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Pacquiao vs Mayweather: Three belts and a historic fifth crown on the line

Manny Pacquiao has a chance to become the only man in history to become lineal champion in five different weight classes should he best Floyd Mayweather in May.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It's happening. The biggest fight in boxing is finally coming about. Five years past its best-by date, perhaps--but Mayweather vs Pacquiao is still undeniably the most spectacular event that the sport of boxing can possibly put together.

We live, for the most part, in a post-championship era. These days, there are so many Silver, Super, International, and other meaningless world titles that the fighters themselves matter so much more than the belts they parade into the ring on fight night. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are the furthest thing from an exception to this rule: the belts they hold pale in comparison to the sheer weight of their names, which sit at the center of the boxing world like two binary suns, every other fighter from 140 to 154 swirling around them just waiting for their chance to lose to the best.

And yet, there are belts on the line, and they do matter.

Firstly, Mayweather-Pacquiao is a title fight in the traditional sense. Since the fight will take place at 147 pounds, the two men's welterweight titles will be on the line. Pacquiao will wager his WBO belt against Mayweather's WBC and WBA (Super) titles. So that's one thing.

But there's another title at stake, one far more meaningful, the likes of which the sport has never seen before.

In boxing there are belts, and there are crowns. Belts are a dime a dozen, meaningless straps churned out by meaningless sanctioning bodies in order to collect a portion of each paper champion's purse. To date, there are 111 of these belts spread across 17 weight classes. It's ridiculous.

But a crown is something different. Boxing's crowns are figurative rather than literal, and yet their weight is much more than ten pounds of leather and brass ever could be. The crowns belong to the lineal champs, those men who proved themselves the absolute best in their divisions, either by beating the last man to hold that claim, or by succeeding in a bout between the division's consensus numbers one and two. The wearers of the crowns--there are eight currently in the sport--are the closest things boxing has left to true champions, though there are those who scoff at the idea of such a thing.

And in this fight--The Fight--Manny Pacquiao has a chance to become the first man in history to win the crowns of five divisions.

Pacquiao and Mayweather have already made themselves part of history by becoming the first men to hold the crowns of four divisions. The deed isn't quite as impressive as it would've been, such as when Henry Armstrong won three crowns in the span of 10 months between 1937 and 1938. Back then there were only eight weight classes; Armstrong seized the featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight belts, becoming at one time the world champion from 126 all the way to 147 pounds. Still, despite our recent preponderance of weight divisions, a five-division king would still be something, and Manny Pacquiao has the chance to become that man.

Pacquiao has already proven himself, at one time, to be the very best flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight in the world. Mayweather, on the other hand, holds his crowns in the junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight divisions.

This means that, for Mayweather, he has only his legacy on the line. Pacquiao, on the other hand, has a chance to make boxing history. If he wins, he will become the first man in the history of the sport to wear the crowns of five weight classes, a feat which may never be surpassed.

Does this make the fight worth watching? Not really. Mayweather-Pacquiao is the biggest fight in boxing for reasons other than titles, lineal or otherwise. Still, it is worthwhile to place this modern era of boxing in the context of the sport's history; celebrating the lineal champions--boxing's true champions--does that, and Manny Pacquiao could rewrite history for good this May.

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