For the past few years, boxing has been largely defined by two men. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather are the undeniable two definitive stars of this era. Both men managed to transcend boxing in a way few have in recent years, reaching outside the core audience to draw in the casual observer. Part of the big appeal between the two was the always looming specter of a Pacquiao vs. Mayweather superfight. Even as it became increasingly clear that this would never go down, the mere idea of it kept people intrigued in some otherwise ho-hums match-ups for the two men.
Saturday night, Juan Manuel Marquez emphatically closed the door on Pacquiao vs. Mayweather, then nailed it shut with his beautiful one punch clean KO of Pacquiao. It was a KO for the ages - a long-time rival who had never fully received his due finally proving himself against the mega star. Truly, one of the all time great KOs in boxing's storied history.
But for all the excitement that punch generated, it also is a sad moment. Because it is the end of an era. The image of Manny Pacquiao, face down and unconscious, marks the clear end of the Pacquiao/Mayweather era of modern boxing. It's an era that provided a lot of excitement, but may ultimately be remembered largely for missed opportunity. Missed opportunity in the form of a Pacquiao vs. Mayweather superfight, and missed opportunity in the form of a young, up and coming fighter being the one to finally take down Pac.
The next year or two will say a lot about how this era is remembered. There is a younger generation of boxers ready to break through - men like Canelo Alvarez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, Andre Ward. All have a lot to offer, but none have yet put together the charisma, popularity, and in ring skills to become a true breakout superstar. If they do, then the missed opportunities will be washed away. If not, boxing will have to work hard to maintain their current mainstream appeal.
For the UFC, this is a great opportunity to learn from. Don't let the superfights slip away, and don't let the old guard fade away without facing new young challenges. Interestingly, the Fox show was a good example of this lesson, with both Shogun and B.J. Penn used to prop up potential new superstars. If Rory MacDonald and Alexander Gustafsson can ride the momentum of those wins to main event status, then these fights were perfectly used. If not, then the UFC, like boxing, could find themselves looking at a roster of superstars fading away, asking themselves who will take their place.
Now is a clutch time for both sports, and Juan Manuel Marquez proved it on Saturday. Let's hope they both make strong decisions, and make 2013 a year of continued strength.