April 29, 2015 – 3:04 pm

The Mayweather vs Pacquaio fight on May 2, 2015 might be big news and big money but the Jack Johnson vs Jim Jeffries (1910); Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling (1936, 1938) and Cassius Clay vs Sonny Liston (1964) fights were all politically and historically significant. By John Wight.

The fight on May 2, 2015 in Las Vegas between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquaio is one that boxing fans and writers have sought more than any other in recent years, even though both fighters have by now passed their respective peaks.

But no matter the occasion remains massive, what with Mayweather’s status as the highest earning athlete in sport, the fact he is only two fights away from matching Rocky Marciano’s 49-fight unbeaten record, and the veneration accorded Pacquaio as a national hero in the Philippines. Then there is the bad blood that exists between Pacquaio’s trainer, the widely respected Freddie Roach, and Mayweather’s father Floyd Mayweather Sr, who will be in his son’s corner.

Some of the hype surrounding the fight has gone as far as laying claim to it being the biggest in the history of boxing. While, yes, the projected US$300 million the fight will generate undoubtedly qualifies it as the most lucrative fight there’s ever been in boxing, in terms of its wider significance and impact, it pales in comparison to some of the classic fights of the past.

Consider, for example, the Jack Johnson vs Jim Jeffries heavyweight title fight of 1910, held at a specially-built outdoor arena in Reno, Nevada. At stake was more than prize money. At stake was racial pride in an age when blacks in America were being lynched on a regular basis in the South and in the North were regarded as second-class citizens.

Jeffries was tempted out of retirement by a press and boxing establishment desperate to regain the heavyweight title for the ‘white race’. When the former champion finally agreed to face Johnson, and the fight was made, racism flowed like a river of sewage. Jim Jeffries was the first of many white heavyweights in boxing history to be held up as the ‘Great White Hope’, a title created by the writer Jack London.

Purportedly a socialist, London was a man for whom Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest applied to humanity, which through the distorted prism of race evidenced the superiority of the white race over every other.

But Jack London and others of his ilk were given cause to think again, as Johnson proceeded to use Jeffries as a glorified punchbag over 15 punishing rounds, when Jeffries was knocked to the canvas for the umpteenth time and couldn’t get up.

While the projected US$300 million the fight will generate undoubtedly qualifies it as the most lucrative fight there’s ever been in boxing, in terms of its wider significance and impact, it pales in comparison to some of the classic fights of the past.

In 1936 and 1938, Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” fought Germany’s Max Schmeling in two huge fights over which the poison of racism was again prominent. Hitler and the Nazis were in power in Germany and Schmeling was cast in the role of champion of the Aryan ‘master race’.

In the context of pre-second world war 1930s, with the rise of fascism throughout Europe and its increasing traction in the US, both fights were far more than mere heavyweight boxing bouts. They were pregnant with symbolism and political importance.

Louis lost the first and won the second fight against Schmeling, with whom he later forged a close friendship.

But his victory for ‘democracy’ was also suffused with irony given the prevalence of racism within the United States itself. Louis, like Johnson, was a hero within black communities throughout America, illustrated in the account of the last words of a black death row inmate as he was about to be gassed to death: “Save me Joe Louis! Save me Joe Louis!”

Emile Griffith was the first and remains the only gay world champion there’s ever been in boxing. When he fought Cuba’s Benny Paret in a welterweight world title bout in 1962, Paret turned it into an ugly affair, taking every opportunity to ridicule and abuse Griffith with homophobic slurs. The resulting fight was one of the most cruel ever fought, with Griffith handing his opponent such a beating he never regained consciousness and died 10 days later. It was a brutal contradiction of dominant cultural values in which homosexuality and masculinity were considered antithetical and masculinity and violence deemed two sides of the same coin.

Finally, who can argue with the historical importance of a young and precocious Cassius Clay’s defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964 in Miami to claim the world heavyweight title. The 22-year-old Clay was poetry in motion as he slipped and eluded the fearsome Liston’s heavy hands, dancing and moving around the ring like a fast middleweight.

Upon Liston failing to come off his stool at the start of the seventh round, Clay went nuts, taunting the writers and journalists present, who almost to a man had favoured Liston, with the cry: “I shook up the world! I shook up the world!” His words proved prophetic, as it was after this fight that he announced his membership of the Nation of Islam and informed the press that he no longer would he be known by the “slave name” Cassius Clay. It was the start of the legend of Muhammad Ali and sitting ringside watching the legend hatch was Malcolm X, Ali’s confidante and adviser just prior to his own very public split from the Nation and its leader Elijah Muhammad.

So while the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight is a huge fight, and comfortably the biggest of recent times, it possesses none of the political, social or historical significance of the aforementioned fights that have gone before. Nor should it claim to.

Note: John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir - Dreams That Die - published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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By John Wight

This was Freddie Roach’s summation of the stakes involved in Manny Pacquaio’s upcoming fight - the most lucrative in boxing history - against Floyd Mayweather Jr at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on May 2, 2015.

“I can’t lose this fight,” he went on as we sat downstairs from Wildcard in the private gym he opened last year for the sole purpose of working with the likes of Manny Pacquaio and Miguel Cotto in seclusion.

It had been six years since my last visit to the Wildcard Boxing Club, and 10 years since I’d been a regular while living in the city. The changes that had taken place in that time were immediately obvious during my initial arrival at the gym two days prior. Before even reaching the stairs leading up to the door, I was intercepted by one of four security guys standing watch in the parking lot and told that I couldn’t go up unless I’d called or emailed ahead and been given permission. He explained to me, the security guard, that the gym was off limits to everybody apart from regulars and people who’d been vetted by Marie, Roach’s very efficient and no-nonsense personal assistant.

Fortunately, she remembered me and allowed me access to the gym. I had no business being surprised by the security presence; Manny Pacquaio is one of the biggest stars boxing has had in many a year, a national hero in the Philippines, and people travel hundreds of miles to the gym on a regular basis hoping to catch a glimpse of him training. Normally accessible to both his fans and the media, Pacquaio had decided that for this fight he couldn’t afford to be, leaving the multiple camera crews from across the world that were hanging around on the sidewalk disappointed.

The main gym was just as rough and ready as I recalled, packed with an unlikely combination of pros, ex champions, and regular people training to stay in shape. Despite his success and status as one of the most respected trainers of all time, Freddie still only charges five dollars a workout and allows most anyone who wants to workout upstairs to do so, regardless of age, gender, or experience. This alone is proof that success hasn’t gone to his head or changed him.

Click here for the full article.

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  2. Nice try. Liston threw both fights vs. Clay/Ali and everyone knows it.

    Historically important, yes, but not for the reasons the writer believes. It’s because Liston, the greatest fighter who ever lived and likely ever will–with knockout power in both hands–was cast aside so a prettier and more acceptable face could be put on the sport to sell it to a wider audience.

    By kingpossum on Apr 30, 2015

  3. Read wikipedia’s entry on the Liston/Clay fight here:


    The outcome was controversial.

    By admin on May 1, 2015

  4. Give me a break, boxing is dead , the fighters of today couldnt hold the jocks of the boxers of yesterday, Clay vs Liston, both fights sure, and i dont believe they were fixed, Sonny was completly psyched out by the master of head games which was Ali. He did the same thing with many opponents, remember the rumble in the jungle with Foreman in 74,For my mind the biggest fight in terms of signifacence in terms of mainstream appeal was the first Ali Frazier fight March 8th 1971 at madison square garden. It was the first super fight matching two unbeaten heavyweight champions. the viet nam war was raging Ali the militant vs Smokin Joe who although also black appealed to white america who wanted to see Ali get his draft dodger butt kicked Others were the third fight , the thrilla in manilla 1975, the Foreman fight in Africa 1974, pretty much every Ali fight if you want to get right down to it. Also the lighter weight fighters from the 70s and 80s Leonard vs Duran 1980, Leonard vs Hearns 1981, also vs Hagler 1987, Arguello vs Escalara twice 78 and 79, Arguello vs Pryor 1982 Hagler vs Duran 83Hagler vs Hearns 85 more great fights Arguello vs Mancini 1981, Hope you get the point Mayweather Pacquiao may be the best today but thats because theres nobody out there anymore, Duran, Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Pryor Arguello ecc would make short work of todays overhyped overblown fighters plus they also ruined boxing when they went from 15 rounds to 12. The people today think these guys are so great because other than maybe youtube they never saw Sugar Ray, Hands of Stone, The Hit Man Marvolous Marvin or Alexis the explosive thin man Arguello in there primes. What you have is one 38 year old vs another 36 year old has been. both these guys would have had no chance against the fighters mentioned above, Go to you tube and watch any Duran fight from the 70s if you have any doubt Thanks so much

    By corey m on May 2, 2015

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