Let me admit from the outset that this is kind of awkward timing for a piece centered on the recently announced Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight. The bout was, after all, made official less than two weeks ago, and won’t be upon us until May 2, nearly two months out.
By running this column right now, though, I’m avoiding two major pitfalls: 1) the knee-jerk reaction. If I had been ordered to turn in a column specifically about this fight the day after it was announced, the Metro Spirit would be bankrupt, because the entirety of page 38 would be a hologram fist-pump. 2) Pre-fight-week frenzy. Not only will every sports — and, let’s face it, non-sports — outlet be running wall-to-wall coverage on this, thus rendering this space even more white noise than usual, but I’ll be so jacked to the gills on natural adrenaline in the days immediately preceding this fight, local headlines will read “Madison Man Catches 83 Squirrels with Bare Hands. Science Baffled, Frightened.”
I’m in a sweet spot, let’s say.
It’s important that we understand how monumental, how generation-defining, this fight is. At this point, it doesn’t even matter if it ends up being one-sided, a stinker or both; the very happening, the very actuality of it, is almost unbelievable, and I mean that in very close to a literal sense.
I’ve written enough about both of these guys that — even if you’re part of the 0.000001 percent or so of the population who reads this column and nothing else — you’ll have a fairly good idea of their respective accomplishments and MOs. Floyd Mayweather is, and has long been, considered the No. 1 boxer in the world, regardless of weight class. When we talk about what makes Mayweather the boxer great — Mayweather the person is kind of a piece of s**t — most of us gravitate towards one of two narratives: his preternatural talent for the fight game, and his scary, tireless work ethic.
In truth, the reality is that he possesses both, and sharpens each against the other like twin whetstones. His eye for angles, his knack for utilizing the Philly Shell to deflect and dodge blows is unparalleled, but his eye and instincts wouldn’t matter for squat if he didn’t spend most of his waking hours honing and drilling them to perfection.
You have to go all the way back to his 2007 knockout of Ricky Hatton to witness Mayweather’s last truly mesmerizing performance, but that’s just because Hatton played right into Mayweather’s hands, allowing “Money” to execute a bloody symphony on the previously undefeated Hatton’s face. The over-aggressive “Hitman” had some early success bullying his opponent and attacking the body, but ran into a Mayweather check-hook in the 10th round and was soundly stopped shortly thereafter.
It sounds like an insult. It’s not. Never let it be said that Floyd Mayweather lacks heart or fortitude; though he took relatively easy matchups in the intervening years with Robert Guerrero and Juan Manuel Marquez — a truly great fighter, but too small to compete with Floyd — Mayweather had to dig deep to pull out three of his most recent wins: overcoming a second-round overhand right by Shane Moseley that truly rocked him for the first time in his career; maneuvering around the bigger, more powerful Miguel Cotto; figuring out a way around the shock-and-awe ape-spaz tactics of Marcos Maidana, who went at Mayweather for most of the fight like he was trying to get at the candy inside his head.
Manny Pacquiao has had a bit rougher go of things in the past few years than Mayweather, though the points of contention do come with some caveats. He split a pair of fights with arch-rival Juan Manuel Marquez: a decision victory followed by a brutal one-shot KO loss. That second fight was shaping up to be the same sort of barnburner that the two were known for; each had floored the other in the preceding rounds, and Pacquiao actually had Marquez hurt before he ran into a picture-perfect counter right.
Pacquiao also “split” a pair of fights with Timothy Bradley, although the first fight — a decision loss for Pacquiao — is universally considered a judging travesty; he soundly defeated Bradley in the rematch.
It’s difficult to know how this fight is going to turn out. In previous bouts involving one or the other, there has been some measure of the “death, taxes” strain of certainty, even given the speed bumps thrown at each fighter. The difficulty with this one lies in the fact that the myriad nuances of each fighter’s style are so theoretically, complexly entangled: Floyd is a masterful defensive technician and counter-fighter, but he’s never faced someone with the combination of speed, power, ferocity and Killer Instinct-style Ultra Combos that Pacquiao brings to the table.
Floyd’s use of the Philly Shell defense and accompanying shoulder rolls is legendary, but Pacquiao employs a special brand of measured violence, working angles and sneaking power shots through his opponents’ defenses. Floyd’s defense — one predicated less on protecting his head and more on avoidance — may not stand up.
On the flip side, Pacquiao’s famed aggression can get, and has gotten, him into rough spots. The fourth Marquez fight is the most glaring example, but he also got repeatedly tagged by Timothy Bradley, an exceptionally fast fighter, in their first matchup, and Mayweather is nothing if not masterful at capitalizing on small openings.
Another wrinkle: some might argue that Pacquiao’s KO loss to Marquez has rendered him risk-averse, and his safety-first performances against Chris Algieri and Brandon Rios would seem to support that. But Manny knows that Floyd, among other things, is supremely adept at taking decisions, at landing when it counts. In other words, he not only wins, but he’s good at “appearing” to win. Manny must, then, be aggressive, and hunt for the KO as he’s able. To that end, Floyd has rarely displayed KO power except when opponents run face-first into his punches (Hatton) or display the fight IQ of a turnip (Victor Ortiz).
Usually I cap this off with some quasi-profound mutterings about how the fight game relates to life, philosophy, bleh bleh bleh. Not so this time. I’m just ridiculously, giddily thrilled that this is actually happening. Next week I’ll get back to exhibiting my inflated sense of self-importance — this has been my geek-out moment. Thanks for joining me.