Floyd Mayweather Junior -v- Manny Pacquiao

The Fight the World Deserves

Floyd Mayweather Junior -v- Manny Pacquiao

Welterweight Title Unification -Sunday 3rd May, 5 a.m. (G.M.T.) M.G.M. Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada

The greatest battles –at least the ones that make for the greatest viewing- require an easily identifiable protagonist and antagonist. To put it crudely, they need a good guy and a bad guy, just like the classic westerns. So, at long last, and with the sincerest of thanks to the combined efforts of those pragmatic, philanthropic souls at Mayweather and Top Rank Promotions the self-styled ‘Fight of the Century’ will take place this Saturday night in the M.G.M. Grand, Las Vegas. Finally, the world will get to see the long overdue showdown between the undefeated, egotistical Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Junior and the indefatigable, firecracker Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao.

Since Mayweather’s defeat of the great Oscar de la Hoya in 2007, he has rapidly deteriorated into an arch-villain more suited to a graphic novel. His grandiose, obscene histrionics have made him nigh on impossible to warm to for the average punter. In a perfect example of success wiping away past acts of malevolence, there have only been bare whispers in the media in the build up to this fight of Mayweather’s 2011 conviction in a Nevada court for the assault of his former partner in front of their two young children. Never exactly an endearing soul, these deplorable actions ensured Mayweather would never win a place in the hearts of the people.

For Mayweather’s chalk, we have the Filipino cheese, Manny Pacquiao. On top of being a six-weight world champion, ‘Pacman’ is an elected politician in his homeland as well a reserve in the Philippines army. Ask a busy man and all that…. He is absolutely adored in his home country, a truly revered, national treasure. Pacquiao’s popularity also stretches deep into boxing obsessed Mexico, where his willingness to go toe to toe with his opponent draws fond comparisons with such greats as Julio Cesar Chavez and Marco Antonio Barrera. Like the Mexican greats, Pacquiao’s impulse has always been to come with a flurry and see who’s still standing when the dust settles. True, Mayweather won’t want for support but the indisputable fact is that the majority of neutrals would like to see Ang Pambansang Kamao -‘The Nation’s Fist’’  return to General Santos City the first ever conqueror of the brash American.

Saturday’s encounter can, in many ways, be viewed with a tinge of regret. Bad blood –and bad blood testing– petty squabbles and plain, old greed prevented this bout from happening at the turn of the last decade, when these men were head and shoulders above anyone in the welterweight -147 pound- division. It’s not an exaggeration to say that since 2007- at a time when mixed martial arts were thriving and didn’t have to rely on one mouthy Dubliner to pique the public interest- these men ensured boxing has maintained its relevance in the general sporting domain. Belatedly, this Saturday night we get too aging boxers –Mayweather is thirty-eight, Pacquiao thirty-six- cashing in on an obscene pay day before the curtain comes down on two extraordinary careers. In no other sport could two men, clearly in decline, demand the highest pay cheque in sporting history for a fight that should have happened five years ago. And, despite what HBO, Showtime and legendary promoter Bob Arum say this fight’s impact most likely won’t resonate for generations to come in the manner of say, Hagler v Hearns in 1985 or 1980’s enduring ‘No Mas’ encounter between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran.

And yet, as unashamed addicts of sports and, indeed popular culture, we can’t wait to see how this one unfolds. Anyone who’s anyone will be in ‘Vegas on Saturday night. It doesn’t matter whether you know a southpaw from a dog paw, those ringside seats are the hottest ticket in the world this weekend. True, the fight is being overhyped but it would be a travesty if these two bonafide legends hung up their gloves without first throwing down in a Las Vegas ring. There are obvious caveats; potential lack of hunger, the reality that great fighters rarely put on their best bouts in their twilight years and, of course, the fact that Juan Manuel Marquez dropped and stopped Pacquiao with the sort of shot that derails careers in their 2012 contest. Remember, however, that Pacquiao has long sought a shot at Mayweather, while his opponent is on the cusp, at 47-0, of equalling Rocky Marciano’s incredible, unmatched 49-0 career record.  Mayweather says the record does not interest him, but he dare not contemplate retirement with the memory of his opponent’s arm being raised in the middle of the ring. And, while it probably shouldn’t -given that it’s five years too late- this fight, more than any other, will leave indelible marks on the legacies of both men. True, this isn’t the fight it could have been but let’s not cry over punches never thrown. Instead, let’s look forward to those that will be launched on Saturday night.

At the end of the last decade, both ‘Money’ and ‘Pacman’ were laying waste to all comers. In 2007, Ricky Hatton – one time and, no doubt, one time only drinking buddy of this column- appeared, at least on this side of the Atlantic to be the main threat to Mayweather at the top of the welterweight food chain. The Mancunian travelled to Las Vegas in December 2007 on the back of a brilliant promotion campaign –well done Mr Murdoch- an excellent, unblemished streak of his own and incredible goodwill, only to be picked apart by the classy Mayweather over ten lopsided rounds.  In May 2009, Pacquaio stopped Hatton in less than six minutes with a devastating left that precipitated the beginning of the end for Hatton’s career. These fights are highly instructive in illustrating the contrasting fighting styles of Saturday’s opponents. Mayweather’s controlled erosion of Hatton’s challenge was in many ways as impressive as Pacquiao’s swift, demolition job. To say Pacquiao’s only mode of offence is hyper-speed aggression would be disingenuous -particularly as he has become more of a tactician as he has moved up the weights and on in years- but there is no denying that Mayweather is the superior tactician and an unmatched, defensive genius.  There’s a reason he used to go by the moniker ‘Pretty Boy’ before he became an uber-dick and adopted ‘Money’- no one could touch him.

The question now, six years on, is which man’s decline has been steeper. In 2010 valid arguments could have been made for the both the technical mastery of Mayweather and the relentless, left-handed onslaughts of Pacquiao. Mayweather, defending WBA and WBC champ, is of course still undefeated but recent victories over the resilient, though ultimately workaday, Marcos Maidana showed a definite vulnerability in the once unbreachable defences of the Michigan native. Mayweather’s flashy, arrogant persona outside of the ring could barely be further from the ultra defensive, methodical counter-attacking genius whose signature victory is usually a lopsided twelve round verdict on the judges’ cards. For his part, Mayweather invariably prefers to square up against orthodox right-handers. The left handed Pacquiao fights in the southpaw stance – right hand and leg forward- and Mayweather is deemed to have had trouble with such fighters in the past, although the empirical evidence is rather limited in this regard. Forty seven times Mayweather has been challenged and a few scares aside- inevitable over the course of a career- the formula to stop him is yet to be perfected.

Pacquiao is conceding a little more than an inch in height and more pertinently five in reach to his older foe. This has become a regular handicap for a man who once fought as a super flyweight, off just 112 pounds. The smaller man needs to move in, systematically pick his punches and then move out of range. Bigger fighters than Pacquiao have tried to exert pressure on Mayweather but his incredible footwork and hand movement –like this check hook- generally leave them swinging at air or worse, as Hatton learned. It would be folly for us to suggest a game plan for taking down Mayweather when far wiser men have yet to figure him out but the man in Pacquiao’s corner, Freddie Roach, is about as studied a mind as exists in boxing, so the Filipino will not want for preparation. Still, the doubts remain. As Mayweather himself said this week, “Everybody’s game plan is to come forward and throw lots of punches. It hasn’t worked in 19 years and 47 fights.” So, why would it work now? Well, the most obvious threat to Mayweather is the fact that Pacquiao will likely execute his game-plan better than any other left hander –of which there have been only eight- that the American has faced. Nonetheless, and even with his superior punching power, Pacquiao is unlikely to get many open looks and this may lead to frustration and consequently reckless endeavours.

Mayweather is about as patient a boxer as there is on the planet. Allied to this is the fact that he is renowned for his ability to change tack mid-fight to neutralise his opponent’s most potent weapons or worse still set a fatal trap. Frankly, we feel Pacquiao will need to channel the spirit of 2008 when he put de la Hoya to the sword in what legendary HBO commentator Larry Merchant described as “death by a thousand left hands”, a furious, high intensity domination of one of the most storied fighters in boxing’s long and winding history. The passing of time is yet to be bettered though and Pacquiao’s skill-set appears to have been blunted more than Mayweather’s.  “The most exciting little fighter in the world”, is how Merchant once referred to Pacquiao. Such a shame he’s taking on the smartest little fighter in the world. The Marquess of Queensbury Rules made no allowance for sentiment all those years ago. Much as we want a Pacquiao victory, objective consideration just won’t allow us arrive at that conclusion. As first light breaks slowly on this side of the world, in a rabid Las Vegas, Floyd Mayweather Jr will further confirm his status as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time.

The Verdict: Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Points/Decision (8/11 generally)

The Fighters

Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao
Money Pac-Man
Tale of the tape
Las Vegas,NevadaU.S. From General Santos,Philippines
47–0 (26 KO) Pre-fight record 57–5–2 (38 KO)
5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) Height 5 ft 6.5 in (1.69 m)
147 lb (67 kg) Weight 147 lb (67 kg)
Orthodox Style Southpaw
ESPN.com No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound
Unified WBA (Super), WBC, The Ring welterweight and light middleweight champion
5-division world champion
Recognition ESPN.com No. 2 ranked pound-for-pound
WBO welterweight champion
8-division world champion
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