A few days after the Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao fight, the reviews are still coming in, and most are negative. Perhaps the harshest assessment is a class action suit filed against Pacquiao by boxing fans who are angry that the Filipino southpaw fought with an injured right shoulder and now want their money back. The Las Vegas Gaming Commission is also displeased, and is contemplating disciplinary action against Manny for not disclosing his injury.
The consensus then is that the long-awaited contest between two welterweight champions was anything but the fight of the century. There’s some truth to that. Aside from a brief flurry in the fourth round that pushed Mayweather against the ropes, Pacquiao barely resembled the fighter famous for throwing punches from all sorts of odd angles to exploit the power in both his hands. Sure, Mayweather won, say critics of the fight, but it was by running away from Pacquiao rather than standing toe-to-toe and dishing it out. Ok, it wasn’t the kind of fight that lots of boxing fans like to see, but that hardly means it wasn’t special.
I once took a date to the Bronx to see the Yankees play the Red Sox. The ballpark that July 4 was electric for the last several innings because Dave Righetti was on his way to pitching a no-hitter. Later when I told my father about the game, he shook his head in sympathy for my date—“that poor girl must have been bored to tears,” he said. He was right, of course. Unless you knew what you were looking at, Righetti’s mastery of his opponents, it was tedious to watch a game where, without any runs or hits for one team, it seemed nothing was happening. In effect, that’s what Mayweather did to Pacquiao: He threw a no-hitter, and against an exceptional opponent. Many of the fight’s many millions of viewers thought it was boring because they don’t quite understand what they watched.
The reaction to the fight suggests that some boxing fans believe the sport pits two guys in the middle of the ring to beat each other to a bloody pulp. To say that kind of fight is crowd-pleasing glosses over the fact that often what makes mobs happy is simply gratuitous violence and bloodshed. The big knock against Mayweather is that he doesn’t like to get hit, but this is in fact the point of boxing—to hit your opponent and not get hit. Still, it’s worth remembering that over the course of his nearly 20-year professional career Mayweather has traded punches with a number of big hitters.
In 2005, Mayweather fought Arturo Gatti, two years after the last of Gatti’s three epic bouts with Mickey Ward. To be sure, you can argue that Mayweather went up against a man still recovering from at least three wars, but he pummeled a fighter famous for his grit and stopped him in the sixth round. In 2007, Mayweather took on another brawler, Ricky Hatton, “The Hitman,” and in the 10th knocked him down with a check hook as the Brit bull-rushed him. In 2010, Shane Mosley buckled Mayweather’s knees with two big rights early on, but Floyd survived. What matters to Mayweather even more than money is winning, without which he doesn’t earn. He wins whatever way he can.
Boxers often fool themselves into slugging it out with brawlers to prove something to their critics and maybe themselves, like Sugar Ray Leonard did in his first fight with Roberto Duran. Mayweather wasn’t tempted to swap blows with Pacquiao—he boxed. The thing about technical skill and defense is that if they can help a fighter avoid big wars, the athlete escapes the kind of physical damage and mental anguish that slow recovery time and sap his confidence. In other words, if you don’t get hit, you can fight more, which is experience that translates into getting hit even less. Saturday’s fight shows that at the age of 38, Mayweather is still improving as a boxer. But it wasn’t just Mayweather’s defense that shut down Pacquiao.