Manny Pacquiao is looking to make history next month, as he attempts to become the first boxer to defeat Floyd Mayweather when the welterweights meet at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Mayweather has maintained a perfect record by being the best defensive fighter in the sport, but PacMan might have a better chance than any of his previous opponents to land clean shots.
Mayweather’s defense has been unmatched over his career. He’s arguably never suffered a legitimate knockdown, and has gone 47-0 despite not being a knockout specialist. The 38-year-old has won seven of his last eight fights by decision, and his one knockout came against Victor Ortiz with what some have deemed a sucker punch.
Pacquiao is a decided underdog, but several experts are giving him a chance to pull off the upset. While Mayweather is better than anyone at avoiding being hit, Pacquiao’s offensive skillset could give his opponent some trouble.
“[Mayweather] has never really been tested,” Mike Tyson told reporters in mid-March. “Whatever happens in this fight, I really think that Floyd is going to be hit and hurt more than he has ever been before. We’re going to see how tough he is.”
It won’t be easy for Pacquiao to hit Mayweather. There’s a reason he’s never lost, and he's dominated most of his fights. But there should be opportunities for Pacquiao to land solid punches on the elusive Mayweather.
While Mayweather’s defensive prowess makes him the best boxer in the world, his commitment to defense could work against him at times. According to boxing trainer and ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas, Mayweather has a tendency to focus too much on defense, which can allow Pacquiao to connect with him.
“Pacquiao can match him just about with hand speed. Pacquiao is a busier fighter,” Atlas said on ESPN. “Floyd doesn’t throw a lot. He throws what counts. So understand that. Pacquiao will have opportunities when Floyd is into his defensive mode a little bit too much. That will give opportunities for Pacquiao to outhustle him, just outwork him and grab parts of rounds. And maybe steal rounds.”
Utilizing the shoulder roll has helped Mayweather to go mostly untouched through many of his fights. His athleticism allows him to use the technique, while still giving him a chance to land impactful shots on his opponent. Against a skilled southpaw like Pacquiao, though, the maneuver might not be as effective.
If Pacquiao is stationary and attacks Mayweather with his left hand, Mayweather can use the shoulder roll to stave off his opponent's punches while using his right hand to connect with Pacquiao. But Pacquiao is skilled enough to move to his right, forcing Mayweather to get out of his defensive position and opening himself up to the southpaw’s left hand.
“For Pacquiao, because he’s a southpaw, he has to try to go (to his right),” boxer and HBO analyst Roy Jones Jr. said on SportsCenter. “Avoid the right hand and make Floyd turn. So you step that way. Now when Floyd has to turn, he opens up because it caused him to open his shoulder.”
Implementing a game plan to hit Mayweather cleanly will be easier said than done. Mayweather has a five-inch reach advantage against Pacquiao, and the undefeated boxer has answered every challenge that's come his way. But if anyone has a chance to take advantage of the few opportunities Mayweather gives opponents to hit him, it’s Pacquiao.
“You need to put constant pressure on Floyd,” Tyson said. “Be in front of him all the time, but moving side to side and punching from angles. Manny is going to feint Floyd out of position a lot and make him throw more punches than he is used to, and that will open Floyd up.”
Pacquiao has landed 35 percent of his punches in his last five fights. Mayweather has forced his opponent in four of his last five fights to land no better than 22 percent of their punches. In Mayweather's majority-decision win over Marcos Maidana in May 2014, Maidana landed close to 26 percent of his punches.