Opinionista Gushwell Brooks 4 May 2015

‘The fight of the century’? What a letdown!

After having defeated the Filipino boxing legend ‘Pacman’ Manny Pacquiao – the first and only man to be an eight-division world champion who has won ten world titles – in the most hyped-up and anticipated sporting event in the last decade, Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather has reason to consider himself one of the greatest boxers of all time. But with names like Marciano, Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Ali alongside, Mayweather has tough competition for the honour of greatest fighter of all time.

Mayweather has a 48-without-loss professional career, is a five-division world champion, has won eleven world titles and has the lineal championship in four different weight classes. He is the reigning WBC, WBA and ring welterweight champion, yet there is still merit in interrogating the claim that he is the greatest.

In response to Mayweather’s tall claims, specifically his claims that he is greater than the biggest motormouth in sports history, Muhammed Ali, Mike Tyson had the following to say to the Undisputed Champion Network: “He’s very delusional… Listen, if he was anywhere near that realm of great Ali, he’d be able to take his kids to school by himself. He can’t take his kids to school by himself and he’s [saying that] he’s great? Greatness is not guarding yourself from the people, greatness is being accepted by the people…He’s a little scared man; he’s a very small, scared man.”

In what was touted as the bout of the century, Mayweather certainly didn’t exude greatness in the ring. He won the fight; he is a great tactician, smart on his toes, uses his jabs effectively and is as slippery as a live fish hauled out of the water; but what we saw late on the night of 2 May 2015 was anything but greatness. Evasiveness and chicken-shit won the day; smart moves by a shrewd and smart man that turned boxing into a multimillion dollar business for himself, rather than a test of toe-to-toe competition.

Amidst the trappings of wealth, a multi-million dollar mansion, a Red Ferrari Enzo (F60), Rolls Royce and a fleet of Bugatti Veyrons, Mayweather, in a recent interview with ESPN (leading up to the big night at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas) could only point to his comparably superior future financial security when asked whether he feared and respected Pacquiao. With an expected minimum $120 million pay-out and with the title as the highest-earning sportsperson, it is not difficult to see how Mayweather has earned the nickname ‘Money’.

Fame and fortune, however, do not make the man. With five different women having accused Mayweather of assault, in some instances in front of his children, and his guilty plea to a deal that spared him felony charges for domestic violence, resulting in his serving two months of a three-month sentence, many wanted to see Mayweather fed mouthfuls of humble pie, flavoured with Pacman’s fists.

The crowd booed at Mayweather at the weigh-in, chanted “Manny, Manny!” heckled and taunted Mayweather at the end of the fight – he was no crowd favourite.

Yet it is not just one of the men that left a bitter taste on the palate, but the fight itself.

The first two rounds went to Mayweather. His signature defensive approach was substituted with his quickly taking the fight to Pacman. A few thunderous jabs and hooks rang Pacquiao’s bell and clearly left him shaken. Pacquiao was out of sorts; his and his team’s analysis leading up to the fight would have told them that Mayweather was defensive and elusive, capitalising on taking advantage of an opponent’s poor guard as he got frustrated with being unable to land a punch against the ever-weaving and bobbing Mayweather.

Pacquiao’s plan was clearly to take it to the distance, not to be drawn in, to drag the fight out as much as possible and land as many punches as he could. Rather than being his usual pit-bull self, with a full frontal attack, the Filipino’s plan was to approach his opponent meticulously and deliberately. But this plan was scuppered within the first two rounds, and Pacman had to return to the drawing board.

Rather than continue in this vein, Mayweather returned to round three, his old self. He bobbed, weaved and ran from Pacquiao. Pacman, however, held it together, playing Mayweather’s game and only occasionally closing in for the combination punches that would yield results. He obviously hurt Mayweather on occasion, his flurry of punches working their way up Mayweather’s torso towards his head as he ducked into thunderous blows. It was early in the fight though and this was going to be the most epic battle of this century and neither fighter needed to put it all on the line so early on. Body blows hurt a hell of a lot, trust me: as part of a radio stunt I went toe-to-toe with EFC Worldwide featherweight champion, Boyd Allen, and he beat my liver into a pâté. I therefore know that if you go in too hard, too soon, the hurt will soon leave you without a fight and you will lose.

The fight progressed, though, and Pacquiao seemed to hurt the slippery Mayweather less and less until the tenth round, when toward the final thirty seconds he managed to lend another flurry of punches that left Mayweather shaking his head, convincing Pacman that he had not been hurt. Pacquiao had nothing to lose; he should have committed in the final three rounds and he could have beaten the most arrogant sportsman since the advent of competitive play. But Pacquiao remained cautious and, according to the judges’ scorecards, he failed to do enough to beat Mayweather.

I give it to Mayweather, he is a master tactician; he kept Pacquiao at a distance, he slipped out of his opponent’s reach throughout the fight, he used his jab to exploit his five inch reach advantage and held on to Pacquiao each time he tried to move in for the killer combination, dancing about, leaving Pacman to hit air. But there was no fight; he ran scared, evaded and eluded.

People will draw parallels with Ali, particularly in the greatest fight of the last century, 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali, aged 32, fought George Foreman, then aged 26, in Kinshasa, Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Foreman, up until then, was heavyweight champion, undefeated and having won the majority of his fights in a knockout within the first three rounds. Ali had a plan, the infamous “Rope-a-dope”; he hung against the ropes and allowed Foreman to lay into him, taking punishing body blows as no boxer before or since ever has or would, using naught but his hand speed to stave off Foreman’s relentless onslaught. As the fight lumbered on, Foreman grew ever more fatigued until Ali suddenly sprang into action and took him out with seconds to spare in the eighth round.

Ali, like Mayweather, was a master tactician, beating the unbeatable. What made him the greatest, however, was that he stood there and took everything that Foreman threw at him. He won those rounds because his punches landed and they inflicted damage on Foremen’s person. So sorry, Money Mayweather, Ali is still greater than you! He had guts, he was a fighter; he fought his opponents at the height of their careers, not when they had reached their twilight – and Mayweather, money could buy an easy victory. Ali’ technique was confrontational, he took the fight to his opponents; he was a true warrior in a violent, visceral sport where blood and sweat is your due payment.

Mayweather is not that; he runs from his opponents and takes pot-shots as they get frustrated with chasing after him. What was supposed to be the greatest showdown of the greatest fighters of our generation turned out to be a damp squib, with surprise at the fact that Mayweather retained his undefeated status. The question remains, though: is this it for boxing? DM

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