When you work with explosives the worst moment is just after you pop smoke. Did I get the time fuse right? Did I use the right amount of C4? Did I crimp the blasting cap tightly enough? Will it go off too soon? Will it go off at all?
Then you relax just a little. Anticipation sets it. You watch the fuse burn. Occasionally the fuse appears to go out. The smoke disappears, but you keep watching the clock, confident that the charge will detonate. Whether it’s 60 seconds or six years, the time drags. No matter where your mood drifts, the anticipation never abates.
Saturday from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, the biggest charge of its generation is set to detonate after a ridiculously long fuse finally burned to the end. Mayweather-Pacquiao is upon us.
Smoke first popped on this match up in 2009. Floyd Mayweather (47-0, 26 KO) had re-emerged from “retirement” to win a lopsided decision over Pacquiao’s personal Ahab, Juan Manuel Marquez. Manny Pacquiao (57-5-2, 28 KO) had just completed a 12-month span in which he pummeled Oscar De La Hoya into retirement, nearly decapitated lineal junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton with a left cross from the third ring of hell, and then went punch for punch with welterweight stalwart Miguel Cotto for four rounds before turning on the jets and beating Cotto stupid for eight more rounds until referee Kenny Bayless stepped in to stop the carnage.
“HOLY SHIT! I have to see these two fight!” we all screamed. And then boxing decided to be boxing and egos, money, bullshit, networks (tv bullshit), promoters (other people’s money bullshit), and other assorted nonsense got in the way.
To be more specific, negotiations have been something of a Rolling Stones’ farewell tour. They say this is the last time, but it really never feels that way. One side says the other is ducking. That side says take the test. It’s always someone else’s fault.
The initial bugaboo of drug testing spawned unfounded allegations of performance enhancing drug use against Pacquiao by Mayweather’s camp, and wound up with a libel lawsuit that was settled out of court. Lately that charge has been taken up by former 140 and 147-lb. titleholder, part-time Showtime commentator, and full-time Al Haymon mouthpiece, Paulie Malignaggi. Pacquiao having risen from 106 lbs. to 147 is inconceivable to him. “Who does that?” He crows loudly and often, while never actually bringing forth any proof to support his innuendo of pharmaceutical aid.
It’s a fair-ish question. How does a fighter go from competing at junior flyweight to becoming a dominant, if very small welterweight? And who else could have accomplished such a thing?
The man he faces Saturday night happens to be one of them. In 1995, Manny Pacquiao turned pro at 106 lbs. He was 16 years old. In 1993, Floyd Mayweather won the National Golden Gloves title at 106 lbs. He also was 16 years old. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao ascended to the welterweight division within one year of each other in age. Floyd Mayweather was 28 and Manny Pacquiao was 29. That either of them could comfortably make 140 even now is of little concern to those who continue to gnash their teeth.
Each man has his failings as a human being. Manny is boring. He smiles a lot, says the right things in mangled English, and then there’s his singing. He has something of a history of being young, obscenely wealthy and not taking his marriage vows as seriously as he should. Lately, his conservative Christianity has been called into question as a reason why this isn’t a battle of good versus evil. OK, then.
Floyd Mayweather is obscenely tedious. And he’s an asshole. Not your garden-variety asshole, either. He has a domestic violence rap sheet as long as my… well, it’s long. If you’ve paid any attention to the writings of those occupying the moral high ground lately, you’ve been treated a guilt trip that would make any Jewish mother, Catholic Nun, Baptist preacher, or PETA member swell with pride. How dare we pay good money to be entertained by a man such as this, they scold.
I’m paying good money to watch two men shorten each other’s cognitive life spans by punching each other in the head. One of them being a preachy Christian who thinks abortions are evil and the other being a serial batterer aren’t really my biggest moral qualms.
I’m also paying good money to watch the two finest fighters of their generation finally face each other. Two generational talents at the same weight, at the same time is a rare occurrence, and I for one am thrilled that I am finally seeing it happen.
What has brought them to the height of the sport and into the ring together are their attributes. Both are phenomenal athletes. Both are dedicated students of their craft. And both are amazingly fast. That’s why they have spent the last half decade making much bigger men look mortal while they appeared as titans. Speed kills and these men have it in spades. That they use it for opposite reasons makes this fight all the more interesting. They are also masters of distance. Mayweather uses his jab and feet to keep his opponents where he can hit them, but they can’t hit him. Pacquiao explodes the concept of distance all together. He’s in and out and back in again before you’re really sure what happened. The battle for distance will be the most important in this fight.
Mayweather is the best defensive fighter since Pernell Whitaker. His defense borders on precognition at times. Early in fights he tends to draw his opponent in, letting them lead while he takes their measure. His feet stay in position so that he can lean back using his shoulder roll as punch after punch bounces off his gloves and forearms. Just as his opponent takes a slight step back to reset, Mayweather lashes out with his viper quick straight right. Opponents, wary of being caught on the way out, slow their approach. As the fight progresses, he becomes more assertive. He begins to catch them coming in. Any returned fire is dodged or deflected. By the end of 12 rounds, he has rendered them helpless.
Pacquiao employs the opposite tactic but with the same result. Throughout his career, the Filipino has executed something akin to Shock and Awe. Using his awkward head, body, and foot movement, Pacquiao blitzes in and out, slamming his opponents back. Everyone who has faced him has remarked on his speed. They simply don’t see the punches coming. Since adding a brutal right hook to accompany his left cross, Pacquiao has been even more devastating. The men who’ve defeated him since his rise to the top of the sport, sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famers Erik Morales and Marquez, were able to weather this storm and make adjustments. That Pacquiao is a combined 4-2-1 against them is a testament to how hard that adjustment is to make (author’s note: I didn’t mention Tim Bradley because that was a ridiculous decision).
These are both profiles of the fighters at their absolute peaks. What they could do, and how they did it. Neither is that fighter anymore, but they aren’t as far removed from that, as some people would have you believe. Yes, Pacquiao tripped (check the video, he tripped) into a perfect counter right hand from Marquez in the 42nd round of their quadrilogy that rendered his entire body limp. People tend to forget that that fight was an absolute war and Marquez was on the verge of being stopped himself just before landing that thunderous punch. He followed that with a wipeout of granite-chinned Brandon Rios, a near shutout of top welterweight (and then top 5 pound-for-pound) Bradley, and then flat out embarrassed “lovable” basement dweller Chris Algieri.
Mayweather fought a tough fight with former Pacquiao victim Miguel Cotto before embarrassing Canelo Alvarez and Robert Guerrero, then had all kinds of trouble with Argentine Cucuy Marcos Maidana in their first fight before gutting out a very clear decision in the rematch. But he won all those fights, and none were controversial.
People have attempted to predict this fight based on previous opponents who are similar in style — Zab Judah being an analogue for Pacquiao, except the only similarities they have are speed and stance. They say that because Marquez boxed effectively against Manny, Floyd will too. But Marquez is an aggressive counterpuncher who punched with Pacquiao and closed distance when Pacquiao rushed to land combinations. Mayweather is nothing like that.
Regardless of how much they’ve slipped from their primes, Mayweather and Pacquiao are still the two best fighters in the sport. As font of wisdom Adrien Broner has taught us through his Twitter ministry, it’s levels to this boxing thing. These guys are on their own level. Where once they were 1 and 1a, they’ve become 1 and 2. Now we find out if those rankings are correct.
Expect a tactical fight early. Pacquiao will probe and flurry, trying to set Mayweather up for something nasty. Mayweather will parry and counterpunch, looking to get Pacquiao’s rhythm so that he can upset his distance and assert control. As the rounds tick by Mayweather will frustrate Pacquiao’s offense, but Freddie Roach will know what to tell his charge to get him back into the fight. Mayweather’s right and Pacquiao’s left are their primary weapons, but don’t be surprised to see a Pacquiao right hook sneak behind Mayweather’s shoulder and catch him high on the head when he thinks he’s safe, and remember Mayweather can throw his left hook lead as well.
This is going to come down to who the judges think has the momentum. Both men will seize it at times. Expect wildly divergent scores (117-111 in either direction), but I think Pacquiao will be busy enough and fluster Mayweather enough to eke out a razor thin, and hotly debated, split decision victory.
Pacquiao by SD in a fight that reminds us to appreciate greatness, because it is incredibly rare.