Welcome to another edition of What If, where the gods throw a mean left hook to history:
On May 5, 2007, in front of a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas, Floyd Mayweather Jr. put an end to the championship run of the legendary “Golden Boy”, Oscar De La Hoya, winning a split decision that was nowhere near as close as that result would indicate. Your columnist, watching the fight again in the research for this article, had it 115-113 for Mayweather…and that was being generous to De La Hoya for his superior work rate. Judge Tom Kaczmarek, giving the fight to Oscar by a 115-113 count, should be beaten about the head with a plank of wood on which is written an explanation of the difference between a landed punch and a blocked one.
The result was decisive.
But what if things had gone differently? As Floyd Mayweather gets ready to fight Marcos Maidana for a second time this Saturday night, the narrative revolves at least in part around “Money” and his quest to extend his unbeaten record (currently 46-0 with 26 KOs), perhaps to 50-0 before retiring so he can surpass the great Rocky Marciano, who retired as undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion with a 49-0 career mark. The undefeated record is as much a part of Mayweather’s brand as any of his actual fights, so let’s start the show with a spanner in the works:
May 5, 2007: Oscar De La Hoya KO11 Floyd Mayweather
This fight proceeded much as it did in the real-world timeline, with the champion De La Hoya unable to establish his jab and the challenger picking his spots and punching in small volume but with freakishly good accuracy throughout the fight. Indeed, the crew of HBO’s pay-per-view team hit on this point constantly, as Jim Lampley wondered out loud why the Golden Boy had not made a serious effort to throw the jab since the eighth round. It was clear as day that Mayweather was on his way to at least a decision victory.
All that changed with seven seconds left in the round. Mayweather, coming forward, walked right into a crashing right cross that caught him flush and earned De La Hoya the Knockout of the Year honor when the year-end awards came round. An inch to the left or right and it would have been just a shot that landed at the end of a round, one of many that seemed to have no effect on the younger, faster, and more conditioned Floyd Mayweather. But boxing is a game of inches, and on this particular night, one punch from a bigger man changed everything in an instant. Mayweather was down and out, knocked completely senseless by a punch that he never saw coming, a classic example of just what kind of sport boxing can be when a guy with one-punch power (De La Hoya had 30 knockouts in his 38 wins prior to this fight) lands the perfect shot.
Before the fight, Floyd talked about retiring, saying all the platitudes about spending time with his kids and enjoying his money while he was still young. After this fight, Lampley, Emanuel Steward, and Larry Merchant devoted plenty of time to delivering what at the time surely seemed like a eulogy to the career of a fighter who may have stepped up in weight just one class too far and run into a guy who, in addition to a hell of a career of his own in the lower divisions, had at one point captured the WBO middleweight title.
De La Hoya was bigger, he was stronger, and in a flash in the 11th round of a fight he was losing, he got the job done.
Mayweather followed through on his saber-rattling about retiring…at least at first. But you can’t keep a man down who is as utterly at home in the limelight as Mayweather is, and it was only a matter of time before he was back on the scene.
July 5, 2008: Floyd Mayweather UD12 Juan Manuel Marquez
Marquez, fresh off a split decision loss to Manny Pacquiao in their second fight, moved up to 140 pounds in order to grab a share of a big bag of loot against a man who returned to the ring for the first time in fourteen months. Before the fight, questions abounded…was Floyd Mayweather going to suffer from ring rust? Would the sight of two counter punchers in the same ring make for the most boring fight of the decade, the antithesis of Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo three years previous? Was 140 too heavy for Marquez? Was it too light for Mayweather?
Questions have a funny way of going by the wayside once someone gets punched in the face, and for twelve rounds, Floyd Mayweather imposed his will on Juan Manuel Marquez, consistently beating him to the punch, frustrating his attack, and countering with such precision that any attempt by Marquez to establish the jab found him on the receiving end of a right hand over the top. The fight degenerated into a cat and mouse game, but Mayweather, knowing he was in charge, saw no value in trying to press the action, preferring instead to pot shot and outbox the Mexican in front of him.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was decisive. Mayweather won on all three cards by a 120-108 count after twelve rounds, and the world was on notice; Floyd Mayweather, now 38-1, was back.
September 13, 2008: Floyd Mayweather UD12 Timothy Bradley
With a win over Marquez secured and Mayweather saying after the fight that he felt fresher and faster at 140 than he had in his recent career campaigning at welterweight, the WBC arranged a title fight between Floyd and reigning champion Timothy Bradley.
The action turned out to be a virtual carbon copy of the Marquez fight as Bradley, who had neither the speed nor the power to contend with Mayweather’s superior technique and conditioning, ended up every bit as much the frozen scarecrow that Marquez had been when facing the Grand Rapids, Michigan native in front of him. Twelve rounds, twelve easy-to-score exercises in ring generalship and picking spots, and three 120-108 scorecards. With two dominant performances in service of gaining a belt, Floyd Mayweather was named Fighter of the Year by both the BWAA and by Ring Magazine.
May 2, 2009: Manny Pacquiao KO8 Floyd Mayweather
When Manny Pacquiao beat Oscar De La Hoya and sent the Golden Boy into retirement by virtue of the corner throwing in the towel at the end of the eighth round, the stage was set for a very interesting handshake deal that made possible one of the most demanded matchups in boxing. Pacquiao played the media angle of having conquered the man who Floyd Mayweather couldn’t beat, and De La Hoya, putting money over rivalry, made peace with Bob Arum and Top Rank, coming to an agreement that made Mayweather-Pacquiao a reality. With Mayweather’s WBC title on the line and an astonishing 2.8 million pay per view buys (fully 400,000 more than had paid for Mayweather-De La Hoya two years before) totaling over $150 million in revenue split between the two combatants, all that remained was for Michael Buffer to deliver the catchphrase and the battle to begin.
Freddie Roach had trained Oscar De La Hoya in his battle with Mayweather, and both he and Pacquiao watched the footage not only of that fight but of Jose Luis Castillo’s giving Floyd everything he wanted and then some in a pair of fights in 2002. The blueprint looked easy enough on paper: pound Floyd to the body, wrestle if necessary to get him on the ropes and trap him there, then use Mayweather’s dislike of pressure to wear him down and finish the job with a straight right.
The thing is, styles make fights, and the greatest strength for Pacquiao had the potential to be the greatest strength for Mayweather as well. Pacquiao can be walked into counter shots, and there has been no better counter puncher in the sport since Pernell Whitaker was still active than Floyd Mayweather. If Pacquiao lost focus for an instant, he could find himself face down on the canvas with photographers catching every moment as the referee reached the count of ten.
Against that backdrop the fight unfolded, Pacquiao coming relentlessly forward, Mayweather artfully dodging and moving around the ring trying not to let the man in front of him cut off his route of escape. Move and counter-move, a flurry of activity from the Filipino followed by quick, accurate hands providing retaliation. It was a hell of a fight.
Finally, however, in round eight, the hunter cornered his quarry and with a barrage of punches delivered in precise combinations, Mayweather at last wilted and referee Kenny Bayless stepped in at 2:07 to put an end to the dealing of damage. In a booming voice, Michael Buffer delivered the blessed word of the boxing gods: “…and NEW…WBC super lightweight champion of the world…MANNY. PACQUIAO!”
Of course, Mayweather howled for a rematch. He complained that the fight had been stopped too quickly. He insisted that he’d have won had he been allowed to fight on and survive Round 8. He did everything short of claim that De La Hoya and Arum had fixed the result. He went on Friday Night Fights and used Brian Kenny and Teddy Atlas as his mouthpieces, and he even raised the specter that perhaps Pacquiao had been chemically assisted.
Of course, larceny abhors a vacuum, so…
September 19, 2009: Floyd Mayweather TKO5 Manny Pacquiao
Everything that went wrong for Mayweather in the first fight went gloriously right in the rematch. Floyd was ready for Pacquiao’s attacks in the second go, as every attempt by Pacquiao to establish any kind of offensive rhythm was met not by Mayweather mounting the bicycle around the ring but by crisp, devastating counter shots.
If the blueprint for beating Floyd Mayweather was supposed to be suffocating pressure, it wasn’t on display in this fight, as a constant display of strategy involving countering an incoming shot, unleashing a combination behind it, then getting out the side door was just what the doctor ordered.
The finisher was right out of prime-timeline Pacquiao-Marquez IV, and with precisely the same result when the punch landed to end the fight. Manny Pacquiao was flat on his face, his eyes glazed like a Krispy Kreme donut and, as a bonus, blood pouring from his nose like a squeezed jelly variant of the previously-mentioned pastry.
With the score level at one knockout victory apiece and with a PPV audience in the rematch exceeding even the first fight’s record-setting numbers as the final count of buys crossed the three million mark, the truce held between Golden Boy and Top Rank, proof positive that you can solve any problem by throwing enough money at it. Mayweather-Pacquiao I took home Fight of the Year honors while the second fight netted Floyd recognition for Knockout of the Year.
May 1, 2010: Floyd Mayweather D12 Manny Pacquiao
Really, what was left? Each man had learned how not only to beat his rival, but to be beaten by him. Both men came in with a game plan that tried to distill what had earned them success and bring it to bear upon his foe.
As if their chins had been reinforced with granite and their hands put into turbo mode, Mayweather-Pacquiao III had something for everyone. In the first three rounds, Mayweather looked on his way to repeating his performance in the second fight, countering and picking off Pacquiao with a series of counters and, when the Filipino found himself frustrated at his lack of ability to crack the defensive code, potshots to capitalize on Pac-Man’s indecision.
All that changed in the fourth, as a Pacquiao right hand found a home on Mayweather’s chin, staggering the champion and leaving all in attendance wondering how he’d remained upright after the shot crashed onto its target. Jim Lampley’s “Ladies and gentlemen, we have got ourselves a FIGHT!” entered the annals of great boxing calls, the “Down goes Frazier!” of the New Tens, as Pacquiao clearly won the next two rounds and looked like he might well repeat his own triumph from the first fight.
So it went for the next six rounds, an old-school Pier Six brawl when Pacquiao took the initiative, a boxing clinic worthy of names like Whitaker and Pep and Greb when Mayweather gained the advantage.
The tenth round went down as one of the greatest, not only of 2010, but quite possibly of all time. Pacquiao came out after closing the ninth with some solid shots and seized the early momentum to drop Mayweather, the first time in fact that Floyd had actually hit the canvas in the trilogy, since the stoppage in the first fight was achieved with help from the ropes rather than from gravity. Fifty seconds into round ten, the fight looked for the first time like it was headed toward a clear consensus on the question of who was actually winning.
Two minutes and ten seconds is forever in boxing time, though; Pacquiao, trying to press his advantage, walked into a counter right hand from Mayweather mere seconds before the end of the round, and down went Manny Pacquiao. A 10-8 round fell by the wayside and became a toss-up for the judges.
After two more rounds with no less action and no less drama, it finally went to the scorecards, and by a count of 115-113, 113-115, and 114-114, neither fighter could claim victory in the three-fight series. Both men had a hand held up by the referee, and the Internet exploded with Tsar Bomba-level fury, flamewars raging on boxing forums for years to come, each side’s partisan fans insisting that their man had won the day and was the better fighter. “Flomos” and “Pactards” had no peace, sentenced to eternal purgatory, because Mayweather retired after the third fight and Pacquiao went on to an unremarkable twilight to his career after having been drained on an Ali-Frazier scale from those three epic wars. Both men found themselves in the Hall of Fame, immortalized by one of the greatest arguments in boxing history having been made eternal by the brilliance and futility of each man’s attempt to conquer the other in battle.
Sadly, here in the real-world timeline, we have to contend with a guy who’s preserving his undefeated record, a pair of promoters who wouldn’t know détente if you stabbed them in the dick with it, and a boxing media that’s more interested in partisan bickering than in bringing the principals to account for squandering what would surely have been hundreds of millions of dollars for their own ego-driven short-term feuds. Sadly, “What If Boxing Made A Damn Lick Of Sense” isn’t a column that could ever be written—even the best writer and historian working in one mind wouldn’t know where to even start such a thing.
So in the meantime, we get Mayweather-Maidana II, and Manny Pacquiao gets a squash handed to him in the person of Chris Algieri. What fun.
NEXT WEEK: What if Ray Mancini never killed Duk Koo Kim? Following on from last week’s question posed in the Salvador Sanchez piece, we examine the stay of execution of the 15-round championship contest.
Fox Doucette writes the What If series of alt-history articles for The Boxing Tribune every Tuesday. He’s got a real doozy planned starting in two weeks’ time about Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and changing the course of World War II without killing Hitler, all in a three-part series. Stay tuned, and follow Fox on Facebook at facebook.com/MysteryShipRadio.