For years, a Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight has been boxing’s dream matchup. But for one, Saturday’s result figures to be professionally nightmarish.
Here are five keys for Mayweather to make sure it isn’t him:
1. Right down the pike
For a conventional fighter against a left-hander, everything flips. The right hand serves not only as a power punch, but also in much the same role as a jab typically would. That jab to the body Mayweather likes to use to keep attacking opponents off balance becomes a right to the body against a southpaw. The jab lead becomes a left hook or right hand instead. Mayweather long has proven himself capable of landing pot-shot right leads even against conventional opponents, against whom it should be more difficult to land and more risky to throw because it travels so far. But against southpaws, with both fighters’ jabs out front, the lead right becomes a critical tool, both to the head and body. Mayweather’s trademark shoulder roll also figures to go back into his bag of tricks for this fight, unless he is hurt and needs to tuck his chin behind his left shoulder with his right glove high, because it neutralizes the right hand.
2. Get off then get out
Pacquiao generally is considered the heavier-handed opponent and Mayweather probably would be best advised not to be drawn into a matchup in which both fighters are exchanging three-punch and four-punch combinations. That kind of firefight is inevitable at some point, but the more it happens, the more it mitigates the technically superior boxer’s advantages. It puts Mayweather at greater risk of getting caught with something big late in an exchange. Two punches and get out for Mayweather, especially early in the fight, when Pacquiao is at his most dangerous. If Mayweather puts in his work in the early rounds, there will be times to let his hands fly later.
3. Don’t forget to bait the hook
Plenty of boxing cognoscenti advocate for the left-hook lead as an even more important punch than the right-cross lead for a conventional fighter against a left-handed opponent. The hook still is the power punch closest to the opponent, and Pacquiao’s right hook, while maybe a little better than people give him credit for, is nowhere near as lethal as his left cross. Mayweather doesn’t want to get caught exchanging crosses. But if he gets into a firefight exchange on the other side, swapping hooks, he might like the results, because his will arrive first more often than not. Mayweather won’t want to get caught much throwing the hook to the body, and leaving himself open and vulnerable to southpaw power. But the hook as a lead upstairs, or as the second punch in a combination behind the right lead? A major key.
4. Create a trap door
Pacquiao will lunge with his head in front of his body. He will expose himself and get out of position to do much of anything, either offensively or defensively. He’s an aggressive fighter and he built his legend that way. It’s also precisely the style a master boxer like Mayweather lives to see. The proverb about styles making fights is unequivocally true, and this is the style clash everyone wants to see, the fastball hitter Pacquiao against the junkball pitcher Mayweather. There will be times that this fight almost mixes judo with boxing as Mayweather makes Pacquiao’s momentum work against him. Once Mayweather figures out when those lunges are coming, that’s when one of the best counterpunchers in boxing history hopes to do damage and turn the fight in his favor. One way to do it: Feint the feinter. Pacquiao is known for his feints. Mayweather isn’t bad at it either, and could draw Pacquiao out of position that way.
5. Sense when to flip it
Mayweather could win the fight solely by counterpunching if he lures Pacquiao into something. But he probably can’t win a decision that way. The entire fight probably comes down to two things — at what point does Mayweather get Pacquiao timed, and who spends more of the fight as the aggressor on the lead? The answer to the first question factors largely into the second. If Pacquiao never has his aggression halted, he wins the fight. That’s his blueprint. But if Mayweather should get Pacquiao timed, it opens the window for him to impose his will and become the stalker. If and when that happens probably determines the winner of the fight. Mayweather can’t spend a lot of time on the ropes, letting Pacquiao lead and get in rhythm. He has to take the play away and he has to do it before the middle rounds, by stinging Pacquiao, by discouraging him with defense and return fire, and/or by using his inborn ability to discern an opponent’s greatest strength and nullify it. If he doesn’t deter the whirlwind, slow down the pace, and become the aggressor by mid-fight, his unbeaten record is in trouble.
Here are five keys for Pacquiao to make sure Saturday’s fight doesn’t turn into a careful-what-you-wish-for moment:
1. Work 36 minutes
The longer Pacquiao can maintain an aggressive stance offensively and not be turned into Mayweather’s yo-yo, the better his chances of winning the fight, both by decision and knockout. The longer he is on the lead and forces Mayweather to react, the better his chances of putting rounds in the bag and perhaps landing something big. Pacquiao has turned more boxer-puncher in recent years, and he definitely has to fight smart or Mayweather will walk him into something, but he wants to press the pace in a fight with high-volume punching and make the pound-for-pound king work. He’ll have to eat some counters to do it, but for Pacquiao to win the fight, there must be a take-some-to-give-some element at play. Pacquiao’s worst-case scenario is standing mid-ring in a tactical matchup against Mayweather. That’s a losing proposition.
2. Changing planes
Three of Pacquiao’s strengths are feints, angles and head movement. He has to use them all, and he has to change them up. Mayweather will get him timed eventually. But if Pacquiao makes adjustments himself against the adjustment king, he can change his own angles and feints as Mayweather starts to recognize them. The longer Pacquiao keeps the favored fighter guessing, and reacting to his impetus, the better chance he has. And the best way to do that is by changing the stimuli. A 98-mph fastball thrown to the same spot becomes easy to hit. So does tackling a great running back who always hits the same gap. Some of what Pacquiao does well to set up his offense involves deception. Keeping that trickiness working for 12 rounds requires tweaking the attack regularly against the smartest fighter in boxing. Pacquiao can’t win a chess match but he doesn’t want to be Mayweather’s strategic pawn, either. This fight will be won between the ears, no matter who wins it.
3. Force a firefight
Just as there will be times when the fight is at mid-ring, where Mayweather excels, there also will be times when both men decide to stand down and let fly. The more moments like that, the better Pacquiao figures to like it. He wants to initiate exchanges at times when Mayweather wants to rest, and the longer he can keep those exchanges continuing, the better chance he has of landing something clean on the tail end. Mayweather doesn’t want a fight in which he and Pacquiao are exchanging three-punch and four-punch combinations. That’s when his technical superiority becomes easier to nullify and he becomes more vulnerable to being caught out of position himself. That’s exactly what Pacquiao wants.
4. Left-leaning politician
The Fighting Congressman from Sarangani Province has to lead left, even if he doesn’t lean that way. And he has to score points with the voters. It’s not really that difficult is it? The same things that apply to a conventional fighter reversing a few traditional weapons against southpaws also applies to southpaws in reverse; the only difference is that left-handers see a lot more conventional opponents than vice versa. Pacquiao won’t find his right jab particularly effective against Mayweather — and if he does, the pound-for-pound king has gotten old before our eyes and this thing could get lopsided en route to 47-1. But the left lead is a weapon he has to land. And the more fire he brings behind it, the better for him.
5. Balance and control
This may be the most difficult challenge of all. Pacquiao’s own tendency to lunge out of position as a natural by-product of his own aggression surely was a constant focus in training camp, but there’s only so much you can do. Pacquiao has brilliant footwork in many ways, maybe even better than Mayweather. But Mayweather has vastly superior balance and control. He is almost always on point, always ready to strike, at the first sign of positional vulnerability by his opponent. Pacquiao gets out of position — a lot. His power, and the threat of it, allows him to get away with it in most cases. If he lunges much against Mayweather, he’ll eventually have to pick himself up off the canvas, with the only variable being whether the referee counts 10 over him first.
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