It has been a long time since a boxing match has attracted as much attention in the broader sporting world as this weekend’s bout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather – so long, in fact, that a whole generation of fans has grown up without much experience in watching the fights. All this week, sociologist Lucia Trimbur has been fielding questions from friends, colleagues, and students about how to watch the match. Author of an acclaimed study of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, where she laced up the gloves herself, the boxing scholar passes along her tips for the main event.
First of all, here’s a general piece of advice for watching boxing. One of the most fun parts of watching the sport is to judge the rounds yourself. When you do, keep this in mind: if you were in the ring, who would you rather be – Mayweather or Pacquiao? Forcing yourself into the position of one of the fighters and identifying your opponent usually helps clarify who has been stronger in the past three minutes. Both athletes have big personalities and attract a lot of media attention outside the ring. It is tempting to let their personal lives influence how we see them in the ring. But remember that punches not personalities take rounds. So here is the first rule for following a match: Clean punches win rounds.
As for the judges who will actually decide the match, remember tip number two: There is home advantage in boxing, and it means something. Some commentators contend that because a Pacquiao victory would warrant a rematch, the judges will be harder on Mayweather in their scoring. However, Mayweather has been pretty clear that he is going to retire (again) in late 2015. He has only two fights left on his Showtime/CBS contract and would be resistant to a rematch even if he loses. More importantly, he makes both Las Vegas and the Nevada State Athletic Commission a lot of money. Because Mayweather is such a big revenue generator for Vegas, my opinion is that home advantage goes to him. Pacquiao will have to beat Mayweather decisively to get the win from the judges.
When the bell sounds to start the fight, don’t be fooled in the early rounds: Floyd Mayweather can be a late starter. Depending on the aggressiveness of his opponent, Mayweather takes the first rounds of the fight to analyze the situation. This is not a sign of weakness. It is just the opposite. Mayweather is assessing where and how to make adjustments, which he does often and does incredibly well. Mayweather is one of the smartest and most tactical boxers in the sport, while Pacquiao is an aggressive fighter. Depending on Pacquiao’s strategy – which, trainer Freddie Roach boasts, has been over eight years in the making but is a mystery to the rest of us – Mayweather will likely be less active in the early rounds, slowly building up.
Mayweather is also a counter puncher. He is most comfortable on the ropes, where he can lure his opponents to meet a flurry of devastating punches. He is difficult to hit because his footwork and head movement are so skilled. And Mayweather enjoys a long reach and short torso, which makes landing body shots a challenge. Look to Pacquiao to throw two-punch combinations and get out of Mayweather’s reach before Mayweather can throw him off balance and impart his signature combinations. To win the fight, Pacquiao will have to stay active the entire fight. But he also has to be careful about how he stays active because of Mayweather’s boxing style.
In contrast, when watching Manny Pacquiao, remember: he is a southpaw. I don’t anticipate that this will give Mayweather too much trouble, as he has fought other southpaws with success and no doubt trained with a left-handed sparring partner. But southpaws are confusing to orthodox pugilists. Again, it might take Mayweather a few rounds to figure him how Pacquiao uses both hands.
Pacquiao is very strong, and he hits very hard. Pacquiao moves around the ring so quickly that it is not always clear how fiercely he is hitting. But his punches pack tremendous power. When Pacquiao fought Juan Manuel Marquez the first time, for example, he shocked his opponent with his force, even dropping Marquez before Marquez could adapt. However, Pacquiao is not a boxer in the traditional sense. When he has defeated bigger opponents (like Mayweather is), he won by landing one destructive blow and knocking them out. I don’t think he will catch Mayweather with one of those gusts, as he hasn’t knocked anyone out since in 2009. But nothing is out of the question.
And lastly, a warning: You might get bummed out. This is the Fight of the Century. Yes, it is only 15 years into said century, but that is a lot of pressure for any athletic event. There has been so much hype around this fight that it is nearly impossible for the pugilists to live up to what the superstructure of boxing has promised us. It is imaginable that this fight will be uneventful, which is a sign of a skilled match, or wickedly lopsided, which will be hugely disappointing.
I anticipate that we will see a lot of counterpunching by Mayweather, and if Pacquiao cannot make modifications, he will get beaten up. Pacquiao will win one or two rounds in the beginning because of number of punches he throws but after that, Floyd will dominate. Prepare yourself in advance for this disenchanting eventuality.
My money is on Mayweather. His strength is Pacquiao’s weakness. But whatever you think, let’s get ready to rumble!
Lucia Trimbur is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She is author of Come Out Swinging: The Changing World of Boxing in Gleason’s Gym. Lucia is on Twitter at @lbmnemosyne.