Floyd Mayweather with his title belts after defeating Manny Pacquiao. (Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
LAS VEGAS – Floyd Mayweather Jr. definitively answered the question that has consumed boxing for more than five years.
Yes, Mayweather is indeed the greatest fighter of this generation, proving so Saturday night before 16,507 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena by masterfully out-boxing Manny Pacquiao en route to a unanimous decision victory in the so-called “Fight of the Century.”
Judge Dave Moretti scored the welterweight unification matchup 118-110, while Burt Clements and Glenn Feldman each had it 116-112.
“Pacquiao is a great champion and a helluva fighter. Now I see why he’s been so successful in the sport,” said Mayweather, 38. “He had his moments in the fight, but as long as I moved on the outside he wasn’t going to be able to catch me. He’s a really smart fighter, though.
WHAT ELSE DID YOU EXPECT?: Mayweather does what he does best vs. Pacquiao
“It was only when I stayed in the pocket that he could have those moments. He’s a really tough competitor. My dad wanted me to do more, but Manny’s really awkward and I had to watch him closely.”
Pacquiao revealed at the post-fight press conference that he suffered a right shoulder injury in training approximately two-and-a-half weeks ago, one that hindered the ability to throw his patented hook. Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach says they considered pulling Pacquiao out of the bout, and Top Rank CEO Bob Arum said surgery is a possibility.
Regardless of the injury, Pacquiao had his moments and the best one came in Round 4. The 36-year-old blasted Mayweather with a clean left hook, a blow that staggered the Las Vegas-resident to the ropes and forced him into a shell. Mayweather (48-0, 26 KOs) covered up and withstood a furious barrage from Pacquiao, catching most of the follow-up punches with his gloves. However, Pacquiao connected with several thudding body shots, sending the pro-Manny crowd into a boisterous roar.
“I caught him many times. I was never hurt,” Pacquiao (57-6-2, 28 KOs) said. “I was very surprised at the scores. I hit him many mores times than he hit me. I had no problem handling his power. I thought I won.”
According to CompuBox, it was Mayweather who landed more blows. In fact, he almost doubled Pacquiao, landing 148 to just 81.
MAYWEATHER WINS IT: Unanimous decision victory
Mayweather – as he always does – displayed impressive recovery skills, bouncing back in Round 5 with laser-point counter right hands that stunned Pacman.
The 147-pound champion was able to control the fight with his jab, a punch that frustrated Pacquiao and threw off his rhythm. Pacquiao was steadfast in his pursuit of Mayweather around the ring and was able to connect with shots here and there, but he usually absorbed two shots to land one.
“I thought we pressed the action,” said Pacquiao’s Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach. “I asked Manny for more combinations in between rounds. He may have fought flat-footed a little too many times, but I thought we won the fight.”
Pacquiao was the aggressor for the majority of the bout, but Mayweather was able to navigate the Filipino’s hard-charging shots and deliver his own, more effective counter blows.
LOMACHENKO ROLLS: Ninth-round KO of Rodriguez
Pacquiao did a good job cutting off the ring and found success when he was able to push Mayweather into the ropes. Floyd was the bigger fighter for a change and every time Manny was able to maneuver to the inside, Mayweather tied him up to force a clinch.
The tactic was effective, much to the chagrin of the Pacquiao faithful, and referee Kenny Bayless repeatedly warned Mayweather for holding. However, Bayless elected not to deduct a point.
Pacquiao, a record eight-division world champion, again buzzed Mayweather in Round 6 and lifted the fans to their feet. But the success never carried it over to the next round.
“He was moving around too much, it wasn’t easy throwing punches at him,” Pacquiao said. “If he would’ve stayed in one place then I could’ve thrown more punches.”
LEO SANTA CRUZ: A 10-round shutout of Jose Cayetano
Perhaps sensing he was down on the scorecards, Pacquiao went for broke during the final minute of Round 12, darting around the squared circle in an attempt to land that elusive home-run shot. It never materialized.
Mayweather said he didn’t believe this fight defined his career and that all his bouts played a key role in composing his legacy. That career, he says, will conclude with a September bout on Showtime, the last on his contract with the network.
“I have one more fight … and then it’s time for me to hang it up,” Mayweather stated. “I’m almost 40 years old now. I’ve been in the sport 19 years and have been a champion for 18 years. I’m truly blessed.”
With retirement in mind, Mayweather surprised the contingent at the news conference by saying he will relinquish his five championship belts (three welterweight and two junior middleweight straps) to free up the titles for young fighters. When asked whom he might consider for his swan song — perhaps Amir Khan? — Mayweather was evasive and said he just wanted to enjoy his victory right now.
The bout between two of the greatest fighters of all time was in play since late 2009 and was originally being discussed for a March 2010 date. Mayweather had just ended a brief retirement with a shutout victory over Pacquiao rival Juan Manuel Marquez that September. Pacquiao responded two months later with one of the biggest victories of his career, a stoppage of Miguel Cotto.
UH OH: Some Mayweather-Pacquiao PPV buyers lose feed
It was a rarity – the recognized pound-for-pound best fighters in the world competing in the same weight class while in their primes. However, the proposed matchup fell apart at the negotiating table after Pacquiao refused to undergo Olympic-style drug testing, scuttling the super fight.
After that, there was always talk of the pair coming together for the big fight but it never came to fruition. Many reasons were given: the purse split, drug-testing procedures, who would be the A-side, location, date, etc. And, of course, matters became much more complicated when Mayweather fled HBO for rival network Showtime in 2013.
That made the deal all the more complicated to put together, and both Pacquaio’s promoter Top Rank and Showtime Sports general manager Stephen Espinoza credited CBS president/CEO Les Moonves as the key to finalizing the fight (CBS is Showtime’s parent company).
The commentary team was shared between HBO and Showtime on the second-ever joint PPV telecast between the networks, as were the ring announcing duties (split between Michael Buffer and Jimmy Lennon Jr.). The Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight in 2002 was the first.
The event is expected to shatter every revenue and pay-per-view buy rate record, with upward of $300 million and 3 million buys in play. The event cost a record $99.99 in high definition and ringside tickets were sold for $10,000, although none of those seats were open to the public.
Mayweather had been dogged by accusations he was ducking Pacquiao and critics said his legacy would always be tarnished without the mega fight. Once again, though, Mayweather proved he was too good when push came to shove.
“When the history books are written,” Mayweather said, “this fight will have been worth the wait.”