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May 2, 2015

Mayweather-Pacquiao: Big Fight Preview & Prediction

by Matt O'Brien

Part I: The Case for Pacquiao

“We thought Manny Pacquiao was great”, exclaimed Larry Merchant, as referee Kenny Bayless crossed his arms to signal the end of the Filipino phenom’s twelve round hammering of Miguel Cotto in December 2009, in what was arguably his greatest victory to date. “He’s better than we thought”. Perhaps no one has managed to encapsulate so incisively Manny Pacquiao’s unprecedented and at times terrifying rise through boxing’s elite ranks.

Morphing from a stick-thin, teenage flyweight world champion into a power-punching super-bantamweight banger, the fun really started with Pacquiao’s 2003 blitzkrieg of featherweight legend Marco Antonio Barrera. Over the following six years, he proceeded to steamroll his way through boxing’s lower-weight classes, decimating a who’s who of modern era greats.

There were setbacks along the way, of course. Juan Manuel Marquez climbed off the canvas three times in the first round to come back and earn a draw against Pacquiao in 2004; Erik Morales managed to outbox Pacquiao over the twelve round distance in 2005; and then Marquez, again, took him to a disputed decision in 2008.

For the most part though, the Pacman’s dynamic blend of awesome power and super fast combination punches allowed him to bamboozle and blitz his way through some of the biggest names the sport had to offer: Marco Antonio Barrera (TKO11, 2003 & UD12, 2007); Erik Morales (TKO10, 2006 & KO3, 2006); Oscar De La Hoya (RTD8, 2008); Ricky Hatton (KO2, 2009); and Miguel Cotto (TKO12, 2009) all fell. Worse still (for his opponents) the somewhat one-dimensional left-handed slugger had evolved under the tutelage of Freddie Roach into a sophisticated, two-handed pugilist. A formidable right-hook and a more refined defence now accompanied the ever present Thor-like left hand hammer and indomitable warrior spirit.

Since that fantastic December 2009 victory against Miguel Cotto, while the devastation wreaked over the preceding years has subsided somewhat, Pacquiao has nevertheless maintained his standing in the elite ranks. A 2010 victory over light-middle Antonio Margarito pretty much cemented the fact that anything attempting to meet Pacquiao head-on weighing less than a train is likely to be blown aside, and a 2011 victory over an aged Shane Mosley showed that his weaponry was still potent enough to shock an elite veteran into perpetual retreat. And while a controversial defeat to Timothy Bradley and then, to a much greater extent, an horrific KO defeat to arch-nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez proved that the Filipino was in fact human after all, he has bounced back impressively with three victories in a row. The KO defeat to Marquez arguably, and somewhat ironically, perhaps adding a degree of poise and patience to his arsenal in place of an occasional over-eagerness.

In many ways then, there is a very good case for saying that Manny Pacquiao embodies everything that will give Floyd Mayweather his worst fistic nightmares: flurries of power punches that force an opponent to engage and exchange, or else be overwhelmed; an awkward, southpaw stance and darting in-and-out style that presents a prohibitive puzzle for even the most intelligent operators; a cast-iron, warrior spirit forged in the depths of some of the most ferocious ring battles in recent memory; a work rate that will roar for twelve full championship rounds without skipping a beat; and a mindset that will refuse to be intimidated by the Las Vegan’s brash persona or super-star status.

When we factor in Mayweather’s age, the case for a Manny Pacquiao victory grows even stronger. Floyd recently turned 38 years old with his run at championship level stretching all the way back to 1998. And while the years at the top without losing a single contest point to the greatness of Mayweather’s past achievements, they may also indicate the seeds of his downfall. Consider that by the time they had reached the same age as Mayweather is now, Muhammad Ali had been battered to defeat by Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard had been dominated by Terry Norris, and Roy Jones Junior had been starched by both Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. Boxing fans familiar with MMA will perhaps also note the recent demise of one of its greatest ever practitioners, as Anderson Silva was – at 38 years old and still seemingly unbeatable – unceremoniously dispatched by a single clenched fist to the jaw.

Fighting is perhaps the least forgiving sport. Time and tide, as the saying goes, wait for no man – and in boxing, when the tide does come in, it has a tendency to take you out of the ring on a stretcher.

Mayweather’s last two outings were far from his most impressive, and there were definitely indications that the process of decline in his physical attributes may already be well under way. Marcos Maidana ruffled Mayweather at times in a manner that few have succeeded in the past. Other fighters that have also been able to put a dent in Mayweather’s armory, such as Jose Luis Castillo (who many believed deserved to win a decision against Mayweather way back in 2002) and DeMarcus Corley, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley (each of whom were able to land on Mayweather’s chin and visibly hurt him), also bolster the Filipino’s case. He is bigger and more powerful than Castillo; he is younger and fresher than Mosley; he is more experienced and awkward than Corley and he is more dangerous and relentless than Judah.

Pacquiao has the style and the pedigree to improve on the problems posed by those aforementioned Mayweather foes. If he can impose his will early as Judah and Mosley did, refuse to allow Mayweather to get into a steady rhythm, and then maintain a patient, sophisticated intensity – much the same as Maidana and Castillo did, only better – he has every chance of pulling off what would be his finest victory, to cement his place as the greatest fighter of the modern era.

Part II: The Case for Mayweather

In the 100-page “Mayweather-Pacquiao Ultimate Fans’ Guide” recently published by Boxing News, among all the thousands of words of analysis and predictions, it was a quote from Freddie Roach right near the beginning that I found to be the most poignant:

“Manny followed Chris Algieri a little bit too much in the last fight. I do have to get rid of that and I have to make that adjustment.”

The problem, as I think Roach would certainly agree in another context, is that you cannot change the ingrained habits of a developed, older fighter in such a short space of time – if ever. Perhaps you can tweak them through relentless work in the gym, but ultimately the fundamental, reflex habits are the ones that force themselves to the surface in the heat of battle. And herein lies the problem for Pacquiao: he is by nature an aggressive, offensive fighter. Floyd Mayweather is by nature a defensive, counter-punching boxer, who seeks to capitalize on his opponents’ offensive errors. What Freddie Roach is essentially admitting in the above statement is that, even after years of refining his offensive arsenal, there are still noticeable errors in his game that a defensive genius like Mayweather could easily exploit.

While Manny Pacquiao’s incredible rise through the ranks was littered with some of the greatest and most memorable battles of his generation, Floyd Mayweather’s record – though no less impressive in its scope – is largely absent the same bloody, grueling wars of attrition. The reason is not for a lack of tenacity on Mayweather’s part. He has demonstrated on numerous occasions that he has fighting mettle of the highest caliber to go with his sublime defensive skills when the circumstances necessitate. The reason that he doesn’t engage in bloody wars and exchange bombs with opponents is simply that he doesn’t need to: instead, he relies on one of the sharpest ring I.Qs the sport has ever seen to befuddle and bedazzle opponents with a mix of crisp boxing, spiteful body punching and the most impressive plus/minus compubox connect ratio ever recorded.

In what Mayweather has previously coined, “The May-Vinci Code”, opponents of the pound-for-pound number one fighter are presented with a choice that is somewhere between a rock and a very hard place. On the one hand, Mayweather is so quick and his defence so good, that if you attack him with an all-out assault you end up missing with nearly all of your own punches, being punished all the while in the process by his fast, accurate counters. The energy you end up exerting is therefore completely disproportionate to the damage you are inflicting, and so even the most finely tuned, determined fighter will eventually wilt.

The obvious answer then is don’t rush in, don’t exert yourself too much, be patient and wait for openings. Only, it just so happens that Mayweather is also a master at this game: try and stand away from him and box on the outside, and Mayweather will be content to jab you and make you wait all night long. He is in no rush to score a KO, and the speed and accuracy of his jab coupled with his own defence means that any round following this pattern in a Mayweather fight is virtually guaranteed to go his way on the scorecards.

It’s a complete catch 22 situation: you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Attack and attempt to overwhelm him with pressure, and get punished by hard, accurate, pot-shot counters; stay safe and try to box on the outside, and get out-speeded and out-jabbed all night long.

The offensive whirlwind vs. defensive counter-punching style-mesh potentially gets worse for Pacquiao when we look back at the person who has given him the most trouble over his career – Mexican great Juan Manuel Marquez. Three times they went life and death over twelve rounds; three times Marquez was denied a victory. In the fourth meeting, Marquez didn’t just get his victory; he got one of the most stunning KO’s of the modern era. It is neither the KO victory nor the official scorecards of their first three encounters that matters in the current conversation though. What matters is that, regardless of how you scored any of their fights or how “lucky”/freakish you consider Marquez’s knockout punch to have been, there is simply no denying that the Mexican’s counter-punching style gave Pacquiao fits, every single time they entered a ring together.

Many people will point to the fact that it took Marquez over 40 rounds to figure out the Filipino to the extent that he could earn a decisive victory. I would say that view ignores the reality that it actually took Marquez a single, shocking, three-knockdown round in their first fight to really get to grips with the Pacman. From that point onwards, while neither man was able to conclusively dominate the other until the final knockout blow 41 rounds and 8 years later, it was Pacquiao who always seemed to me the less comfortable of the two style-wise, and it was Marquez who was more consistently dictating the terms of their engagements.

Mayweather is bigger, stronger, more experienced, faster and probably an even more intelligent boxer than Marquez (he dominated the Mexican in a one-sided exhibition in 2009). If Mayweather is able to dictate the terms of engagement, lull Pacquiao into his May-Vinci trap, timing the Pacman with pot-shot counters on the outside, then tying him up and breaking his rhythm with body shots on the inside, it could be a very long, frustrating night for the Filipino indeed.

Part III: The Prediction

Considering the fistic qualities each combatant brings to the table on Saturday night, we should not really be shocked by a victory from either man. Mayweather and Pacquiao have each recently been quoted as saying their legacies will not be defined by the outcome of their historic match – an important point that will likely be lost by a significant section of fans after the event (especially in the case of a Mayweather defeat). The fact is that both fighters are greats of the sport who could have, at the very least, competed admirably in any other era in its history. As such, a win by either one should not present much of a surprise to any objective observer.

That being said, I tend to think the most likely outcome will be a Mayweather victory, probably on points. It is hardly a controversial prediction, and matches with what the bookmakers are also posting as the most likely result. There is a good reason for that: bookmakers do not make odds with their hearts; they do it with their heads. And despite my admiration for the Filipino legend, my head tells me that the evidence is firmly in favour of a Mayweather victory.

One of the biggest factors leading to that conclusion, for me, is one that often gets overlooked. It is Pacquiao’s tendency to look fairly ordinary – even in fights that he is winning handily – when faced with an opponent that refuses to engage with him. Try to meet him head on, and the Pacman will gobble you up; move away and box, and the Filipino frequently becomes frustrated and ineffective.

Take his last fight with Algieri as an example. Essentially Pacquiao was facing a novice fighter at world level, and yet (as Roach himself admitted), he still fell into the trap of following a moving opponent instead of cutting the ring off, and he was unable to finish a wounded, downed, inexperienced foe in constant retreat. The Shane Mosley fight is another example. After being hurt badly and surprised by Pacquiao’s power, Mosley disengaged, moved away and basically refused to “fight” for the remainder of the contest. There was no doubt who the winner was in the end, of course, but it was perhaps worrying that the Pacman’s attack was rendered so impotent by an older, slower fighter that simply didn’t want to engage. Even in the later rounds against Miguel Cotto, when the brave but battered Puerto Rican began back-pedalling in full survivor mode, there were times when Pacquiao looked over at the referee in a confused, “can’t you make him stand and fight again?” kind of gesture. If these lesser and wounded fighters were able to frustrate Pacquiao – even in spots – with some fairly basic moving and spoiling, I tend to think that a man like Mayweather, who makes such tactics his bread and butter, will have large spells of success employing a similar, but more effective, strategy.

For years, the Pac-faithful dined out on the idea – perhaps we could even say defined themselves on the idea – that Mayweather would NEVER face Pacquiao in a ring. It came as quite a shock to many then when the fight was finally announced on February 20th. By February 21st, the message popping up around various internet forums had shifted from “Mayweather will never fight Pacquiao” to “Mayweather will just run all night.” I do not think that will be the case.

Another factor that too often gets overlooked is Mayweather’s under-rated physical strength. While he is by no means an aggressive puncher, the “runner” label his detractors have tagged him with is an exaggerated and inaccurate one. There have been numerous occasions where fighters who were expected to bully Mayweather with superior power and physical strength found him planting his feet in the middle of the ring, hands high in a tight guard, challenging the supposedly stronger man to attack, and at times even forcing them back to the ropes with steady, controlled boxing (Canelo Alvarez and Shane Mosley spring immediately to mind here). I would not be surprised at all to see a similar strategy employed by Mayweather to assert himself at the start of this contest.

All of the above is not to say that the match will be a whitewash. Pacquiao is too good for that, and I can see him having some significant moments in the fight – maybe producing his own “Mosley moment” and rocking or briefly putting down the American. By the middle rounds though, I expect Mayweather to have figured out Pacquiao’s rhythm, and to be controlling the pace more, taking the sting out of the Filipino’s assaults by stabbing him with effective, straight jabs to the body, and then timing him more and more frequently with right hands upstairs – a punch that Pacquiao has been susceptible to over the years and one of Floyd’s most potent weapons. I remember seeing Timothy Bradley landing some tasty right hands in the early rounds of his rematch with Pacquiao and thinking that Mayweather would be seeing the regularity that Bradley was landing them and licking his lips.

No doubt Roach and Pacquiao are well aware of the traps Mayweather will be setting up to land this shot, and they will have traps of their own at the ready in response. It will be fascinating to see which of them prevails in this high-stakes game of chess, but while Pacquiao is many great things, he has never been a very difficult fighter to hit and I cannot imagine him winning at chess games with Mayweather. Ultimately, the sweet science boils down to a simple adage: hit and don’t get hit. It is an art that Mayweather excels in, and this, I think, will be the difference on the night.

The only caveat I would add regards Mayweather’s age: If the relatively lackluster showings from Mayweather in his last two fights against Maidana turn out to be the beginning of an irrevocable and rapid decline, Pacquiao will make the contest much more competitive with his higher work rate and greater intensity. Perhaps, in that case, we will see a close, controversial points decision with the dreaded “draw” verdict even rearing its ugly head. Assuming that Mayweather has not “aged over night” though, I envisage a fairly clear points victory in his favour, by a margin of about three or four rounds.

This article was published by on May 2nd, 2015:

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