Home Columns Ranking Mayweather vs. Pacquiao compared to top 5 biggest fights of modern...

Ranking Mayweather vs. Pacquiao compared to top 5 biggest fights of modern boxing history

Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

It’s the superfight of the decade, and might just become the superfight of the early part of the 21st Century. Certainly it is the most lucrative bout in boxing history, even after the mega-purses of the past are adjusted for inflation.

Yet while Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao (M vs. P) matches the top pair of big-name fighters in the sport, nevermind in the same weight class, against each other, the years-long delay in making the fight happen has undermined its value. Should the fight not actually deliver on expectations, it is in danger of becoming not a contender for one of the sport’s greatest fights ever, but its greatest and (at $100 per PPV buy) most expensive letdown ever.

So much hinges on how events in the ring actually play out for this one. Even the paycheck each fighter will receive isn’t a fixed quantity until fight night, because both are receiving percentages. The one thing we can do here now, however, is compare the match quality and the build-up against the five biggest fights in modern boxing history, the last 50 years, to see how M vs. P measures up.

1. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier I (1971)

Billed as the “Fight of the Century,” this classic boxing match continues to reign as exactly that in the minds of most experts, the greatest fight of the 20th Century. Both Ali and Frazier were undefeated heavyweight champions, with Frazier owning the belts and Ali standing as “the man who beat the man.”

The heavyweight division is the sport’s glamor division, and never has it mustered more glamor than when these two men squared off. In terms of the match-up quality, Ali was somewhat rusty from his long lay-off, but still good enough to polish off two legitimate contenders before getting to Frazier. For his part, Smokin’ Joe was at the peak of his powers, hungry for a win that would solidify his legitimacy, and a walking, talking wrecking ball in the ring.

Compared to this fight, M vs. P doesn’t measure up. Mayweather is undefeated, but Pacquiao can’t even claim to be undefeated in recent memory following his brutal knockout defeat at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez. What is more, neither man is at the peak of his prowess. Both resemble Ali somewhat, having slid a bit from their peak, so there is no equivalent to Frazier in the match.

Bigger Than M vs. P

2. Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns I (1981)

Arguably the greatest welterweight bout in history, this was another classic that pitted two well-established, undefeated welterweight champions in their prime. This bout served as the sport’s bridge between the Ali era and the rise of Mike Tyson, and it’s no exaggeration to say everyone in America and all international fight fans wanted to see it.

Many of the same factors that applied to Ali vs. Frazier make this a bigger fight than Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Both Leonard and Hearns were undefeated at the time, and both were in their prime.

The comparison also underscores just how long we have waited for Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Imagine if this fight had been postponed for as long as Mayweather vs. Pacquiao was. During that period, Leonard retired temporarily and Hearns went on to such classic fights as Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. What would we think of Leonard and Hearns today if they had met only after Leonard began a comeback and Hearns had just been knocked out by Hagler?

Bigger Than M vs. P

3. Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (1982)

Dubbed “The Battle of Champions,” this match saw Pryor trying to become a four-division champion by taking on stoic, fierce veteran Arguello. The result was one of the sport’s all-time great action-packed thrillers, the sort of thing many fight fans are hoping M vs. P becomes.

M vs. P comes off better in comparison with this bout. Although Pryor and Arguello were both in their primes, they weren’t the biggest names in the sport. For Mayweather and Pacquiao, the reverse is true.

Tied With M vs. P

4. Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor (1990)

Chavez vs. Taylor was a hotly anticipated fight, but perhaps not as anticipated as Mayweather vs. Pacquiao for the simple reason that Mike Tyson was duking it out with Razor Rudduck at the time and rebuilding his career (prior to his rape conviction, that is).

The fight also shares something of that classic aspect of being a boxer vs. puncher engagement with the current mega-fight. Yet once again, both Taylor and Chavez were in their primes and the two modern gladiators are not.

Tied With M vs. P

5. Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo (2005)

Like Pryor vs. Arguello, this fight is revered more for what happened in the ring than in the expectations leading up to it. Castillo and Corrales were favorites among fight fans, and it was a hotly anticipated match in boxing circles, but the event attracted little attention from the wider world. Indeed, given the sliding popularity of boxing, it could be fairly said fewer people took interest in this bout than had done for Pryor vs. Arguello and Chavez vs. Taylor.

Once again, Corrales vs. Castillo saw two prime guys duking it out, a factor that has weighed heavily against M vs. P in every comparison. Yet not only were Corrales and Castillo not the biggest draws in boxing, the fight between them failed to attract any mainstream sports buzz until after it happened. The match quality might be as good or better for this fight, but it can’t compare to M vs. P for build up. The two aren’t even in the same league in that department.

Smaller Than M vs. P

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Richard Thomas has been in and out of boxing gyms in Kentucky, Ohio, the District of Columbia and Thailand and for a quarter century, and writing about boxing since 1997. A passionate devotee of the sport, he is as keenly interested in boxing history as he is in the latest bout. He currently lives in Europe, and is also the owner and Managing Editor of The Whiskey Reviewer.