(Shane Mosley tries to get away from Manny Pacquiao; photo courtesy Showtime)
With so many eyes on boxing Saturday night — some of them maybe new ones, given how the biggest American network, CBS, lent a hand in the hype — Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley didn’t turn out how anybody could have wanted inside the ring. The disappointing outcome was the kind of thing hardcore boxing fans have to end up apologizing for to the friends they had over to watch the big pay-per-view, having prosletyzed beforehand about how Pacquiao’s gospel is the path and the way and the truth.
One fight won’t kill boxing, the same way one fight won’t save it. When considering whether to deepen its involvement in the sport, CBS will probably look at the final numbers on the pay-per-view buys more than the lack of critical acclaim. (And as much as maybe hardcore fans wish Pacquiao-Mosley hadn’t fared poorly as a recruiting tool, the Showtime pay-per-view card wasn’t a total disaster, especially with Jorge Arce-Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. delivering thrills right before the main event.)
But that doesn’t mean we can’t point fingers when assessing the blame for what went wrong. Big numbers and critical acclaim are often complementary. An after (non-) action report can also be instructive about what comes next for Pacquiao, who emerges from this slightly scathed but still the biggest star and best boxer in the world.
For me, the number one culprit is Mosley. He talked a big game for weeks, about how his recent poor performances were just about style and how Pacquiao’s style was made for him. But in retrospect, it doesn’t look like he believed himself. He was eerily unconfident in a pre-fight interview. Asked by Showtime’s Jim Gray what advantages he had over Pacquiao, he answered, “I don’t know if I have any advantages.” At my get-together, we all became worried at that moment that Mosley was there for one last paycheck, and we’d be in for a poor performance.
And it was so. Some have noted, including Mosley trainer Naazim Richardson, that after the 3rd round knockdown, Mosley became defensive-minded. But he was that way in the first two rounds, too. For the entire fight, he landed some jabs, and some left hooks, and a few body shots, but he never unleashed the big overhand right that was his best chance for victory. The punch numbers provide a glimpse of how pathetic Mosley’s effort was: He averaged 21.7 punches per round, compared to the welterweight average of 58 and Mosley’s own career welterweight average of 47. [UPDATED: I’ve since seen different punch stats from different news outlets, with others placing Mosley’s average at 27.5. By either measure, his output was paltry in comparison to his past and the divisional averages.]
There has been some discussion afterward about whether the 39-year-old had a willing mind but unwilling body. The latter is definitely true, but I don’t think his mind was even willing, either. It’s too bad for his reputation, because with but one exception — the rounds after the 2nd of his fight with Floyd Mayweather — Mosley has always been as aggressive as possible. He had trouble pulling the trigger against Sergio Mora in his last fight, but he was the one pressing forward, engaging, trying. Against Pacquiao, he had demonstrated neither capability nor effort. He wanted nothing more than to avoid getting punched. Mosley probably won’t retire, but he should, especially since he’s already slurring his words. He can’t have very many fans left after the Pacquiao fight — just the usual set of people who will loyally follow a favorite veteran, shot fighter enough to keep him in the ring too long — and the risk/reward ratio is highly unfavorable.
That Mosley lacked capability is, of course, the main reason why he got this fight at all. Top Rank boss Bob Arum said that after Mosley failed to impress against Mora, he didn’t deserve a fight with his promotional company’s money machine. Once Mosley departed Top Rank rival Golden Boy Promotions, Arum knew he’d be getting an over-the-hill American opponent for Pacquiao with a modicum of name recognition. What Top Rank couldn’t have anticipated is that Mosley wouldn’t show up at all. If you look at how Top Rank manages its big-name action stars, the company spends a lot of time putting them in against aggressive opponents who inevitably are going to get blasted out by superior fighters, but who will make entertaining bouts for a little while or at worst make big-name action star X look good by engaging rather than running and hiding. You can blame Top Rank for not sending Pacquiao in with the best available opponents for several consecutive fights (and we’ll get to that in a minute), but you can’t blame them for Mosley behaving opposite his usual character.
That Mosley ran away from Pacquiao is becoming the trend more often than not of late. Pacquiao, then, deserves some credit for Mosley’s performance. Joshua Clottey isn’t known for high punch volumes, but he appeared even more reluctant to engage than usual against Pacquiao, partially because of a stylistic clash and partly because when he did, he got punched more than he cared to get punched. Miguel Cotto engaged with Pacquiao early, but after being knocked down and badly hurt, he spent the rest of the fight running away and trying to avoid damage. Antonio Margarito never stopped coming at Pacquiao, and now his career might be over because of all the punishment he took.
Pacquiao is taking some flack for his own role in the fight being disappointing. He was more cautious than usual, true. But I thought that was wise, at least early. Mosley stacked up as the biggest single-punch knockout threat he’d faced maybe in his whole career, so going all-out would have meant risking getting caught with something big. Even a more cautious version of Pacquiao was still taking some risks, reaching with his punches against the bigger, fleeing Mosley in a way that left himseelf vulnerable. By the middle of the fight, with Mosley so clearly defanged, Pacquiao probably should have began turning it up, but he said he had leg cramps. Somehow Pacquiao overcame them after a mistaken 10th round knockdown call, though, and began gunning for the knockout. None of this would be relevant, though, if Mosley had behaved like a true fighter. Pacquiao could have done more, but my quibbles are few with him. He wasn’t the problem.
Pacquiao’s performance in another category — not effort, but in capability — was somewhat lacking. Pacquiao, of course, won every round in the view of anyone with eyeballs, even getting a 120-107 scorecard from one of the judges despite the mistaken knockdown call. Pacquiao has shown he can win fights against opponents who are defensive-minded. But it’s also clear that such a posture gives Pacquiao trouble. Which, of course, turns us once more to the fight everyone wishes we could have gotten instead, Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather. From a scouting standpoint, Mosley’s ability to connect on Mayweather cleanly suggests Pacquiao could, too. But on the other side of the equation, Pacquiao’s inability to chase down a gun-shy, possibly shot fighter like Mosley who’s not even a quarter as good on defense as Mayweather points to a potentially very difficult fight for him.
Despite Pacquiao’s nonchalance in a post-fight interview about the Mayweather fight, I don’t think he’s scared of Mayweather even a little. Pacquiao’s team has been the only one pressing for that fight; Mayweather these days shows not even a passing interest in boxing. If he does return to the ring, it won’t be against Pacquiao until Mayweather believes he has a zero percent chance of losing to the Filipino icon. Mayweather said he wasn’t even watching the bout — he was watching the Lady Gaga special on HBO. In retrospect, as much as I hate to admit it, Mayweather’s decision was a sound one. Gaga’s special was a good deal more enjoyable than Pacquiao-Mosley. But Mayweather’s decision does betray, overall, how much his interest in a Pacquiao fight is a notch or two below nonchalance. As much as Pacquiao-Mayweather would be the Super Bowl of boxing, I’ve given up on the notion of it ever happening.
Which doesn’t leave Pacquiao with many competitive options. He could, of course, move up in weight to fight middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. But I can hardly blame him for not doing that. I want boxers to challenge themselves, but I don’t think a boxer is under any obligation to keep moving up in weight until he gets beat. Pacquiao showed against Margarito that he’s not a junior middleweight; hell, he’s not even a welterweight. I’d applaud Pacquiao for fighting Martinez, but that’s only because it’s borderline insane.
The problem is, if it’s not Mayweather and it’s not Martinez, then Pacquiao’s next opponent is going to be a massive underdog, just like Mosley before him. Arum said that they’ll start with lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, but I don’t know very many people who think Marquez belongs at welterweight, and Pacquiao’s team appears to want to drag him up there rather than meet in the middle. He’s an opponent who would probably help at the box office, as the best Mexican fighter there is, though, and being with Golden Boy Promotions is probably the only thing that prevented Pacquiao-Marquez III from happening; now that Marquez might leave Golden Boy, Top Rank is suddenly interested in him. If that doesn’t work out, they’ll look at another opponent for November.
The names he mentioned were Timothy Bradley and Zab Judah. They aren’t crazy. Bradley is the best junior welterweight in the world, a top-10 pound-for-pound fighter who is young and in his prime — he’s one of the people I’d rather Pacquiao have faced instead of Mosley, in fact, and Bradley has shown he could fight as high as welter and still be effective. He’s an ugly fighter, unfortunately, prone to head butts like he is, but he’s never given anything less than maximum effort. The cynic in me thinks Arum might only be dangling Bradley’s name as a way of blocking a Bradley fight with Golden Boy’s Amir Khan, but I would take Pacquiao-Bradley. Judah wouldn’t thrill me as much, but Judah has legitimately revitalized his career with a couple wins over junior welterweight contenders, even if he struggled for spells in both of them. He’s also the former lineal welterweight world champion, so there’s no size issue here, and while he’s getting older, he’s not yet over-the-hill. An option Arum hasn’t mentioned is Victor Ortiz, who got a big win in his welterweight debut and would probably stack up for the best combination of competitive cache, entertainment and perhaps even ticket sales, since Ortiz has a Mexican-American fan base in Southern California.
Pacquiao is exciting enough, good enough and a big enough name that he’s going to be a draw regardless of his opponent indefinitely. But there is such a thing as diminishing returns. The longer Pacquiao remains in the limelight, the more educated fans will become about the caliber of his opposition. And educated fans of all varieties care about more than just style match-ups and name recognition; they also care about competitive matters. Mosley was 0-1-1 coming in to this fight. He wasn’t the best available competition and everyone knew it, even the people who talked themselves into somehow looking forward to this bout. And when all is said and done, I strongly doubt Mosley brought any fans to the table anyway, at least not more than the other available options.
Mainstream boxing fans have shown that their interest can decline in a big, exciting star if they don’t perceive him as being challenged — observe, for instance, how interest tailed off in Mike Tyson prior to the Buster Douglas fight. With Mayweather and Martinez apparently off the table, Top Rank would be smart to pick a better opponent for Pacquiao than Mosley. It’s common sense, but the best chance of making a competitive fight is going to be by putting Pacquiao in with the best opponent, competitively speaking. There aren’t a lot of those options these days. But it’s not like Pacquiao-Mosley was even a very good option at all, and at the end of the night, we all saw why it was even worse than anyone realized.