“Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer.”
These lines open William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming, an incomparably beautiful poem written in 1919 that describes the loss of control portending an ominous historical era. As the gyre widens and the falcon becomes increasingly lost, its counterpart—a gyre moving in the opposite direction that represents an opposing spiritual force—comes to a point. Saturday’s fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather had a similar interplay of energies: as Manny went increasingly astray, Mayweather—his stylistic, spiritual adversary—grew progressively sharper.
Though it was known long before Saturday, what became so obvious as the rounds compiled was how much more complete a boxer is Mayweather. His footwork was superior to Pacquiao’s, as was his defense, the variety of punches he threw and their precision. Manny’s intermittent flurries stagnated whenever Floyd adjusted to his aggression by moving out of range, launching precise jabs, or countering with his sniper-like right hand.
Mayweather looked faster and sharper than he did in either of his fights against Marco Maidana because Pacquiao was incapable of boxing violently. Unlike the fighters who’ve troubled Floyd, Manny had no size advantage and wasn’t strong enough to push Mayweather back. And because his athletic skills have clearly diminished, Pacquiao couldn’t overcome deficits in technique and strategy through sheer speed and aggression. At this stage of his career he must box as much as fight, and no welterweight will outbox Floyd Mayweather.
Pacquiao was also clearly incapable of outthinking his opponent. His offense showed no variety and he didn’t attack from his customarily strange angles. Instead he plowed ahead with his shoulders squared, thus making himself a large target for a sharpshooter needful of little space to connect. At times, Manny even looked defeated, as though resigned to his fate and perhaps only hopeful that continual forward movement would result in, well, something. It mostly didn’t: outside of a few select flush blows and an exciting fourth that he won unambiguously, Mayweather was the better man.
Naturally, Floyd was criticized on twitter for putting on a ‘boring’ fight, but what did people expect? He fought cautiously 47 times before Saturday night and the notion he would depart from the template that had made him impervious indicts the boxing acumen of those making the critique. It wasn’t on Floyd to make last night exciting, simply because, given his defensive style, excitement isn’t correlative to success. Manny, not Mayweather, was supposed to bring the action, although not out of any external obligation: he would only win by getting to Floyd and landing punches in bunches. Unfortunately, Pacquiao spent most of his night chasing an elusive target.
When the decision was announced the crowd booed lustily and I suspect the disaffection was three-pronged. Fans wanted Manny to win because they have a greater affinity for him as a fighter. They wanted Floyd to lose because his personal vileness has recently come into starker relief. Perhaps most of all, they wanted to be eyewitnesses to a historically exciting action fight befitting the hype that preceded Mayweather-Pacquiao, and received instead an exhibition by the sport’s least understood (in a boxing sense) superstar. Outside of The Money Team and its ludicrously attired acolytes, few got what they wanted.
Styles don’t make fights if the fighter who relies on athleticism is clearly physically dissipated. This is the reality of Manny Pacquiao’s career. He cannot fight as fast and as furiously as he once did, and in the absence of his legendary physicality he becomes a mark for a master to exploit. Had they met five years ago, when atrophy hadn’t yet set in for either man, it may have been a different fight, but this form of conjecture is irrelevant because it can also be argued that youth would just sharpen Floyd’s peerless defense and counterpunching. In the absence of action, what last night did provide is some needed closure from which the sport must move on, into a new era unburdened by the half-decade courtship that heralded yesterday’s event.
Yeats’ poem ends with darkly magnificent ambiguity: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/ Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.” Written in the aftermath of World War II and the Russian Revolution, The Second Coming abounds with foreboding imagery and accurately foretells the coming European nightmare. A new era had been born, one where, as Yeats writes, “the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
To many, Floyd Mayweather—that passionate, intense, and intensely unrepentant wretch—represents boxing’s worst, but his reign will soon be over. If Saturday can be looked at symbolically perhaps it’s best seen as the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Boxing must move on. A new gyre is spiraling open. And here is where we can depart from Yeats. Where he forecasted gloom, maybe boxing, with its return to cable television and hungry young stars, can look to the future with hope. New falcons must fly in place of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Which will soar the highest? — Eliott McCormick