The MGM Grand Garden Arena was filled with celebrities who paid exorbitant prices–thousands of dollars for a nosebleed seat–to witness the so-called Fight of the Century. Jay-Z and Beyonce were there, as were Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, P. Diddy, Robert de Niro, Michael Jordan, Paris Hilton, “Magic” Johnson, and countless more A-listers. All of them, exhorted by their respective PR agents, showed their faces in Vegas and smiled to the camera so people watching from home could say, “I saw them there!”
Casinos and bars up and down The Las Vegas Strip filled up with weekend warriors spending hundreds of dollars on cover charges and bottle service just to see the fight via closed circuit television. Eating and drinking their way through an underwhelming and completely unnecessary undercard, but happy in the knowledge they were part, in a way, of the biggest boxing contest we’ve seen this century, they duly emptied their wallets just so they could later say, “I was there!”
Viewers all over the world settled in front of their televisions or computer screens to take part in the same experience. Those in rich countries had to fork over serious dollars to purchase the pay-per-view, but observers in choice locations like Mexico and the Philippines watched for free. Millions throughout the globe, some waking up at ungodly hours to do so, would all become part of this communal sports experience. Mayweather vs Pacquiao was as huge a fight as this generation had ever seen, and if Vegas was its host, the world was its oyster. Everyone tuned in so they could say, “I saw it!”
And in the end, most were left wondering why they bothered. Diminished versions of two of the top prizefighters of our era met inside the roped square, and while so many expected fireworks and drama, in other words, a contest worthy of being labelled “The Fight of the Century”, what they got was yet another tedious, underwhelming Floyd Mayweather fight complete with long stretches of inactivity and zero drama.
Managing distance with a long, whipping jab, Mayweather kept Manny Pacquiao and what remained of his aura of danger at bay, countering with sharp right hands when the Filipino dared to close the distance and generally making things as uninteresting as possible. Always focused, in charge and working to minimize exchanges, Floyd dictated the terms and disabled most of Pacquiao’s weapons, earning a clear unanimous decision that–as far as the mainstream media is concerned–is enough to now label him “the best fighter of his generation.”
But a closer look reveals that what was often said by the naysayers prior to the match turned out to be truer than anyone wanted: simply put, that Mayweather vs Pacquiao was five years too late. After the dreary affair, Pacquiao and his camp disclosed that a shoulder injury had actually caused them to consider postponing the fight before they decided it was better to placate the hurt with painkillers than to upset all involved with a possible cancellation. For his part, Money May admitted to fighting with hurting hands, a condition which has plagued him for years and only gets worse with age.
So the so-called Fight of the Century was fought between two athletes approaching middle age, both of them hobbled by injuries that prevented them from performing at their best, and with Pacquiao in particular clearly not the fighter he once was in terms of hand and foot speed. Unable to close the distance on his taller foe, the once-lethal Filipino warrior was reduced to lunging with his straight left, only to be countered every time he did. Even with Mayweather against the ropes, Pacquiao was unable, or unwilling, to unleash his full arsenal, perhaps too aware of Floyd’s underrated power, or perhaps because he had flashbacks of the stunning right-hand with which Marquez sealed their rivalry in 2012.
In the end, only hard core aficionados and the TMT faithful found much to cheer about last night. While the first half of the contest presented a somewhat interesting tactical duel, by the second half Mayweather had identified his winning strategy and then ran with it during the last six rounds. By potshotting, counterpunching, and clinching to disallow Manny from firing back, Mayweather proved his style is as insurmountable as it can be dreadful to watch for a primed and pumped audience looking for some genuine thrills on a Saturday night. High drama and memorable fistic action we did not get, even after waiting and waiting for five long years.
The immediate aftermath suggests the legacy of the fight and its result is inconclusive and, inevitably, anti-climactic. The whole narrative of Mayweather vs Pacquiao was that the Filipino, with his speed and power and mobility, would test Floyd’s defense like no one else had before. That his offensive unpredictability would trouble Mayweather’s usual punch-and-duck maneuvers and his heavy fists would dent his foe’s unreachable chin. But despite Mayweather’s dominance, there’s little doubt the Pacquiao who shared the ring with him was an entirely different version of the one fans first clamored to see Floyd fight six years ago.
That said, up to the moment Pacquiao climbed into the ring yesterday night he was still regarded as the second best welterweight in the world, and one of the best boxers on earth, pound-for-pound, and Mayweather’s victory deserves credit for taking place over an opponent of that pedigree. However, it’s hard not to conclude that, for all the easiness with which Floyd defeated Manny last night, there must have been a good reason Mayweather didn’t want to face him back in 2010.
Perhaps the most important conclusion to draw from the whole tedious, anti-climactic Mayweather vs Pacquiao affair, is that the bout happening five years too late is yet one more in a long list of TBE misjudgments. If Floyd is so superior to Manny, then why did he not fight him years ago to get full bragging rights? Why the long wait? Money–of the green kind–is the likely answer to that question, but Money–of the fighting kind—only has himself to blame for this latest asterisk on his record.