That would be Floyd Mayweather Jr. (41-0, 25 KOs), still the principal claimant to Pacquiao's unofficial but highly prized designation as best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet.
Mayweather, whose most serious scraps of late have been with police and judges wielding gavels instead of pencils, last fought on May 1, 2010, when he scored a one-sided, unanimous decision over . . . Shane Mosley.
Mayweather, who is so fluent in trash-talking it could qualify as his second language, has been so inactive (just two fights in 41 months) that the editors of The Ring magazine recently announced they were dropping him from their rankings. But in "Money's" case, being out of sight doesn't necessarily equate to being out of mind.
In a recent conference call with the media, Pacquiao, Roach and Arum were obliged to spend a chunk of the question-and-answer session discussing a possible pairing of Pacquiao with Mayweather instead of the impending proceedings with Mosley, who, at 39, is still a threat but widely viewed as on the downhill slope of an exemplary career.
Someone asked Pacquiao what he thought about Mayweather's 1-year anniversary of his most recent ring appearance.
"That's too long for me," said Pacquiao, who has comfortably settled into a twice-a-year boxing schedule since he attained superstar status. "If I had to take a year off, I would stop boxing."
Would it be especially meaningful for Pacquiao if he were to become the first man to defeat Mosley inside the distance, something not even Mayweather was able to accomplish?
"If a knockout comes, I would be excited for that," said Pacquiao, who added "I think so" when asked if defeating Mosley even more emphatically than had Mayweather was an added incentive to summon one of his more electrifying performances.
The constant references to Mayweather might not appear to unduly rattle Pacquiao, but they clearly irritate Arum, who formerly promoted Mayweather but is now suing (and being sued by) him. Mayweather talk also irks Roach, who would prefer to keep the focus on the opponent at hand rather than the one spewing invective from the fringes. Nor are Mosley and Richardson particularly pleased that what could be Mosley's final turn as a major attraction is being impinged upon.
"Shane is still special," insisted Richardson, the North Philadelphian who will be the chief second for 46-year-old Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins when he challenges WBC light-heavyweight champion Jean Pascal on May 21 in Montreal, a rematch of their Dec. 18 bout in which Hopkins had to settle for a hotly disputed majority draw. "We keep counting these older guys out. They aren't just old men who box; they are legendary fighters who have age on them now. There's a difference between a legendary fighter who has age, and an old boxer."
Nor is Mosley, whose last two bouts - he was lackluster in a 12-round split decision over Sergio Mora last Sept. 18, in addition to his beatdown by Mayweather - depict him as anything but splendid.
"I will bring an exciting fight," vowed Mosley, a 7-to-1 underdog. "The fans choose to see knockouts. They want to see someone who has power. They want to see a fight where risk is being taken. For this fight, it's very risky for someone like Manny Pacquiao to fight someone like myself. People want to see what's going to happen. Is Manny going to get knocked out? Or is Manny going to knock Shane out? The unpredictability arouses people around the world."
For all the subplots that could have attached themselves to Pacquiao-Mosley - one of which is that Mosley, a former client of infamous BALCO founder Victor Conte, admitted in a sworn deposition last year that he had used the blood-doping agent EPO prior to his July 26, 2003, victory over Oscar De La Hoya - the match has not generated the buzz that Pacquiao-Mayweather would have. Part of that is because Pacquiao and Mosley are gentlemanly sorts not given to a lot of yapping; Mayweather wears the role of "bad guy" as easily as his own skin.
But it has been 8 months since Mayweather upped the verbal ante during a profanity-filled racist and homophobic Internet rant in which he said he was "going to cook that little yellow chump."
The implacable Pacquiao called Mayweather's spiel an "uneducated message," adding that "I'm not looking for that fight. I'm satisfied with what I've done in boxing already."
So here we are, still talking about a megafight that is at least nearing its expiration date, if it hasn't passed it already. Should he get past Mosley, Pacquiao, 32, is pondering a third go at Juan Manuel Marquez, against whom he is 1-0-1. A loss at any time could take much of the glow off the Filipino's pugilistic halo, and even if he continues to win he could ditch boxing to devote more time to his political career in his homeland.
Mayweather also is no kid at 34, and his prolonged layoff is sure to have coated his marvelous skills with a layer of ring rust. He seems content to leave a $40 million payday uncollected, leaving fight fans to wonder if his refusal to get it on with Pacquiao is rooted in fear or arrogance.
Either way, boxing loses.
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