They agreed to the split. They agreed to the gloves. They had a mostly for-show search for a venue that put them at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, boxing's grandest stage. Hell, they even worked out whose name would go first on what promotional devices.
It was going to have both fighters earning up to $40 million or so when all was said and done, with $25 million guarantees, the largest ever. The fight would have a chance at breaking the all-time gate record in Nevada, and the all-time pay-per-view record.
It was a perfect fight. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the unbeaten immovable object, against Manny Pacquiao, the seemingly unstoppable force cutting through class fighters like he was fighting David Diaz every night. The potential for a bit of an ugly style clash was there, but so was the potential for a fight where both would be tested like never, ever before, by fellow fighters whose skill level was as good as it gets.
It isn't to be, apparently. Mayweather would not budge from his set demands for Olympic-level blood testing requests, and while Pacquiao was willing to give in a bit, it just wasn't enough for Floyd.
I am neither blaming Floyd nor Manny exclusively. Both of them and their teams have put a dent back in boxing that everyone in the sport had been working for about three years to take out. It started when Floyd and Oscar de la Hoya met in 2007, a fight that broke all the records and demonstrated to the promoters that when you work together on big fights, good things happen for the sport.
Shortly after, the Cold War between the two biggest promotional firms in the game, Top Rank and Golden Boy, was over. They were pitting their fighters against one another in major events. The first came when Manny Pacquiao rematched Marco Antonio Barrera. Following that, we had Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley, Kelly Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins, Pacquiao-de la Hoya, Antonio Margarito-Shane Mosley, Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton and more.
More and more, detractors, naysayers and the mainstream media in general looked at boxing as a revitalized sport, where things could get done, where the mismatches and garbage main events had been at the very least greatly diminished, if not firmly cast aside. Things were happening again with arguably the oldest sport in the world.
Mayweather-Pacquiao would have trumped them all. Not since Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns in 1982 had the two very best fighters in the world come together for a single showdown. And not only were they the best, they were the biggest stars, the sport's two clear money men.
But now, the short-sighted nature of boxing's promoters and fighters has reared its ugly head once again. I worried initially about what boxing would do after this fight; now, we have to wait to see if this fight will be made in September or something.
And even if it is, it won't be the same.
This entire fiasco has seriously damaged the credibility of boxing as a sport. The two will now move on to different fights on back-to-back weekends in March. Floyd Mayweather looks like he'll fight Paulie Malignaggi on March 13. Pacquiao will face Yuri Foreman on March 20.
I mean no disrespect to Malignaggi or Foreman, two fine boxers, but this is sort of like the Colts and Saints making the Super Bowl and deciding they'll skip on playing each other, and instead they'll face the Giants and Broncos.
Where else but in boxing can you get a catastrophe that will define the sport in the short term, putting it in a negative light, and then have everyone mud-sling instead of try and fix what's wrong? Bob Arum and Co. will spend their time calling Mayweather a coward, and Mayweather and Co. will spend their time pointing out that all Pacquiao had to do was agree to their demands.
I don't care about the blame game. I only care about what this does to boxing's image, and to the images of a couple of great fighters that I respect. Mayweather and Pacquiao are boxing's representatives to the general public, and depending on which side folks have picked, both of them have taken hits with this bungling. Neither comes out smelling particularly rosy, and when they fight their substitute opponents in March, there are going to be a lot of people that just say, "Who cares?"
All that goodwill that boxing has built up over the past few years is wasted with this one fight going under. Two men managed to captivate the public to an amazing degree, and then when it got right down to it, they backed off of the biggest fight there is.
So what do we as boxing fans do now? We move on. We look at upcoming fights such as Mosley-Berto, Luevano-Lopez, Gamboa-Mtagwa, Valero-DeMarco, Vazquez-Marquez IV, and the second stage of the Super Six World Boxing Classic. There's more to this sport than just Mayweather and Pacquiao.
But no matter what face I try to put on this personally, in the back of my mind on March 13, I'm going to wonder what it would have felt like to watch the two best in the world go nose-to-nose for the referee's instructions.