3 More Rounds

Roundtable Preview: Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

Photos: Chris Farina / Top Rank

Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank

It’s almost surreal that we are a day away from the biggest fight of this era, and what will arguably amount to the richest prizefight in history, as Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will finally go head to head this Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

As is customary before every big fight, members of the staff have gotten together to give their takes and offer up predictions for the big fight, so let’s go!

1. Over the course of the last 20 years, has there been a fight that you have been as much or more excited for than Mayweather-Pacquiao? (If so, which one?)

Ali Shakoor: Nope. The only contenders for me in the past 20 years would be Tyson v. Holyfield I, Trinidad v. Hopkins, and De la Hoya v. Mayweather. None of those really compare to the magnitude of this fight, due to the 5 year soap opera of a build up, and the fact that these are the two pound for pound best fighters in the world. For me, the only thing that compares to this epic showdown would be Leonard v. Hagler. I was in junior high back in 1987, but I remember how the build up to the fight really seemed to dominate the entire American sports scene. Globally, this fight is much bigger.

Martin Gallegos: Growing up as a huge fan of Oscar De La Hoya, I recall being extremely excited for De La Hoya vs Vargas. Other recent fights that come to mind are Rios vs Alvarado I and Matthysse vs Provodnikov because of the expectations of a slugfest. That being said, Mayweather-Pacquiao is on another level. This is history taking place right before our eyes. Even if this fight is five years overdue, it is still number one vs number two, something we rarely see in boxing anymore these days.

Matt Knowles: Being that Pops and I had the honor and privilege of attending the infamous Bite Fight for his 40th b-day (love ya Dad!), Floyd vs. Manny cannot possibly top my list of most anticipated boxing matches. Quite frankly, as excited as I am about the event, the pageantry, and the intense atmosphere that we will witness on Saturday, the style clash between these two athletes has never really excited me. It should be a relatively competitive match, but let’s not go convincing ourselves that we’re about to witness the Thrilla in Manila circa 2015.

FJ Parlan: No. Growing up as a fan of boxing, though, I can feel the electricity of the event when Oscar De la Hoya had a fight. Even younger, when Mike Tyson (in his return) had those glorified knockout exhibitions which everybody seems to wait for so long, but gets done quickly. So unsurprisingly, I’ve never been more nervous for a fight than when De la Hoya challenged Pacquiao. I’m not that nervous for this one, but I’ve never been this excited for a fight. My excitement never really waned for the past five years, only getting dormant for stretches, but when even just a minute chance of Mayweather-Pacquiao is born, my senses are enliven again. I know the world have been excited and bored again and again for this, but I hope they all come back to watch THE boxing event of our generation.

2. If there is any fight since 2009 that leads you to believe Mayweather may have issues with Pacquiao, which one and why?

Ali Shakoor: No, not since 2009. For me you’d have to go all the way back 9 years to the Judah fight. Like Judah, Pacquiao is an athletic southpaw with fast hands and good power. Unlike Judah, I don’t see Pacquiao mentally unraveling when Floyd makes his standard mid-fight adjustment in his effort to take over control of the fight. Manny is much more experienced and mentally stronger than Judah was back then. Since 2009, Floyd has VERY carefully chosen opponents who are fairly slow-footed and with minimal hand-speed. This includes a past his prime Miguel Cotto. The only possible exception regarding speed was an old and clearly diminished Shane Mosley coming off of a 15 month layoff in 2010.  Also, I can’t consider Floyd’s struggles with Cotto and Maidana in relation to this fight, because those two are bigger, rugged and just different types of fighters than Pacquiao. Part of the intrigue of this fight, is that Floyd is finally taking on an opponent outside of his apparent stylistic comfort zone.

Martin Gallegos: Mayweather has been so dominant since 2009 that the only fight he really found himself in danger was the first fight with Marcos Maidana. Floyd’s shoulder roll defense was less effective in this fight because of Maidana’s punches coming from awkward angles. something Manny Pacquiao also tends to do. Maidana’s relentlessness on the ropes also gave Floyd a bit of trouble, and we know Manny can apply that type of pressure for 12 rounds, he just hasn’t done it lately.

Matt Knowles: I’d have to say Pacquiao’s comeback win in the Tim Bradley rematch made me (somewhat of) a PacMan believer again. I had Bradley pegged to mop the floor with Manny that night, and in the first few rounds I was pretty proud of my prediction…until Pacquiao threw it into 5th gear and completely took over the contest. He showed a nasty combination of hand speed and accurate punching that night, which we hadn’t seen from him in recent years, and those are the attributes that he will have to maximize if he’s going to give Floyd any real problems at center ring.

FJ Parlan: Mayweather’s last two fights with Maidana are the closest thing to examine, even considering the discrepancy in size and style between Maidana and Pacquiao. Since 2009, Mayweather was able to dominate any kind of opponent he has put in front of him– yes, always bragging to be his own boss, Mayweather had chosen his opponents. I’m not saying here that he chose them carefully for his safety and security, but he did chose them. From the get-go, Maidana just seemed like the wrong choice to make himself look good. While Pacquiao should learn a thing or two from Maidana (and any other Mayweather opponent who had even the slightest success against him), he should not bank on the Argentine’s methods at all. What I saw against Maidana was a seemingly beatable Floyd. So when Floyd said he now stays in the pocket more because he wants to excite the fans, it didn’t help my doubt. Beatable as he may be, though, he is still not beaten. It’s up for Pacquiao and his camp to do something else.

Photo: Will Hart / HBO

Photo: Will Hart / HBO

3. That Mayweather is a superior counter-puncher than Marquez, is there any reason to believe Pacquiao won’t have the same kind of problems?

Ali Shakoor: Floyd is a different type of fighter than JMM. Yes, he’s a great counter-puncher, but he doesn’t throw punches in bunches like JMM and he also carries a different size and overall rhythm to his game.  JMM is a guy who just has Manny’s number. It’s like with Norton and Ali. It happens sometimes in this sport. JMM’s style and chemistry is just a rough go for Manny. JMM is Manny’s “boogeyman”, like Norton was to Ali. Outside of JMM, Manny has convincingly won every fight he’s been in (including the first Bradley fight, and we know it’s true), against varied types of opponents, since he’s risen above 130. Floyd has never really been in the ring with what he’s about to face on May 2nd. It’s going to be a close and competitive fight.

Martin Gallegos: Different strokes for different folks. Having fought four times, Marquez had Pacquiao figured out like a book. While I feel Marquez was robbed a few times in those fights, Pacquiao still found ways to knock Marquez down several times when they fought. However, Pacquiao will still have problems with Floyd, mainly that Mayweather straight right.

Matt Knowles: Pacquiao will have the EXACT same kinds of problems with Floyd’s legendary counter-cross that he had with Marquez’ equally-accurate right hand. My argument in favor of Mayweather for all of these years has revolved around this particular stylistic dynamic/rhetorical question, one which I’ve never been able to un-wrap my stubborn head around: how in the world can an aggressive southpaw with subpar head movement defeat the best counter-puncher in history?

FJ Parlan: Not only are Marquez and Mayweather different fighters, they are also different counter-punchers. Yes, probing deeper into the superficial styles of boxers, one can see that Marquez counteracts with his punches differently than Mayweather, so even if I say that Marquez is a better counter-puncher, it’s like comparing apples (red) and apples (green). With some punches here and there, yes, Pacquiao will encounter the same problems specifically Floyd’s straight hand. But it’s not Marquez, who knows him for four fights or forty rounds countering him there with multiple well-constructed combinations who is willing to get trade and get hit with his own multiple well-constructed combinations. Pacquiao should know that Mayweather is a different type of animal that will strike with singular shots and defend to give him fewer opportunities to hit back, with an otherworldly level of efficiency and accuracy.

4. Which of the two fighters do you feel is closer to where they were talent-wise in 2009/10, right now?

Ali Shakoor: Definitely Floyd. Floyd was as dominant in 2013, as he’s ever looked at any point in his career; just an artist at the top of his craft. I don’t take too much from the Maidana fights in 2014, because Maidana was so damn dirty and very, very awkward-maybe he was Floyd’s “boogeyman”. Manny hasn’t been the same since the Antonio “Cheato” fight in November of 2010.  Manny often talks about how that 150 pound fight was one of the toughest of his career. The naturally bigger Cheato landed very heavy-handed punches, and just simply took the prime out of Manny.  Since that fight, he’s been just a tad slower and less explosive. Look at the film of before and after. That fight was a turning point, and ended Manny’s run of power-packed speed and seemingly boundless energy. He’s still been elite since then, but he’s not the same animal he was prior to that fight. Also, on December 8, 2012 Manny suffered one of the most brutal knockouts in the history of championship boxing. JMM put him right to sleep in frightening fashion. Plenty of experts discuss how such knockouts permanently take something out of the victim. Sure, Manny has fought at an elite level since that fight, and that’s a testament to his overall innate gifts, and hell, greatness as a fighter. But if you take the Cheato fight in conjunction with the KTFO he suffered in 2012, and just using the eye test, Manny simply is not the same fighter he was in 2009/10.  As a side note, I don’t put any stock in Floyd being 2 years older.  This is boxing, and we know better. Manny has been a pro for longer; starting as a teen with a still developing young male brain. Also, unlike Floyd, Manny has been in countless wars, suffered the aforementioned brutality, and has the natural constitution of a near Third World impoverished upbringing in his formative years. This stuff goes much deeper than 2 damn years of age difference.

Martin Gallegos: Floyd Mayweather, by far. I feel that he’s actually gotten better talent-wise since 2009/2010. His defense is still masterful and while not powerful, his counter-punching is precise. Pacquiao hasn’t had a brilliant performance against a top quality opponent since his fight with Antonio Margarito back in 2010.

Martin Knowles: Not to cop-out of the question, but I’d say its about equal. While Floyd isn’t nearly as fleet of feet as he was back in the day, Pacquiao’s punching power has taken a dip as Mother Nature has worked her unnerving magic.

FJ Parlan: Mayweather had always been the more talented boxer, even though Pacquiao may look more impressive as a fighter. They both dominate in their own ways, but Floyd had been more dominant since 2009, and since then, Manny faced more adversity and punishment in the ring. Before that, he has been in so many legendary wars. Both had receded a little bit, but even if they did, Floyd is fresher while older even as Pacquiao has aged amazingly well as well.

Photo: Idris Erba/Mayweather Promotions

Photo: Idris Erba/Mayweather Promotions

5. What will be they keys to victory for Mayweather?

Ali Shakoor: Just be Floyd. He’s a boxing savant and just knows how to win. He reads and adjusts better than any fighter I’ve ever seen. Also, as the late great Manny Steward observed, Floyd also has the ability to concentrate and plot, during times of fatigue and brief moments of “duress”. He’s just a naturally gifted and extremely well-trained genius.  However, one thing Floyd must avoid is falling into an early hole. He can’t afford to give away too many rounds to a fighter like Manny, who is so prolific with his punch output and still carries his power deep into the second half of fights.  Floyd should also be careful not to feel too confident in “walking down” Manny with the confidence of his superior size. Manny still has a little bit of elite power, and though Floyd has a great chin, I don’t think it’s on the Cheato or Rios level. If Floyd still has his legs, he should just play it safe with constant movement and stink out a victory with his accuracy, potshots and holding the smaller man when necessary.  If he has somehow slowed down in the past year or so, he still needs to stay on the back-foot and counter-punch safely. Manny is still a great, great fighter, and Floyd needs to fight with a load of respect with the knowledge that he doesn’t have a Robert Guerrero level fighter in front of him this time.

Martin Gallegos: Floyd’s gotta do what he always does. Keep the fight in the middle of the ring and dictate the pace. He will have to move forward in order to avoid getting pushed to the ropes by Pacquiao.

Matt Knowles: Floyd just has to be himself, and repeat the pattern which has been so successful for him over the past 19 years: study the opponent for the first 2-3 rounds, time their offense, solve the puzzle, and take over the match from the 4th round onward.

FJ Parlan: The other writers here, hat tip to all of them, all state something like Floyd just being himself, and who am I to disagree with their knowledge and expertise? Like my 3MR colleague Ali Shakoor comprehensively laid out, there are just some things Mayweather has to avoid doing for this fight. I hear that Mayweather and Pacquiao are not really fond of watching film of their opponents (reportedly except for this one), but with his built-in adaptability, Mayweather can afford it more so. Truthfully, the onus is on Pacquiao to study Mayweather, especially as he has the burden being the agressor. There’s a reason Mayweather is the favorite.

6. Keys to victory for Pacquiao?

Ali Shakoor: Pacquiao needs to get off to an early start. Floyd is a notoriously slow starter, so Manny needs to come out aggressive and simply just try to win every single round, starting with the first. Manny also needs to have his mind right and stress free with the fact that he’s going to be eating a lot of right hand leads. It’s Floyd’s best punch, and if Algieri could tag Manny with it on occasion, Floyd’s going to go to town on Manny’s rather large dome. The reason why so many opponents fail to hit Floyd with his “kryptonite” –the jab–is because they are leery and weary of the right hand coming over the top. Often fighters lose the will to try to win against Floyd, after tiring of receiving an abundance of crisp potshots to the grill. Unless Manny and Freddie have devised a defensive plan to combat this, Manny is going to have to have the tenacity and will to walk through this fire in order to land his blows.  Manny also should work the body more than what is his norm. That could go a long way into hopefully slowing Floyd down late in the fight. Manny also needs to dig deep down into himself and bring out his inner nastiness. The Congressman who likes to incessantly tap gloves and act like a gentleman, won’t do the Fighter any favors on May 2nd. He’s going to have to fight with a controlled viciousness, and he most certainly, absolutely CANNOT show mercy like he’s done on occasion in the past with opponents in the ring.

Martin Gallegos: It’s no secret what Pacquiao has to do here to win. He needs to be aggressive. We’ve seen guys win rounds against Floyd just by throwing close to 100 punches per round, even with most of those punches getting blocked. The reason those guys still lost is because they couldn’t keep up the pace for 12 rounds. Pacquiao no doubt has the conditioning to pressure for 12 rounds, but it’s up to him and Freddie Roach to make that decision to be the old school aggressive Manny Pacquiao again.

Matt Knowles: Pacquiao needs to either a) score the most talked-about knockout in boxing history, or b) score a knockdown or two in order to swing the points in his direction. The closer we get to Saturday night, the more I can envision a 114-113 scorecard for Pacquiao if he puts Money Mayweather on the deck….

FJ Parlan: No one has quite figured out “The Mayvinci Code” yet so the Pac-Man needs to have many keys to the maze and the puzzle. If Pacquiao is not the one holding the unique answer, then probably, no one in boxing does today. There is only one key for Mayweather and host of other paths he should avoid against Pacquiao, but for Pacquiao, let me list some, in some order: First, capitalize on the surprise– I’ve been hearing Manny’s camp saying they’re going to surprise Mayweather, and in a way, they have to, enough so they can win the early rounds. Secondly, when Mayweather starts to see what’s going on, Freddie Roach and camp should have an executable and well-rehearsed plan B as Pacquiao tries to win with aggression and volume punching to win it round-by-round until Floyd doesn’t have enough rounds to eke out a victory. Thirdly, target the body, don’t be a headhunter; Pacquiao is a vicious body puncher when he wants to and if that is a part of game overlooked by Mayweather, he should take advantage of it. Mayweather is really, really hard to hit, and while Pacquiao should not be frustrated, he should also still be able to respond with that extra “killer instinct” so many have said he has lacked lately– that would be the X-factor if he has any chance of winning this fight.

Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank

Photo: Chris Farina / Top Rank

7. Who wins and why?

Ali Shakoor: I have no idea what’s going to happen on Saturday night. However, predictions are fun and that’s what the readers want to know from us here at this point. Either fighter COULD show up old, but I just don’t see that happening. I see this being an extremely competitive fight and fought at a very high skill level. The winner is going to be Manny Pacquiao via close decision victory; either split or majority. Floyd is a smart guy, and there is a reason that he’s avoided fighters who are athletic southpaws with elite hand-speed. They give him trouble. Floyd’s tendency to fight at a measured pace, also won’t do him any favors against a fighter like Manny who is prolific and throws  multiple combination punches from awkward angles. Even if they don’t all land, judges may score in favor of mere activity. Another reason I see Floyd losing this fight, is because judges have lately seemed to show a tendency to want to vote against him. Let’s go back to 2013, when Floyd was in peak form. He dominated the pedestrian and non-dynamic Ghost Guerrero for at least 10, if not 11 rounds, yet judges still found a reason to give Guerrero 3 rounds in defeat. Against Canelo Alvarez, Floyd was even more dominant in victory, yet, yet, the scores were a head-scratching 114-114, 116-112, and 117-111.  Even against Maidana last year, a few of those scorecards were closer than they objectively should have been. Manny Pacquiao will be more active than all of those fighters. Add in what I think will be at least one likely early 10-8 round for Manny, and I just don’t see him losing this fight. Lastly, Manny’s faith may play a role. That’s not an endorsement. I’m not religious and I don’t believe in or follow any “God”. But Manny does, and that type of quiet resolve and sense of strength can be an added bonus in this biggest battle of his life. We’ve seen this in the past when the devout Evander Holyfield used his faith to foster a resolute sense of refusing to lose. This stuff works on the minds of some athletes, and Manny is as devout as they come at this point in his life; while also fighting for the pride of his entire country back home.

Martin Gallegos: Floyd Mayweather, Unanimous Decision. For whatever reason, Manny Pacquiao is just not as aggressive as he used to be. I don’t believe he can’t pull the trigger anymore, he just chooses to fight more careful now. I believe this will lead his downfall on May 2. Also being more of a counter-puncher in recent fights, Manny does not fare well against opponents who do not initiate the action. Pacquaio also tends to lean in to his opponents after throwing his left, which leaves him vulnerable to Mayweather’s money punch, the straight right. It may take a few rounds, but once Floyd figures out Pacquiao’s tendencies and gets his timing down, he will cruise to win number 48.

Matt Knowles: I’ve said it ever since they shared a card in San Francisco back in 2001: Floyd Mayweather by unanimous decision, 117-111. As time has passed, I do believe that Pacquiao’s odds of victory have significantly increased (this was a mismatch on paper for years IMO), however I fully expect Mayweather to counter-punch his way to a points win in the biggest moment of his historic career.

FJ Parlan: My mind says Mayweather but my heart says Pacquiao– that’s the collective sentiment of fans who know how big this is and how great the fight can be. More than saying that I think Mayweather will but I feel Pacquiao can; there are so many ways this match-up can unfold and so many ways that Pacquiao, in most ways the challenger, can be imagined to win, while with Mayweather, there really is just one way. But that one way – the Floyd way – is the one which comes up most often in trying to visualize the fight, and for that reason, Mayweather is the safer bet to make. Having said that, I will put my money where my mouth is (ask our former writer David Lee) and for the fun of prediction and playing the expert or the fool sometimes, A likely decision this will be, and in such a case I need to predict Mayweather because that’s easier, but I want to work harder on this, only 0.1% of what Pacquiao has to do to win. 115-113, Pacquiao; 115-113 Mayweather; and 115-113 Pacquiao for the win. A draw is very likely, or else a possible history-altering knockdown in favor of Pacquiao. It will be close and controversial enough for everyone to call a rematch and for Mayweather to claim victory.

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