If ever a fight will ever seize the attention of the 21st Century sports fan, it is Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Financially, it is expected to shatter all records for combat sports in terms of live gate, prices for tickets and pay-per-view access as well as PPV viewership.
But while the pomp and circumstance will rival anything that “The Sweet Science” ever will produce, the big question now is will the fight itself will live up to the globe-stopping hype? Frazier-Ali I and Leonard-Hearns I certainly did while Louis-Schmeling II delivered a massive geopolitical message, but others have fallen far short of expectations. No one expects Mayweather-Pacquiao to approach Hagler-Hearns for intensity but if Pacquiao manages to draw “Money” out of his protective wallet it might be a worthy event that could catapult boxing into a higher realm on the sports landscape.
Many questions surround this mega-fight and the statistics could provide some clues as to how the combat will unfold:
The conventional wisdom suggests that Pacquiao must produce a fast start in order to create an early lead and force Mayweather to play catch-up. At 36, is Pacquiao still capable of doing that?
In Pacquiao’s last 12 fights he has averaged 65.5 punches per round, above the 58.3 welterweight norm and way more than the 39.5 Mayweather has averaged in his last 13 outings. Of his last seven fights, Pacquiao has faced boxers, stylists or speed-oriented boxer-punchers on six occasions – Chris Algieri, Timothy Bradley (twice), Juan Manuel Marquez (twice) and Shane Mosley. The round-by-round breakdowns offer the following regarding Pacquiao’s early output:
Vs. Algieri – 39 punches in round one, 52.5 punches per round in the first four.
Vs. Bradley II – 44 punches in round one, 48.75 punches per round in the first four.
Vs. Marquez IV – 56 punches in round one, 42.75 punches per round in the first four.
Vs. Bradley I – 42 punches in round one, 52.5 punches per round in the first four.
Vs. Marquez III – 38 punches in round one, 45 punches per round in the first four.
Vs. Shane Mosley – 37 punches in round one, 49.5 punches per round in the first four.
Six-Fight Average – 42.67 punches in round one, 48.5 punches per round in the first four.
Contrast those numbers to what Pacquiao did against Brandon Rios, the only pure aggressor he has faced in his last seven fights – 54 punches in round one and 67 punches
per round in the first four. However, not all is lost for Pacquiao fans, for while he started more slowly than what his fans would wish, he picked up steam in rounds 7-12:
Vs. Algieri – 59.3 punches per round, topped off at 73 in the final round.
Vs. Bradley II – 45.5 punches per round, topped off at 75 in round seven,
Vs. Bradley I – 69.6 punches per round, topped off at 94 in rounds nine.
Vs. Marquez III – 51.2 punches per round, topped off at 70 in round nine.
Vs. Mosley – 70.3 punches per round, topped of at 80 in round 10.
Five-fight average – 59.2 punches per round, average top output 78.4
In rounds 7-12 against Rios, Pacquiao averaged 66 punches per round and topped off at 76 in round seven.
So if Pacquiao does get off to a slower-than-hoped start against Mayweather, there is reason to believe that the Filipino has a strong enough mind to keep coming -- and keep coming at a quicker and more intense rate. Thus, Mayweather will need an equally strong self-belief to not get discouraged by Pacquiao’s lack of discouragement.
How has Mayweather fared in the last five fights against southpaw opponents in comparison to how he did against right-handers during that period?
Of course, all of Mayweather’s fights have ended in victory but unlike most fighters his success hasn’t been negatively affected by an opponent’s stance. His five fights against lefties – DeMarcus Corley, Sharmba Mitchell, Zab Judah, Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero – spanned nine years but unlike most fighters his numerical fate wasn’t affected by his opponents’ stance:
Mayweather: 42.3 punches per round, 43.2% overall, 26.2% jabs, 52% power
Opponents: 46.6 punches per round, 19.1% overall, 10.3% jabs, 27% power
Here are Mayweather’s numbers against the last nine right-handers he has faced
Mayweather: 39.5 punches per round, 44% overall, 37.6% jabs, 49.7% power
Opponents: 48.4 punches per round, 19.4% overall, 14% jabs, 23% power
As you can see, the only diminution of Mayweather’s numbers was his jab percentage, but the 26.2% figure against lefties is still far above the 22.5% welterweight average. In fact, Mayweather landed a higher percentage of power shots – presumably the right hand down the middle – than he did against the righties, and the left-handers had a tougher time landing their power punches on Mayweather. If Pacquiao is to win, he’ll need to reverse that trend.
One bit of hope for Pacquiao: In the first four rounds, Zab Judah landed 57% of his 44 power punches and scored an unofficial knockdown with a right hook in round two. Surprisingly, Mayweather turned the fight around not by shifting into survival mode, but by coming forward, banging the body with both hands and landing straight rights down the middle. The results were dramatic: In rounds 5-8 Mayweather out-landed Judah 80-33 and landed 52% of his punches while limiting Judah to 20%. That lack of success may well have pushed Judah into sparking the riot that erupted in round 10. And who was the calmest man in the building amidst all the chaos? Floyd Mayweather Jr.
What do recent trends suggest?
For Mayweather the two Maidana fights are instructive as far as how he would fare against Pacquiao’s expected volume. He responded by being even more economical than usual; he threw 25% fewer punches per round in the two Maidana fights (31.3) than he did in his previous 11 bouts (41.2) but he still managed to land virtually the same number of punches per round (16.5 in the two Maidana fights, 17.3 in the previous 11) thanks to his diamond-cutter quality accuracy (53% overall, 39% jabs, 62% power in the Maidana fights; 42% overall, 35% jabs, 48% power in the previous 11). Mayweather's +24 plus/minus rating is #1 among all current championship caliber fighters. He's also landed 50% of his power shots in his last 13 fights, also #1 among CompuBox's Categorical Leaders.
But could there be some slippage? In their first fight, Maidana landed more punches (221) and power shots (185) than any previous Mayweather opponent. In addition, Maidana landed more than twice as many power punches per round in their two fights (11.3) than Mayweather's previous 11 opponents (5.5). Floyd's trigger may also be slowing down: His high-water mark in terms of output in the two Maidana fights was 51 in round seven of fight one and he hasn't thrown more than 54 punches in a single round in his last four outings (round eight vs. Guerrero). Compare those numbers to what he did against Cotto: 60 punches or more in five of the 12 rounds. Did the Cotto fight take more of a toll on Mayweather than we all think?
Pacquiao has also experienced a recent slowdown. Pacquiao, known for his vigorous trigger, averaged 13 fewer punches (56.2) and four fewer connects per round (19.7) than in his previous nine (69.4 thrown, 23.9 landed). But just like Floyd, Manny has been more efficient as of late (35% overall, 19% jabs, 46% power in his last three; 34% overall, 15% jabs, 47% power) so his drop-off in activity hasn't compromised his effectiveness. Pacquiao's landed 19 power shots per round in his last 12 fights, #2 among CompuBox Categorical Leaders (SantaCruz -23)
But, like Mayweather, his defensive reflexes -- at least in terms of reacting to power shots -- has diminished somewhat. Pacquiao's last three opponents have landed more of their hooks crosses and uppercuts (37.1%) than his previous nine (33.4%). However, Pacquiao is defending the jab much better (10.9% in his last three fights vs. 17.1% in the previous nine) and thus Pacquiao has a slightly better overall defensive number in his last three bouts than in his last nine (24.2% vs. 24.7%).
Prediction: Mayweather hasn't faced a single fighter with Pacquiao's blend of volume, left-handedness and power in his 47-fight career and that blend will virtually guarantee a compelling spectacle in the early rounds, if not the entire fight. Pacquiao, on the other hand, has faced plenty of stylists as of late but not one that has the ring IQ of Mayweather. Even at their advanced ages, both men are gym rats of the highest order so Father Time likely won't have much of a say in the matter.
Pacquiao fans can take heart that Mayweather can be caught with southpaw right hooks and Pacquiao's is among the best. Also, Pacquiao has wanted this fight for years while Mayweather has radiated hesitancy throughout the drawn-out build-up. Plus, despite the fight being in Mayweather's hometown of Las Vegas, the MGM Grand will be a Pacquiao crowd. To win, Pacquiao must give that crowd a reason to cheer early and often to establish a potential winning wave of momentum.
The definitive point of separation between the two is that Mayweather, the naturally bigger and stronger man, also has more ways to win than Pacquiao does. We all know Mayweather can box but he showed against Judah that he can use smart aggression and body punching to break down opponents over time. He also can crack when he needs to, and the Marquez KO showed that Pacquiao can be nailed by punches he doesn't see coming. And Floyd proved in his fight with Marquez that he is much faster and smarter than the Mexican icon.
Both will be primed and both will do their best to be their best. But while Pacquiao has plenty of tools at his disposal, he can only win by doing for 12 rounds what Maidana did for the first six rounds of their fight. At age 36, it is doubtful that Pacquiao can maintain that activity level throughout an entire 12 rounder. While Pacquiao might start well, Floyd's science eventually will take over. Mayweather by hard-fought decision.