The two greatest fighters of our generation. Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather. Floyd Mayweather - Manny Pacquiao. Slice it whichever way you want, on Sunday morning the questions surrounding this great rivalry will finally be put to bed. Six long years after the initial outcry to get these welterweight (147lbs) champions to square off, boxing fans have finally received their wish. Rewind a few months and on-again-off-again negotiations over the past few years had left the boxing world with flailing hope that the biggest question mark over both careers would ever be resolved. The time for resolution has come, at last.
Both fighters have been considered the mythical “pound-for-pound” boxing king at various times in their careers. Pacquiao’s unprecedented, hellacious and all-action rise to win world championships in eight weight classes would serve as a counter to the masterful displays by the supremely talented Mayweather. Facing off against common opponents Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto only fuelled the fires of public imagination of how a fight between the two would play out.
The aptly dubbed Fight of the Century sees TV networks HBO and Showtime come together for only the second time. At $100 a pop and three million Pay-Per-View buys, you can do the math. The PPV, live gate and sponsorships are expected to bring in north of $400 million with the fighters guaranteed to divide more than half of that amount. Of course when the numbers (and egos) are that big neither team wanted come off as the ‘B-side’ in the negotiation. Pacquiao’s camp did however give in to a number of Mayweather’s demands. Here’s a few:
- Venue and Date choice.
- Drug testing protocol.
- 60-40 purse split.
- The event is billed Mayweather – Pacquiao, not Pacquiao – Mayweather.
- Mayweather can choose his corner of the ring.
- Mayweather walks to the ring last.
- Mayweather is announced last in the ring.
Pacquiao, for his part, managed to see the lighter side of taking the backseat in the negotiation. With a cheeky schoolboy smile he said recently, “That's how we treat everyone in our Death Row. We give all they want before the execution.”
It’s difficult to believe Mayweather was or is scared of Manny Pacquiao. But what Floyd fears above anything is losing his beloved zero. Floyd’s known for years that stylistically Manny Pacquiao has been the biggest threat to his unbeaten record. He’s sold his boxing image on his undefeated record. To risk that, would be to risk his paydays. Forget glory, legacy and facing the best, for Floyd, “If it makes dollars, it makes sense.” Earning $40million against opponents he knew he would beat meant there was no need to step into the ring with Manny Pacquiao. It’s not that he didn’t believe he could beat Pacquiao; the risk has never been worth it until now. In contrast, Pacquiao has taken on much bigger opponents and shown plenty of heart.
Mayweather (W47-L0-D0, 26 KOs), was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan to a boxing family with his father Floyd Mayweather Sr. and uncles Roger and Jeff professional boxers. His early years saw his father in jail and while his uncle Roger and mother struggled with substance abuse, Floyd Jr. was raised by his grandmother and the steely figures in the boxing gym. It’s easy to see why he’s always seen the world as his enemy.
Pacquiao (W57-L5-D2, 38 KOs) grew up as a street child in General Santos City, Philippines selling donuts and cigarettes to make a living to support his family. Eventually, the financial lure of prize fighting in Manila presented an opportunity to escape his reality. In his first few fights, a teenage Manny Pacquiao was so scrawny and undernourished that he snuck weights into his pockets to make the minimum weight.
Fast forward through the in-ring success and the parallels in their childhood difficulties couldn’t be further away from their current realities.
It’s difficult to like Mayweather as a man. Floyd and his Money Team entourage are loud, egotistical, brash, cocky, arrogant and hypocritical. Yes, part of that persona is him selling and promoting his fight but part of it is really him. Racism, bigotry and sexism have never been far away from Floyd. Add in the jail time he’s served for domestic violence against his former girlfriend and the villain role in the ring isn’t too far divorced from reality. I, for one, have been waiting for someone to shut him up and give him a dose of some much-needed humility. It’s why we watch him. We watch him to see him get beat.
Manny, on the other hand, is gracious, humble and always smiling. His fame has even seen him take a seat in the Filipino Parliament as a congressman as he aims to help people who live in the same abject poverty in which he grew up. It’s difficult to not root for him. So how do these legends stack up in the ring?
The Pacman’s strengths have always been his speed and ability to create awkward angles, allowing him to land punches. His lateral movement combined with the “in-out” volume punching style has meant he’s never been shy to trade punches, at times to his detriment. Mayweather, in contrast, is a purist. Defensive skill and speed abound but are not complemented by an all-action, fan-friendly style. Rather, he picks his spots usually with single, precise punches. Floyd has never had to go for broke knowing he has been trailing on the scorecards. The truth is no fighter, apart from maybe Jose Luis Castillo, has had the tools, skill and desire to push him for twelve complete rounds.
Despite his three-year age advantage at 36, Pacquiao’s been in more fights and his aggressive style and nature has seen him put more wear and tear on his body. Floyd, a defensive genius, hasn’t taken the punishment typical for a fighter his age. In recent fights however, the undefeated star has shown some signs that his legs are not what they once were. Despite handily outpointing Argentine Marcos Maidana in both their first bout and rematch in 2014, Mayweather took more punishment in those fights than we’ve come to expect. Pacquiao’s legendary trainer Freddie Roach was quick to pick up on this, “I don't think he moves like he used to. His legs aren't what they were - that's the first thing to go with a fighter.”
Pacquiao’s last fight was a complete shutout over undefeated Chris Algieri in which he scored six knockdowns against the tall American. Despite a convincing win Pacquiao was caught rather easily with a number of straight rights. The straight right is Mayweather’s best punch.
My breakdown of the key areas shows that there’s little to choose between the two:
It may be easy to pick Mayweather because at his core he’s a counter-puncher and Manny has been in trouble against counter punchers. But Pacquiao is too good offensively to not land. If Manny can overwhelm him and apply pressure for twelve rounds, he can win the decision. Will it be the volume punching of Pacquiao or the precision punching of Mayweather that the judges prefer? A knockout either way is unlikely given the lack of KOs in their recent fights but certainly remains a possibility. The safest bet would be a Mayweather decision at 13/20 but Pacquiao at 4/1 is much better value for a decision win. If pushed for a single bet to make, the only one I can tip with any degree of certainty is Over 10.5 Rounds at 2/7. The return isn’t great but I’m convinced this fight is going the distance.
Rivalries define the sport. The great heavyweights of the ‘70s in Ali, Frazier and Foreman are still revered today. The Fabulous Four of the ‘80s, Leonard, Hearns, Hagler and Duran produced the most competitive era in the sport as they traded defeats and victories in epic encounters. Pacquiao and Mayweather have without doubt been the two standout icons of this generation. But in every rivalry and era, one fighter emerges as the greatest. Ali the greatest heavyweight, Sugar Ray Leonard as the best of the Fabulous Four. On Sunday morning one man from this generation will join the greats.