One of the more common claims in the wake of the announcement that Chael Sonnen would be receiving a title shot at Jon Jones after the two men coached a season of The Ultimate Fighter is that it is a basic lifting of how boxing has operated for years. While it's true that there have been cases like Bernard Hopkins losing two straight middleweight title fights to Jermain Taylor prior to moving up to light heavyweight and getting an immediate title shot against Antonio Tarver, even in boxing those cases are rare. And, it's worth noting that Hopkins arguably won both fights, including winning the vast majority of the unofficial media scorecards in the second fight, so it's not quite the same as Sonnen's case.
But what is certainly not the case are the somewhat frequent statements likening the situation to the careers of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, like this one from Dave Meltzer:
It's been done for 100 years and will be done for the next 100 years.Pac & Mayweather been doing it for years and their numbers are good.— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) October 18, 2012
That's not a shot at Meltzer, he's far from the only person to say these things and his tweet just represents the easiest one to quickly show the line of thinking being used, but these statement is simply wrong.
Both Floyd and Manny became massive superstars after their respective wins over Oscar De La Hoya. So let's examine the careers since the win over Oscar.
Ricky Hatton: Hatton was undefeated at 43-0 and was the Ring Magazine champion at junior welterweight, while Floyd was the champion at welterweight. A meeting between Floyd and Hatton was not only big business, but was a meeting between two Ring champions and a huge bout.
Juan Manuel Marquez: Marquez was undoubtedly the smaller man, moving up for the fight. But he was also an undisputed top three pound-for-pound fighter and another Ring Magazine champion. While Floyd's disregard for the agreed upon catchweight was a bit insulting, it's crazy to suggest that Marquez moving up from lightweight (where he was the undisputed king) to welterweight was a mockery of the sport or devalued any title. We also saw in Marquez's other welterweight fight (the third Manny Pacquiao fight) that he is no slouch even when a little heavy. It's also worth noting that this was Floyd's first fight back from an almost 2 year retirement.
Shane Mosley: Mosley was ranked #3 pound-for-pound by Ring Magazine, Floyd was #2. Mosley was coming off his incredible drubbing of Antonio Margarito. No debate on if this was a legitimate fight.
Victor Ortiz: Ortiz was the top ranked non-Mayweather or Pacquiao welterweight in the world. Given that Floyd/Manny wasn't happening, it made him the de-facto #1 challenger at the weight where Floyd was champion. Ortiz was also coming off a fantastic win and represented a big, strong challenge for Floyd.
Miguel Cotto: Cotto was the undisputed number one fighter at 154 pounds, this was Floyd's first trip up to the weight since fighting De La Hoya (his only other trip to 154). Moving up in weight to fight the number one fighter in the weight class? Legit.
Pacquiao's road is a little bit different:
Ricky Hatton: This was a year and a half after Floyd beat Hatton. Hatton was still the Ring Magazine light welterweight champion, given that his Mayweather fight was at welterweight. He'd also rebounded with two wins. Completely legitimate fight at Hatton's best weight.
Miguel Cotto: This was prior to Mayweather fighting him, Cotto had a welterweight title (though Floyd was the clear king at 147) and this was Manny moving back up from junior welterweight to fight a legit test at welterweight in his official move to the division. An outstanding, and completely legitimate fight.
Joshua Clottey: Clottey was #5 in the Ring Welterweight rankings, this was a legitimate fight and wouldn't really meet the standards of Sonnen/Jones anyway as Clottey doesn't move tickets in the least. Even if you (wrongly) assume this was not a legitimate fight, it certainly wasn't a fight between two "name" fighters for the sake of selling tickets. Clottey was also behind Cotto, Mosley (who was fighting Floyd), Mayweather and Pacquiao. Putting him in line for a shot even if he was coming off a very close decision loss to Cotto. So yes, he was coming off a loss, but a disputed loss, in the division, and was the top ranked available non-rematch opponent for Manny.
Antonio Margarito: This one is tricky. The fight was never viewed as illegitimate because of sporting concerns. Margarito is a huge fighter, this was the highest weight Manny had fought at and it was a legitimate and risky fight. The only issue was that Margarito was still severely tainted from the scandal surrounding tampering with his hand wraps before the Cotto fight. Aside from that controversy, this was a solid fight, especially for a guy who was going up in weight.
Shane Mosley: This is the one you can take the most issue with. Other than hurting Floyd early in their fight, Mosley looked incredibly ineffective the rest of that fight. Then he came back with a dreadfully uninspired performance, drawing with Sergio Mora. Mosley appeared faded enough that Pacquiao fighting him didn't make a lot of sense except that Mosley was a big name. Ring Magazine had him as the #3 welterweight in the world, so, from that standpoint, it wasn't bad. But Mosley was there more because of history and no one yet stepping up more than because he was truly a challenge. And it showed in the fight.
Juan Manuel Marquez: This was the third meeting between the two and it was another great fight. Given the closeness of the prior contests and the greatness of both men, this was a perfectly fine fight. It's one of the great rivalries in boxing history, which is why no one has a problem with them meeting a fourth time unless it's a problem based around "it's not Mayweather."
Timothy Bradley: Timothy Bradley was the top junior welterweight on the planet and #8 in the pound-for-pound rankings. He moved up in weight to fight Manny in a welterweight fight that made plenty of sense. Similar to Clottey, it certainly wasn't made with the "name over sport" line of thinking. I don't think Bradley could sell a ticket to watch one of his fights to his own mother. He just doesn't have much name value, which is why they haven't even bothered to make a rematch after the ultra-controversial first fight.
So, in a combined twelve post-De La Hoya fights, one has been close to indefensible and based on name more than sport or challenge to the other fighter. And even that was a fight against a guy whose only recent loss came in a fight where he'd badly hurt the best fighter on the planet, and he was still a top three ranked guy at the weight where the fight took place.
They key thing to note here is that, while Floyd and Manny is the fight that should have happened once Manny beat Cotto and cemented himself as a legit threat in Mayweather's welterweight division, these are all fights that would have happened before and after that fight anyway.
If you want to make the case that Sonnen vs. Jones isn't a huge deal and that sometimes business decisions overtake the best sporting options, that's a debate that can be had. And there are fights in boxing history that can be referenced to make the case that it has happened in other sports. But please don't attempt to tie it in to the biggest names in the sport in an attempt to prove that the biggest moneymakers take part in these activities. They simply haven't.