Next weekend in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao, the planet's second best boxer, takes target practice against challenger Timothy Bradley. It is a decent enough bout, Bradley being unbeaten and a likeable fellow worthy of your best wishes. But it's not the one for which fight fans have held their breaths for so long that they have turned irreversibly blue.
That would be Pacquiao against the incomparable and (so far) unconquerable Floyd Mayweather Jr, who will be in town but not at ringside.
Today, fingerprinting, not autographing, is in order as Mayweather begins an 87-day jail sentence for domestic violence, the penalty for having attacked a former girlfriend in the presence of their children.
Mayweather could be released early on good behaviour, a trait that is rarely associated with him, but not in time to attend the upcoming Pacquiao show, which is artificial sweetener to boxing buffs craving sugar.
For years, the two have circled about, measuring each other warily, weaving and bobbing, feigning eagerness to mix it up.
Heard of good-faith negotiations? These have been bad faith, taken to new heights.
* Mayweather suspects Pacquiao of using performance-boosting drugs and insists on independent blood tests beyond what boxing requires. (If the sport's own screening cannot detect banned substances, what good are they?)
* Pacquiao's obstructionist promoter, Bob Arum, accuses Mayweather of disseminating propaganda in the style of Adolph Hitler's publicist. (As if connecting Mayweather to the despot who incited a world war would induce him to slap his forehead and say: "Gee, I need to reconsider my stubbornly intractable position.")
* Both quibble over percentages in splitting an unprecedented purse, projected at considerably more than US$100 million (Dh367m). If one settles for $45m, how could he possibly feed and clothe his family? Meantime, their middle-age creep soon will dampen the public's appetite for hand-to-hand combat. Pacquiao is 33, approaching his 60th fight. Floyd is 35, fresh off his 43rd. That sound in the background is a ticking clock.
This needs to happen, and it can. In fact, Mayweather's temporary removal from society affords the two camps opportunity to make a deal.
Mayweather prefers to set his own course with minimal input from others. Now that he is in a cell, maybe The Fight Everyone Wants can be arranged without his involvement.
Still, hurdles might be too high to overcome, not the least of which is boxing's terminal condition as a rudderless sport with no captain. Too bad there is no commissioner who compels the parties to fight each other.
Mayweather's recalcitrance is further enabled by folks such as the Las Vegas judge who postponed his sentence from January to keep a lucrative May 5 bout with Miguel Cotto intact. It is no wonder that Mayweather keeps ducking Pacquiao.
If he can earn $32m, minimum, against unthreatening foes like Cotto, why risk his reputation and future earnings against Pac-Man?
Make no mistake, Mayweather is an unsympathetic punk. His record is sprinkled with cases of assault and battery, too often against women.
On the other hand, Pacquiao is a politician, so most Americans would regard him as no prince, either.
This is all fine. Boxing's lineage is crowded with creeps and scoundrels of various degrees.
Mayweather versus Pacquiao is way past due.
It is a crime that a nine-time world champion in five weight classes (Mayweather) and a title-holder in a record eight divisions (Pacquiao) have managed to avoid each other for a decade of shared excellence.
After Mayweather gets out, let's get it on.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE