Manny Pacquiao is back in town. Boxing is like phases of the moon, and Pacquiao is in the training phase.
There will be a fight, all right. But not the one the world wanted, nor Pacquiao and his trainer, Freddie Roach.
"I wanted Mayweather bad, real bad," Roach says.
"I'm not angry at Floyd," Pacquiao says. "I just feel disappointed in his allegations."
It is a Monday afternoon at Roach's Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. The air is stale, the noise often deafening and the entire place decorum-challenged, unless you are into wrinkled 1972 boxing posters. That's as it should be. They train boxers here, not ballerinas.
Pacquiao prepares for a March 13 fight that was to be between him, recently acclaimed fighter of the decade in a vote by the U.S. Boxing Writers, and Floyd Mayweather Jr., who would tell you the boxing writers got it wrong. Now, the fight will be between Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey.
Once Pacquiao and Mayweather parted ways in the well-documented drug-testing dispute, Mayweather agreed to fight Shane Mosley on May 1 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Mosley has signed the contract deal, but as of Monday night, Mayweather had not.
Richard Schaefer, chief executive of Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, says he expects the Mayweather signature any minute. He also says that Mosley agreed to all the Olympic-style random testing , including blood testing right up to fight time, that Pacquiao had rejected.
There are attempts from all camps to portray this fallback outcome as just fine for boxing, maybe even better.
Roach says Clottey might give fight fans a better show than the tactical, defense-minded Mayweather because "Clottey comes forward and it could become a war." Pacquiao refers to the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium, where his fight will be held in front of an expected 40,000 people, as "a beautiful place" and the Top Rank camp of Bob Arum characterizes the new venue as an important step in bringing new fans to the sport. Schaefer says that, as great as the 40-0 Mayweather is, Mosley's stunning domination of Antonio Margarito 13 months ago at Staples Center proves how dangerous he is.
Still, the loss of the Pacquiao-Mayweather mega-fight, one that could have put as much as $40 million in each fighter's pocket, hangs in the Wild Card Gym like the smell of body odor.
"In the end," Roach says, "if we had given in on the blood testing, it would have been like giving Mayweather the first round. Why would we do that?
"Manny hates needles. He said that's what cost him the first [Erik] Morales fight [March 2005]. We made a mistake on that one. Nevada has every boxer give blood once a year, and Manny hadn't done that, so we had to do it the night before the fight, just like Mayweather wanted. Manny said it made him weak for three days. Even if they took blood from him 14 days before the fight, that would have meant I lose him on key sparring days 14, 13, and 12 days out."
The Mayweather camp will read that and chuckle. Those theorizing that Pacquiao must use steroids or he would have agreed to the extra drug testing will not be moved.
There is the issue of time running out on Pacquiao's boxing career. He will run for Congress in the Philippines in mid-May. Roach has said he doesn't think Pacquiao can be a marquee boxer and a politician at the same time. Asked about that Monday, Pacquiao says, "Why not?"
There is the issue of how much these next fights could mess things up. Were Clottey to win, might not Pacquiao see that as a perfect time to retreat to politics full time? Were Mosley to win, might that not do the same thing?
"Shane came to the gym twice to ask me to let him fight Manny," Roach says. "I told him no both times, and both times for the same two reasons: First, there isn't enough money there, and second, you're too good a fighter."
There is the issue of Pacquiao's current lawsuit against the Mayweathers for defamation. Pacquiao's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, says that the case is in federal court in Nevada, is moving at full speed and can be in trial by year's end.
But the real issue remains lost money for the boxers and lost opportunity for the sport. For now, Pacquiao-Mayweather has gone away, but probably not forever.
Pacquiao is asked whether he is so angry at Mayweather that he will never be able to bring himself to step into the ring against him.
"No, I can fight him," Pacquiao says. "I'm just not sure he ever really wanted the fight."
Roach is asked whether the fight that didn't happen has now become like a burr in his saddle.