In the past, winning a boxing title was simple. You beat the guy who held it, and that was it.
Nowadays, claiming boxing’s most coveted distinction – recognition as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet – is not so easy.
Case in point: Almost immediately after his second-round knockout of Paul Williams on Nov. 20, middleweight world champion Sergio Martínez revealed his plans for the future. The Argentinean southpaw said he's determined to take the proverbial pound-for-pound crown.
From Roberto Durán to Julio César Chávez to Oscar De La Hoya, the honor of being dubbed the sport’s best across weight classes has been a boost to Latino fighters – especially those who might not have the size to contend in the traditionally more high-profile heavyweight division, but have the speed, accuracy and ability to merit recognition.
To be sure, few who watched Martínez's bout against Williams question his ability to contend. He is currently considered third among pound-for-pound contenders.
But don't expect the talented boxer – or any other Latino fighter, for that matter – to get a shot anytime soon because the pound-for-pound debate begins, ends and seemingly orbits around two boxers: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. For the better part of a decade, they have displayed why they’re deserving of the honor. Their careers seemed inevitably on the verge of intersecting, giving boxing fans a fight that would go down as one of the most eagerly anticipated in boxing history.
Except for one thing: who knows if it will ever happen. At the moment, a Mayweather-Pacquiao showdown looks doubtful.
Mayweather, for one, is likely out of the ring for the foreseeable future. He has a hearing in January relating to allegations that he assaulted his ex-girlfriend and threatened their children. It’s hard to believe he’ll return to fight before that legal situation is resolved.
Police also are investigating accusations of assault with a deadly weapon after the boxer allegedly tried to run a former employee off the road last week, as well as an unrelated misdemeanor battery accusation.
Pacquiao and his team, meanwhile, are reported to be meeting before the end of the year to discuss his next bout. But as viewers of HBO’s “24/7” witnessed in the lead up to the Filipino fighter’s recent bout against Antonio Margarito, some, including those closest to Pacquiao, seem to wonder if politics is exerting a greater pull on Pacman than pugilism. (Whether his responsibilities as a congressman were a serious distraction or a well-crafted story line is a whole other debate.)
The problem is, until this debate is finally resolved in the ring or the public accepts the (more likely) reality that a fight between these two greats will never happen, the sport is at a standstill. While everyone holds out hope of seeing a true pound-for-pound championship, every other fighter in boxing takes a backseat.
It, therefore, seems impossible to earn the title of boxing’s best without going through Mayweather and Pacquiao.
Even if Martínez’s promoter Lou DiBella floats Pacquiao and Mayweather as potential challengers, it’s hard to envision it happening. Either fighter would give up considerable size, and Martínez is fast enough to do damage. Never mind what a blow a Martínez victory would be to the already-over-hyped “No. 1 vs. No. 2 Pacquiao-Mayweather Fight of the Millennium.”
Either way, the whole dilemma will eventually resolve itself. Mayweather and Pacquiao will fight or they won’t, and the public will move on to finding a new pound-for-pound best.
That will take some time, though. Unfortunately for Martínez, who is 35, time is the one thing he does not have.