Five years is a long time to wait for anything. In most sports, there’s an incredible amount of turnover in a span of only a few years. The Texas Rangers went to the World Series in 2010, the first of back-to-back appearances. They finished 2014 buried in last place and they’re still stuck there. The New Orleans Saints won the 2010 Super Bowl, before their coaches were recorded ordering contract killings on opposing teams’ players. Last year, they finished 7-9 in the worst division in the sport.
But boxing isn’t like other sports, as the constant barrage of head-shaking occurrences often remind us. And that’s why the folks who have been insisting that the Mayweather vs Pacquiao bout won’t be any good because it’s five years too late are dead wrong.
As everyone who follows boxing is well aware, the biggest fight our sport has seen in decades came pretty close to happening in early 2010. Manny Pacquiao ended 2009 with his last great performance, an absolutely brutal beating of Miguel Cotto. Floyd Mayweather had just returned from his self-imposed exile and completely embarrassed Pacquiao nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez. Mayweather and Pacquiao were easily the two best fighters in the world, and it made perfect sense that they would battle for pound-for-pound supremacy.
But this is boxing, where common sense usually takes a back seat to greed and mindless stupidity. The fight of course fell through, leaving fans to debate on who was to blame ever since. After the collapse of what would have easily been the biggest payday of their illustrious careers, the fighters moved onto other opponents. They both continued winning, and they both continued teasing the potential super-bout. In 2012, Pacquiao ran into a pair of awful judges, and then square into Marquez’s overhand right. When you’ve got two superstar fighters and one of them goes to sleep, the chances of them meeting up after that are usually nil.
But Pacquiao seemed completely unfazed by his disastrous year, and since then he’s rattled off three straight lopsided decision wins to get himself back to the top of the sport. And finally, after exhausting almost every conceivable (and some inconceivable) opponents, the two best fighters of their era will meet.
Most of the snark directed toward this fight is due to that initial collapse — these guys should have fought several years ago when both were in their primes. And clearly, neither are there anymore. It’s been beaten into our skulls that Pacquiao hasn’t knocked an opponent out since that last fight with Cotto. He developed an irritating tendency to let off the throttle in the later rounds. And then came the last Marquez fight, where he was brutally stiffened and turned into a permanent Internet meme. On the other side is Mayweather, who for all of his brilliance, has been hit more times in the last couple of years than in his previous 44 fights combined.
There’s no argument that they’re no longer at their absolute fighting peaks. Still, both men remain at the top of the sport. And frankly, the fact that they’ve slipped — particularly Mayweather — is the reason this fight is going to be much better than many critics anticipate. At the very least, it will absolutely be better than it would have been at any other time in their careers.
Yes, Pacquiao has not scored a knockout in over five years, spanning 10 fights. But if we examine the opponents, we can make a couple of arguments — first, he’s fought several guys with iron beards, like Marquez, Antonio Margarito, Brandon Rios and Shane Mosley. And Timothy Bradley defied the laws of nature by throwing punches while unconscious against Ruslan Provodnikov, for fuck sake. The Margarito fight stands out in particular. If they had appointed a competent referee for that bout instead of Laurence Cole, who waits for autopsy results before starting a count, Pacquiao would have earned a stoppage victory.
The other argument is that Pacquiao has either knocked down or badly hurt a lot of these guys. He flattened the hopelessly overmatched Chris Algieri, rocked Bradley, and had Shane Mosley so terrified of tasting another left hand that he first tried to be BFFs in between rounds, and then simply ran like hell until the fight ended. And before Marquez landed that epic counter shot in the 6th round of fight number four, Pacquiao seemed mere moments away from a knockout himself.
Yes, he’s lost some of the tenacity, but Pacquiao can still do damage. To claim otherwise is absurd.
The reason this fight is still so compelling is Mayweather. He is one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time, and he’s still capable of making elite fighters look embarrassingly amateurish. But if his fight with Miguel Cotto had us wondering if he was finally showing signs of erosion in 2012, Marcos Maidana showed us last year that Mayweather has absolutely lost some of that lateral movement he once used to befuddle opponents. And though he corrected some of the issues he had with Maidana in the rematch (along with some help from Kenny “Hands Off My Boy” Bayless), it may have been Maidana’s bizarre insistence on fighting from a distance rather than mauling Floyd that hastened his own demise.
Pacquiao throws punches at such a rapid rate and from such weird angles that he tends to overwhelm opponents who simply can’t fend off all of the shots. Mayweather’s technique is masterful, but in his prime he used his legs as much as his shoulder roll to avoid getting hit.
If Mayweather and Pacquiao had fought in 2010, it’s hard to imagine anything other than Mayweather bouncing around the ring, walking Pac Man into punches, and then scooting out of the way. Even at his best, Pacquiao was there to be hit. Hell, Joshua Clottey landed punches on him. Of course, he was so frightened of getting hit back that he clammed up, leaving half the drunks at Cowboys Stadium thirsting for his blood. Mayweather would have hit him at will, and would have likely been too fast for Pacquiao to catch up to.
Last year in their first fight, Maidana landed more punches on Mayweather than any other fighter in his entire career. Mayweather claimed that he stood still and fought for the fans. While he moved much better in their second fight, he still ate some big shots, including a massive right hand that badly wobbled him at the end of the third.
Maybe he had an off night or two. Maybe he really does love his fans enough to take unnecessary punishment from a massive puncher like Maidana. More likely, he’s not quite as sharp or agile as he used to be. And if not? Then on Saturday, we’ll see a guy trying to use upper body movement to fight off a somewhat tamer but still lightning-fast Pacquiao. And while that alone is still good enough for him to beat 99 percent of fighters out there, Pacquiao, like Mayweather, is a different breed. It makes for a fascinating scrap: the defensive wizard on 38-year-old legs against the whirlwind puncher slowed by the effects of several wars.
There will be moments in this fight where Mayweather is forced to fight Pacquiao off. It is the idea of those moments that makes the fight so compelling, and why it will shatter every PPV record imaginable.
We’ve been waiting for this thing to happen for five years. Once in awhile, a little time pays off. We may even get a helluva fight, good enough to justify the hype. As the longest suffering fans of any sport, it’s the least we deserve.