Depending on whom you ask, this is the biggest fight since Marvin Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard or Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier. I’m not quite sure where it ranks on a biggest fights list, but Mayweather vs Pacquiao damn sure the biggest fight of this young century. The two best fighters of their generation are finally facing each other, and we here at TQBR are fucking pumped. Distances (and credit card limits) being what they are, we couldn’t sit down to discuss this face to face, so we batted the topics of note back and forth until something resembling actual opinions came out.
1. Manny is 36 and Floyd is 38. Who is further from their prime athletically, and who is further from their prime skill-wise? As a follow up, how much bearing will this have on their performances?
Sam Sheppard: It’s a funny one, considering both fighters were arguably at their best below 140 pounds. In terms of athleticism, Floyd has surely deteriorated the most (although hardly at all compared to mere mortals) predominantly via his weakening legs. Pacquiao seems pretty much the same guy physically. Maybe his chin has been cracked, but maybe not. I put his much publicised lack of KOs down to the calibre of fighter he’s been facing at 147 and above, as well as the size disadvantage he almost always has. I think both guys are in about as good a shape as fighters can be given their respective athletic ages. Although you can never count on Floyd’s hands.
Tim Starks: It’s going to seem here like I’m lazily piggybacking on what Shep is saying, but I happen to think almost the same thing on all these answers, so maybe I’ll just expand on them. Floyd, athletically slowed down more, Manny, chin maybe an issue. I’ll go ahead and say I actively think Manny’s chin is more of a liability now — he hasn’t faced anyone who could test it much since Juan Manuel Marquez, although I was unduly scared for him with the Brandon Rios fight (I thought it would either be totally easy, or completely ruinous). Pac has just soaked up more damage. Another thing: Mayweather’s had reported hand troubles in camp, which is nothing new for him, but hasn’t been a big issue for him for a while, so watch that. One more thing: We’ve heard about how great their camps were, but at their ages, overtraining is a fear. Hopefully both guys will come in to the ring at their best, and not be zombies by trying too hard during camp.
Jeff Pryor: I think Floyd has fallen off a noticeable amount in terms of speed and reaction time over the last two years. Pacquiao’s one punch put down at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez was a shock to the system, but aside from the possibility of a proclivity for getting concussions easier, hand speed, foot speed et al, he seems to be holding pretty steady. I think Floyd is going to have some trouble keeping up with Pacquiao over the long haul.
Andrew Harrison: I’d venture that Mayweather is closer to what he once was – certainly the welterweight version of himself. Pacquiao hit a cresting point while working under conditioning coach Alex Ariza and has steadily regressed from the point that particular association began to unravel.
Pacquiao has had to box more as a result — he’s no longer the little monster who tore through the weights (and through much bigger men).
Alex McClintock: This is probably wishful thinking, but it seems to me that they’ve declined at the same rate. Pacquiao isn’t the offensive dynamo he once was, but he can still zip in and out and his shots still sting. Floyd isn’t as slippery as he once was and can’t cross the ring as quickly, but he’s still damn hard to hit. I think they’re still very evenly matched, which bodes well for the fight as whole.
Matthew Swain: I think both are still near their peaks in terms of skill. I also think they’ve declined similarly physically. However, that is slightly more damaging for Mayweather, who relies on his legs and reflexes to avoid punches. It has made him more hittable the last few years, as evidenced by the Miguel Cotto and Marcos Maidana fights. He just can’t get away as quickly or change ranges with the same alacrity as in his youth, but his hand speed is still breathtaking. Pacquiao has slowed too. He’s not nearly as bouncy as he was, but he can still ping in and out quite quickly. I’m mostly convinced the reason he hasn’t shown as much movement in the last few years is because he simply hasn’t needed to.
Their both slower and older, but they’re similarly slower and older.
2. Neither man has faced anyone like his adversary. What adjustments will each need to make if their initial tactics fail, and who is more suited to this?
Sam Sheppard: Floyd usually seeks to impose his pace from the start against southpaws, rather than taking the famous six rounds to figure them out, before running away it in the second half as has become his calling card against orthodox opponents.
However, I think he will be tentative early against Pacquiao. He’ll seek to exploit the mistakes Manny makes, which have always been there.
Conversely, I think Manny has no choice but to go for it and let his speed do the talking. To jump on Floyd and simply be himself. That is to say, a world apart from the lumbering one punch type brawlers Floyd has been dining out on in recent years.
Tim Starks: There have been signs Floyd very well might be looking to take out Pacquiao. He brought in (controversial) strength and conditioning guy Ariza and there’s been a lot of talk about making him stronger. He might realize the best road to victory will be to back up Pacquiao and hurt him; Mayweather’s the better inside fighter. So I think he’ll test that approach early and see how it goes, but ultimately will rely on setting traps and exploiting Pacquiao’s mistakes if not.
Freddie Roach has telegraphed the Manny game plan, about darting in an out, not following him straight back, exploiting the shoulder roll, jabbing. On one level, that sounds like good common sense, and I don’t have a better idea; the only doubt I have with the plan is that Pacquiao’s jab isn’t Oscar De La Hoya’s jab, and Mayweather’s arm length will be a problem there. On another level, that Roach has been so direct about the game plan makes me think he has something up his sleeve and that this could be a subterfuge operation.
Jeff Pryor: Mayweather is great at adjusting, but that never means a whole sale strategy swap. He gets the timing down and generally falls into a very predictable adjustment pattern of feeling out, pot shot and then walk down. It works, so why change it? I don’t think that will work against Pacquiao and I think he will be forced to fight much more than he has ever needed to. For Pacquiao I believe he’s actually the more versatile fighter and a much better improviser. Looking to swarm in spots, float and sting in spots and change up through out, less as a reaction to Mayweather and more as his actual strategy. For that reason, Mayweather will need to adjust his regular game plan more and fight out of character.
Andrew Harrison: It’s become something of a cliché to suggest that Floyd is a master at adjusting mid-fight. I’m not convinced that’s valid. Mayweather has always taken his time in there – he allows his opponents to blow themselves out on arms and gloves before then steadily working them over until, eventually, he has them contained.
Pacquiao meanwhile is often viewed as a straight-ahead threshing machine; however, the Filipino has often been able to summon big punches precisely when he requires them – that’s every bit as improvisational in my view.
Alex McClintock: Like everyone else has said, I don’t know if Pacquiao can adjust too much mid-fight. What he can do is vary his output. I think he’ll need to keep something in the tank for the late rounds, when Mayweather will come on strong. As for “Money,” I’m sure he’ll instinctively adjust, learn Pacquiao’s rhythm and start to catch him with straight right hands. I just think it’ll take him a lot longer than it would against a normal fighter. In the end, he could need to pile it on and try to hurt Pacquiao, something we haven’t seen him do in a long time.
Matthew Swain: I’m in complete agreement with Jeff and Andrew here. Mayweather never really adjusts. He gradually takes control. Pacquiao has had to make adjustments before, but we’ve generally seen those adjustments take place from one fight to the next rather than in the moment. Mayweather has a system that has always worked because he’s a freakish athlete with maniacal commitment to his craft. If the system fails, I don’t know what he’ll be able to do other than simply fight harder.
I can’t recall Floyd Sr. ever actually giving useful advice in the corner. The tactics on team Mayweather come from Floyd himself, which is doubly impressive. Freddie Roach is a clear advantage in the corner for Pacquiao. He gives excellent instructions between rounds and will know what to tell his fighter if things start going wrong.
I think we’ll see the momentum swing a couple of times in the fight, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what they do to counteract each other.
3. Enough that other nonsense, who are you picking?
Sam Sheppard: Pacquiao by close decision. Possibly with an even scorecard and plenty of moaning thrown in.
I think the opening rounds will be tentative, and Floyd will look to exploit the second half of the fight by throwing body shots early and trying to slow Pacquiao down. But I don’t expect him to slow down, and he certainly won’t have shot his bolt by round 6 as Maidana did.
The jab to the body won’t be there for Floyd to maintain distance the way it is against orthodox opponents, and I think he’ll struggle to land the bodywork required as Pacquiao darts in and out.
Zab Judah is the opponent that springs to mind when you think of fighters Floyd has faced with hand speed comparable to Manny, and he knocked Floyd down and won the opening four rounds. I expect Manny to do more of the same.
Tim Starks: I’m just this close to saying Pacquiao decision. This close. I’m very much in the school that thinks Pacquiao is going to take the early rounds, and might even drop Floyd. That Maidana was able to hit Floyd that much, despite being so slow, is a sign Pacquiao might be able to. If Pacquiao’s chin is right, he can do what Maidana did only better.
I’m not convinced Pacquiao’s chin is right. I also have faith — is that the word? — in Mayweather’s ability to make adjustments. As close as I thought the first Maidana fight and Miguel Cotto fights were (which is to say, closer than almost anyone), Mayweather still eventually took control of both. So, for now, I’m taking Mayweather by close decision. But that could change between now and Saturday, it really could.
Jeff Pryor: I’m filing the minority report and picking Pacquiao. Mayweather certainly has all the tools to win, but in my analysis, I think he is going to be forced much further out of his comfort zone in this fight than will Pacquiao. He’s carefully constructed the terms and nature of the showdown, but I don’t think he can do that in the ring because of Pacquiao’s similar speed and dynamic fighting range. I wouldn’t be surprised at any outcome. I think either or both may be hurt at some point and I think Mayweather is going to have an amazing shot to show us how great he truly is. I think they both will… but Pacquiao has more experience being great. And so for that reason, I’m going with his undefeated record of being great. Pacquiao in a close but great fight.
Andrew Harrison: In a number of ways this fight reminds me of Bernard Hopkins vs Joe Calzaghe from 2008: Floyd is the old-school ring mechanic who’ll be looking to pace himself in order to pinch a decision; Pacquiao is the herky-jerky southpaw who could appear amateurish, yet will nick rounds thanks to his activity. The fight itself is likely to be just as bitty.
Karma is a funny old thing. Remember Floyd receiving the benefit of the doubt against Jose Luis Castillo in 2002? Remember the screwjob of a decision Pacquiao had to swallow against Tim Bradley in 2012? Maybe this time Pacquiao gets a gift. In a nothing fight, I’ll guess that the judges will side with industry over artistry.
Alex McClintock: I’m changing my mind from one day to another, but today I’m going to pick Pacquiao by close decision. I think his left-handedness, herky-jerky rhythm and activity will win him enough early rounds to hold off a late charge by Mayweather. When I try to picture this fight the image that comes to mind is Pacquiao stepping to the left and catching Mayweather with left hands down the pipe. But as I said, I reserve my right to change my mind!
Matthew Swain: Not telling. You can read my upcoming preview and prediction piece.