Some six years after it was first proposed, the dream match undefeated American Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. and Filipino ring icon Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao will finally be fulfilled today, when the two boxing superstars collide at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Officially, the fight is a unification showdown for the world welterweight (147 pounds) championship. But more than unifying the welterweight crown, Mayweather Jr. vs. Pacquiao is for pro boxing’s “pound-for-pound” title, a mythical crown created to recognize the best boxer in the planet regardless of weight classifications.
Pacquiao claimed the “pound-for-pound” mantle when Mayweather Jr. briefly retired in 2008. He returned in 2009 and was booked to face Pacquiao in 2010 but the fight fell apart because of drug-testing issues. When Pacquiao was stopped in six rounds by Mexican rival Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, the super fight seemed destined to be a figment of the imagination.
By some miracle, Pacquiao was able to regroup. He regained the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight title by dominating Timothy Bradley in April 2014. Going into the fight with Mayweather, Pacquiao (57-5, 2 draws, 38 knockouts) has won three straight fights and, in the opinion of experts, has emerged a better fighter after the Marquez holocaust.
For his part, Mayweather Jr. has remained unbeaten in 47 fights and is just two victories away from duplicating the unblemished 49-0 record set in 1955 by American heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano. While the American boxer has looked vulnerable in his recent outings, particularly in his last two fights against Argentinean mauler Marcos Maidana, he has always found a way to win. Truth be told, bruising or wobbling Mayweather for a couple of seconds is the closest thing opposing boxers have come to feeling a tinge of victory.
“Mayweather is full of skills,” said noted boxing promoter, manager and trainer Aljoe Jaro. “Napakagaling makapag-adjust agad. At napakatalino sa laban. Sa tingin ako, kung ang dating Pacquiao ang makikita natin, yung Pacquiao of about five years ago, may chance si Manny. Kailangang gawin ni Manny yung ginawa niya kina Oscar De La Hoya at Antonio Margarito, yung walang humpay ang suntok [Mayweather Jr. is excellent in adjusting to his opponent, and he is a very intelligent fighter. In my opinion, if Manny fights like he did five years ago, he has a chance of winning. He needs to bring on his game with De La Hoya and Margarito where his punches were non-stop].”
What makes Pacquiao-Mayweather so intriguing and unpredictable are the styles the fighters bring to the ring. The strengths of Mayweather Jr. are the weaknesses of Pacquiao, and vice versa. Pacquiao, with his tendency to lunge in, is a sucker for the counter right straight, which happens to be the primary weapon of Mayweather Jr. His defense, anchored on his famous shoulder-roll maneuver, is almost airtight and more importantly sets in motion his counter right straight.
Pacquiao’s volume punching and southpaw stance, on the other hand, are looked upon as his key weapons against Mayweather Jr. By his own recollection, Mayweather Jr. has faced eight southpaws in his entire career, and only two in the last eight years. Against leftie American Zab Judah in 2006, Mayweather Jr. struggled in the first five rounds of the fight and ate a lot of left straights. As pointed out by Shane Mosley, Mayweather Jr. has problems against southpaws who come in leaning with right hands first. Pacquiao is that kind of fighter; one who conceals his vaunted left straight by initially coming in with a series of right jabs and hooks.
“Sa tingin ko hindi masyado mahirap kay Manny yung shoulder roll ni Floyd. Kaliwete kasi si Manny and pwedeng mag-right straight or hook muna siya bago left sa katawan [I don’t think Floyd’s shoulder roll will be such a problem for Manny because he is a leftie—he can go for a right straight or hook before using his left on the opponent’s body],” said former Oriental champion and super featherweight contender Eder “Tiger Ari” Olivetti, who now trains boxers in Japan. “Kahit naka-depensa si Floyd gamit ang shoulder roll nya, yung pauli-ulit na suntok ni Manny maari na isa dun tumama sa sentido nya [Even if Floyd uses his shoulder roll for defense, so long as Manny keeps punching, one of them can easily hit his opponent on the head].”
Mayweather Jr., 38, has emerged as a 2-to-1 favorite. At 5’8,” he is two inches taller than Pacquiao and is the natural welterweight. Mayweather Jr.’s five-inch reach advantage also puts him in a position to keep Pacquiao at bay with stiff left jabs and meaner counter right hands.
Pacquiao will have to take some risks by getting under the jab and weaving his way inside. The way experts see it, Mayweather Jr.’s plan will be to box patiently and wait for Pacquiao to recklessly lunge in.
“Matibay din ang Mayweather Jr., strong chin din siya,” noted Jaro.
“Hindi duwag si Mayweather Jr. Kaya ang gagawin ni Pacquiao suntok kanto (street fight). Huwag siyang maghihintay dahil kung maghihintay siya mahihirapan siya [Mayweather Jr. is strong, and he is not a coward. So Manny will have go for street fighting because he can’t wait. If Manny does, he’ll have problem].”
Admittedly, Pacquiao and Mayweather Jr. are no longer the same fighters they used to be. Pacquiao has not scored a knockout since 2009, while Mayweather Jr. has been tagged with punches he could have avoided easily during his prime. Considering the significance of the fight, however, both men are expected to be in the best shape of their careers. For their mega showdown, Pacquiao and Mayweather Jr. stand to receive nothing less than record-setting purses.
“Parehas silang great boxers in the history of boxing [They are both great boxers in boxing history]” said Filipino Edito “Ala” Villamor, a whirlwind slugger who twice challenged for the world title. “Ang magdadala ng laban para gumanda ito ay si Pacquiao. Huwag lang siyang magkamali tulad ng naging laban niya kay Marquez, magandang labang ito [Pacquiao will make this fight interesting to watch. So long as he doesn’t make the same mistakes he made in his fight with Marquez, this will surely be a great fight].”