By Kieran Mulvaney
Just like that, after years of speculation and months of fevered build-up, it was all over. Last Saturday night, Floyd Mayweather comfortably outpointed Manny Pacquiao to establish himself definitively as the number one boxer of his era in what was, for many of those who tuned in, a disappointingly one-sided exhibition of not being hit, with a cursory side order of hitting.
But for all that, there was no shortage of intrigue and tension, not only before and after but actually during the contest itself. Halfway through, there was genuine uncertainty about who would prevail; Mayweather clearly appeared the superior boxer, but strong Pacquiao attacks in rounds four and six suggested that the Filipino could yet find a way to victory. There was even a point at which Mayweather’s father and trainer exhorted him to change what he was doing. And certainly, the subsequent post-mortems have raised plenty of questions that merit a second look. And there’ll be an opportunity to give them that second look on Saturday night, when HBO re-airs the bout as part of its World Championship Boxing broadcast, headlined by Saul Canelo Alvarez taking on James Kirkland (HBO, 9PM ET/PT). Here are five things worthy of close attention during that re-broadcast:
• Watch the Fight Get Away from Pacquiao
As mentioned above, halfway through the contest, Pacquiao appeared to be in the fight. In fact, the previous three rounds included his two strongest of the night. It looked as if he was figuring out Mayweather and finding a way to close the space between them. When Mayweather retreated to the ropes, Pacquiao – without being careless – looked to unleash fierce flurries that at least scored points, even if not all the punches landed squarely on target. But by round 10, when Mayweather was in a corner, Pacquiao was hesitant to throw any punches at all, and as he stood there, paralyzed by indecision, Mayweather slipped away out of harm’s reach. Even though there’s an argument to be made that Pacquiao might have won one or even two of the interim rounds (see below), the fight was clearly slipping inexorably away from him by then. What happened? Pacquiao said at the post-fight presser, "I really felt the pain in my shoulder. When I threw a lot of punches in combinations, I backed off because it hurt." Was that a valid explanation, or more of an excuse?
• The Performance of the Corners
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach stated confidently beforehand that he had been studying Mayweather and his style for over five and a half years. Yet, when the big fight finally arrived, Pacquiao appeared to not only have no Plan B, but not much of a Plan A, either. How did Roach respond in the corner between rounds? Did he show the appropriate degree of urgency, or did his approach reflect Pacquiao’s post-fight belief that he had won? Meanwhile, how did Mayweather Sr. motivate his son to increase his effort and ensure victory?
• Mayweather’s Jab and Use of Space
This was the key to the fight, especially over the second half. Pay attention to how Mayweather used his jab to keep Pacquiao at a distance; it’s hard enough to hit Mayweather at the best of times, but by keeping Pacquiao at bay, the American forced his opponent to have to close the gap, by which time Mayweather had moved to another spot. And when the openings were there, Mayweather met an onrushing Pacquiao with left hooks and straight right hands to discourage him for making any aggressive moves. Pacquiao became worn out and confused simply from trying to catch Mayweather; it may not have been as exciting as many wanted, but it was a masterful piece of ring generalship.
• Close Rounds
Apart from Pacquiao himself, probably only Evander Holyfield publicly expressed a belief that the fighting Congressman from Sarangani Province had won the bout. Some rounds were clear for one combatant or another, a few – notably rounds 3, 8, 10 and 12 – were a little harder to judge. Is it possible upon review to come up with a score for Pacquiao that was more generous than the official cards?
• Could Mayweather Have Closed the Show?
Part of the frustration from some observers was not only that Pacquiao was so ineffective over the second half in particular. It was that Mayweather, although clearly dominant, chose not to engage but to avoid Pacquiao’s charges, land counters, and move out of range again. At one point, Mayweather Sr. encouraged him to knock Pacquiao out. Does it look like he could have? Was Pacquiao ready to be taken in the closing rounds, or did Mayweather adopt the most sensible strategy en route to a clear win?