This fight has been nearly a decade in the making. On May 2nd, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. will square off against Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao to determine once and for all which fighter is boxing’s undisputed champion.
For the casual boxing fans among you, this post will break down Saturday’s epic war: what’s happening, why it matters, and — of course — who I think is going to win.
In one corner, you have Floyd Mayweather, who holds several championship belts in the Welterweight division of boxing. Mayweather has an astounding 47-0 undefeated record as a champion, and is on a tear to break a 50-0 professional record. Boxing enthusiasts recognize Mayweather as one of boxing’s still-active natural talents, and among the best the sport has ever seen. Mayweather has defeated most of the sport’s major names, and has even gone into a series of short retirements when he literally ran out of people to fight in his weight division in the late 2000’s.
Inside the ring, Mayweather’s reputation as a champion hinges on his having one of the most strategic minds in boxing, as well as his signature shoulder-roll defense. Mayweather is an intelligent technical fighter, who fights defensively and exploits weaknesses in his opponents’ fighting style through well-timed counter-punches. Outside of the ring, Mayweather has embraced a carefully crafted villainous persona, and hypes many of his upcoming bouts with highly charged and offensive language. Boxing afficionados recognize Mayweather as one of the sports’ legendary talents, and also as a giant fucking asshole whom no one particularly likes to root for.
In the other corner, you have Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino people’s champion. Pacquiao is a legend in boxing for being the only fighter to win a title belt in 8 weight divisions. With a career spanning twenty years, Pacquiao earned respect in the sport of boxing as a blindingly fast pressure fighter whose signature style involves subduing his opponents with flurries of punches coming from unconventional angles. Despite increasing in weight from light flyweight to welterweight, Pacquiao’s speed has not suffered significantly. Currently, Pacquiao has some of the fastest hands in the welterweight division, where he holds a WBO title belt.
Outside of the ring, Pacquiao has a myriad interests. He is a sitting Congressman in the Phillipines House of Representatives, a coach for the Kia Sorento basketball team, and a retired pop singer. For Saturday’s bout with Mayweather, Pacquiao returned to the recording studio to sing an inspiring power ballad for his ring entry song, meant to uplift the Filipino people.
Both Mayweather and Pacquiao have been at one time named the sport’s pound-for-pound best fighter. Both Mayweather and Pacquaio have beaten most of the lesser lights of the sport. Both are praised as the dominant names in the welterweight division of the sport. But we still don’t know which is the true champ.
And so, comes Saturday.
Since about 2008, boxing fans have been clamouring for a Mayweather-Pacquaio match-up, which was likely to draw boxing fans from both America and the sport’s overseas fans in Asia (thanks in no small part to Pacquiao’s efforts to use the sport to stimulate economic growth throughout the continent). After Pacquiao’s blistering defeat of Miguel Cotto in 2009, the Mayweather and Pacquiao camps entered into negotiations for a proposed title fight.
These negotiations broke down spectacularly. Some of it has to do with what’s been dubbed Boxing’s “Civil War”: Mayweather was until last year promoted by former boxer Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions (Mayweather and De La Hoya had a spectacular falling out last year), while Pacquiao is promoted by legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank Promotions. Several years ago, a series of hostile interactions resulted in a fracturing of the sport. An unspoken rule emerged: Top Rank fighters wouldn’t fight Golden Boy fighters, and vice versa. Mayweather had no small part in this Civil War: a falling out with HBO (see a pattern?) resulted in Mayweather signing an exclusive multi-fight deal with Showtime, in essence boycotting the sport’s premier broadcaster. These politics hindered any realistic negotiations of a match-up between Pacquiao and Mayweather, and one that might be broadcast on HBO.
Beyond this, Pacquiao and Mayweather’s camps also broke off discussions for a match-up after they could not reach an agreement over terms. Mayweather insisted that Pacquaio agree to random blood right up to the day of the fight, which Pacquiao argued would be disruptive to his training. After mediation, Mayweather’s camp offered that blood testing be allowed up to 14 days before the scheduled fight, however Pacquiao continued to refuse to allow blood testing within 24 days of the fight. This led Mayweather to accuse Pacquiao — openly and frequently, not to mention racist-ly — of illegal steroid use, which caused Pacquiao to file a defamation lawsuit against Mayweather and Golden Boy. Needless to say, the talks subsequently fell through.
After years of being led on, boxing fans became resigned to the likelihood that a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was the fight of the century we would never, ever see. I had personally long since given up hope.
That is, until this year.
Mayweather, who is almost obsessed with legacy, wants desperately to break the 50-0 undefeated record. But he also knows that he cannot claim to be the best without beating the best. Meanwhile, Pacquiao is riding high on a comeback after an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez a few years ago. The stars aligned, and — almost as if by magic — the fight we never thought would happen is happening in five days. Boxing commentators are already talking about it as the biggest (not to mention the richest) fight of the century!
Whom To Root For
A lot of casual boxing fans are wondering whom they should root for in May 2nd’s Mayweather-Pacquiao bout. Of course, this is basically a subjective question. Progressives will be disappointed to learn that neither gets away clean when it comes to comments made outside of the ring: Mayweather has been wildly racist and is a known misogynist and domestic abuser, while Pacquiao made headlines for disparaging remarks opposing gay marriage and his legislative votes to oppose women’s reproductive rights.
Boxing purists will likely root for Mayweather, who is quite simply the better technical fighter; of course, any supporter of Mayweather’s work in the ring must acknowledge everything about his persona outside of the ring makes him abhorrent. Those who prefer the underdog, or the person who is in general a more sympathetic and likable figure, will go for the soft-spoken Pacquiao, reformed from his days of excessive drinking and womanizing.
Who Will Win
This is the multi-billion dollar question, isn’t it?
Saturday’s fight is almost guaranteed to be an objectively good fight. The match-up between a pressure fighter and a counter-puncher is classic good boxing, and both fighters are among the best of their respective styles. Meanwhile, Pacquiao fights southpaw, which is guaranteed to add an extra layer of complexity to the mix.
Both fighters are aging and past their primes. Mayweather is coming off of a couple of close victories against another pressure fighter, Marcos Maidana, which reveals that Mayweather’s conservative style is susceptible to this kind of attack. These days, Mayweather has appeared slower and a bit like he’s just going through the motions in the ring.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao has swept past two opponents — Brandon Rios and Chris Algieri — in what I will pejoratively label tune-up fights; both were scheduled as recovery after Pacquiao’s knock-out defeat by Juan Manuel Marquez. Marquez is, importantly, another one of the welterweight’s skilled counter-punchers. The returned Pacquiao is a lot better than he was in his fight against Marquez (and Bradley before that) — many of the bad habits he’s picked up over the years have been tamed. However, I had a chance over the weekend to rewatch Pacquiao in his career-defining fights against Miguel Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya (in this latter fight, Pacquiao defeated De La Hoya so soundly, it prompted De La Hoya’s retirement); today’s Pacquiao has nowhere near the energy or the snap of Pacquiao in his heyday.
Mayweather seems to be on a bit of a decline, whereas Pacquiao is on a bit of a rebound. The question for Saturday is which fighter has aged more gracefully.
There are reasons to believe Pacquiao may come out on top. In addition to his steady improvement since his knockout in Pacquiao-Marquez 4, Pacquiao has looked like a well-conditioned fighter — although he now fights in a lot more conventional style with less of his signature “odd angles” and side-stepping. If a knockout doesn’t happen, boxing is judged by scorecards, and Pacquiao is not only the more well-liked fighter in the sport, but his style is much more active than Mayweather’s. In boxing, a boxer doesn’t necessarily need to connect with his punches, just look like he’s connecting, which is an advantage for Pacquiao — the traditionally “busier” fighter.
Personally, though, I’m a bit of a boxing snob, and will almost always throw my support behind the better and more conservative technical fighter. Typically, I will prefer the skilled counter-puncher over the flurrying pressure fighter; Saturday’s bout is no exception. In addition, much of boxing comes down not just to technique and skill, but also on who is hungrier: I believe Mayweather stands to lose a lot more than Pacquiao if he is defeated on Saturday, and he knows it. I think that will translate to a hungrier and sharper Mayweather in the ring.
So, how will Saturday go down? To some degree, it will depend on which Mayweather and which Pacquiao shows up: Will it be a hungry Mayweather with a chip on his shoulder, or the bored Mayweather of the last two Maidana fights? Will it be the wild Pacquiao of old, or the aging congressman who doesn’t really want to hurt people anymore? I expect the first three rounds will reveal the answer to these questions, and thereby set the tone and eventual outcome of the fight.
Look for whether or not Mayweather is able to control Pacquiao, and keep Pac’s hands at home with a few early well-timed hooks. Meanwhile, look to see if Pacquiao still looks sharp and conditioned. Look to see if he’s able to aggressively flurry Mayweather and push him to the ropes, without leaving himself open for a devastating response. Look also for whether or not Pacquiao begins to tire around rounds 5 or 6, which may signal a possible knockdown by Mayweather in later rounds.
That being said, I don’t think either fighter will knock the other out, although I think we’ll see at least one knockdown on either side. My “money” (pun intended) is on a 116-112 or 115-113 split decision for Mayweather, and immediate demands for a rematch.
What do you think will happen Saturday? Post in the comments and join me @reappropriate on Saturday May 2nd for live-tweeting of the entirety of #MayPac.