LAS VEGAS – I can picture it now, as evident as the tattoo on Mike Tyson’s face: a blistering Manny Pacquiao onslaught glancing off Floyd Mayweather’s left shoulder.
That’s what Mayweather does. That’s why he’s one of the greatest boxers of all time. His defense is borderline impenetrable.
And yet there are reasons to envision Pacquiao actually thumping the undefeated Mayweather into submission.
For the first time in a decade, boxing has produced an event to capture America’s imagination. Saturday night’s welterweight unification bout in the MGM Grand Garden is a rare matchup of the world’s elite two fighters.
The event is considered among boxing’s most enormous. Financial records will be detonated with an unprecedented $99 pay-per-view price and scalpers selling ringside tickets for six figures.
The fight will be hard-pressed to meet the hype, but it could.
Many have groused Mayweather-Pacquiao is happening five years too late. Mayweather is 38. Pacquiao is 36.
But a little slippage actually might make Saturday night’s showdown more entertaining. The Thrilla in Manila – the epic slugfest between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier – was considered a mediocre matchup between two faded legends. It erupted into perhaps boxing’s greatest brawl. They didn’t dance. They traded bombs all night.
Fireworks are possible Saturday night.
What makes the matchup more fascinating is that Mayweather and Pacquiao have opposite styles.
Mayweather is the villain, a convicted woman-beater who flashes his money in people’s faces; Pacquiao is a likable fellow who wants to share his religious faith with Mayweather after they fight.
Mayweather is right-handed; Pacquiao is a lefty. Mayweather is a defensive-oriented counterpuncher; Pacquiao is hostile and bores into his opponents. Mayweather is 47-0; Pacquiao has five losses but against a higher level of competition.
The general public would love to see Pacquiao win. Mayweather, however, is a 2-to-1 favorite.
They’ve faced five common opponents: Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez and Miguel Cotto. Four of them predicted Mayweather will win, with Cotto declining to answer.
Mayweather simply has more ways to succeed Saturday night. His slick methods are suited for lasting all 12 rounds and win a decision, and neither fighter has been much of a finisher lately.
Pacquiao’s last knockout victory was in 2009. Mayweather has recorded only one knockout over the past seven years.
Mayweather covers up by rolling and shrugging his shoulders. He uses the ropes to befuddle his opponent.
When Pacquiao fires off an exchange, Mayweather’s response will be to back away and twist his body to the side, giving Pacquiao a harder target to hit.
An X-factor, though, is how much speed Mayweather has lost. Even the most brilliantly elusive boxers – Willie Pep, Ali, Pernell Whitaker, Roy Jones and everybody else – recede at some point.
When that happens, their eyes see and their brains process that punches are coming just as they always have. Their bodies just can’t get out of the way like they used to.
Pacquiao has the power to make Mayweather pay.
Pacquiao is belligerent in the ring. Those close to him insist he harbors hatred for Mayweather, who has been charged or convicted for domestic violence six times and has accused Pacquiao of being on performance-enhancing drugs.
Expect Pacquiao to use sustained pressure to win the early rounds, when Mayweather historically has been cautious.
As the fight evolves, Pacquiao will need to maintain his lead on the scorecards. Mayweather is the superior boxer and should bank rounds eventually, but the judges could find Pacquiao’s motor more appealing.
Mayweather has come dangerously close to getting beaten by almost not doing enough. Two of his past three bouts were majority decisions, with one judge in each saying he fought Saul Alvarez and Marcos Rene Maidana to a draw.
Neither of them are Pacquiao’s caliber.
Pacquiao’s aggression is his chief strength, yet it also could prove his downfall.
The more punches a boxer throws, the more angles he presents to be hit. Mayweather exploits openings masterfully, albeit not with much power from his right hand. If Pacquiao gets too aggressive, he could eat the ring apron.
Pacquiao has been whacked to the canvas a bunch and knocked out three times. Marquez demolished him in 2012, six months after Pacquiao lost a split decision to Timothy Bradley.
Five years ago, when the fight originally was supposed to happen, I would have predicted a Pacquiao victory.
But in that time, he has demonstrated more critical flaws than Mayweather, who kept winning. We’ve witnessed Pacquiao lose badly.
Any thought about Mayweather having a shortcoming is a guess. We haven’t seen a regression yet. We merely know it’ll happen at some point.
My prediction is Mayweather will win by unanimous decision, frustrating Pacquiao from the middle rounds on.
But I hope I’m wrong.