By Jason Keidel
So far, I’ve spoken to Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Deontay Wilder, Mark Breland, Bob Arum, Virgil Hunter, Leonard Ellerbe, and Freddy Roach, and I have yet to find a consensus on the mega fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao.
The ambiguity only adds to the mystery and mystique of the largest, most lucrative fight in history, on May 2. The fact that I can’t find homogeneity from just two people speaks to the dead-even, worldwide perspective.
When speaking from the heart, each person summons their bias and distills it into some form of assurance and machismo. But when forced to parse the particulars, to reach into the recesses, you won’t find one pundit who is absolutely sure of a particular outcome.
The world is leaning Mayweather, but hardly falling over with conviction. And it’s the safe call because Mayweather is the safer boxer. And by that I mean he’s more polished, more defensively acute, and more thoughtful. Pacquiao is an onslaught, a tornado, a tidal wave of weapons used for singular destruction. He has the more powerful and complete arsenal.
But Mayweather has all the tools, the defense, the jab, the maddening shoulder roll. And he’s the one who’s never lost a professional fight, which is an essential distinction.
Perhaps Pacquiao has put his past losses behind him. In the case of Timothy Bradley, that would be pretty facile, for he whipped Bradley twice, despite three blind judges giving him just the latter bout.
But what about Juan Manuel Marquez? Does a fighter ever, truly recover from the abject devastation of a one-punch knockout? There is no middle ground when you’re belly-down, face-buried in the blue canvas, millions watching in awe, adulation, and horror while the referee waves the white flag over your unconscious frame.
You won’t even find agreement on that. One fighter says you move on, stuff that memory in the folds of your mind. Yet Hagler told me it sticks like a spiritual burr to your soul, carried with you every time you step into the ring. Virgil Hunter says you can live with a loss as long as you know you gave it every cell you have.
A perfect metaphor for the confusion and clashing impulses over the fight, which will surely smash every monetary metric in the history of sports. This week, The New York Post reported that the fight could put as much as $180 million in Mayweather’s pocket, which probably means Manny Pacquiao could see well over $100 million. Not bad for the B-Side – as Mayweather often brands his boxing foes.
And even Las Vegas, the most objective arbiter of all, has nudged the needle closer to a coin toss. The fight opened with Mayweather at close to 3-to-1 favorite. But now the needle is nudged Pac Man’s way, making the Filipino fighter about a 2-to-1 underdog. But even a slight odds of disfavor are an incredibly rare role for the tornadic champion. And Vegas is never given to nostalgia. Those palatial casinos were built by stoicism, not impulsive or adolescent emotion.
What does this all mean?
Great for business. Hundreds of millions will not only be paid to the two iconic combatants, but you can double that number in wagers. The reason Vegas endures is because people love to gamble, legally or not. And very few of them bet with their heads over their hearts. Indeed, if told the average gambler to invert his bets over the next year, he would implore you to take a drug test.
But it would also improve his winning percentage exponentially. Bookies in the NYC area adore football season, and not because of logical or linear wagering, but rather because New Yorkers bet on Big Blue or Gang Green typically teenage myopia. Like Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook, the betting public really believes in a well-placed remote control and the karma of the properly worn jersey over injuries and tendencies.
And when it comes to Manny/Mayweather, there’s no emotional equivocation. You either adore the loquacious Mayweather, swathed in his Money Team attire, or you’re frowning from the periphery, praying to the deity that the next fighter will forever shutter his elastic tongue.
On the surface, Pacquiao is more likable, for sure. He’s got a more sunny disposition, is a family man, and isn’t prone to the gaseous assertions you’ll see from Floyd Mayweather Jr. Pacquiao is born-again, in and out of the ring. He doesn’t cuss, cavort, or quibble with the masses.
In the opposing corner, Mayweather is as polarizing as it gets, which gets him into some trouble, legally or otherwise, and has made his haters more vocal and vociferous than ever. But he’s also banked on his brand like no other athlete in history. No man, in any sport, has monetized his persona as Mayweather has.
Say what you will about his rancor or rap sheet but while you laugh at him he’s laughing all the way to the vault, which he has stuffed with the largest paydays in history.
And, yes, you who abhor him have contributed to his mansion, harem, and conga line of luxury cars. While he wears that black hat, he has cashed in on the illusion that he’s a monster, a career criminal, and a threat to hot dogs, apple pie, and Americana. Lost in the toxic feelings toward him is the immutable fact that he’s a boxing genius and brilliant businessman. But as long as you punch the PPV button on May 2, he doesn’t care what you think about him.
So this is a classic fight, by any measurement. Two men, their camps, and their fans, could not be more different. And that makes for fascinating theater. All we need now is for them to match it on fight night.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.