept it because he needs a win over Pacquiao to answer lingering questions about his ability to handle a hall-of-famer in his prime.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, knows his legacy is set, and could decide not to fight at all, leaving Mayweather with 40 percent of nothing.
Against a guy nicknamed "Money" what better revenge is there?
Follow the Star's Morgan Campbell on Twitter