Manny Pacquiao has been knocked cold, collapsing to the canvas on his face. He laid there motionless in front of millions. A monster defanged. An idol toppled.
It is from this dramatic evidence that we can predict the result on May 2.
Floyd Mayweather is a more skilled boxer. His defense rivals anyones in history. He’s smarter. He’s bigger. He may be faster.
Mayweather will lose.
When predicting who will win a boxing contest, many ask themselves a series of questions. They ponder, who is the better boxer? Who is quicker? Who has more power? Who has the better chin?
Often simply adding up who has more checks in their column when running down such a list will indeed give you a pretty solid indicator of who will win the fight.
There are exceptions to that, however. Sometimes there is one question that trumps all the others. Its verdict can be the true summation of those other questions, or it can contradict all their deceptive answers.
The key question is, how will the fighter win?
All those other questions are merely the evidence to be considered in unlocking the answer to the cold case file that this storied match-up almost became.
Now that it’s living and breathing though, the mystery remains.
How will Pacquiao win? How will Mayweather win?
I’m not much of a betting man. Usually the fighter who I think will win is indeed the favorite. I’ve arrived at the same opinion as the majority of fight fans because, let’s face it, it’s rare that we are treated to anything more than a mismatch.
In my estimation you can make a pretty reasonable argument that either Mayweather or Pacquiao will win when they finally meet this Saturday in Vegas. They are both extraordinary fighters.
There have been a handful of fights that I have put money on, but I have a few necessary circumstances for the risk. First, the fighter I favor to win must be the betting underdog. If I’m going to gamble I want the payoff to be worth it. Second, in my thinking, he must have at least a 50/50 chance of winning.
The list of fights I’ve wagered that I knew the outcome on is pretty short — Miguel Cotto vs Margarito, Bernard Hopkins vs Kelly Pavlik, Carl Froch vs Jermain Taylor, Vernon Forrest vs Sergio Mora, Cotto vs Sergio Martinez.
But all those fights had one element in the face of all the other evidence that led me to believe the underdogs would win.
When Cotto and Margarito signed on to fight each other Cotto entered as the favorite and rightly so. He was faster, more skilled, more proven and a more dynamic puncher. He had every advantage in his corner except for one, as I saw it.
I put money on Margarito to win by knockout. While I knew that while Cotto could box circles around Margarito, there was no doubt that he would look to stand and trade over time because he’s a hell of a warrior. Cotto’s chin had been reached in the past and he was especially affected by uppercuts.
However you come out feeling after Margarito’s loaded wrap scandal in regards to his success prior to that incident, no one can question his toughness.
The one trait that Margarito trumped Cotto on was his ability to soak up punishment and his incredible durability. I could envision Cotto beating on Margarito all day with eye popping salvos that would batter the “Tijuana Tornado’s” head in every direction, but knew that the tough Mexican would just grin and sling his slow but devastatingly heavy blows until the final bell.
Cotto would win an opinion poll in every category you could measure a boxer, except for that one, and this weakness was the very strength his opponent could beat him with. Based on how the fight would be fought due to their two styles, it trumped everything to my way of thinking.
The fight unwound on the screen before me as I sat nervously knowing a decision would net me nothing. Either Margarito stopped the better fighter or I lost my wager.
Cotto looked stunning in the early rounds of the fight, boxing immaculately. I watched as Margarito who was getting badly outclassed and beaten to the punch for the first half of the bout slowly started to wear on Cotto, metering out grinding punishment, then coming from behind and eventually battering Cotto into oblivion.
When Hopkins faced undisputed middleweight champion Pavlik he entered as the underdog to the big punching Youngstown punisher. Walking along Atlantic City’s Boardwalk that night, I witnessed fans quietly gathered in groups waiting to enter the Hall and speaking with hushed worry for Hopkins’ health in the fight. A brutal knockout seemed to be the odds on ending for the aged legend coming off his lackluster split decision loss to Joe Calzaghe six months earlier and an ill-regarded win versus Winky Wright before that.
Hopkins was ancient by comparison to Pavlik; he was assumed to be slower, weaker and outgunned across the board. Pavlik’s demolition right hand was waiting for the old man, or so everyone thought leading up to the match.
I wondered how Pavlik would win once Hopkins took away the right hand. Hopkins greatest strength was always eliminating his opponents’ best weapon. That one clue to the outcome unlocked the result and I put money on Hopkins. I didn’t chime in among those gathered on the Boardwalk. I listened to the death knell they foresaw for Hopkins and wondered if they were right or if I was.
At the end of 12 rounds Hopkins stood at rings edge and stared out at all the boxing writers gathered on press row who had doubted him and gotten caught up in listing out attributes that the younger fighter excelled in over him. That near shutout victory remains one of the greatest in his storied career. Pavlik’s right hand never entered the arena.
Over the years I’ve managed to predict a few other upsets, mild and otherwise. I collected winnings when Mora surprised Forrest and took his belt. Mora’s awkward style and cerebral approach, which fuels his boxing, I knew, would amp him up for his first title challenge. After winning with Mora in their first go around, I didn’t bet on “The Latin Snake” in the rematch, knowing Forrest would take it more seriously and Mora wouldn’t be as mentally engaged.
Froch entered his bout with Taylor as a mild underdog. Not yet the beloved Froch of today, he was mostly an after thought among the contestants in Showtime’s Super Six 168-lb. tournament. Having just handed Jean Pascal his first loss, I tabbed Froch as my favorite to win the whole series. He didn’t, but he cracked Taylor in their bout just before that tourney.
Word was that Taylor was too fast and too athletic for the stiff Froch. I had a hunch that his toughness was going to win him the fight regardless of the speed gap. Taylor could be broken, and sure enough, Froch’s mettle made the difference. He knocked the pride of Arkansas out in the 12th round.
Last summer the same Cotto who had gotten stopped by Margarito to fulfill my prediction moved up beyond his best weight class by arguably three divisions, to face the lineal undisputed middleweight champ Martinez.
Bigger, stronger, faster, quicker — what advantage didn’t Martinez have? I put my money on Cotto’s focus and freshness to win by knockout. Once again, a decision wouldn’t do, and he barnstormed out to knock the favored fighter down three times in the first stanza. Later the bout would be stopped by Martinez’s corner.
So here I’ve spent all this time telling you how sometimes breaking down a fight is more than tabulating advantages.
If Mayweather wins on paper, which I think he does, what happens when you ask how exactly those elements come together for him to win the fight?
Well, lets find out.
There have been a number of fingers pointing towards Pacquiao’s vicious knockout loss to vaunted counter puncher Juan Manuel Marquez to explain why it seems likely that a similar result is possible when he steps in against perhaps an even better counterpunching phenom in Mayweather.
1,739 is the number of fists that Marquez let fly before the one that will echo forward in boxing history for future generations of fans to watch and wonder at.
He leveled his greatest foe and perhaps the greatest fighter of the era with a perfect punch in every way.
It wasn’t luck.
It was 42 rounds of experience, years of training, four Pacquiao-centric training camps, incredible grit and 1,739 failures to launch.
Whereas Pacquiao now says he realizes his impatience in that moment and has learned from it, one can only surmise that at the time he had grown lulled into complacency by having faced a particular opponent so many times without ever seriously being hurt.
That experience and newfound wisdom isn’t why Pacquiao will win, though. Not exactly.
It merely makes it that much more unlikely that Mayweather will win in such a dramatic way. When you ask yourself how Mayweather wins this fight, there are only two likely versions to choose from.
Ironically, while many see Pacquiao’s crushing knockout to Marquez as a signal that Mayweather could be in line to deliver just such a finish, few analyze that one punch for what its true importance will be in this fight.
That punch will give Pacquiao an extra millisecond of caution should he corner a wounded Mayweather that he never would have had if not for Marquez’s dynamic detonation on his chin.
Rather than portending doom to Pacquiao’s chances on Saturday, that stunning loss may in truth hold the key to the crowning victory of the man’s career.
Pacquiao’s greatest rival will be in the ring with him on May 2.
That man’s name is Juan Manuel Marquez.
But this time, he’s there to help.
So then the question remains. How does Mayweather win?
Herein lies the Cotto vs Margarito-like logic.
Mayweather’s strength is his defense. It’s frustrating, draining and sets up his precise and discouraging potshots. Ultimately no one has been able to get around it.
If Mayweather is to win, his defense must slow Pacquiao’s much vaunted onslaught as it has curtailed the effective offense of every other opponent he’s faced, eventually.
The pattern is set and well known: a couple rounds to figure things out and clamp down on the opponent’s attack, then slowly changing over from a defensive pose to a counterpunching pose and eventually to a proactive potshot paradigm as the fight heads into the home stretch.
This is the most likely scenario to lead to a Mayweather victory. It’s how virtually every one of the 47 victories on his unblemished record has materialized.
In other words, Mayweather needs to box and minimize the action.
To do this, it necessitates that he is the better boxer.
So if we’re answering that list of questions we all run down, most would tick off an affirmative check in Mayweather’s column for — is he a better boxer?
This might be blasphemous to some, but I don’t think Mayweather is as well-rounded a boxer as Pacquiao, nor even as well-rounded as Marquez and probably a handful of others in the sport if there were a need for more examples.
Mayweather is exceedingly good at what he does. He is technically brilliant at it. But much of his charms are not from a book of boxing, but rather from his athleticism, his speed, his reflexes.
Yes he boxes and he does it incredibly well, but it is his own particular brand of boxing. It’s niche boxing, and it requires speed and reflexes above the opponent’s to be effective.
Over the course of recent Mayweather bouts it has become evident that his natural gifts have ebbed. As Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach is quick to note, Mayweather fights flat-footed now. He no longer has the foot speed he once did. The effect has made him more vulnerable to attacks that he would have avoided earlier in his career.
One need not look any further then his most recent two go arounds — the matches with plodder Marcos Maidana — to see that slow speed salvos are starting to find Mayweather, both because he is stationary and because his reflexes aren’t quite what they once were.
Roy Jones, Jr.’s rapid fall, a literal tumble at the hands of Antonio Tarver, is perhaps the most illustrative example of a supremely gifted athlete, another pound-for-pound king, running afoul of slowing down and being unable to update technique to match compromised speed.
Mayweather’s decline has not been so steep, and it’s hard to imagine it will be steep in this fight, either, but the signs have been quietly appearing in recent fights. He is certainly more Jones than Hopkins, the nearly 50-year-old legend who is still fighting at a world class level due to superlative technique and not the inevitable atrophy of physical advantages.
With that in mind, if he is now faced with an opponent whom he can’t outclass in speed and reflexes, will his normal strategy work?
Pacquiao has the hand speed to match Mayweather. He has the foot speed to outmaneuver a Mayweather parked on the ropes or planted in the center of the ring. Pacquiao can shuffle in and out of range with a speed that left fleet-footed “Sugar” Shane Mosley in awe.
The future Hall-of-Famer described recently the thoughts running through his head when he was knocked down en route to a one-sided decision loss to Pacquiao: “How’d he get there so fast? He’s so small, he shouldn’t be able to cut that type of ground.”
It’s that foot speed coming from a southpaw stance that will negate Mayweathers usual game plan. Pacquiao’s reaction time and reflexes will even the playing field for perhaps the first time in Mayweather’s career.
The undefeated Detroit native’s phenomenal defense is so impenetrable because it eschews offense. He focuses on catching shots and then, when the time is right, on a one-punch rejoinder.
That’s going to be a tough roadmap to stick to. Mayweather is finally in the ring with someone as special as he is.
That singular defensive focus is not enough to contain Pacquiao and it will not be enough to shut down his offense.
Mayweather can’t win the fight by merely negating this foe’s output and then returning, modestly, himself. Even if Mayweather’s usual strategy were firing on all cylinders, Pacquiao won’t stop throwing or be discouraged. His will and championship pedigree are unlike anyone else’s that Mayweather has ever seen.
It’s fair to surmise that no matter how well Mayweather’s defense is or isn’t working Pacquiao will be throwing a boatload of punches at the undefeated fighter. Floyd can’t match the output. Strike that, perhaps he could. He never has.
Based on the southpaw stance which has always been a little problematic for Mayweather, even in B-fighters like Zab Judah, as well as Pacquiao’s distinct style and ability to move in, attack from unusual angles and be elusive, odds are good that Pacquiao will be able to connect on Mayweather in ways the champion has yet to experience.
So following the chain of thought, dampening Pacquiao likely wont work. It’s worked on others. It won’t work here. Pacquiao’s different. Pacquiao’s better.
He’s gonna win the battle of numbers and he will likely land more than any previous challenger because he’s just that dynamic, and his style and athletic attributes are well-suited to puncture Mayweathers guard.
If Mayweather sticks to his usual plan. He will lose.
So how does he win?
He has to get his hands dirty. He’s gotta fight.
He has to hurt Pacquiao to dissuade him. Punish the puncher, pacify Pacquiao’s penchant for combat.
Mayweather will go in understanding, or will be made to understand that he will need to fight out of character to succeed. In all the negotiations before the fight, Mayweather was able to dictate the terms of engagement.
In the ring, I don’t think he will.
The more flat-footed Mayweather is going to have trouble tracking down Pacquiao if he finds it necessary to apply pressure. And this is where Pacquiao’s more well-rounded boxing ability will come into play.
He’ll wheel around Mayweather and fire off shots, trade in flurries and then evade. It’s not gonna be easy for Mayweather to engage and be comfortable. He wants to settle in.
He NEEDS to settle in.
For all his bravado, confidence and swagger, the pound-for-pound kingpin Mayweather is a control freak.
Pacquiao is chaos on two legs.
In the early days he foisted it upon the best little men in the game until a loss to Erik Morales made him start to put a bridle on that wild horse of activity and focus it for maximum productivity. That refined chaos still fuels the Pacquiao war machine.
For Mayweather to win, he’s going to have to live in that chaos. Maybe not for the whole fight, but he won’t come out on top without having to delve in at some point.
Pacquiao doesn’t have the lead in his feet of a Maidana, Cotto or anyone else. For the favored fighter to have success he’s going to have to stand and trade at times or corner the fleet-footed Filipino. Neither are what got Mayweather to the top.
Perhaps it will be what takes him from the top.
The focus here has been on what Mayweather must do to win, and I believe that is the secret notion flying under the radar — the invisible evidence — that isn’t being considered in trying to figure out who will emerge victorious.
Most pundits think that Mayweather will force Pacquiao to do what he wants. Thats what Mayweather does to everybody. Because of this almost all of the conversation around the impending bout has come from the starting point of what Pacquiao must do to have success.
I think it’s a mistake to view the fight this way.
Mayweather won’t win doing what he normally does.
The only time Pacquiao has stopped throwing punches is when he was removed from consciousness by Marquez.
Marquez had to go through hell to put that shot on Pacquiao. Has Mayweather’s gaudy undefeated record prepared him to do that?
Marquez turned severe vulnerability and getting pushed to the brink of getting knocked out into opportunity.
May weather’s best chance in this fight is not to eke out rounds behind a shoulder roll. Judges are human, too. Will they give close rounds to a calculated pot shot in the face of five punches that half land? Will they do that in what they know is the biggest, most important fight to the legacies of two legitimately great fighters? Relying on the judges here will come at the less aggressive fighter’s peril with all that’s on the line.
His best chance is not to stalk forward out of character and try to track down the more effectively mobile fighter. He won’t catch him.
Mayweather must stand and fight him.
He must get hurt.
He will have to prove his greatness and show us something we’ve never seen before.
That’s why I think Mayweather will lose. Not because he isn’t great. Not because he doesn’t have it in him to defeat Pacquiao.
It’s because styles make fights and Mayweather’s normal style wont be effective enough to rely on. He will be forced to either come out of his shell or die on the vine.
When that happens he will be breaking new ground as a fighter. After 47 fights.
He may be finally forced to come out of his shell.
The greatest fighter in the world, the fighter who prepares himself with rigorous training which would rival that of the greatest fighters throughout history, will lose his most important fight, the fight that would stamp his boxing immortality for all time, because the very control over choosing his opponents which he fought so hard to obtain has not prepared him to fight the sort of fight he will need to against Manny Pacquiao.
Perhaps Mayweather has another gear which we have yet to behold, and if he does, it will be magnificent and triumphant to watch it born before us against another truly great fighter.
But Mayweather’s hubris in wanting to prove he is the greatest ever will whisper in his ear not to change what has always worked for him. That in itself would be a defeat, to admit that what he’s offered us so far wasn’t enough to get the job done.
And so it shall be, three men will work to beat Mayweather on May 2. Marquez, Pacquiao… and Mayweather.
Marco Antonio Barrera, Morales and Marquez battled Pacquiao again and again, preparing him for attrition and revealing to him what it was like to dig deep within himself and find a grit and steel intertwined in his bedrock to cling to and triumph.
Who has prepared Mayweather? He may have the same reservoir of resolve, but it’s not handy. Nor polished from use. Untested in 47 fights can mean a lot of things.
He will have to find it when the time comes.
If you’ve read this far (and my God, don’t you have better things to do?) then let me crystalize and formalize what I’ve been trying to convey, lo these many words.
In a 50/50 fight that either man can win, this is the inevitable chain of events leading to an outcome as I see it:
Mayweather shoulder rolls and hangs on the ropes. Pacquiao finds a way through and limits Mayweather’s chances to return fire and score. Mayweather comes out of his shell and tries to walk his man down. Pacquiao floats and stings. Mayweather takes a few rounds more to see this isn’t working and realizing he has to stand and engage to make something happen, gets drawn into a firefight.
Anything can happen then and Mayweather may show us his true self, finally, so that we can all admire his extraordinary greatness. He might.
But Pacquiao has already proven his own greatness. He will do what he does best and foist violence upon his opponent, come what may. He will be wholly in character and Mayweather will be wholly out of his.
It is because of this I see Pacquiao winning.
I’d put money on it.
(Photo: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)