LAS VEGAS — By the 11th round, all the manic energy had drained from the building and into the desert, and Manny Pacquiao’s smile was slipping into a frown. This is what Floyd Mayweather does to his victims, 48 times now, letting them hope and believe and even land assorted flurries of punches that make the crowd rise and holler like banshees, even the likes of Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and four Batmans (Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck and George Clooney).
But then everyone looks up, as we did Saturday night in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and the realization hits home again that Mayweather is the technical master. For as big a lunkhead as he is outside the ring, Mr. Money Machine knows exactly how the fight game is played. After letting Pacquiao have his way in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, Mayweather became the shrewd technician, landing almost twice as many punches as his counterpart and winning — by unanimous decision — the showdown that cements him as the best fighter of his generation.
Officially, Mayweather is now the unified welterweight world champion. In the biggest picture, he just showed the world how he always backs up his bluster. The crowd chanted all night for Pacquiao, the good soul who’s trying to save the world while staying off police blotters, but while the boos for the decision were loud and boisterous, the reception wasn’t a protest as much as frustrated resignation that the unpopular — check that: reviled — champion was going to end his career undefeated. Mayweather always loses the morality play and always wins the fight, with one judge (Dave Moretti) scoring it 118-100 and the other two (Glenn Feldman and Bert Clemens) scoring it 116-112.
When the bell rang to end the proceedings, Mayweather jumped on the ropes and screamed at the fans who had cheered for his opponent. It was a display of anti-heroism at its most pathetic, reassuring us that our perceptions of this cad are accurate. Then, on television, he proceeded to thank Showtime, the network that has financed and enabled him, and his various sponsors, including Hublot, the Swiss watchmaker whose name was emblazoned across his gold shorts.
Mayweather said he will retire in September after his final contracted Showtime bout. We won’t miss the personality, but grudgingly, we must admire his defensive wizardry in quelling the attacking, aggressive Pacquiao, who couldn’t sustain the attack necessary to pull off the historic upset. Mayweather was asked if this fight defines him as the greatest of his era, as he moves to 48-0.
“No,” he said, of course. “I think 47 fights played a key part in my career. Manny’s a true champion and we both did our best. I have one more fight. I’m almost 40 years old and I’ve been in the sport a long time, a champion 18 times. It’s time for me to hang them up.”
Pacquiao and his trainer, Freddie Roach, both felt they’d been burned by the decision. “I thought I won the fight. He didn’t do anything. I caught him many times. I was never hurt. I’m very surprised about the scores,’’ said Pacquiao, who now has lost six times and won’t feel any public clamor for a rematch. “I hit him many more times than he hit me. I could handle his power.”
Roach agreed, out of deference to his fighter. But late in the fight, he was concerned enough to continually exhort Pacquiao. “Between rounds, I asked for more combinations from Manny. I thought he fought flat-footed a little too much,” he said.
Ninety minutes after the fight, news broke of a right shoulder injury to Pacquiao suffered during training camp. He wasn’t allowed to use an anti-inflammatory drug, per Nevada Boxing Comission regulations. If true, the fans should file a class-action suite demanding refunds of their $100 fees. Why weren’t we told?
Had this fight happened five years ago, when the fighters were in their prime, maybe the outcome would have been different. But probably not. As Mayweather said during fight week, “I truly believe I am the smarter fighter. He would be a better fighter if he wasn’t so reckless. It’s a gift and a curse. He’s won a lot of fights by being reckless, but you can be reckless and get knocked out.”
Not needing a knockout, he said he won simply by moving out of the pocket, as any good quarterback would know other than Brady, who earlier had been at the Kentucky Derby on his boys’ weekend out. “I knew he was going to push me, win some rounds. As long as I moved on the outside, he wasn’t going to be able to catch me,’’ Mayweather said. “I’m a calculated fighter. It was only when I stayed in the pocket when he had those moments. My dad (Floyd Sr., his trainer and adviser) wanted me to do more. But Manny is really an awkward fighter in how you have to approach him.”
The numbers said it all: Mayweather landed 148 of 435 punches, while Pacquiao connected on only 81 of 429. What was a relentless approach in the early rounds slowed almost to a crawl in the later rounds, when Mayweather, anything but boring out of the ring, played his brand of prevent defense.
After waiting five years for the fight, the world was forced to wait another hour when difficulties arose in ordering the pay-per-view telecast. The Mayweather people, who ran the entire production, wanted to make sure the mechanism was fixed so they could bleed $100 out of every possible household and bar. Finally, the most hyped fight ever was allowed to commence.
Hours before the fight, it was difficult enough to breathe inside the MGM Grand, much less move past the slot machines, bars, gourmet-chef-sellout restaurants, junk food joints and souvenir shops. Mayweather and TBE (The Best Ever) merch was prominent — you had to ask for the location of the Pacquiao stuff, on two small racks far from the entrance — and the scene had the charged-up feel of something Vegas hadn’t experienced in a generation. I’ve been to Mike Tyson fights on the Strip, but this was different in magnitude, like most everything in a Big Tech world.
There were young people, women, whites, blacks, Filipinos, and while some had a vested interest in a fighter, others were thrilled simply to plunge into a spectacle that transcended boxing. The fight game may have expired with this event — protecting the brain is much more important in today’s world than pummeling it — yet something about Mayweather and Pacquiao resonated beyond the schlocky hype. Maybe people have heard these names mentioned for so long, six and seven years, that the concept of connecting them in a 20-by-20-foot space had mass appeal. Or, maybe America just wanted something to do on a Saturday night.
Vegas was insane. Here was my walk from the hotel lobby to the media gate: wait for a 20-person selfie from a long-pole camera, pass a security dog sniffing four drunk guys wearing “Groom Support’’ t-shirts, wait in line 30 minutes for a soy cappucino at Starbucks, almost trampled by a motor scooter, say no when asked if I’m the guy who does the dumb show on ESPN with his father, wonder if Beacher’s Madhouse is a better call than the David Copperfield theater, wait in line 20 minutes for a ham sandwich, see no line at L’Atelier de Joel Rubichon, express shock that Barry Manilow remains a headliner, decline a free Tecate beer, decline a $30 program, decline a gentlemen’s club invite, wait while four people who never have seen a newsroom are trying to talk their way through the media gate.
Welcome to America, 2015, for better or worse.
As one who appreciates sports for the competition, and detests the b.s. around it, I don’t think I’ve ever felt a thicker gambling presence, even for Final Fours and Super Bowls. Not only was this the biggest event in boxing history, in the thick of Vegas, but it was happening on a frenetic day in sports history — the Kentucky Derby, the end of the NFL draft, a Game 7 NBA series that might produce the Warriors’ toughest postseason competition, a prime-time golf event in San Francisco featuring Rory McIlroy trying to win his match in time to make a Vegas flight for the fight, baseball games, hockey playoffs. The sports books were a zoo.
But the circus always shut down. Near midnight, wearing his belts, the best and most unpopular champion of his time was asked about the domestic-violence issues that have turned off the public. “A lot of things I’ve been accused of I didn’t do,” Floyd Mayweather said. “Only God can judge me when all is said and done.”
God won’t boo. But the public boos ringing in his ears? He’ll be taking those to his grave.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.