Better late than never

Floyd Mayweather’s and Manny Pacquiao’s welterweight title fight in Vegas on May 2 will exceed every popularity and financial record in boxing television history. Yet, for some, the long-anticipated matchup will only give a sense of half fulfillment.

The projected ratings and money expected to be raked in through pay-per-view purchases—and the prices to order the fight as a direct result of demand—have grown to an almost mythic status now. This has been a fight five years stubbornly delayed. In those five years, interest has exploded into worldwide fascination.

When Mayweather returned from a short-lived retirement in 2009 to beat Juan Marquez in a lopsided unanimous decision, Pacquiao was also solidifying himself as, at least, the No. 2 best fighter in the world. A couple of months after Mayweather’s win, Pacquiao knocked out Miguel Cotto and claimed the welterweight belt.

Mayweather-Pacquiao should have been the next logical fight for both parties, but quarrels over drug testing and the purse split have allowed legalities and unfair expectations, mostly Mayweather’s side, to prevent what could have been the two best athletes in any sport facing one another at the peak of their prime.

The only contemporary comparison that could come close is the Federer-Nadal rivalry (Nadal leads 23-10). The two are perhaps the greatest tennis players in the modern era who have, unlike their boxing counterparts, gone toe-to-toe many times throughout their careers.

But the level of hype for this fight is more along the lines of Ali’s and Frazier’s epic trilogy, spanning the first half of the 1970s. Lower weight divisions like welterweight now have surged onto the world stage as more appealing to fight fans. Consequently, the first half of this decade has been spent in waiting, allowing the suspense and allure to reach heights yet unseen in the sport.

Despite the buildup of interest in the event, the concomitant effect that has come with the loss of time is the loss of two great athletes’ primes. Yes, the fight is happening; but will it be as good as it could have been? Will it be what we all have wanted?

The 38-year-old Mayweather and 36-year-old Pacquiao are on the decline physically by boxing’s standards, though, they’ve both had the entire length of their careers to perfect their hallmark attributes as fighters.

Mayweather (47-0, 26 Kos) has been able to win titles in five weight classes because of the way he manipulates fights. He uses defensive skills like his phenomenal shoulder roll that enables him to capitalize on opponents’ weaknesses without having to be the aggressor.
There’s been talk of Pacquiao’s southpaw stance giving Mayweather problems, and Mayweather has been accused of dodging great lefties. But Mayweather’s last two fights against southpaw fighters—Robert Guerrero in 2013 and the infamous 2011 Victor Ortiz bout that ended in an unexpected knockout—were both handled well.

Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) has one of fastest sets of hands in boxing, and the sheer amount of punches he throws in a bout is staggering. He’s supplemented his aggression as an offensive fighter with footwork and agility to win titles in eight classes.

An all-time great trainer, Freddie Roach, will be in Pacquiao’s corner for the fight. He has spent the better part of his training career cultivating Pacquiao, and May 2 will provide the grandest of stages to showcase his fighter’s talents.
Mayweather is considered the favorite, holding over Pacquiao two-inch height and five-inch reach advantages. But more importantly, Mayweather has proven himself 47/47 times in the ring, and as he said in a recent statement, “He [Pacquiao] will be 48.

Although the reputation of this fight is already swathed in dragging legal battles and deferred opportunities, the surrounding intrigue caused by anticipation seems only to raise this same reputation.

Five years too late is better than never at all.