The Trojan War was already in its tenth year when Achilles, the great hero of the Greeks, and Hector, the savior of Troy, met on the plains outside the city walls for a duel that would be remembered for millennia. With that in mind, perhaps we boxing fans should be grateful that we've only had to wait six years for our own great champions, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, to find themselves at that same crossroads.
But I'm not complaining too loudly; a late fight is better than no fight at all. And although I'm a firm believer that this bout will never be what it could have been - neither fighter is a young man, and both have ever so slightly begun the long fade into the twilight - I'll watch with the same ardor I would have years ago, even as I wonder how their advancing age will affect the outcome.
Floyd Mayweather, of course, has never said he's getting old, even though he claims he's "pretty much done" after this. Still, he's always happy to wow the media with speedy jump rope routines or the intricate padwork that's tailor-made to show off his mongoose-like reflexes. Seconds into these workouts, it becomes clear that the natural gifts that have allowed him to kill 45 cobras in his two-decade career are still present (if somewhat dulled). And his boxing acumen has more than compensated for what Father Time has stolen - his 2013 bout against Canelo Alvarez and most recent against Marcos Maidana have shown that he's still a wily and, at times, unhittable opponent.
But it was that first Maidana fight, the one where he was often out-gunned and out-brawled by a wild Argentinean bull with black eyes and a revolver tattooed on his ribs that illuminated his inevitable decline. After Mayweather took the majority-decision victory, he backpedaled, said that he'd planned it all along: he wanted to sit on the ropes, so he could give the fans a fight to watch! Yes! That's it! It was all for the fans!
Bullshit. Mayweather has never had an ounce of concern for his fans, and he surely didn't that night. The truth is that Maidana's ferociousness caught him by surprise, and any other boxer would have crumbled before the onslaught. While it speaks to Mayweather's prowess that he didn't, it also shows that he can be bullied and beaten up; he may not be average, but he's no demi-god, either. And the fact that over a half-decade has passed since the first talk of a Pacquiao bout doesn't help him tactically - whereas a younger Mayweather would be able to land a hard right hand and then slip away with the soundless glide of a blockade-runner, the 38-year-old version will, at least sometimes, have to stand and take his licks. And when you do that against a fighter who throws Manny Pacquiao's cluster-bomb combinations, that means something big might just get through. The talk lately is of a Pacquiao who can no longer pull the trigger; I'm more worried about a Mayweather who can no longer get off the rifle range.
Of course, the 36-year-old Pacquiao has had his ups and downs as well: once the world-beater who battered Oscar De La Hoya, nearly killed Ricky Hatton, and stopped Miguel Cotto in the 12th, he was laid low himself by a triumphant Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012. Although he's rebounded nicely, it's hard to say that he still exhibits the ruthlessness of his youth. Call it the curse of old age, or the realization of one's own mortality that comes with being knocked senseless, but he seems to have suddenly realized that he has much to lose, and his "Death or Glory" attitude does not come without consequence. The effect of that could be tremendous.
But it also means that he has already tasted the coppery bite of bloody defeat, and it frees him to gamble in ways that Mayweather, who is ever so protective of that golden goose egg in his 47-0 record, can't. By taking this fight, Pacquiao risks nothing. If he loses, c'est la vie. He's been beaten before, and he'll live through it now as he lived through it then. But if he wins, he becomes a folk hero of mythical proportions, the boy who starved on the streets of Manila only to grow up and slay the American Goliath.
Conversely, it's a no-win situation for Mayweather. Should he prevail, his detractors will say that he waited until the once-savage Fillipino had already begun to wilt before he faced him, and boxing insiders will say good, he should have won - after all, he's the bigger, faster, stronger man with the longer reach and better boxing pedigree. But if he loses, his fortress crumbles. He tried to duck Pacquiao for all those years, they will say, and when they finally fought, he was put in his place. A great champion indeed!
It's clear that Mayweather has already lost the PR war - he's as hated a champ as Jack Johnson, and should his extravagant lifestyle and gaggle of hangers-on ever bleed him dry, few will shed a tear for the fallen king. But this, at least, is his chance to cement his place in boxing history as the best of an era. Because even though things like fame, money, and power will roll in and out like the tide, a man's actions are forever - and a crowning victory would endure.
But he can't win this one in typical Mayweather fashion. If he cruises to a unanimous-decision that puts fans to sleep and bores the general public, he will bear all the ill will that comes with it, and history, I think, will not be kind.
What's the alternative? Simple: beat Manny Pacquiao so mercilessly that it leaves no doubt that he'd have annihilated him at any point in his career. Lead right hands and lateral movement will not do it this time, no - he must channel the barbaric Mayweather that dismantled Diego Corrales or bludgeoned the late Arturo Gatti. He's got to take it to Pacquiao, and follow those lead rights with left hooks and more right hands and put on a show worthy of the stage that's been set. And when he finishes, he must do it with a thunderous flourish, like the finale at the Fourth of July fireworks that leaves the mob with open mouths and starlit eyes.
Surely a man as astute as he realizes this. Rumor has it he's been knocking out sparring partners, and I expect to see a more somber Mayweather climb through the ring ropes on May 2, one who will fight as if his legend - indeed, his very life - depends on it.
And if that happens, be assured that Pacquiao will assume his rightful place in the annals of history as this generation's Hector - no less noble ... but no less doomed.