Al Bernstein’s Memories, Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather, and the Future: Part Two By Ryan Maquiñana, MaxBoxing (July 2, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
This is the second of a two-part interview with Showtime analyst Al Bernstein. For the first half, please click here.
Yesterday’s chat with the Hall-of-Fame broadcaster covered his thoughts about the “Super Six” tournament, an in-depth journey into the weekly grind of a boxing analyst, and his latest endeavor, hosting the pre-fight activities at Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort for the Johnson-Jeffries 100th Anniversary Celebration. In addition to getting a taste of Al’s pugilistic preferences, the last half of our interview will touch on some hot topics, namely Pacquiao vs. Mayweather and what the future holds for the sport.
Again, at the conclusion, you can find more information about this weekend’s events in Reno, along with an opportunity to co-host an hour with Al himself or Emanuel Steward on ESPN Radio!
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RM: You’ve been broadcasting for 30 years and have been a fan of the sport long before that. Who is your favorite fighter of all-time?
AB: My favorite fighter of all-time is Sugar Ray Robinson. When I was a child, I saw him fight in the late ‘50s or early-‘60s but, even then, he was extraordinary. To me, he’s the greatest boxer of all-time. If you had to construct a perfect boxer, it would be Sugar Ray Robinson. He was as close to perfect as you could get.
RM: In your opinion, which fighter, past or present, never got his just due?
AB: One fighter who I think has never got his due, even when he was fighting, believe it or not, was Marvin Hagler. Look at how judges scored some of his fights. He had to win the last round to beat Roberto Duran and while he didn’t fight as well as he could have, the scoring was ridiculous. And one of the judges had [Hagler] behind in the fight against John Mugabi until he [Hagler] knocked him out. And then, you know he got the draw against Vito Antuofermo in his first title fight and that was absurd. Look at even public perception of Hagler. While people acknowledge his greatness, I just don’t think people gave him his due as one of the greats in the sport.
RM: What was your scorecard for Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard?
AB: I thought it was a very close fight that Hagler won by a point or two. My reasoning was in the punch numbers. Hagler won the battle of the jab. Now, if he won the battle of the jab, how could the boxer, Ray Leonard, win the fight? But I think Hagler did himself a great disservice by fighting the first three rounds right-handed. I don’t know what that was all about. He almost gave two of those rounds away. But everyone can reasonably think of it being close, except for “JoJo” [Jose Juan] Guerra, who had it 118-110, as I recall.
RM: You’ve gone on record and stated that the atmosphere for Roberto Duran vs. Hagler and Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns were the most electric you’ve ever experienced, personally. Do you think a Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather build-up could surpass that, in this day and age of information and communication? Social networking and the internet, in general, have made it easier for publicists and media to generate information or interest in an event.
AB: You’re right. If you have 50,000 people in some outdoor arena and 20,000 are texting and Twittering on top of the three million homes watching pay-per-view plus everything else, it would be dynamic and not just in the arena. It would create a global atmosphere that would be unlike anything that has ever happened before. It would be pretty extraordinary. Hagler-Hearns was amazing atmosphere and another fight that- even though it wasn’t a giant megafight but was incredible- was the Home Depot Center in Carson for the third Vazquez-Marquez fight. The seats were filled up to 10,000 and there was an electricity in the air that night that was profound.
RM: Mayweather is the toughest match-up in the sport. Defensively, he’s almost perfect but he likes to fight in spurts. Do you think Pacquiao can apply sustained, accurate pressure for 12 rounds, enough anyway to restrict Floyd from establishing his offense? Personally, I think that if Manny can edge out the first four rounds on the cards, it will affect the whole complexion of the fight in his favor. If not, then Floyd will clearly win the decision. How would you see that fight playing out?
AB: I think the key to that fight is going to be in the first five rounds. Pacquiao is a different fighter now. He’ll attack you but he’ll do it with movement from side to side and with more combinations. I’ve never seen a fighter re-invent himself the way Manny Pacquiao did and he’s got huge hand speed.
But somewhere in those first five rounds, Mayweather is going to land a right hand of significance. How Manny Pacquiao deals with that is going to give us a clue to how the fight’s going to go. If he’s hurt or knocked down or knocked out, obviously, then we have our answer. But if he isn’t and, up through those middle rounds and beyond, sustains his pace and makes Floyd Mayweather fight three minutes of every round, then I think you’d have to start looking at Pacquiao as the potential winner of that fight. Mayweather is a little bit bigger than Manny, in general, so I think Floyd will land something early. Even if Manny doesn’t get hurt and wins only one of the first five rounds, you’d have to assume he’d maybe be able to come out in those mid-to-later rounds.
Floyd Mayweather constantly surprises us with his ability. Who would have thought he could have gotten hurt against Mosley like that and still be able to turn around and control that [third and following] round? He’s an extraordinary athlete and a great fighter too.
RM: Last month, the Boxing Writers Association of America awarded “Fighter of the Decade” to Pacquiao. Did he deserve it? From 2000 through 2009, who were your top three fighters?
AB: [Pacquiao] deserved it. I’d put Floyd Mayweather right there with him. He’d probably be the second one. So who would I put in that third spot? I’m blanking out. Maybe Bernard [Hopkins]. I’d probably put him as number three.
RM: In 2002, THE RING released a list that proclaimed the 80 greatest fighters of the last 80 years. To name a few of the little guys, Henry Armstrong was at number two; Duran was at five; Willie Pep was one spot behind him and Pernell Whitaker rounded out the top ten. Based on each fighter’s body of work, where do Pacquiao and Mayweather currently stand in comparison with them?
AB: Interesting. The Pernell Whitaker [pick] doesn’t shock me. Now this will probably be a terrible heresy to say. Willie Pep was a great guy; I met him and I think he’s a terrific fighter but I think he’s overvalued by a lot of people. He lost all the time to Sandy Saddler, who controlled their series. I’m not sure why people continue to believe that Pep was the greater fighter. No question he was great but having him number six all-time, I just don’t get that.
Now Manny and Floyd. I’m not saying that Floyd has fought a total group of cupcakes. He hasn’t. And in some cases, other things have conspired for Mayweather to have the schedule that he’s had. He’s fought some very good fighters. But Manny Pacquiao has one thing going for him that Floyd doesn’t. He fought three other Hall of Famers in an era when those fourhe, [Erik] Morales, [Marco Antonio] Barrera and [Juan Manuel] Marquezall could lay claim to the fact that it was probably the best featherweight or super featherweight division that boxing has ever seen. Unfortunately, Marquez didn’t get in on enough fights in that period but at least he got in to contribute mightily. To me, that era when they were all fighting each other rivals the Hagler-Hearns-[Wilfred] Benitez-Duran era. That’s how good they were. And I think that gives Manny a leg up on being higher on the list than Mayweather. They’d both be in the top 40 for sure. What numbers they’d be, I don’t know, but they’d both be up there.
RM: Do you ever get concerned that in this day and age of information and YouTube and media hype, today’s greats will be overrated once they retire, especially since we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Robinson live or Armstrong live or Harry Greb live? Or is that just standard with any sport in any era, to overrate living legends in the here-and-now because we can’t step back and evaluate their résumés when they’re not complete?
AB: I think that’s part of the natural way of things. In other sports, people will do that but they’ll be able to make the claim and, maybe, rightfully so. Fuzzy Thurston, who was a 225-pound guard for the [Green Bay] Packers, [and] while terrific, you can’t really compare him to a 280-pound guard today that pulls and runs just as fast as Fuzzy did. The same is true in basketball, where you take the [Boston] Celtics or some team in the ‘50s but physically they might not match up now. But in boxing, for the most part, the weight classes are the same. I don’t think anyone doubts that if you were having a tournament of welterweights and Sugar Ray Robinson could magically come back from the past and be a part of it, he’d have to be the favorite. I don’t care if he was from 1950 or whatever, there’s not a monstrous difference.
RM: What’s your definition of pound-for-pound? “Fighter of the Decade” award aside, does Pacquiao deserve to be the consensus number one right now or does Mayweather have a legitimate beef to regain his spot at the top?
AB: I’d probably put Manny number one because my definition is who’s the best fighter and who has the best recent body of work. Now we won’t know who the best fighter is until they meet in the ring; it’s obviously a close call. Floyd had that mantle but he dropped out a couple years [in retirement]. But then Manny moved up [in weight] and beat Marquez and beat De La Hoya and Hatton. Then Floyd came back and performed extremely well against both Marquez and Mosley but Manny Pacquiao didn’t do anything to lose that number-one ranking.
RM: There’s a lot of concern that, in the near future, once Pacquiao and Mayweather retire, that boxing will be devoid of a bona fide pay-per-view star who has the power to generate seven-figure buys. Do you believe that at all?
AB: I don’t know. Boxing is such an entrepreneurial sport that thrives on the individual personality and coverage. And part of the reason that boxing doesn’t have more pay-per-view stars is that the mainstream media stopped covering the sport about ten years ago. This is true, even though they’ve gotten back to it more in recent times because boxing’s product has been tremendous the last six years.
Somebody becoming a crossover star takes an interesting set of circumstances and those are often different. Pacquiao’s was different from De La Hoya’s. Mayweather’s was different than both of those. Mike Tyson’s was different than those. Evander Holyfield had a certain story to tell that was different. So you never know how a person’s going to develop into that kind of marquee star or if they will. And it wouldn’t be a reflection on the sport being bad if after Pacquiao and Mayweather leave, they don’t have a single standard-bearer who stands above the rest. It just would mean there’s a component of it that didn’t quite get put together.
RM: Your current network, Showtime, is a subsidiary of CBS. Do you see the parent company bringing boxing back into the fold of network television?
AB: It would be very nice to see more title fights on network TV. Of course, some of the MMA [fights] got on CBS and, obviously, while there were some successes, it’s a sport that’s trickier because it’s more edgy. But it would be nice [to see more boxing] and network television just hasn’t had boxing on in a long time. Maybe in the future but it would be a good thing.
RM: Name some fighters you foresee being candidates for the “Fighter of the Decade” award in 2020. Are there any potential standard-bearers, in your eyes?
AB: [Jose] Benavidez is really good. I love Abner Mares but he’s probably past that point of being a prospect. He just had a close draw with Yonnhy Perez. There’s a lot of great talented young fighters and I think that’s what we were talking about being a superstar. So any elements go into it. You just don’t know how fighters will develop. You can see it in some like Benavidez and Mares. You see special qualities in them that make you think they might transcend the others.
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JACK JOHNSON VS. JIM JEFFRIES CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION!
It was called the “Battle of the Century.” On July 4, 1910, Jack Johnson, the first black man to hold the World Heavyweight Championship in boxing, took on the "Great White Hope," Jim Jeffriesa former heavyweight champion who had retired undefeated, three years earlierin Reno, Nevada. Exactly 100 years after this historic event, the city of Reno will celebrate the legacy of the Johnson-Jeffries fight with a three-day celebration, including a welcome gala on Friday, July 2, with a multimedia presentation. On Saturday, July 3, there is the exciting and fun "Al Bernstein Live Boxing Party" with trivia, prizes, and special guests and a live professional boxing show at the Grand Sierra Resort promoted by Top Rank Boxing and Let's Get It On Promotions. Please visit www.johnsonjeffries2010.com for detailed event information.
CO-HOST A RADIO SHOW WITH AL BERNSTEIN AND EMANUEL STEWARD!
For the 5th straight year, ESPN Radio 1100 in Las Vegas will broadcast live from the Palms Hotel and Casino for 24 straight hours, beginning July 30, 2010, at 6 AM. Each hour will be hosted by a different celebrity host or group of hosts. Al Bernstein and Emanuel Steward have been confirmed. Listeners will have the opportunity to bid on the chance to co-host for each hour during the Radiothon, with all proceeds going to The Caring Place in Las Vegas, a non-profit facility that provides free services to support the mind, body and spirit of individuals touched by cancer. For more ticket information, please call Debbie at 702-871-7333 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.