Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao should have happened in the wake of Miguel Cotto, sometime in May 2010, when both prize fighters were in their career primes.
But, it didn't.
We're now tantalizingly close to finally getting the fight of a generation. This upcoming Saturday (May 2, 2015), the two era-defining boxers will collide inside MGM Grand Garden Arena to headline a pay-per-view (PPV) so huge it will cost as much as $99 to watch.
It's the big one. The one we've all been waiting for. The one that will save boxing. Still ... even if it's passed its ideal expiration date.
In Nov. 2009, Pacquiao -- an eight-division champion -- put an absolute whooping on one of the best welterweights in the world, knocking down Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto twice before the latter's father mercifully stepped in to end the beating.
Before that, the Filipino superstar obliterated Ricky Hatton and tore Oscar de la Hoya to pieces.
Mayweather, meanwhile, had decided to retire after his own win over Hatton in 2007, but reneged on that statement to fight Pacquiao's personal boogeyman, Mexican legend Juan Manuel Marquez. Where Pacquiao had struggled with the gritty counter-puncher in two previous engagements, "Money" routed him, dropping him in the second round en route to taking at least 10 rounds on all three judges scorecards.
To add to the drama, Mayweather made no effort to actually make weight, essentially buying himself a weight advantage.
The timing for Mayweather vs. Pacquiao could not have been more perfect.
Pacquiao wasn't just beating everyone regardless of size, he was demolishing them. Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, de la Hoya, David Diaz -- he absolutely ran roughshod over them. Unlike today, there was the sense that you could watch Pacquiao against anyone south of 154 pounds with a reasonable expectation that he could put them on the floor.
On the other side of the tracks, Mayweather was THE big thing in boxing. Ring Magazine awarded Mayweather vs. de la Hoya "Event of the Year" for 2007, then gave "Money's" retirement the award the following year. When he came back, he made the great Juan Manuel Marquez look like a chump in the perfect prelude to a clash with Pacquiao.
In fact, his own manager, Leonard Ellerbe, called Pacquiao the "next obvious choice" after he thumped Cotto.
The fight of a lifetime there for the taking, served on a silver platter. A curveball that didn't so much hang as magnetically propel itself directly into the path of the swing. And they couldn't get the deal done.
Scroll down a bit more on the Ring link. Their "Event of the Year" for 2010 was the failure to make the fight a reality. SB Nation has a pretty thorough timeline of the cavalcade of failure, including purse negotiations, weight negotiations and the infamous drug testing fiasco.
No matter what the root cause, the best and most obvious fight to make didn't happen. Pacquiao instead fought the skilled but outmatched Joshua Clottey, while Mayweather took on Shane Mosley, who had admittedly beaten seven shades of it out of Antonio Margarito, but was still past his expiration date.
So, what's changed since then to temper fans' excitement?
The obvious answer is that both men are seemingly well past their best.
Mayweather, while still impeccably skilled and suffering from less wear-and-tear than most thanks to his defensive skills, doesn't have the legs he used to, instead relying on his shoulder roll to keep himself out of trouble. On the bright side (in regard to excitement), he showed some vulnerability and willingness to scrap against Marcos Maidana, but also showed no hesitation to make it a stinker in the rematch.
Offensively, the only man he's finished since Hatton was Victor Ortiz, which was such an utterly ludicrous situation that it's not really a point in Mayweather's favor. He lands some good shots, but just doesn't hurt people.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, hasn't finished anyone since Cotto. He's scored a few knockdowns and turned Margarito's face into a Ripley's exhibit, but he's only really been close to a knockout against Algieri. The speed's mostly still there, the angles are still there, the combinations are still there. He's just not knocking out dudes anymore.
Are they still amazing fighters? Sure. Will they put on a great fight together? Probably not.
In 2010, Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao had the obvious potential of being a lot of fun to watch. In 2015, it may be more appealing as a concept than a real thing. It's like a chocolate fondue fountain. It looks amazing and you can't wait to use it, but as the party goes on and all the crumbs from everyone's dipping material pollutes it, you find you've lost your appetite.
Mayweather argues against my thesis, claiming that he, "[doesn't] regret anything" about the decision to wait. And why would he?
Not only has time ostensibly been kinder to him than it has to Pacquiao, the delay has allowed him to make ludicrously-lucrative fights like his match with "Canelo" Saul Alvarez. His claim that the fight is bigger now than it was back then is hogwash and he knows it.
Don't get me wrong, Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao could still be something amazing.
We haven't seen Mayweather against a powerful left straight in years and Pacquiao can uncork the kind of balls-out aggression to drag a quality fight out of "Money." Of course, as the great Spock once said, "having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting." Especially after five long, drama-filled years.
For more on "Mayweather vs. Pacquiao" fight, including the latest updates click here. SB Nation also has a comprehensive "Pacquiao vs. Mayweather" news stream right here. And to check out a "Mayweather-Pacquiao" full fight video preview click here.