It’s easy, in retrospect, to belittle Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao. It wasn’t terribly hard beforehand, either. We knew, coming in, that Mayweather was the heavy favorite, deservedly. We knew this because we watched these two men age over the years between when the fight was a twinkle in our eyes and when it finally happened in 2015 — and we saw who aged worse. We knew that this was probably Mayweather’s strategy all along: that he would wait until Pacquiao needed him more than vice versa, until a time when Pacquiao was at the precise intersection of optimal vulnerability and salvageable marketability.
And then came the fight itself. It wasn’t good, and it wasn’t close. The best you could say about it was that it was tactically interesting through the first half, something that aroused only a fraction of the people who bought the pay-per-view. Most who watched saw a disinterested going-through-the-motions, even though that wasn’t it. And then came Pacquiao’s explanation that he had an injured shoulder coming into the meeting, which was either a lie born of sour grapes and a desire to cultivate an excuse for a rematch, or a reason the fight was even more of a sham all along.
Doesn’t sound much like the foundation of a Fighter of the Year campaign for Mayweather, huh?
Yet as true as all of the above is, it doesn’t paint the full picture. These things are also true: Mayweather in 2015 beat the other best fighter of his generation. He beat the second best fighter, pound-for-pound, at the time. He did it relatively easily. And he did it in front of the biggest PPV audience ever — doubling his own previous record. He secured arguably the most important win of this millennium, period. And it will stand as the most important win for years to come, no matter what happens next in the sport of boxing.
You don’t have to like it, any of it, up to and including Mayweather himself, a loathsome figure. But you can’t deny it, really.
Is what Mayweather did in 2015 better than what anyone else did? (And yes, the win over Andre Berto to close out the year is hardly worth mentioning. It’s less than window dressing. The best fighter in the world taking on a guy who lost to rudimentary gatekeeper Jesus Soto Karass as his “farewell” fight is more like a disgrace.)
For the Queensberry Rules staff, it was virtually an even vote between Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez. And Alvarez has a compelling case. He scored the Knockout of the Year. He starred in his own major PPV via HBO, beating another of this generation’s best, Miguel Cotto. He had one very good win and one solid one, and demonstrated that he very well might be the future of boxing. His fight against James Kirkland, one week after Mayweather-Pacquiao, was sold as the balm for fans burned by unmet high expectations, and it delivered.
But the Fighter of the Year isn’t about the future. And just like when Mayweather and Canelo fought, just like Canelo-Kirkland, Canelo came behind Mayweather in 2015. Whether Mayweather ever returns to the sport or not, boxing in 2015 belonged to him above all.
Previously: 2015 Knockout of the Year candidates; 2015 Fight of the Year candidates; 2015Round of the Year candidates; 2015 Fight of the Year winner; 2015 Round of the Year winner; 2015 Fighter of the Year candidates; and 2015 Knockout of the Year.
(Floyd Mayweather Jr. celebrates his unanimous decision victory against Manny Pacquiao in their welterweight bout on May 2, 2015 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada; Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)