LAS VEGAS, Nevada — After the final bell had rung, Floyd Mayweather jumped on the ropes and defiantly barked to the crowd. He knew he’d won the bout, but everyone else needed judges’ confirmation. Moments later, the scorecards made it official: Mayweather’s perfect record would remain intact, the best fighter of his generation had finally received the confirmation so many had demanded, and Manny Pacquiao, the passionate boxer from the Philippines, would head home with a disappointing loss.
The welterweight bout appeared close throughout and neither fighter offered many surprises. Mayweather was at his defensive best, and Pacquiao kept firing until he heard a bell ring. Judge Glenn Feldman scored the bout 116-112, Bert Clements had it 116-112 and Dave Moretti saw it 118-110.
It was the biggest event boxing has staged in years, generating huge hype around the world, surely shattering records for live gate and pay-per-view buys and filling the MGM Grand Garden Arena with a who’s who of celebrities, including Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and so many others. It will go down as the richest bout in the sport’s history, though hardly the most exciting.
The showdown was six agonizing years in the making, as both sides bickered over terms and at times the boxing world seemed certain the two might never square off. Fans were forced to wait even longer Saturday night, as cable services nation-wide were overwhelmed with pay-per-view orders. Promoters delayed the start of the fight and the opening bell didn’t ring until 11:58 p.m. EDT.
“When the history book is written, it was worth the wait,” Mayweather said.
Pacquiao was in good spirits in the hours before stepping into the ring. He was with more than 50 family members and friends back at the hotel, dining on steamed fish and white rice while chatting with several pastors. They had a spirited discussion about one of the first documented fights: David vs. Goliath. Pacquiao left the hotel, arrived at the MGM Grand shortly after 6 p.m. local time and four hours later confronted a giant of his own.
Pacquiao was active much of the night and pushing Mayweather to the ropes, the likely game plan for both fighters. As he does better than anyone, Mayweather constantly baited his foe, using his speed to fire laser-quick counters.
“I think I won the fight,” Pacquiao said. “He didn’t do nothing.”
While he was throwing a lot of punches, they weren’t always landing cleanly. At one point, Mayweather (48-0) made a show of shaking his heading “no,” telling Pacquiao that his punches were being blocked and doing no damage. The two fighters threw about the same number of punches — 435 for Mayweather and 429 for Pacquiao. But Mayweather landed 148 to Pacquiao’s 81.
Still, the Filipino fighter appeared to be enjoying himself. After a late flurry in Round 3, Mayweather stared down Pacquiao after the bell. Pacquiao responded with a smile that stretched from one corner of the ring to the other.
Pacquiao unleashed his first real flurry midway through the fourth, punctuating a string of blocked shots with a hard left that landed cleanly on Mayweather’s face. In his corner, Mayweather’s trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., was barking at his son to be more aggressive.
By the late rounds, Mayweather looked more comfortable, dancing around the perimeter, dictating the fight more on his terms. They settled into a fight-night two-step: Pacquiao would charge, Mayweather would counter.
The loss, meanwhile, was Pacquiao’s third in his past six outings. His record falls to 57-6-2. The Filipino fighter entered the ring with the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders, and inside the arena, too, the crowd was loud and raucous in its Pacquiao support, particularly in the early rounds. Mayweather managed to silence them nearly every round.
The bout was a clinic in the so-called sweet science. Even at 38, Mayweather showed why he’s one of the best defensive fighters the sport has seen. He blocked, ducked and clutched, baiting Pacquiao and using his reach advantage to counter with snappy jabs.
The methodical bout might not go down as one of the sport’s classic fights, but the win will go a long way to defining Mayweather’s legacy. He kept the perfect record intact, but more importantly, after years of stalling and bickering over negotiations, he finally vanquished the only other fighter who could challenge him in either popularity or boxing skill. Mayweather had posted wins over the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton and Zab Judah, but until Saturday his résumé was noteworthy for what was missing: Pacquaio’s name.
Mayweather, of course, already considered himself a part of boxing royalty, calling himself TBE — “the best ever” — and saying he’s as important as Ali. And that was before beating Pacquiao. Mayweather long ago made a name for himself as the sport’s resident peacock, undisputed and undefeated when it comes to bluster, confidence and ego. But he was refreshingly subdued in the weeks leading up to the Pacquiao bout, saying he’d matured and was content to let his unmatched boxing ability do the talking.
Still, when critics debate Mayweather’s place among the all-time greats, they’ll still note that he often faced his toughest competitors once they were past their prime. Pacquiao, for example, is 36 and showed again Saturday night that he’s not quite the same explosive fighter who posted thrilling wins over Cotto, Hatton and De La Hoya a half-dozen years ago.
Imperfect outside the ring — a series of domestic violence charges and accusations have made him pariah to many — Mayweather remains perfect inside it. The strong betting favorite entering the fight, he already held the WBA and WBC welterweight belts and left the arena Saturday night with Pacquiao’s WBO title, too.
The big win could mark one of the last times Mayweather sets foot in the ring. He has one fight remaining on his deal with Showtime and says he’s inclined to hang up his gloves after fulfilling his contract with a bout in September. Mayweather hasn’t mentioned any potential opponents for that date. Before either fighter entered the ring Saturday night, both camps seemed to think a rematch was unlikely.
Then again, for years it seemed like meeting just once was also unlikely — until the money became too much to ignore. Revenues from Saturday’s fight were expected to reach $300 million, and Mayweather alone could pocket as much as $200 million for 12 rounds of work.
While fans around the world paid $100 apiece to watch on pay-per-view, the inside of the MGM Grand Garden Arena was largely high rollers. The tickets carried a face value of $1,500-$10,000 but sold for much more on the secondary market.
© 2015, The Washington Post