LAS VEGAS — Floyd Mayweather is all flash and pomposity. He has more luxury cars than a high-end dealership. He treats wads of cash like pocket lint, eager to flaunt his wealth and whims for the world to see. He makes outrageous statements and hyperbolic claims, his ego and mouth working in harmony to promote his favorite subject: himself.
But once Mayweather steps in the ring, one of the sporting world’s most showy and brash athletes turns into perhaps boxing’s most boring attraction. The showman becomes a clinician, and for at least an hour or so, the brand takes a back seat to the boxer.
“I’ve fallen asleep at a couple of his fights before,” said Manny Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach.
Mayweather’s in-ring style is in many ways the opposite of how the 38-year old champion projects himself when he’s not wearing gloves. Millions will tune into his much-anticipated showdown with Pacquiao on Saturday night, but regardless of the ticket prices or pay-per-view rates, Mayweather’s trying to win a prize fight, not put on a rollicking show.
“There have been very few Floyd Mayweather fights where people have walked away fully satisfied from the point of view of being a sporting competition,” said Thomas Hauser, a veteran boxing scribe and historian.
Many fans, particularly the casual variety, tune in for the knockout — the ever-present possibility that a single punch could end it all. But that likely won’t happen Saturday night. When the arena lights go up and the cameras go live, Mayweather is careful not to get into barroom brawls. He hasn’t put a foe on his back in nearly four years, and his last five fights have gone the full 12 rounds.
“He’s not a knockout puncher. And he’s not a knockout puncher somewhat by choice,” said Jim Lampley, the longtime HBO fight commentator. “Because it becomes abundantly clear that his very intelligent choice is, ‘I don’t have to take that risk. I’m not going to take that risk. I will win every fight easily on the basis of my extraordinary craft, my amazing, kinetic understanding of what’s going on in the ring, my unique ability to read opponents.’ ”
Mayweather lulls and baits his foes. He outlasts them, outpoints them and outboxes them. Al Bernstein, the veteran Showtime analyst, likens Mayweather’s style to the four-corner offense employed by legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith at North Carolina: Get the lead and run out the clock.
“He takes the air out of fights,” Bernstein said. “Before opponents know it, they’re down by five or six rounds.”
Mayweather is considered a defensive specialist and among the best counterpunchers boxing has ever seen. He wins by reacting, by slipping jabs, sidestepping haymakers and sneaking in quick punches that seemingly come from nowhere. Boring maybe but also brilliant. It might put Roach to sleep, but other boxing aficionados watch in wonder.
“I appreciate artistry. I appreciate technique, I appreciate strategy, tactics,” Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard said. “When I look at Floyd and watch him fight, no matter who it is, I see how he breaks down his opponents, he breaks down the opposition.”
Mayweather waits for his moments. It might look like inactivity to the casual viewer, but the fighter is always plotting, using his quickness and athleticism to pounce when the time is right. Part of his genius is that Mayweather takes fewer hits than just about anyone in the sport. He also throws far fewer punches than most. In his last four fights, he has averaged just 433 punches. By comparison, Pacquiao has averaged nearly 700 per fight in that same period.
The result is usually more of a slow-moving art film than a bombs-and-explosions action flick.
“People just understand the combat part of the sport,” former welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi said. “The casual fans, they don’t understand the scientific part of his style.”
Saturday’s bout represents a clash of styles. Pacquiao could be the aggressor and force the action. Mayweather could very well let him. A flurry by Pacquiao could bring the audience to its feet. Mayweather’s defensive expertise could put them all back in their seats.
Count at least one person, though, who’s convinced Saturday won’t disappoint.
“This is going to be an exciting fight,” Mayweather said. “Our styles are totally different. He is very, very reckless. Every move I make is calculated. I’m always five to 10 steps ahead of my opponent.”
Joe DePaolo contributed to this report.
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