Monday, May 4, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Mayweather-Pacquiao

Jim Lampley called it right in the first round. He noted that Manny Pacquiao’s deliberate start against Floyd Mayweather resembled Saul Alvarez's effort against the same fighter in 2013. Lampley also wondered if Pacquiao’s tentativeness would lead to a similar type of futility. Roy Jones commented on a related theme throughout the match. He wanted to know why Pacquiao persisted in fighting from a distance in the middle of the ring. He didn't think that Pacquiao could outbox Mayweather from range. Toward the end of the fight, Lampley asked if Pacquiao needed to sell out for a knockout since his performance to that point had put him in a big hole (Pacquiao did not). 

Everyone had seen this type of performance against Floyd before, and Pacquiao wound up suffering the same fate as other like-minded opponents: a comprehensive defeat. 

In following Mayweather's career, I thought that he was in serious danger of losing twice: his first fights against Jose Luis Castillo and Marcos Maidana. Yes, there were other bouts that were competitive in the early rounds (against Zab Judah and Oscar de la Hoya) and fighters who had hit him with big shots (Judah and Shane Mosley) but in my estimation, Floyd had those contests in hand (if not on the scorecards) by the second half of the match. However, Castillo, who might have beaten Floyd with different judges, and Maidana put Floyd in real jeopardy. Both of them fought Mayweather similarly – they, and pardon my French here, didn’t give a fuck. 

Restating it in more proper terms, they didn't let the pressure of facing a boxer with Mayweather's reputation or the enormity of the moment intimidate or change them. They charged after Mayweather with abandon, hitting him with anything and everything they could muster – and they weren't concerned with technique, landing clean blows or getting countered; they made it a firefight. Maidana and Castillo embraced their inner crudeness and didn't fall victim to being in awe of one of the best in the sport. 

Why haven't more boxers fought Mayweather this way? Some may have lacked the temperament (Judah, for instance, was never a swarmer) but for many others, they were unwilling to play the role of "Goon" on the big stage. Robert Guerrero and Victor Ortiz both earned their shots at Mayweather by engaging in epic slugfests against Andre Berto. These were not contests of great skill. Yet, against Mayweather, they fought meekly and rarely pressed him. Cotto had been a seek-and-destroy fighter at his best and yet he couldn't summon a consistent effort in attacking Mayweather. I could go on and on. 

Floyd embarrasses people. He makes great boxers look pedestrian. Mentally, fighters have to overcome the reality of what it means to rush Floyd. They're probably going to get hit on the way in and countered with something that they can't respond to. In addition, they often will run headlong toward a fighter who has already left, vanishing like a magic act. And let's not forget about Floyd's variety of fouling veteran techniques on the inside that can hinder an opponent both physically and mentally. It takes fortitude, conditioning and psychological strength to engage in this type of fight with Mayweather. And few are willing to accept this risk. For many, they make an agreement with themselves: they'd rather lose a decision on the outside than look foolish. Thus, their egos as professionals have already contributed to their defeat. Instead of fighting in a way that gives them the best chance to win, they stay put. 

At the lower weights, Pacquiao possessed whirlwind energy and he was insouciant toward an opponent's return fire; he was a Maidana, but with more power and skill. He believed that his offense could beat his foe's defense. If he had to take some heavy thunder to get the job done, so be it. Watching him on Saturday, that past fighter seemed like a distant figure, a subject of folklore. 

The absence of the old Pacquiao can't solely be attributed to advancing age. As he continued to campaign against bigger fighters in the welterweight division, his punch output dropped. After facing his own ring mortality against Juan Manuel Marquez, he no longer charged in as recklessly as he once did. Although he still possessed quite a bit of offensive firepower, he had abandoned his past mentality of the hunter gleefully stalking his prey. 

By all accounts, Pacquiao has been a reformed man out of the ring. Perhaps his past self-destructive streak and devil-may-care attitude outside of boxing helped forge his prior ring identity, the one that electrified audiences and battered fighters. Now, that claim might be speculative – and if you are offended by such things, I apologize – but it was strikingly clear after watching Saturday's fight that Manny's issues in the ring far exceeded a Father Time problem; at heart, it was a question of temperament. Manny didn't fight Floyd in the swashbuckling style of his past. Instead, he exercised caution and was hesitant with his offense. These characterizations had never been associated with Pacquiao at his most ferocious. 

Everyone knew what Pacquiao’s game plan for Mayweather was supposed to be: start fast, keep a high punch volume, use angles and outwork him, especially along the ropes. Yet Pacquiao couldn't even execute that game plan in the first three rounds – again, this isn't a question of age or fatigue. Pacquiao wasn't willing to "sell out" – to use Lampley's phrase – even in the first round.  

Throughout the fight, Pacquiao had some moments here and there, specifically when he could flurry with Mayweather on the ropes. But ultimately, he couldn't sustain a pace, or even an effort, that could lead to him winning the fight. The final scores were 118-110, 116-112 and 116-112 (I also scored it for Mayweather 116-112).

What I will remember about the fight is how Mayweather made Pacquiao look so ordinary. You could argue that even a limited fighter like Guerrero had just as much success against Mayweather than The Great Pacquiao did. Mayweather never needed to go past second gear. Whenever he would drop a round, he would immediately impose himself on Pacquiao and quash any notion of a rally or comeback. 

Mayweather didn't even utilize his bag of tricks. There was no emergency, no need to break glass to locate his 10th- or 11th-best punch. His offense was rather simple – jab, lead right hands to the body, pull-counter right hands and left hook potshots, mostly from along the ropes. He threw very few big shots and, frankly, he didn't need them. The garden variety version of Mayweather's offensive arsenal was more than enough to defeat Pacquiao comfortably. 

To be clear, this is not a denigration of Mayweather's performance. I'm just noting that Pacquiao didn't push him. He didn't force Mayweather into a late-round shootout like Maidana did. Floyd wasn't holding on for dear life like he did briefly in the second round against Mosley. Floyd didn't need to use his grappling skills to wear down an opponent on the inside. Saturday was Floyd fighting at his comfort level. 

Physically, Mayweather exhibited only a slight decline from his peak. He gave up a few rounds when laying back on the ropes for long stretches. It appeared that he was just tired of moving his 38-year-old legs. He took some shots during these moments but they weren't particularly damaging. However, let's not lose perspective about his rate of decline. Floyd was facing the past Fighter of the Decade, his biggest rival and one of the top-five fighters in the sport, AND he had enough of a working margin to coast at various points. That's how good he was on Saturday. 

I was also particularly impressed with the work of Floyd Mayweather Sr. in the corner. Senior is often blasé between rounds, operating without concern or urgency. However, Senior was fully engaged against Pacquiao and understood the enormity of the moment. Recognizing that Pacquiao had some intermittent success against the ropes and that the crowd was fully against his son, he implored Junior to fight aggressively and not give judges a reason to side against him. His sense of urgency was transferred to his fighter. Whenever Mayweather dropped a round or fought a close one, he immediately seized the initiative in the battle, which quieted the crowd and reestablished his dominance. 

In fact, Team Mayweather's game plan was close to flawless. They tried to minimize Floyd's time on the ropes, keep the fight in the center of the ring and concentrate on lateral movement to nullify Pacquiao's attack. With an exception of the fourth round, where Pacquiao landed a series of hard punches, most of the times where Pacquiao had some success occurred only because Floyd took breathers along the ropes. Essentially, in three of the rounds that I had Pacquiao winning, those victories only occurred in my estimation because Floyd decided to rest. 

After the fight, Team Pacquiao claimed that Manny had suffered a right shoulder injury in camp and that the fighter didn't have his full mobility during the match. Freddie Roach said that the injury affected Pacquiao's right hook but not his jab or uppercut. Ultimately, all of this may be true, but with the way that Pacquiao fought on Saturday, it didn't matter if he had had four hands. [Note, on Monday after the fight, it was announced tha Pacquiao would undergo shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff.]

Pacquiao wasn't aggressive enough. He wasn't willing to take the chances needed to put Mayweather in trouble. Whatever physical problems that he might have had in the fight, they significantly paled in relation to his psychological hindrances in the ring. Not throwing punches lost Pacquiao the fight, as opposed to the absence of a handful of additional right hooks. And let's keep it on the level here; it's not as if Pacquiao’s right hook has been a real weapon for him as a welterweight. In most of his fights, he rarely unleashes it. Mayweather was the better fighter by every measure and that might an unpleasant reality for some but the facts are undeniable. 

For boxing fans, the night provided healthy doses of bittersweet. We now have an undisputed top fighter in the sport and no one who could potentially make a claim of superiority. These moments help define boxing history. However, the lack of a true rival for Mayweather deflates the sport, which is never a positive development.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
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