Sports·Analysis

Mayweather vs. Pacquiao: Keys for the big fight

Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will finally meet Saturday in a 12-round welterweight prizefight that will be the richest ever. Many say the fight will also determine the title of best pound-for-pound fighter so far this century. Here's how the bout might shake down.

Welterweights set to square off in richest bout ever

Floyd Mayweather, left, and Manny Pacquiao will step into the ring Saturday night in Las Vegas for the richest fight in boxing history. (Getty Images)

Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will finally meet in the centre of the ring Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

The 12-round welterweight prizefight will be the richest ever. For many fans, it will also decide who deserves the title of best pound-for-pound boxer so far this century. Neither fighter is at his peak, but they're still two of the best in the sport, and there is a case to be made it will be a more fascinating bout than it would have been in 2010 when they were at the height of their powers.

The fight is expected to start around 11 p.m. ET. Here's what to look for from each man on fight night:​

Floyd Mayweather

Early dividends: As the fighter not expected to be the aggressor, it's really important for him to not just neutralize Pacquiao early, but also to dish out enough to the Filipino to make him confused or at least less bold. Pacquiao has enjoyed amazing first rounds meeting strong foes like Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez and Marco Antonio Barrera.

Size him up: Mayweather is taller and has about a 12-centimetre reach advantage. Pacquiao has only faced that kind of discrepancy against slow or limited foes. Mayweather will try to use his long arms offensively with a left jab or lead hook, defensively by catching or parrying shots with his gloves, and cannily by clinching or pushing his opponent's head down after landing a punch.  

The dance: While we all focus on the head-turning shots, fights are usually determined by what happens below the knees. Footwork and positioning are critical, especially when it's a left-leading fighter (Mayweather) against a southpaw (Pacquiao). Mayweather is comfortable fighting backing up and going forward. He'll need to move his legs more than in his last two bouts to avoid awkward, defensive situations. Can he do it at age 38?
 
No rope-a-dope: Mayweather has found himself forced to the ropes in fairly recent fights against Marcos Maidana and Victor Ortiz. While he keeps his chin tucked and catches a lot of shots on his arms and shoulders, he can't afford to toil there too frequently; there was a judge in both his Saul Alvarez bout and his first Maidana fight who saw things even.​​

Manny Pacquiao

The best defence: It's a good offence in Manny's case. He can't be lunging and leaving himself open for counters, but he should try to press the action two or three times per round to ensure he isn't lulled into a chess match where Mayweather can reduce the punch output and selectively pot-shot. If Pacquiao gets his man hurt, he can't be the gentleman warrior of recent fights. Shane Mosley learned the window opens just a crack against Mayweather.

Patience: A fight fan uploaded a terrific video in 2011 demonstrating how Juan Manuel Marquez used feints and Pacquiao's over-aggressiveness against him in a disputed decision loss. Make no mistake: Floyd will make Manny whiff badly on occasion. He can't get overly frustrated and force something that isn't there if he hasn't landed anything meaningful in a while.

Middle distance: The riddle for Pacquiao is that he doesn't figure to win in the middle of the ring given Mayweather's quickness, footwork and reach advantage. But roughing him up in the trenches à la Jose Luis Castillo or Maidana isn't his game. For an offensive dynamo Pacquiao doesn't revel in chin-on-chest infighting. The 36-year-old will have to find the middle ground inside the Las Vegas native's arms to employ his unique combination of speed and power.

No straight line: Pacquiao too often in recent fights has darted in and out in a straight line with chin held high on his retreat after a flurry. It's a recipe to get countered by the undefeated Mayweather's sharp right. He'll have to duck low and use lateral movement, preferably to his left, to avoid Mayweather's check hook.

A word before the prediction

We must acknowledge the drumbeat of outrage growing recently over Mayweather's troubling history of domestic abuse allegations and lenient sentences. Some media outlets seem to be playing catch-up on things well known in 2012-13, when Mayweather was jailed. No matter. They raise valid points, and the NFL's Ray Rice incident has clearly led to a recalibration in thinking around consequences for out-of-competition behaviour. Mayweather should have been suspended by the Nevada commission, although that would have been served long ago. A lifetime ban from a changeable, politically appointed state board is problematic in many ways.

For what it's worth, this site detailed the disturbing allegations as they happened, and took many opportunities to point out Mayweather's creepy behaviour. Everyone has a decision to make on whether to boycott or "respect the art, not the artist," just as they do over cheering Ray Lewis, watching a Woody Allen movie or singing along to R. Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly. It can be a thorny, sometimes contradictory calculus.

The outcome

The southpaw Victor Ortiz — and, long ago, Emmanuel Burton — forced Mayweather into an active, uncomfortable fight. I think there's a template in those two bouts for Manny to hand Mayweather (47-0, 26 knockouts) a loss. He's not invincible; many believe he lost the first Castillo bout.

I believe Pacquiao will make Mayweather work harder than he ever has. Whereas I think it would have been Mayweather 8-4 or 9-3 in 2010, I think it's going to be razor-close this time. I could easily see Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) keeping Mayweather in defensive postures and winning on activity. That's not a cop-out, as these are two all-time greats.

But I keep coming back to this: Pacquiao was beaten by a long-limbed fighter who came forward (Morales), and made to miss wildly in multiple bouts and knocked out by Marquez. Mayweather is more versatile and adapts better during the course of a fight, and will win Saturday by a close decision.

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