Who Takes It? Floyd Mayweather Jr vs. Manny Pacquiao

“Two legends, one destiny. All roads lead to here.”

So goes the promotional spot for tomorrow night’s showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao. It’s a bout five years in the making, a pairing of the two greatest boxers of this generation.

It’s not just hype to call these two legends, who will meet at welterweight tomorrow at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr, has become boxing’s all-time PPV king in recent years, tallying 47 straight wins with his defensive style. The Michigan native has enjoyed an umblemished record over a nearly 20-year professional career, recently almost exclusively in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas. He has been puzzle it seems no one can solve: using at-times impossibly fluid movement, — rolling his shoulder, and slipping his head away from danger, landing quick counter punches to earn one victory after another.

The fighting pride of the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao, has earned a 57-5-2 record, becoming not just the greatest boxer, but the greatest worldwide figure in his native land’s history; hailed as the best fighter of the decade by boxing journalists. He has developed a style all his own, as well — but rather than Mayweather’s defensive, counter-punching shell, it’s one of rapid, damaging hands from unorthodox positions and crafty angles.

In fact, British fight analyst Jack Slack notably described the man Filipinos call “Ang Pambansang Kamao” (“the nation’s fist”) as “the man who reinvented boxing” in a memorable piece last year:

I hope that Manny Pacquiao will be remembered for the paradigm shift in strategy and technique which he brought to the boxing world. There has never been a southpaw as adept in the use of angles to create punching opportunities as Pacquiao. There might not have been any boxer to date with the same understanding and discipline in footwork.

On the other hand, for many the hype for this “mega-fight” falls flat — as the bout has been sadly described as a question of who has deteriorated the most: the 38 year old Mayweather, or the 36 year old Pacquaio. The bout, which was seen as “can’t miss” five years ago, has lost at least some of its luster.

Controversies surround the fight as well. Many in the fight-sport scene, which just saw the suspension of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones surrounding legal issues, finds it unacceptable to see Mayweather continue to be in the spotlight after his own out-of-the-ring controversies. Mayweather’s rap sheet includes several misdemeanor battery charges, including a jail term in 2011.

Me? I made the decision to watch the bout. I’m not as excited as some, partly out of conscience and partly because I know both have their best days, as fighters, behind them.

Watching the two in recent action was supposed to get me excited for it, but it just didn’t help.

Floyd’s last bout was a listless affair against Marcos Maidana last year. Mayweather successfully navigated his preferred huge (rumored to be 26′ by 26′) ring, landing occasional counters and jabs. Also coming into play was referee Kenny Bayless, who was quick to halt the action as the two tangled in a clinch.

Marcos, unable to force Mayweather to the ropes or get dirty in the clinches (as he had in their first, and closer, encounter earlier in 2014) struggled to win a round. Mayweather’s undefeated record remained intact.

Still, he just didn’t seem the rapid Mayweather who earned wins against the likes of another quick southpaw in Zab Judah back in 2006, or even Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2013.

During the Maidana bout, commentator Mauro Ranallo recalled the words of Oscar de la Hoya, who faced Mayweather back in 2007 in what was the biggest PPV of all time.

“You need to lower your hands and get to the body — and impose your will,” De La Hoya said. “Someone bigger, with quick hands can beat Mayweather, but you’ve got to be a bully.”

A “bully” is something Pacquiao hasn’t been in recent years; in fact, he has failed to score a knockout since 2010.

But then, Mayweather hasn’t stopped many opponents either.

In his autobiography American Son, De La Hoya wrote that he felt he was winning his own bout with Mayweather in 2007 until he abandoned his jab due to a shoulder injury. He was particularly unimpressed with Mayweather’s punching power.

“I don’t know how he knocked out Ricky Hatton,” De La Hoya wrote in the book, which was published in 2008. “I really don’t.”

Later, of course, De La Hoya would fight Pacquiao, with disastrous results. That night, a young dynamo in Pacquiao beat up a dehydrated and aged former champion in De La Hoya, who looked positively awful until the towel was mercifully thrown in.

Pacquiao still hits hard but can he move as he once did?

Looking over recent film, my answer is no.

In his best recent performance, Pacquiao was able to wear down Tim Bradley in their rematch, as Bradley tried to trade blow-for-blow with the Filipino slugger in early rounds and appeared increasingly shaken as the bout wore on. Bradley found himself trapped against the ropes, absorbing four-punch combinations which made Pacquaio a star years ago.

It’s unlikely Mayweather will do that, though. He still appears to have the edge in his footwork, and this will prove key tomorrow.

Simply put, neither man is who they once were. But then, neither has seen an opponent quite like they will face tomorrow either. That hasn’t changed.

Five years ago, I was confident that Mayweather would defeat Pacquiao, who has proven to struggle with counter-punchers — most notably, Juan Manuel Marquez. Today, I still think he has the edge, if not by much.

Also, I’m expecting the intangibles to favor Mayweather, from the officiating style of the referee (Bayless, again) to the size of the ring.

Look for Mayweather to use his full arsenal tomorrow — mixing in a jab to the body with the straight right lead, along with clinching a-plenty. Pacquaio is still a step ahead of any recent Mayweather opponent, so expect his combination of hand and foot speed to earn about four of the twelve rounds… but not quite enough.

It will be close, but the prediction here is that it will end in a frustrated Manny Pacquaio losing a unanimous decision.

As always, enjoy the fights.