|Interview with Larry Merchant on Pacquiao, Hatton, Mayweather and Much More
Part One by Mike Cassell, Philadelphia Boxing Report (Jan 24, 2009) Doghouse Boxing
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Merchant about all things boxing. In usual Merchant style, he gave his honest hit on the mind of the modern fighter, and the possible comeback of Floyd Mayweather Jr. He also touched on the state of the Heavyweight division and what can be done to salvage a weight class that is taking a standing eight count.
Mike Cassell: Larry, I have to ask you about the Pacquiao - De La Hoya fight. You looked a bit like the cat that swallowed the canary after that fight. What did you know that nobody else seemed to know?
Larry Merchant: Well, I don’t think I knew that Pacquiao would virtually shut De La Hoya out and make him quit on the stool, because nothing like that has ever remotely happened to Oscar before. I did however know that Pacquiao could compete with Oscar, and the original intent of mine when I came up with the idea was that it would be a big event and boxing needs these big events, both to attract people that are not everyday viewers of boxing, and to show the business world that you can make a lot of money in the boxing arena. And secondly, my feeling was that I didn’t want to see a rematch between Floyd Mayweather and Oscar, as big of an event as that was, because I just didn’t see it turning out any different. Manny Pacquiao since he was fighting at 130lbs. had been weighing in at 140 by the evenings of his fights. I thought that if they met at welterweight, Manny could compete. But little did I think, or even realize, how complete a fighter Manny has become. When he originally came to America from the Philippines, he was this Typhoon that just over ran people his size. But in the interim years to his credit, under the guise of Freddie Roach, he has become a really complete aggressive boxer, puncher. He showed amazing poise and discipline in that fight, never getting reckless or careless, and we saw what we saw.
Mike Cassell: It was amazing. Nobody closes the show like Manny Pacquiao, something I thought a guy like Floyd Mayweather Jr. really lacked. He really made a lot of boxing fans that night.
Larry Merchant: Well, I believe the highest form of the art of boxing is the boxer puncher who breaks his opponent down and is willing to go all the way because he understands that fans want to see someone who has the passion to show his ability and finish the job, and he has that. And not many successful prize fighters, and it’s almost impossible to overstate how successful and popular Manny is in the Philippines, are willing to continue to improve themselves. I mean, they say to themselves, Hey “I’m famous, I’m popular, I’m the champion, and I made a fortune of money, why should I change? Why should I work as hard as I did when I was a young fighter?” And that’s all to his credit that he is not like that. He should have 4 or 5 really big fights, and he is supposed to fight Hatton next.
Mike Cassell: Well, I am totally sold on Manny, he is just amazing. I guess the real question to ask after a fight like that is, where does Oscar De La Hoya go from here? Is his career in the ring over at this point?
Larry Merchant: He made about 30 million bucks that night. He is a Phenomenon like we have never seen, in terms of himself as an attraction. He could retire. He could have retired 3 years ago, and left enough money for his great grandchildren to live like maharajahs. He is a prideful guy, but listen, any veteran fighter does not want to fight a guy who has speed, because a guy who has speed will often expose a veteran fighter. When Bernard Hopkins fought guys who were quicker than him, like Jermaine Taylor and Joe Calzaghe, he was on the defensive, he never let go and he lost decisions. When he fought Pavlik, a big strong kid who was fighting ten pounds heavier than he ever had before and a guy who walks straight to you, he looked ten years younger. He wasn’t fighting speed. So Oscar could say to himself, I could make a comeback fight. Perhaps against Chavez Jr. and that would be a popular fight for Mexican and Mexican American fans. Oscar may be thinking, there is a kid he could fight and probably beat and then if he wanted to fight another fight, he could do that, or simply walk away. It’s an unenviable position in the sense that, what does a tremendously successful fighter do who is in his mid thirties who has made enormous amounts of money and it’s time to go. There is nothing that he will ever be able to do that will remotely compensate him emotionally or financially as was in his prime. But Oscar has this successful promotional company, so he can still stay close to the game, still make money and still feel that he is a part of something that he has been a part of for most of his life.
Mike Cassell: He is tremendously popular, and it seems people will pay to see him fight.
Larry Merchant: Not in the numbers they once did. That is gone. When you get beaten that badly, your fans don’t want to see that. It is part of the arc of a prize fighter’s life and that will happen if you stay too long. It happened to all the great ones of the past, and fans do not want to see it. Again, a fight with Chavez Jr. would have some appeal in Mexico and the Southwest, but I don’t think he will ever be able to attract really big numbers anymore.
Mike Cassell: Well, let’s talk about what I think would be the real dream match. Pacquiao verses Mayweather. Can it happen? Will it happen? And what do you think the outcome would be of a super match like that?
Larry Merchant: I think that if Pacquiao beats Hatton, and beats him in a more convincing manner than Mayweather did, that a Mayweather fight would be a very big event, in that Mayweather would probably come out of retirement for it. Who would win the fight? Well that’s a way off. If Mayweather was Mayweather after a 2 year layoff, and he is physically fit, because I think there has been some clues that, one of the reasons he retired was that he was not physically whole. But if they could fight at an agreed upon weight, which I would suggest would be somewhere in the mid 140’s, then I think it could happen, and a great defensive fighter like Mayweather is hard to beat. Just like great pitchers are usually successful against great sluggers. Mayweather would probably be favored, but I do think that Pacquiao gives him all he can handle. Pacquiao is quick, just as Mayweather is quick, especially as he moved up in weight to face bigger guys. It’s a good fight and a fight everybody would want to see.
Mike Cassell: I look at a guy like Floyd Mayweather, who is a tremendous boxer. Probably the best boxer of my generation. And...
Larry Merchant: I would say He is the best since Pernell Whitaker.
Mike Cassell: Not according to him. He puts himself right up there with Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Larry Merchant: Well, he can put himself up there with God, that doesn’t make him the final arbiter. (Laughing)
Mike Cassell: Although I never saw him live, I think Sugar Ray Robinson at welterweight would have easily dismantled a guy like Mayweather.
Larry Merchant: Right. You are exactly right.
Mike Cassell: Well, let’s talk about the other guys, Like Antonio Margarito.
Larry Merchant: Who Mayweather didn’t want any part of, by the way.
Mike Cassell: Well that’s why I don’t think there should be a question of Mayweather coming back. I think he has to come back. There is such a large part of the welterweight division that he seems to have just ignored. Guys like Paul Williams, Antonio Margarito, and...
Larry Merchant: And Shane Mosley. But that’s how boxing fans and boxing writers see it. Fighters today are not just fighters. They are entrepreneurs. They make decisions based on money. Mayweather didn’t want any part of Margarito because he saw him as a bigger version of Castillo, who he had trouble with at lightweight. A very strong and very determined willful type of fighter. And I don’t think he (Mayweather) thinks that he has to clean up all these things. I think all he thinks he needs to do is fight the major events that happen. Would he want to fight Margarito if he was to beat Pacquiao? Possibly, if Margarito gets past Mosley and goes on to beat Cotto again, and goes on to become an important attraction, maybe he would fight him. If Cotto would come back and beat Margarito, Cotto is a good attraction. I think we have to separate the way you and I look at it from a point of view of measuring a fighter against all of his peers and asking the question, is he willing to fight anybody? Certainly, Oscar got all kinds of credit for being willing to fight anybody, and deservedly so, as did Shane Mosley, but Mayweather is a different cat, and I don’t think doing that is a priority for him.
Mike Cassell: It seems to me that Mayweather thought he was the welterweight division, and that everyone had to come before him and prove themselves before getting a shot.
Larry Merchant: I would just remind you, and anyone listening, that Margarito’s people offered Mayweather roughly twice of what he was making back in 2006 for a fight, before the De La Hoya fight.
Mike Cassell: Yes, I think 8 million dollars.
Larry Merchant. He rejected it. He rejected it, because he did not want to jeopardize the De La Hoya fight. And as a business man, he made a very smart decision. I mean, he made over 20 million dollars for the De La Hoya fight. In boxing, these things matter. We cannot separate the money and the popularity of fighters, from whom they fought. Look at Sugar Ray Leonard. When they had the round robin in the 80’s with Duran, and Hearn’s, he fought in six of those fights. He was willing to fight anybody. But Mayweather does not have that same attitude, and neither did guys like Roy Jones for example. Roy Jones bypassed several fighters we all thought he should have fought, and he didn’t care what we thought. (Chuckle).
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