By Matthew Hurley: As the biggest fight of his career approaches Manny Pacquiao seems as content, perhaps even as happy, as he’s ever appeared before one of his bouts. His love for boxing became infectious during his rise to the top. Ever grinning, always bouncing, his enthusiasm and unflappable persona has also seemingly affected his opponent Floyd Mayweather.
Mayweather, who will forever be remembered as much for his braggadocio, bordering on the arrogant, as much for his in ring brilliance, has been unusually sedate in the lead up to what will not only be the richest fight in history but will bring “Money” Mayweather an unprecedented pay day.
Although Pacquiao supporters see Mayweather’s quiet, uncharacteristically gentlemanly attitude as the first sign that he knows he’s in for the fight of his life, the feeling here is Floyd knows he can’t rattle the cage of such a seasoned professional like Manny, so why even try. There’s also a bit of gamesmanship behind it all. In fact, Floyd’s entire camp has followed Floyd’s lead, leaving the trash talking to Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach.
Meanwhile Manny just goes about his business as he always does – with a smile and that aw shucks humility that in itself belies the beast he can unleash in the ring. Pacquiao may often come across as a puppy dog outside the ropes, but he can still turn into a pit bull despite not having stopped an opponent in six years.
Still, in his last four bouts he’s produced seven knockdowns, albeit six coming against overmatched Chris Algieri. The other came against bitter rival Juan Manuel Marquez in their 2012 Fight of the Year thriller. And that’s the type of fight he wants against Floyd Mayweather. He wants Hagler – Hearns.
Floyd, never one to engage unless absolutely necessary, would rather be Willie Pep and confound Manny with his defensive brilliance.
And that’s what most hardcore boxing fans are terrified of happening. What if Mayweather simply shuts Pacquiao down, boxes to a boring decision victory and the biggest fight in years turns out to be a colossal dud? What are all those people who shelled $100 for the pay-per-view going to say? Worse still, the mainstream sports media will again bombard the faithful with the hackneyed, “Boxing is dead” nonsense.
Somehow it’s hard to imagine this fight not being compelling. Perhaps more Hagler – Leonard than Hagler – Hearns. And that would still be worth the price of the ticket.
As the betting odds on the fight get tighter, big money has been coming in on Pacquiao as of late, the buildup to the richest fight in history will make it hard for the fight itself to live up to all the hype. And that’s OK as long as we get a good scrap.
Ask many boxing writers who they are leaning towards and Mayweather invariably comes out on top by a wide margin. It stands to reason. He’s undefeated, his defense is so good he can often seem like the fistic equivalent of a Rubix Cube, he has a decent punch, his chin seems strong and can fight on the inside better than he’s given credit for. All of those things should lead him to victory.
But styles make fights. Pacquiao’s a southpaw, throws punches in bunches from awkward angles, is willing to fight to get inside and his underrated footwork allows him the ability to get in and out in a split second.
Manny, at some point, will land his vaunted left over that shoulder roll defense and Mayweather will feel it down to his toes and he will be forced out of his comfort zone. And that’s where Pacquiao’s multi-punch combinations will put rounds in the bank.
It says here that Manny Pacquiao takes a close decision victory, setting up a possible rematch for the end of the year. But Mayweather is so good it’s a hard call to make. That’s what makes this fight so compelling and why boxing fans should be doubly excited that the fight is finally going to happen. Hey, better late than never.
Matthew Hurley is a full time member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His first book on boxing, Ringside Reflections, can be purchased at Amazon.com.