By Jason Keidel
Here we are, a fortnight until fight night.
And the palpable pomp is only building. There are so many physical and metaphysical factors that go into a big boxing match. And the hyperbole is hardly lacking leading up to the most lucrative match in boxing history, between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao on May 2.
But what is odd is where most of the noise is originating, and where it isn’t.
The odd modesty from Team Mayweather is deafening. From Leonard Ellerbe to Floyd’s father to Floyd himself, the most bejeweled and loquacious boxing camp on earth is cruising the high road to the MGM Grand.
Which makes the machismo from Pacquiao’s camp all the more jarring. Pacquiao has sniped from the safe distance of his camp in California, doing his best to expose all of Floyd’s personal flaws, while Floyd has talked in diplomatic tones about excitement and boilerplate mantras about his hard work. Everyone on the Money Team is muted, which has flipped the pre-fight hype upside down.
And the man with the most caustic tongue has been Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, mentor, and mouthpiece for the last month.
Roach has never been shy or contrite about himself or his fighters. But Roach seems to take a special delight in this fight, and this opponent. Roach has freestyled on a wide palate of topics, and told me personally that Pacquiao, for the first time in his career, dislikes his opponent. So this is personal on several levels.
Roach sees May 2 as more than a bout but also a ballot box on class and ethics. Beating Mayweather would do more than consolidate the pound-for-pound crown; it would also be a cosmic nod to nobility.
One of the perks of covering this fight for CBS is all the pre-fight quips emailed to us from each team’s PR people. And while we’re accustomed to Mayweather ducking into his conga line of luxury cars, clapping stacks of cash, and trotting around his mansion with all manner of exotic women, it’s been Roach who’s bogarted the bold ink.
Roach has called Mayweather “Flipper” for posting a video of himself while swimming. Roach has also branded Maywather “Mr. 47-1,” while assuring us the media and masses that Rocky Marciano’s iconic, 49-0 record will remain intact.
Camp Pac Man has chided Mayweather for his notorious tardiness, making the press wait 90 minutes to witness a public workout this week. Pacquiao was on time, on point, and quick to point that out to us.
For all his warts, Mayweather is no fool. He knows that a public, pyrotechnic battle with Roach is a losing one. Roach has long suffered from physical maladies, often struggling to calm his trembling hands, his speech not as fluent or audible as he would surely like.
Mayweather would come across as a bully while trading barbs with the Hall-of-Fame trainer. Mayweather may not mind wearing the black hat in the name of commerce, but there’s nothing to be gained by taking pot shots at Pacquiao’s long-suffering consigliere.
You get the sense that this means more to Roach than anyone. If anyone understands the economy of energy, it’s Roach, who has spent the last 15 years tweaking and retooling Pacquiao’s myriad modalities.
The beauty of boxing is not just the artistic barbarism, the singular, athletic aesthetic of two men literally fighting for their lives and livelihoods. It’s the fact that the words must be backed by deeds. No team or teammate can cloak a fighter’s flaws once the bell rings.
Being shirtless, in trunks and shoes, is more than a physical display. It’s a metaphor, the final destination of all the road work, the crucible of combat, where you’re either empowered or exposed, based entirely on your preparation.
Freddie Roach has fought just as many battles outside the ring, if not more. Let’s see if his star pupil has one more great performance left, cementing two legacies in one night, in one fight.
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.