Their days are long gone, and the luster of boxing has gone with them.
Two of boxing’s biggest stars, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. of Las Vegas, Nevada and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao of General Santos City, Philippines are both deep in retirement, away from the daily grind of maintaining their lofty perch on top of the boxing world, but they haven’t left combat sports for good.
Mayweather, 39, and Pacquiao, 37, have vested interest in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in their post-boxing careers and it just goes to show that while boxing may have seen its best days, MMA is on the rise and ready to take over the combat sports landscape.
“[Boxing] wants me back, but it’s time for me to move on to MMA. I’m talking about as far as getting to start promoting fights for MMA,” said Mayweather, who retired undefeated last year following his final fight against Andre Berto.
Mayweather has run into a lot of controversy surrounding popular UFC fighters such as former women’s champion Ronda Rousey. At one point, there was steadily increasing public demand for Mayweather to face Rousey, as absurd as the idea might have been.
The UFC is of course the biggest MMA promotion in the west, with popularity concentrated mainly in the United States and in large parts of South America.
“I’m ready to get in the business now,” said Mayweather, who heads his company TMT (The Money Team). “Of course, you already know what the MGM Grand stands for, ‘Mayweather Gets Money.’ I’m still doing that, every month the check comes in. We’re talking about my smart investments.”
Pacquiao on the other hand retired a few weeks ago, after winning the third fight against American Timothy Bradley. The Filipino ring icon dominated Bradley from start to finish, even knocking the durable welterweight down twice, and showed he still had much left in the tank despite his decision to walk away from the sport.
Pacquiao feels his time as a professional boxer has come to an end after a 21-year career which saw him win world titles across eight weight divisions.
In 2014, Pacquiao purchased an undisclosed number of shares in Singapore-based MMA promotion ONE Championship. Like the UFC, ONE Championship is an MMA powerhouse and is the biggest promotion in the east, particularly Asia, with a potential reach of over one billion homes worldwide in over 75 countries.
ONE Championship has done tremendous work in cultivating the sport of MMA in the Asian region, developing local MMA heroes from Asian countries, attracting major Fortune 500 sponsors and even breaking into the previously untapped mainland Chinese market. What ONE Championship has done to grow MMA in Asia is quite utterly, unfathomable.
“It was natural and organic. Asia is the birthplace of Martial Arts and we felt it was simply the right thing to do — to play into the ancient culture and rich history. We didn’t bring MMA to Asia. MMA was already here, it was just waiting to be put on a global stage and that’s what we did,” said CEO of ONE, Victor Cui.
In parallel, MMA was recently sanctioned in New York, after a prolonged fight for the sport’s legality in the state. The UFC is eyeing its first event there sometime this year. ONE Championship, although focused primarily in Asian markets, has not ruled out holding an event in New York as MMA becomes more and more popular.
With both Mayweather and Pacquiao delving into the MMA business, the focus of combat sports is seeing a shift towards MMA, one that has seen an unprecedented growth over the last few years. With UFC the biggest promotion in the west and ONE Championship the biggest in the east, a global duopoly has formed and will only be good for mixed martial arts moving forward. – By Carlos Cinco
Follow this writer on Twitter: @CarlosCincoFCB