Floyd Mayweather, plainly diminished as a legend but still undefeated, got the unanimous decision but not the crowd’s acclaim when he outlasted Manny Pacquiao over 12 of the most demanding rounds of his long career to unite three of the world welterweight titles here in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Glenn Feldman of Connecticut saw it 116-112 and the Nevadans Burt Clements (Reno) and Dave Moretti (Las Vegas) awarded it 116-112 and 118-110 respectively, the latter a ludicrously one-sided appreciation of the action from this standpoint.
Mayweather now stands a single victory short of Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record. It would be most fitting if he and Pacquiao shared a ring again in his pursuit of that mark.
I gave it to Pacquiao by a point, but could hardly argue with the verdict overall. Mayweather expressed “respect” for his opponent – “a great champion”, he said. Pacquiao, unfailingly polite in defeat (even those he did not deserve) struggled to hide his disappointment.
“I was very surprised at the scores. I thought I hit him more than he hit me,” Pacquiao said.
It was not The Fight Of The Century, not in boxing terms, although there were several moments of extended drama and no little shining class from both fighters, however the boos that greeted Mayweather’s victory speech told a story of serious dissatisfaction beyond the ropes. Freddie Roach was not thrilled, either.
After shared introductions (HBO’s Michael Buffer – his booming voice muted by a sore throat, ironically – for Pacquiao, Showtime’s Jimmy Lennon Jr for Mayweather), they got down to it with the enthusiasm of schoolboys finally let loose from class.
This was the fight we had all waited for since they first started arguing in 2009. There was a universal sentiment that it would not disappoint. In some ways it did, in other ways it did not.
Mayweather, the counter-punching artist, threw and landed more than his buzzing opponent in an impressive start, a couple of lightning right leads winning the first round for him.
His boxing shone like his blindingly bright gloves and sparkling shorts, as he lived up to pre-fight predictions that he would not be as passive as in the past. The master boxer wanted a fight, it seemed.
“Manny! Manny!” echoed through the well-heeled crowd when the Filipino rocked his man on the ropes in the second, but Mayweather, sweated up and dangerous, struck again with viper-like efficiency.
The American, bigger but maybe not much stronger than his opponent, looked sharper than he has done for a little while, and Pacquiao, two years younger at 36, struggled to get a defining fix on him. This balance would shift over the course of the fight.
The contest came brilliantly to life in the fourth, when Pacquiao’s buzz-saw attacks to the body drew a dividend and Mayweather could do little more than cover-up on the ropes for three lengthy stretches. Three years ago, Pacquiao was having similar success against Juan Manuel Marquez when he ran on to a devastating right counter that left him flat on his face and unconscious. This time he backed off, satisfied that he had clearly won the round.
Mayweather has one of the best and most elusive chins in the sport and he recovered well to shade the fifth and restore a slight lead – at least on the Guardian’s scorecard.
The referee Kenny Bayless, the sport’s best but not on song tonight, ignored repeated grabbing and ducking low by Mayweather. Pacquiao, though, ignored the distractions and pounded artfully on his opponent’s ribs in the sixth when Floyd’s legs seemed to slow, as they had done in two fights against Marcus Maidana last year.
Entering the second half of an absorbing contest, there was nothing in it, but the greater concern seemed to be in the Mayweather corner, where the fighter’s father, Floyd Sr, became unusually agitated. Junior planted his 38-year-old feet and rocked Pacquiao with a long, hurtful right, but could only share the points when they resumed – again from this vantage point.
There were flaws in both fighters, Pacquiao, a pound lighter at the weigh-in and probably more than half a stone in deficit by fight time, did not carry the one-punch heft at 147lbs against this durable, if now more vulnerable, opponent. Mayweather’s legs looked as they’d been filled by cement.
It was becoming obvious by the minute, by the round, that more than 18 years of rigour as a prizefighter had taken its toll on Mayweather’s physical reserves; diligent and dedicated as he is, he was now paying the price for all that sacrifice in the gym. In the past, he had been able to take away the other fighter’s boxing with the sheer quality and menace of his counter-punching, but that process was reversed here in the middle stages as they approached the championship rounds. It was Pacquiao in control, his fury and aggression reaping their reward.
There now was a virus spreading in the Mayweather corner not seen before: panic. He had momentarily lost control of the fight and the boxing match. With two rounds left, it was Mayweather, not Pacquiao who needed a knockout (again, not according to the officials), something he had not done since cold-cocking Victor Ortiz four years and six fights ago.
“I always find a way,” Mayweather has said many times, but that way was proving difficult to find, his negativity and caution costing him dearly in close exchanges, his malfunctioning right hand not there for him. But he is a born fighter, and did enough to split the points in the 11th.
Still, I had him trailing going into the final round. Could he find a way? They did not just touch gloves before the concluding three minutes, they hugged. A Mayweather ruse, perhaps? Pacquiao observed before the fight that this was “a new Floyd Mayweather, a nicer man”.
In the closing seconds, Mayweather danced and postured, raising his right glove in knowing triumph. Did he know something? He always knows something.
On Saturday, he was not quite as nice as Pacquiao thought.
“I’m nearly 40 years old,” the palpably tired winner said. “I’ve been in this sport a long time, a champion 18 years. It’s time to hang ‘em up.”
Maybe not just yet – in case the casino and boxing suits are about to have a heart attack. He surely has one more heroic performance in him, as has Pacquiao, who said beforehand neither of them had “anywhere else to go”.
It should be easy enough to arrange. After all, they have had nearly six years of practice at it.
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell in Las Vegas, for theguardian.com on Sunday 3rd May 2015 06.42 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010