We are proud to be the home of Lee Wylie’s work and his outstanding videos which examine boxing tactics and strategy with astonishing insight and detail. Lee is known around the world for his meticulous analytical skills and his knowledge of boxing history. When the Mayweather vs Pacquiao superfight was announced, he took it upon himself to give serious fight fans a unique ten part video series, Signature Techniques, which offers unrivaled understanding of how both Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. The series has concluded and now Lee Wylie goes a step further, synthesizing his insights to offer his prediction of how the match will unfold and who will have their hand raised at fight’s end.
Mayweather vs Pacquiao: Strategic & Tactical Considerations
Part One: Floyd Mayweather
The way I see it, Mayweather has two avenues for victory in this fight. First, he might try and neutralize Pacquiao’s attacks, in particular that potent straight left, with both linear and lateral footwork, before cunningly luring Manny into right hand leads and “check” left hooks. Pacquiao can become impatient against defensive-minded opponents who remove themselves from the line of fire and wait to counter, and this can lead to him recklessly attacking at precisely the wrong moments. With his superb distance management, astute timing and all-round counter-punching prowess, this is a viable option for Mayweather.
On the other hand, Floyd may look to impose his superior size and strength on the smaller Pacquiao by walking him down behind a high guard before systematically dominating him on the inside. Because Mayweather modifies his style against southpaws and tends to become more aggressive, I think he might opt for the more adventurous route here.
Granted, bigger men and bigger punchers than Mayweather have tried and failed to walk down Pacquiao, but the Grand Rapids native is very methodical with his punch selection and his built-in defense allows him to diffuse any return fire. Moreover, Pacquiao’s in-fighting is possibly the weakest area of his game, as his inactivity and wide guard (Pacquiao simply applies the earmuffs in close) leaves him open for short body punches and uppercuts through the center. No doubt a close-quarter, catch-and-shoot specialist like Mayweather will be well aware of this.
If Floyd decides to take the fight to Pacquiao, he must safeguard against the Filipino’s short right hook from the southpaw stance. Straight punches generally reach their target before arcing ones, but as Ricky Hatton found out the hard and painful way, Manny’s sneaky lead hook from an inside angle is highly effective against come-forward aggressors.
Above all, Mayweather must control the pace of the bout. Floyd needs to thwart Pacquiao’s aggression so that his own attack is not rushed or forced, thus allowing him to be more accurate and effective. Therefore, I suspect body-punching will be key for Floyd. Mayweather is a vastly underrated body-puncher and I believe he will be extensively targeting Pacquiao’s midsection with straight rights and short left hooks, especially early in the fight. Floyd will also be looking to quell Pacquiao’s offensive flow by getting off first and then tying him up. Make no mistake, a counter- puncher first and foremost, Mayweather can be just as effective when leading the dance.
Mayweather might not be as vibrant as he was three or four years ago, but he’s the naturally bigger man, is clearly more versatile, physically stronger, and his conditioning remains otherworldly. His unique roughhousing tactics at close-quarters, where he uses his forearms to control and create space, is still an aspect of his game which neither opponents nor officials seem to fully understand, and his arm length, unusually long in relation to his height, means he will also have a significant reach advantage over Pacquiao. In addition, Mayweather hits much harder than advertised and takes a great shot himself. No matter how you slice it then, whether he chooses to fight Pacquiao on the front foot or off the back foot, Floyd Mayweather is rightfully the betting favorite.
Part Two: Manny Pacquiao
In order to score consistently, Pacquiao must offset Mayweather’s positioning and defensive timing. Therefore, constant feinting along with sudden changes of angle, rhythm and tempo are paramount. Manny’s arrhythmic, side- to-side upper-body movement not only creates an elusive target and keeps his opponents guessing, but also makes them wary of letting their hands go for fear of missing and exposing themselves to counters. The fewer punches Mayweather throws, the more Pacquiao can keep him on the defensive and put rounds in the bank.
Pacquiao must not waste time waiting for that one, perfect opening. Against a defensive master like Mayweather, clear openings are few and far between. That said, while Floyd does a tremendous job of protecting the center of his body against orthodox opponents by barricading his main targets behind his lead shoulder, he generally trades in his “Michigan” shell for a more conventional guard against southpaws, and is therefore more open. Consequently, I won’t be surprised if Freddie Roach has Pacquiao hone in on Mayweather’s chest and solar plexus with his straight left hand. Doing so will not only eat away at Floyd’s stamina, but also help conceal follow-up right hooks to both head and body, as well as unconventional right crosses coming from blind angles, one of Pacquiao’s most deceptive weapons.
Pacquiao cannot allow himself to become reckless at any stage of the contest. Mayweather is a stunningly accurate counter-puncher, and he is superb at setting traps, so should Manny find himself over-committing and off- balance, rest assured Mayweather will make him pay. It’s especially important that Pacquiao knows when Mayweather is setting him up for his straight right hand. In those instances, Pacquiao should look to feint out Floyd’s right and attempt to counter his counter. From Wilfred Benitez to Salvador Sanchez to James Toney and even Mike Tyson, counter-punchers come in many shapes and styles, and believe it or not, Pacquiao is one of the sport’s finest.
Because of his defensive craft and composure when under heavy fire, Mayweather will often gravitate to the ropes to conserve his energy. This is where Pacquiao should exercise caution. While he must look to get off combinations during these brief windows, he cannot afford to smother his own work or punch himself out. Rather, Pacquiao should feint Mayweather out of position, be selective with his shots, and look to insert his punches between Floyd’s defensive motions.
I don’t believe for one second that Mayweather’s legs are “shot”, but I do agree with Freddie Roach when he says Floyd can no longer box-and-move for the full 12 rounds. The fact Mayweather gravitates to the ropes more and more these days is likely proof of that. Pacquiao isn’t great when it comes to cutting off the ring, but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. Floyd won’t be moving nearly as much as, for instance, Pacquiao’s previous opponent, Chris Algieri.
With his preemptive tie-ups and weaves after finishing an attack, Mayweather is more defensively responsible than most boxers, but he is no different from any other in that he’s still vulnerable during his own attack (see the Corley, Judah and Mosley fights for evidence). And whether he’s pawing with his jab to measure distance and set up his right hand, or using it to occupy the southpaw’s jab, Floyd’s lead hand is tremendously active against lefties. Pacquiao will no doubt be looking to counter Mayweather’s jab with his proactive, “split-entry” straight left (a rear straight combined with an outside slip) and right hook over the top. Speaking of which, Pacquiao often uses his right hook to get his opponents ducking into his rear uppercut. Because Mayweather tends to dip to his right to avoid right hands, this could be a most rewarding tactic for Pacquiao.
More than anything else, angular movement will be critical for Pacquiao in this fight. The less time he spends directly in front of Mayweather, the better. For example, Pacquiao uses an uncommitted straight left as a means to get to his opponents’ blind-side where, having exited at an angle behind their lead shoulder (to Manny’s right), he leaves them with little choice but to turn and face him. This is where Pacquiao catches opponents with clean punches and where Mayweather might be susceptible.
Conclusion and Prediction:
Broken down to its simplest elements, this contest will be no different from any other that has taken place in the annals of boxing: whoever can control the opponent from the waist down, will control the fight from the waist up. Positioning will be the crucial factor in this match-up.
As a result, based on Manny’s four bout series with Juan Manuel Marquez, many believe an elusive Mayweather is going to dominate an overly-aggressive Pacquiao. With his defensive movement and intelligent counter-punching, the Mexican champion was able to stymie Pacquiao’s aggression and at times neutralize his powerful left hand.
But while Mayweather and Marquez might share similar strategic goals, tactically there are some notable differences between the two. Sure, both pugilists are counter-punchers by nature, but when it comes to evasion, Marquez relies more on distancing than blocking, and tends to wait for his opponent to over-commit before countering. Although Mayweather does this in spurts when he’s setting traps, he generally allows for more physical contact with his arms, shoulders and gloves than does Marquez, and this could prove dangerous against an unpredictable, quick-handed combination-puncher like Pacquiao. Also, Marquez is more than willing to grit his teeth and exchange when he needs to. Conversely, it’s not in Mayweather’s nature to take unnecessary punishment. Unlike Marquez, Floyd seldom fully-commits or takes risks with his offense, which is ultimately how Marquez got the win over Pacquiao last time.
Even if you disagree and insist that Mayweather and Marquez are tactically the same, here’s the thing: except for that one-punch, nap-inducing overhand right at the end of round five in a fight he was losing, Marquez has never gotten the better of Pacquiao beyond doubt. Undeniably, Pacquiao’s style just seems to translate better on the scorecards than “Dinamita’s.”
Which is why I find myself leaning towards Pacquiao, who, I suspect, might be perceived as the better performer by the judges in a closely contested fight. It’s unlikely he will bludgeon Mayweather from bell-to-bell, and I honestly don’t think he is a better boxer than Floyd. But assuming Manny’s conditioning hasn’t deteriorated dramatically, I believe that, with his captivating style and high-volume approach, he may convince the judges and the crowd, even against an aggressive Mayweather, that he is, round-by-round, the more effective fighter.
Styles really do make fights, and high-volume punchers who throw unconventional blows in irregular sequences and from unconventional angles, tend to be problematic for counter-punchers whose system is designed to deal with conventional angles and regular punch sequences. And in this case, the high-volume puncher also has blistering hand and foot speed, which makes the task of seizing the initiative that much harder for the counter-puncher because he is constantly playing catch-up with his reactions.
As well-rounded a tactician as boxing has seen, Mayweather relies on pattern recognition and good timing to exploit his opponent’s tendencies. But I believe Pacquiao’s feints, superior foot speed (when was the last time you could say that about a Mayweather opponent?), offbeat rhythm and explosive, in-and-out raids will create havoc with the undefeated American’s timing and prevent him from making tactical adjustments and seizing the all-important initiative.
Mayweather has faced and defeated many left-handers in the past, but he hasn’t faced one like Pacquiao. Don’t believe me? By hiring Alex Ariza and changing his training regime for the first time in years, Floyd has indirectly admitted this himself.
Inside the ring, Floyd Mayweather doesn’t make many mistakes, of that there can be no doubt. But like all boxers, he has habits that, with the right tactics and strategy, can be exploited. Freddie Roach, the master strategist, and Manny Pacquiao, the perfect vessel to execute his guru’s master plan, together just might prove to be Mayweather’s kryptonite. — Lee Wylie