This, the final week leading up to the epic bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, is no longer about monologues and machismo as it is travel and analysis.
When I interviewed Al Bernstein last week, he said Manny Pacquiao has to throw at least 800 punches to beat Mayweather. The Filipino dynamo is certainly capable of prodigious punch counts, but how many he lands means more than how many he throws.
Mayweather is legendarily stingy, the boxing equivalent of Greg Maddux in his prime. It’s not unusual for foes to land fewer than 20 percent of their punches on the pound-for-pound king, while Pac Man would need to land at least 35 percent to make his tornadic arsenal vaguely potent.
Between head movement and his famous shoulder-roll, Mayweather often has opponents gassed by the sixth round, at which point he picks the enemy apart with a sniper’s precision.
Pacquiao has also been vulnerable to counter-punchers, italicized by a stunning KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, a fight Pacquiao was dominating until he walked into the stout right hand.
The prevailing wisdom says Pacquiao has to overwhelm Mayweather with volume and power, especially during the early rounds, when the pensive champion is often measuring his enemy.
Conversely, Mayweather has to be, well, Mayweather. When you’re 47-0, it’s hard to parse a fighter’s flaws. Depending on whom you ask, Pacquiao is either the hardest test of Mayweather’s career, or perfectly contoured to be dismantled by Mayweather’s jab and lead right hand.
But no one disputes that Pacquiao is the most potent fighter Mayweather has faced. Cynics will assert that Pacquiao has lost more than a step based on his two relatively recent losses. But it’s essential to note that one of those fights, against Timothy Bradley, Pacquiao clearly won. He threw and landed way more punches, outscoring Bradley, 253-159 according to CompuBox.
And his other loss came in his fourth fight against Marquez. After nearly 40 rounds against a fighter of Marquez’s quality, you’re more exposed to the shot you don’t see coming. Some fighters, like Ali and Frazier before them, turn out to be each other’s eternal tormentor, despite any apparent disparity in size or skill.
So while Mayweather indeed vaporized Marquez, the ancient boxing maxim that styles make fights trumps any particular result. Otherwise, we can point to Pacquiao’s demolition of Miguel Cotto, while Mayweather struggled mightily against the Puerto Rican power puncher.
But no one disputes the colossal publicity this fight is giving the sport, the hype spreading like syrup across all media, even into outlets that don’t normally cover the sweet science. If you’ve watched the pre-fight reality shows, you’ll find a conga line of luminaries visiting both camps. Jeremy Lin and Mark Wahlberg have stopped by the Wild Card Gym to give Pacquiao a peek and a pound, while Tom Brady had a virtual face-to-face by phone with Mayweather, and even Katie Couric stepped into the ring to interview the loquacious champion. Then there are reports that Wahlberg and Diddy have a $250,000 wager on the bout.
Indeed, the fight is so naturally radiant that the two combatants didn’t go on the perfunctory, pre-fight tour. Normally the two boxers hopscotch the nation, glaring at each other at every dais, until a dozen or so cities have had a palpable taste of the tension between them.
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler refused to give me a prediction a few weeks ago, saying he needed to measure each man’s mojo when they were next to each other. But boxing is such today — way more about brands than boxers — that you won’t find the two bejeweled fighters anywhere near each other until they step into the same ring on Saturday.
At that point, the bout should be decidedly old school.