By Eric Raskin
As opposite as they may be in many ways, from their personalities to their fighting stances, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather actually have quite a bit in common. They’re both rich and famous beyond any expectation they ever could have had. They’re both guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famers. They’ve both been boxing professionally since the mid 1990s and are now in the back half of their 30s. They’ve both held alphabet titles in every weight class from 130 to 154 pounds (with Pacquiao boasting a few lighter ones as well), and they’ve both held lineal titles in four divisions.
And they’ve both prevailed in fights against Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, and Shane Mosley.
After May 2, we’ll be able to compare Mayweather and Pacquiao based on direct evidence. Until then, the best we can do is infer based on indirect evidence. In other words, a comparison of their performances against common opponents is our most telling source. So here we’ll tap that source, analyzing all of the fights in question and determining whether Pacquiao or Mayweather gets the edge for each common opponent. (The opponents are listed in chronological order based on their first fight with either Mayweather or Pacquiao.)
OPPONENT: JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ
Pacquiao’s Results: Marquez proved to be Pacquiao’s toughest, trickiest rival, and it isn’t close. They fought four times, producing three Fight of the Year candidates, three controversial decisions, and one of the greatest knockouts of all-time. In their first fight, Pacquiao knocked Marquez down three times in the opening round, but Marquez called upon remarkable guts and guile to battle his way to a split draw. The second time around, Pac-Man won a split decision in another grueling fight. The third fight was less fulfilling for all involved, as Pacquiao won a controversial majority decision in a slightly slower paced bout. And in the fourth fight, Marquez finally got into the win column with a one-punch knockout in the sixth round, just when Pacquiao seemed on the verge of finishing him off.
Mayweather’s Result: Not nearly as much drama here. In his first fight back after a 21-month “retirement,” Mayweather schooled a puffed-up Marquez, a second-round knockdown powering him to a near-shutout decision win. Mayweather’s critics will point out that he chose not to pursue a knockout in the late rounds, but as sterling boxing displays against elite opponents go, this one is tough to top.
Edge: Although the pudgy version of Marquez that Mayweather fought in 2009 was probably a lesser fighter than the versions Pacquiao fought before or after, you still have to give the overwhelming edge to “Money.” Pacquiao had life and death with the guy for 42 rounds en route to a record of 2-1-1 that could arguably have been 1-3 or even 0-4; Mayweather never had to shift beyond second gear.
OPPONENT: OSCAR DE LA HOYA
Mayweather’s Result: This was the event that pushed Floyd from star to superstar, but his performance inside the ring was more “acceptable” than “exceptional.” Neither man succeeded in landing many clean punches and it was in could-go-either-way territory for about eight rounds, until the aging De La Hoya began to tire and stopped jabbing. Mayweather pulled away to win a split decision that probably should have been unanimous.
Pacquiao’s Result: Oscar had lost fights before, but never like this. Nineteen months after his close defeat to Mayweather, De La Hoya dropped back to welterweight for the first time in seven years and walked into the buzzsaw that was prime Pacquiao. Some predicted Manny, who fought at junior lightweight earlier that same year, would be too small, but instead he turned out to be too fast and too accurate, drubbing “The Golden Boy” for eight rounds until De La Hoya surrendered in the corner, never to fight again.
Edge: Mayweather fans can rightly argue that Pacquiao took on an older De La Hoya who ruined himself making weight. But that case isn’t strong enough to outweigh the fact that Pac-Man annihilated a fighter Mayweather eked past. And for what it’s worth, Mayweather was a slight favorite to beat Oscar, whereas Manny was perceived as a substantial underdog. The edge goes to the guy who exceeded expectations and finished the job, not the guy who met expectations and heard a scorecard in his opponent’s favor.
OPPONENT: RICKY HATTON
Mayweather’s Result: As a follow-up to his win over De La Hoya, Floyd kept the PPV train rolling with a battle of unbeatens against the beloved British “Hitman” and scored a rare knockout. It took Mayweather a few rounds to adjust to Hatton’s swarming, energetic, mauling style, but once he did, it became one-way traffic, culminating with a check-hook that propelled Hatton WWE-style into the turnbuckle pad. A few punches later, Mayweather had a 10th-round TKO win.
Pacquiao’s Result: Hatton had rebuilt from the Mayweather loss with lopsided wins over Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi, only to get wrecking-balled by probably the best version of Pacquiao we’ve ever seen. Pac-Man dropped him twice in the first round, and just when it seemed like Hatton was starting to get his legs back, the Filipino iced him with a perfect left hand with one second remaining in round two.
Edge: Again, Mayweather fought Hatton first and a case could be made that he softened the Brit up. But that doesn’t fully account for the violent mismatch Pacquiao-Hatton turned out to be. It was largely stylistic—Mayweather is not a seek-and-destroy fighter who blows people out in two rounds—but you still have to give Pacquiao the edge. Watch his KO of Hatton again if you need convincing.
OPPONENT: MIGUEL COTTO
Pacquiao’s Result: Riding the momentum of destructive wins over De La Hoya and Hatton, Pacquiao took on the younger, stronger Cotto and danced through the danger to detonate and dazzle. The first few rounds featured sensational back-and-forth action, but Pac-Man took over with knockdowns in both the third and fourth and doled out a frightful beating until the fight was stopped 55 seconds into round 12.
Mayweather’s Result: While he won by comfortable scores of 117-111 (twice) and 118-110, the fight was anything but comfortable for Money May. Cotto’s aggression and fearlessness, combined with Mayweather’s seemingly heavier legs, made for an entertaining 12-round chore for the usually untouchable pound-for-pound king. Nevertheless, Floyd finished strong, hurting Cotto in the 12th to put an exclamation point on a hard-earned victory.
Edge: Since Pacquiao got to Cotto first, you can’t chalk this one up to Floyd softening up the Puerto Rican badass. You can, however, wonder if Cotto was fighting at too low a weight and hadn’t yet shaken off the effects of his infamous TKO loss to Antonio Margarito. So it’s up for debate whether Pacquiao or Mayweather beat the better version of Cotto. What isn’t up for debate is that Pacquiao beat him up far more convincingly. It’s another verdict in favor of Pac-Man.
OPPONENT: SHANE MOSLEY
Mayweather’s Result: “Sugar Shane” produced the scariest moment of Mayweather’s 47-fight career, but the rest of the production belonged to Floyd. Mosley hurt him with a pair of right hands in round two, the second one causing a pronounced knee dip. Mayweather proceeded to bite down and take the older man apart over the remaining 10 rounds to win a lopsided decision. Despite being hurt, Mayweather chose to play the role of aggressor, and it suited him so well that we were left to wonder why he employs that approach so rarely.
Pacquiao’s Result: This was one of Pacquiao’s most disappointing performances, as he carried a washed-up Mosley for 12 uninspired rounds after it seemed an early knockout win was there for the taking. Manny dropped Sugar Shane in round three, only to let him off the hook and settle for a shutout decision win. The fight is remembered more for the amiable boxers touching gloves excessively than for any glove-on-face contact.
Edge: Although you might think Pacquiao has the edge based on Mosley scrambling Mayweather’s brains briefly in round two, the edge actually belongs to Mayweather for the way he responded to that moment of peril. He beat a less cooked version of Mosley and, for the most part, looked better doing it.