The fight itself is a toss-up. Cynically, I think Pacquiao will have to beat Mayweather decisively to get a decision but I believe he can.
Pacquiao is not the same fighter he was five years ago but much of that has to do with complacency and lack of motivation, while the only opponent capable of demanding his very best existed tantalisingly beyond his reach. He will never be the one-man wrecking crew who retired Oscar De La Hoya and nearly decapitated Ricky Hatton but he is still a blend of speed and power unlike Mayweather has faced. And he won’t be broken mentally.
Mayweather has grown soft trying to protect his zero. I don’t think he has the ability to be the aggressor in a fight any more. The fights with Marcos Maidana, a brave but not extraordinary fighter, were telling. Fighters like Devon Alexander and Amir Khan dominated Maidana far more than Mayweather did.
Pacquiao knows that. His trainer, Freddie Roach, definitely knows that, which is why it could be a firefight in the early rounds, and I do not think Mayweather will get the best of the exchanges. One of the few things that has troubled him has been opponents with above-average hand speed who are aggressive early. Zab Judah buzzed him. Shane Mosley buzzed him. Even Maidana in their first fight, and he is not exactly Willie Pep. One punch could end it, or at least change the dynamic of the fight.
Then consider that Las Vegas arbiters have a track record of favouring boxers who throw a lot of punches, even if they don’t land. You need not look far for an example. Pacquiao connected with 253 of 751 punches (34%) in his first fight with Timothy Bradley – a hugely controversial split-decision loss – yet Bradley’s 839 punches thrown made a bigger impression on the judges even though only 159 of them (19%) found their target. Pacquiao will be the busier fighter this time around and he will bank rounds.
Mayweather’s CV is beyond dispute. The greatest champions win titles when they are young and keep them until they are old. He has been a world champion for 17 years, nearly half his life. He has never been knocked down or in serious trouble.
Yet all things must pass. While I don’t buy into the theory his silence is an indicator of nerves, it does raise questions. Some of his remarks – like insisting his career won’t be judged by this one fight – have been downright alarming. Mayweather can preemptively deny just how much rides on the zero in his loss-ledger but there is no question who has more to lose. One night can tarnish everything he has built. It is legitimately on the table.
This is a different type of event for Mayweather. He has almost exclusively been in with opponents who have spared him the burden of doubt. Now he enters with the knowledge he will have to pay for a mistake.
For the first time since he jumped two weight classes to face De La Hoya – the night that launched him to mainstream superstardom – Pacquiao is an underdog. It’s a role that’s always brought the best out of him. And it’s one that shall again. Manny by close decision.