The branding is thrown around somewhat in boxing circles. "Super fight," "mega fight," whatever you want to call it. We see one to three of them every year, the fights that carry the sport's business, give us ammunition for a couple of weeks to pretend that this is ever going to stop being a niche sport ever again, and then disappear.
Oscar de la Hoya had many of them this decade. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has had three, with Oscar, Ricky Hatton and Juan Manuel Marquez. Manny Pacquiao has had two, with Oscar and Hatton.
And now we near November 14, when the third 2009 "super fight" comes to us from Vegas: Filipino phenom Pacquiao against Puerto Rican hero Miguel Cotto.
So what makes this any different? In recent years, these super fights come and then they go, and we all get the high and go, "Yeah, 'dead sport' my ass!" And no, it's not a dead sport, but boxing is a truly niche sport. Those surges of interest in the sweet science are fleeting; people go back to waiting for the next time their television tells them it's time to pay attention, and it's a huge minority of the million who watched Mayweather-Marquez that stuck around to watch something like the November 7 rematch between Chad Dawson and Glen Johnson.
But will they be there for Cotto-Pacquiao? Many of them likely will be. The world has been told of this "Pacquiao," and if you don't know him for more than the two biggest fights and some HBO highlights, can you imagine what a dynamo and a near-enigma he must seem to be? There has never been an Asian or Pacific Islander fighter that has taken the sport by storm in the way that Pacquiao has, certainly not in America. He's very "new" in that sense, something totally different for casual American boxing fans.
Then there's Cotto. Make no mistake, this should be the toughest fight of Pacquiao's career, and he's taken no shortage of top-ranked opponents and massive risks. Both of his last two fights were big risks. This one is the biggest of the three. Cotto's not aged and drained the way Oscar de la Hoya was, and he's just better than Ricky Hatton.
Unlike the other recent super fights, this should be a fantastic fight as well as a major event. That's the difference. That's why this one is so special. This is no Mayweather-Marquez mismatch. And yes, I thought the same about Hatton-Pacquiao, which turned out to be a one-sided demolition job by Pacquiao. But I don't see that happening this time around.
For boxing to sustain any growth, which I think is a real problem in marketing and promoting the sport, fights like this one have to be sold, and not just by the promoters. They have to be sold by the fans, who might be able to create new fans. My only challenge to anyone in recent years has been to actually watch some fights. If you don't like it then, hey, different strokes and all that. But if you've ever been a fight fan or if you're just a sports fan that loves drama, and excitement, and amazing acts from athletes, this type of fight is the fight you have to see.
Chances are this fight happens, does good business, gets some buzz in the sports world, and then boxing loses a lot of that burst of interest yet again. It happens every other time. But this fight could be so good that long-term fans are made. It has that potential.
I can't wait.