(CNN) — This is the mega-fight. Possibly the biggest fight of our lifetimes, a blue-moon opportunity to see two of the world’s greatest fighters go toe to toe. It’s Ali-Frazier for the modern era, with media coverage dwarfing even that most famous of fights.
It’s rare that boxing, that most mercurial of sports, has the opportunity to unify the belts. The victor on Saturday in the much-anticipated bout between Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao and Floyd “Money” Mayweather will be the undisputed world champion, and stand to walk away with more than just a share of the reported $300 million purse.
No wonder boxing great Evander Holyfield told CNN’s Don Riddell that he’s “excited” for the bout, while other luminaries of the sport are predicting great things from Saturday.
“We should see a classic fight on a classic night,” predicts former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver. “It should go down in boxing folklore as one of the greatest fights of all time.”
Gone in 60 seconds
Tickets for the event sold out in one minute, and the fight will generate somewhere upward of $400 million.
After years of teasing with rumors and disputes about seemingly trivail contractual points, this fight is finally happening. The anticipation is unprecedented.
But when the lights at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas go out, will the sport have received a shot in the arm, or will Pacquaio-Mayweather be looked at by sports historians of the future as the high-water mark of the sport?
“The fight should’ve happened five years ago, when these two boxers were in their prime, when this could’ve developed into an (ongoing) rivalry, that it could’ve been some sort of a franchise that could’ve built (interest in) the sport,” says Bob Dorfman, who is the executive creative director of the Baker Street advertising agency and author of the “Sports Marketer’s Scouting Report.”
In the fractured, factional world of boxing, there is no logical path for champions to come together; this took a meeting courtside at a basketball game, and the will of both fighters, for the chips to finally fall into place.
Competition bearing down
We are a world away from the “Four Kings” era of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the main draws of the 1980s, or of the boxing climate of the 1990s when boxing produced a showreel of household heavyweights — some villains, some heroes.
Today’s boxing lacks any real personalities bar Mayweather and Pacquiao, says Dorfman, and the sport has suffered, particularly since the high-octane, almost-literally no-holds-barred Mixed Martial Arts bandwagon showboated into town, which has, he says, captured the interest of younger fans.
And when they do decide to hang up their gloves — Mayweather is 38, Pacquiao 36 — there are worries about where the next superstars will come from, the next men with the personality, technique and skill of a Manny or a Mayweather.
True the loquacious Keith Thurman Jr. or the hard-hitting heavyweight Anthony Joshua might light up a boxing fan’s face, but they certainly don’t have the widespread recognition that Saturday’s duo has, and their headline fights are unlikely to whip casual fans into a frenzy.
“This (weekend’s fight) is a one-off,” says Dorfman. “If anyone is thinking that this is going to turn the sport around, it isn’t going to happen.”
Both are nearing the end of their career, and could be looking to protect their records — in Mayweather’s case, undefeated as a professional — and thus boxing not to lose. If they box overly defensively, many who tune in could be turned off the sport altogether.
Part of how the sport fares post-Mayweather/Pacquiao depends largely on how Saturday plays out. If it is a slugfest that sets pulses racing — and there is no reason to doubt that at least one of those fighters will be gunning for a KO — boxing may win a whole new generation of adherents. If both fighters come to the fight looking not to lose, it could turn off fight fans everywhere.
“We could have a stinker on our hands,” British pundit Steve Bunce tells CNN. “Mayweather might do what Mayweather does best, which is not get hit. (But) when it’s over, even if it’s been a dull fight, the event will live on.”
For the good of boxing
Some are optimistic that the mega-event will re-elevate boxing to its former, giddy heights.
“We’re all hoping it (lives up to the hype) because it’s good for the sport; it just reinforces that it’s a sport to be reckoned with but that’s up to the two fighters,” Fred Sternberg, President of Sternburg Communications and a member of the Pacquiao camp, tells CNN.
“It’s a shame that this has taken so long to happen but if it lives up to the potential I think it’s a great shot in the arm and a great impetus for boxing to return to where it has been in the past.”
Oscar de la Hoya, one of the few men who has faced both of Saturday’s fighters, says that he anticipates it will break the pay-per-view record that his 2007 bout with Mayweather set.
“I really hope it does, for the sake of the sport,” he told CNN’s Richard Quest. “I’m rooting for Manny and Mayweather to put on a tremendous fight. For me it’s a bittersweet moment because I don’t want the record to be broken but at the same time it’s great for boxing.”
Bunce says the success of the event shouldn’t be measured in how much it generates in revenue, but its legacy.
“What’s happened over the last four or five years in America is that everything (in boxing) has been focused on the fight that we’re waiting for on Saturday,” he says.
“Hopefully when the dust settles a couple more million people who took up the pay-per-view will be reminded that it’s a good sport for a Saturday night. Let’s hope. There are some good title fights coming up in the next six weeks but if they dip under the radar then this fight has done nothing but be a ridiculous financial success.”
Carrying the torch a little longer?
Regardless of the outcome, the world’s eyes will be on that ring on Saturday. Could these two fighters, at the end of it all, carry the sport for a little while longer?
CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, who was perhaps more instrumental in getting the fight signed than anyone else, was asked by Sports Illustrated if he had plans to negotiate a rematch.
“I don’t even want to think about that,” he said.