The greatest fight never staged

This story appears in the July 25 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

EVERY GENERATION GETS ITS FIGHT. John L. Sullivan vs. Gentleman Jim Corbett. Jack Johnson against Jim Jeffries. Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. Louis-Schmeling, Clay-Liston, Ali-Frazier, Hagler-Hearns, De La Hoya-Trinidad and 20 others across history. Every generation gets its fight, the bout that matches the best of the age.

The fight that defines the age. The fight that saves boxing. THE FIGHT.

Every generation but this one. You won't get Pacquiao-Mayweather.

Prizefighting, the eternal invalid once again on its deathbed, undone by graft and bad practice and MMA, without a charismatic heavyweight to save it, can't make the one fight it needs. The only fight left that everyone wants is the one fight no one will get.

That defining fight, once announced, rises up through the soles of a boxing fan's feet, pours down into your head, crackles in every turning of a newspaper page, sings from every radio and TV, sizzles through the ether like lightning. The Fight carries you for weeks in the waiting, then walks you into a living room or a bar or a stadium and delivers at last on its promise.

What The Fight defines is you.

But you won't get it.

Why not? No one knows.

Scratch that. One guy knows.

In the meantime, Floyd Mayweather Jr. will fight someone not named Manny Pacquiao in September.