The day after the fight, as the two prizefighters in the middle of it all rested on their hundreds of millions, masses of fans nursed what appeared to be a boxing derived hangover. Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather had just inflicted a unanimous 12-round points defeat on Manny Pacquiao but the overwhelming sentiment appeared to be one of ‘what was that all about?’
Many felt let down by the lack of a climactic ending. They took to Twitter, disgusted that Mayweather won by “running away” and “dancing”. They were offended that the perceived “nice person” didn’t beat the “bad guy.” The divide was clear – casual fans felt the bout was a waste of time and ridiculously overpriced while the ostensibly hardcore fans respected the ring craft on display.
Mayweather clearly didn’t help with his post-fight comments. His shout out to Hublot – ‘the best watch in the world’ was seen as the final finger flip to the fans. That comment was booed, he was booed.
Frankly, though, it wasn’t going to be easy to get a popular result. After five years of stalled negotiations, nitpicking over contractual minutiae and finally when it all came together, the expectations from ‘the bout of the century’ were unmatchably lofty.
For the fight to match up to its billing, Mayweather needed to give up his style and be willing to get into a firefight. Pacquiao had to find a way past the impenetrable defence. Neither was going to happen at the MGM Grand Arena.
History of violence
The potential for violence is the fundamental basis for our fascination with combat sport. The knockdown gets people jumping off their seats. To go for a KO even at the cost of your own body is undeniably respected. As a sport that appeals to us in an atavistic way, the emotional forces in play are equally primal — honour and shame to name a few. An exciting (attacking) boxer is said to be a man of ‘honour’. In this context Mayweather’s counter-punching, supreme defensive skills and lateral movement was considered ‘shameful’.
But outside of pop psychology, there is a reason boxing is known as the ‘sweet science’. The savage face-off is as much chess and poker as a brawl, if not more so. When the point of the sport is inflicting harm on your opponent, avoiding injury is as essential a challenge as causing it.
Mayweather has never been one to buy into the theory that he had to take punches to – forget entertaining the fans – win a bout. In the days leading upto the fight he had questioned Muhammad Ali’s legendary rope-a-dope tactic in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ “So you gonna tell me that it’s cool to lay on the ropes and take punishment and let a man tire himself out from beating you and then he basically fatigued?”
The Las Vegas bout was classic Mayweather — 45 fighters in 47 bouts have gone into a contest confident in their game plan of beating him. None have. Pacquiao would join Robert Guerrero, Canelo Alvarez, and Oscar De La Hoya in being made to look old, slow, second rate. Mayweather controlled the tempo and the ring. His opponents are soon left chasing shadows, their swings ever wilder but only meeting air.
Mayweather has a pet quote he trots out every once in a while. “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t lie.” The statistics suggested far from hiding in a corner. Mayweather threw more punches, and landed 67 more than his opponent. But numbers are meaningless without context.
Perhaps part of what left a distaste was the inevitability of it all. In a recent interview, author Jonathan Gottschall described how much of the appeal of boxing lies in ‘the appeal of tragic storytelling’.
“Promoters introduce you to the characters, and they usually try to build up a story of conflict between the two fighters,” Gottschall says. “And then, as in almost all stories, you have a contest between the protagonist and the antagonist, depending on whom you happen to be rooting for. If your guy loses, it’s a tragedy.”
While the buildup to the fight had a sense of drama that had fans rooting either for or against him, Mayweather’s technical superiority left little doubt after the first round how the rest of the contest would unravel. Mayweather showed all the ruthlessness of a pack of hyenas on the hunt and, of course, has all of the likeability.
Fill in the blanks
At the end of it all, you perhaps felt the fight wasn’t complete. You may wish Mayweather was a bit more aggressive but you can’t argue with the fact that he wins fights. Surely in the sport he excels at, he earns the right to fight the way he likes. And if you look hard enough, it is easy to see the beauty in how Mayweather boxes. There is even gracefulness in how he dodges and fends off frenzied attacks. Just ask Pac Man.
Regardless of how fans may see him, Mayweather’s win means that, having beaten everyone there is to beat, there is little doubt about his legacy. Is he better than Sugar Ray Leonard or Roberto Duran? It’s hard to tell unless you somehow wrangle a pass to a boxing ring near the pearly gates.