This weekend, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will be trying to punch each other in the face (and other areas) repeatedly. You can view the festivities via PPV for something like $90.
It seems like the media has talked about this matchup forever. It took several years for the two camps to come to terms and the occasional stalemates in negotiation have highlighted some of boxing’s inherent problems. There are 4 separate sanctioning bodies for boxing, each with discrete rules and belts. (Depending on the sanctioning body, there are as many as 18 different weight classes. One of the weight classes is called “Minimumweight”. Is that the lightest weight class? No, that would be light minimumweight. Makes tons of sense). Prior fight talks reportedly broke down over issues like which gloves each guy could wear and the timing of pre-fight drug testing. Unified rules may have avoided this. The Wiki page for the matchup devotes numerous paragraphs to the negotiations. Floyd’s out-of-the-ring reputation is not the best in the Navy, but read his quotes in the “Continued Disputes” part to think less of him (in one quote, he manages to fit 3 separate offensive stereotypes into a single sentence).
Anyway, we’re finally here, and it could be a big night for boxing or a huge letdown. Pay-per-view estimates say this event will be viewed by an historically large audience, and the broader the audience the more pressure to have a crowd-pleasing event. Crowds like when fighters throw bombs, but, not to steal from Jack Handy, boxing, at its best, looks like two guys dancing while throwing punches at each other (which I imagine is very similar to what probably transpired at TR’s bachelor party). That rarely is what a heavyweight fight looks like now, and is probably a large part of why the masses who watched Ali/Foreman/Tyson/Lennox Lewis don’t watch much anymore. Boxing, these days, is much more fun outside of the HW division (if you ever hear about a fight featuring two guys trained in New Mexico, just watch it and send me some bourbon as a thanks later). This fight should be at least modestly up-tempo and should feature fairly decent footwork. But if the fight disappoints somehow, it will just be more evidence to casual fans with other options that boxing is no longer fan-friendly (even though there are enough skilled and personable fighters in classes other than HW these days to herald a comeback).
Okay, so enough tutorializing, let’s get to some Q&A.
Q: I’m considering watching this fight. What do I need to know before making my decision?
A: Like I said, it costs $90. To watch sweaty shirtless men, bleeding from the nose or mouth, spit into a bucket every 3 minutes. You’re either in or you’re out. I’m not going to sell you (or perhaps I just did).
Q: No really, what should I be prepared for?
A: It’s cliché that styles make fights, right? This style matchup seems promising. Manny is by nature more of a come-forward fighter, and Mayweather is a counterpuncher. Floyd’s style is not universally appealing. He never looks like he’s trying his hardest and doesn’t push the action because he’s always been the faster guy in the ring. By a wide margin. I’m not using ‘fast’ to describe his footwork - Floyd does not bounce around a lot - but to describe upper body movement and reaction speed. I’ve gone in to some Floyd fights, De la Hoya comes to mind, thinking “This opponent might be quick enough to make it close” but what invariably happens is those guys look slower than usual once they are actually in the ring with him. I feel like I could count on one hand the times I’ve seen him caught flush with a power punch to the head, because it’s hard to hit a guy who has so many different and unpredictable head/torso moves.
Against methodical fighters these last few years, he has started slower and shown a greater willingness to go toe to toe, exposing himself to more punishment. But Floyd still combines movements – shoulder roll plus head bob, or full body tilt plus slight head turn – that turn big shots into whiffs or glancing blows that open his opponents up to is fast, accurate and snappy counters.
He doesn’t throw the biggest punch, but Floyd does throw the cleanest because his defense makes opponents leave themselves open. Even then, Floyd doesn’t frequently go Jeff Speakman on guys at this point in his career – his counters are usually limited to 1 to 4 opportunistic potshots and then he backs off. Those looking for Floyd to have a “Finish Him” Mortal Kombat moment will likely be disappointed, but because his shots are so clean and his opponents so outmatched, in many cases the ref is compelled to stop it early. Floyd will likely be Floyd in this fight. A typical Floyd fight does not always satisfy the masses, maybe because the audience suspects he is capable of closing the curtain earlier on most foes.
The entertainment quotient depends on Manny; how good he is will determine how good Floyd has to be. If he pushes the action too much, he could fall victim to the same fate that befell headfirst guys like Victor Ortiz and Ricky Hatton, who repeatedly charged Floyd, were several steps too slow, ate too many well-aimed punches and were summarily dispatched. On the other hand, if he sits back, history tells you that Floyd will win on points – it’s unlikely in a strategic fight that Manny will be able to hit Floyd as much as Floyd hits him. I remember a Floyd fight years ago where he broke his left hand early in the fight. He wasn’t throwing with it, he was hardly using it for defense, and he STILL won nearly every round. His opposition that night was not top tier, but still, the dude was great enough to win with 65%.
Q: What’s Manny’s strategy/best chance to win?
A: Manny has better speed than recent Floyd opponents and needs to get inside and not let Floyd hold him off with jabs. He needs to make it a fight in a phone booth and get Floyd to trade and try to get him in trouble (not in unplanned pregnancy terms). The only time I remember Floyd in trouble was when “Sugar” Shane Moseley caught Floyd (:57 mark) early in their fight. What happened after that round? Shane kept trying to recreate the moment, and Floyd stopped going toe-to-toe, ceasing opportunities for something else big. As the fight went on, Floyd dodged and countered his way to easily outpointing Shane. That round was hard. The fight wasn’t.
Manny has the skillset to land some threatening shots when pushing the action. And with Floyd more flatfooted early in his recent fights, odds go up that Manny could catch him with something ferocious. But I refuse to underestimate Floyd’s boxing IQ and I don’t think he’ll be as stationary with Manny as he has been recently vs less hungry/skilled fighters. Floyd’s not in the business of overestimating his own skill unless we’re talking about sports betting.
Q: So who ya got?
A: The answer is obvious and unsexy. It’s Floyd. Floyd, Floyd, Floyd. He’s 47-0. As in “He has never lost”. Picking Manny to be THE GUY to unseat him means you believe either:
- Floyd is over the hill. He’s 38 and has fought ~350 rounds (about 17 ½ hours of throwing, dodging and being hit by punches, and that does not count training). That seems significant until you consider that the majority were “easy” rounds as far as boxing goes. Floyd hardly ever looks pressed or under pressure - he even exchanged words with HBO commentator Jim Lampley during a round in a couple of fights; a professional fighter paid to hurt Floyd was trying to hit him and at the same time Floyd’s telling Lampley who he likes in the NFL playoffs.
- On top of that, his opponent (36 himself) has fought 20 more professional fights and about 60 more rounds. And Pacman has fought with heart and soul that most of Floyd’s opponents have not required of him. Manny fought skilled action fighters Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Juan Raul Marquez 3, 3 and 4 times, respectively. They weren’t all wars, but they were much tougher than pretty much any Floyd fight I’ve seen. The last time Manny and Marquez fought, Manny suffered a crushing knockout. Meaning, his face was nearly crushed (:54 mark). For these reasons, Manny likely has less in the tank than Floyd (and seems more likely to be the one caught by something clean/big). But I don’t think age plays much of a role here either way.
- Manny brings something that Floyd has never before encountered. I’ll buy this up to a point. Floyd has carefully controlled, shaped and perhaps protected his legacy throughout his career. Apparently a knucklehead in certain other aspects of his life, Floyd has profound awareness of his boxing strengths and how he matches up with others. He has been selective over which fights to take when he could (title holders periodically face mandatory challengers) and I believe Floyd chose many of his opponents because he knew he could exploit their weaknesses. In repeated speed mismatches, he has fought and humbled media darlings and crowd favorites presented as the next great one (Hatton, the late Arturo Gatti). And Floyd fought ‘name’ opponents like Sugar Shane, De La Hoya and Zab Judah in their decline. Manny has a better combination of speed, boxing acumen, and aggression than maybe any previous opponent, but when he is in the ring with Floyd, he’ll almost certainly look slower than expected. He could catch Floyd with something early if he unleashes the hounds, but if he does not fight with urgency, it will be a typical Floyd fight. Bottom line: Floyd’s best is better than Manny’s best.
If I were betting on this fight, I’d take Floyd by decision, and maybe hedge with a Floyd win by KO in the 10th. Floyd likely will not put himself or Manny in danger early and I don’t think Manny presents enough uniqueness to suggest Floyd couldn’t wear him down late like he has so many others. I see Floyd avoiding Manny if Manny is still standing there in Round 11 or 12. Ultimately, it’s not a question of “Who will win?” as much as it is “Which Floyd will we see” and, consequently, “How entertained will we be?” Floyd typically fights to the level of his competition and doesn’t feel compelled to step on the gas or pull out the stops. He has beaten most of his opponents on his terms, without having to put himself in real peril. He’s always looked dominant even though he has rarely been tested. He’s almost certainly the best fighter I’ve ever seen. I just don’t see a compelling argument that Manny is the guy to finally beat Floyd. But Manny’s tools and the undeniable determination with which he fights may at least require Floyd to respond with something special, something that is as close to his A+ game as he’s ever had to come. And that’s what I expect from Manny – to be perhaps the hardest puzzle Floyd has had to solve, to make Floyd tap his considerable talents and fight in a way that reminds everyone why he’s the best, even at his age. I expect a decent fight, but I’m hoping for a great one.