With the much anticipated super fight between welterweights Floyd Mayweather 47-0 (26) and Manny Pacquiao 57-5-2 (38) nearing, it’s been hard to find another super fight that it is most analogous to.
And that’s mainly because the dynamics that are bringing Mayweather and Pacquiao together are unlike any other super fight of my time following the sport of boxing.
In terms of anticipation and seeing two fighter’s names together on a marquee, I suppose Frazier-Ali I and Hagler-Leonard work best. From a style perspective, Ali 31-0 (25) was more offensive minded than Mayweather, and Frazier 26-0 (23) was much more aggressive and applied sustained bell-to-bell pressure, in contrast to Pacquiao, whose pressure is more sporadic. In addition to that, Joe, 27, and Muhammad, 29, were at or near their physical prime the first time they fought. And prior to the fight it was impossible to picture either Frazier or Ali losing, and that certainly doesn’t apply to Mayweather or Pacquiao.
Hagler-Leonard shares some interesting parallels because you have an aggressive southpaw (Hagler) fighting as the attacker going after a superstar boxer (Leonard). It also works because both Marvin, 32, and Ray, 30, were past their prime when they finally tangled back in 1987. The problem is, Leonard 33-1 (24) the boxer was moving up in weight to challenge the bigger man in Hagler 62-2-2 (52), who like Pacquiao is viewed as the bigger puncher. That doesn’t fit the Mayweather-Pacquiao template because Mayweather the boxer is clearly the bigger framed man compared to Pacquiao, the presumed aggressor and bigger puncher.
I suppose you have to go back 35 years to find the super fight that is most analogous to the upcoming welterweight clash between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. And that would be the WBC welterweight title bout between title holder Sugar Ray Leonard 27-0 (18) and former undisputed lightweight champ Roberto Duran 71-1 (55) on June 20th 1980. No, it’s not a perfect match because Ray, 24, and Roberto, 29 were close to their prime, as opposed to Floyd, 38, and Manny, 36, who are slightly on the decline……but it comes the closest regarding their personalities, boxing styles and the anticipated style clash between them. Also, the superstar boxer went into both bouts as the betting favorite. Leonard was 9-5 over Duran and Mayweather is between 13-5 and 3-1 over Pacquiao.
Let’s start with the similarities and contrast in their personalities. Sugar Ray Leonard was a superstar who exuded almost Muhammad Ali-like natural charisma, and he was covered like a rock star the moment he announced he was turning pro. As for Floyd Mayweather, he had to wait 11 years before he transformed himself into boxing’s biggest star. No, he’s not the media darling that Leonard was and he certainly doesn’t have the charm or magnetism that Ray still has, but he is the superstar in this fight and has called the shots accordingly. Also, it’s never mentioned but another difference between Ray and Floyd is Leonard went out of his way to be entertaining in the ring, which is something Mayweather really only pays lip service to.
As for Duran and Pacquiao, despite being foreigners both had/have a huge fan base in the United States and their fighting is what is most captivating about them. They aren’t the talkers or promoters that Leonard and Mayweather were/are, but the way they handle their business in the ring draws fans out to watch them whenever they fight.
Another correlation between Duran and Pacquiao is they’re both the smaller framed man and started their careers way below welterweight when they turned pro. Duran skipped the junior welterweight division and went right from lightweight to welterweight when he challenged Leonard. Pacquiao turned pro as a flyweight and has never weighed more than 145 for a welterweight title bout, two pounds below the maximum allowed for the division limit. Mayweather turned pro as a junior lightweight but as it was the case with Leonard, is a full-fledged welterweight by the time of the big fight.
When it comes to boxing styles, Mayweather, as it was the case with Leonard, is the more conventional boxer in the match-up. However, other than being fast and flashy, that’s where the similarity ends. Leonard could really punch to the head and body with both hands, and he went into the Duran fight thinking he could beat Roberto going toe-to-toe with him. On the other hand Mayweather will most likely only engage Pacquiao if he’s forced to. Mayweather is better than Leonard was defensively, but a lot of that has to do with Leonard being more offensively driven and that he sought to win by knockout, whereas Floyd is most content going the distance. This makes him less vulnerable to getting hit during exchanges because he usually only engages on his terms when he deems that it’s safe. Another thing Ray and Floyd share is both were physically stronger than they get credit for being, and neither had a shortage of confidence.
Pacquiao, as it was when Duran fought Leonard, is the perceived aggressor and puncher. But that’s where the similarity ends between them. Pacquiao is a southpaw who fights in spurts and is more prone to his feet sometimes being off the canvas when he attacks in spurts and waves. On the other hand, Duran of the lightweight/welterweight vintage, applied non-stop sustained pressure and cut the ring off much better than Pacquiao. Manny has quicker hands and feet than Duran did but he’s easier to hit and is nowhere near the inside fighter or body puncher Roberto was. Duran was a brilliant defensive fighter and his chin was much better than Pacquiao’s. Even though both of their high profile kayo losses were similar, there’s a big difference, and that is Duran got knocked out way over his best weight by one of the hardest one-shot punchers in boxing history, Thomas Hearns, not by a fighter who was chasing him up in weight who never dropped him once in their three previous fights, Juan Manuel Marquez.
There’s also an x-factor that was in play before the first Leonard-Duran bout that I don’t think is in play between Mayweather and Pacquiao, and that was Duran’s intense dislike of Leonard. Call it a hunch, but I don’t believe Manny could conjure up the borderline hatred for Floyd that Roberto harbored for Ray. Duran didn’t want to just beat Leonard, he wanted to humiliate and embarrass him in front of his wife and fans, and I don’t think Pacquiao is built like that. Duran was fiercely driven by his want to take Leonard down, because in his eyes Ray was receiving undue and unearned star treatment over him, on top of being further insulted that Leonard was earning roughly five times more money than he was for their fight. This is opposed to Pacquiao, who is getting a 40/60 split with Mayweather.
I’ve always maintained that I’ve never seen a fighter more prepared mentally, emotionally, physically and strategically who was on more of a mission to beat a particular opponent than “Smokin” Joe Frazier was to beat Muhammad Ali on March 8th, 1971….but if I had to pick a runner-up to Frazier it would be Roberto Duran of the first Leonard fight on June 20th, 1980.
As for the fight, if Mayweather-Pacquiao turns out to be half as good as Leonard-Duran I, it will be talked about for years to come. But that’s a high bar for it to clear. Leonard was awesome during that fight, and that’s because Duran wasn’t to be denied. Roberto’s sustained aggression along with his ability to never really let up for 15 fast paced rounds forced the young Leonard to raise his game, and he did. There were some tremendous exchanges during the bout and every time you started to think one of them was seizing control of the action, the other roared back and turned the tide.
The key to Duran’s unanimous decision victory was his ability to get Leonard to fight his fight. Duran taunting Leonard before the bout, insinuating that he wasn’t tough and how he would be forced to run, made it easier for him to lure Leonard into fighting more and boxing less. In addition to that, Leonard learned as the fight progressed just how versatile and slippery Duran was, something he wasn’t prepared for. It was a great fight and it was very close, but Duran nudged it out and both were the better for it.
If Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach can somehow get Manny to fight with the same non-stop aggression and tenacity that Roberto Duran did during the first Leonard fight, then Floyd Mayweather will be in for the toughest fight of his life and may depart the ring 47-1. But Manny Pacquiao is no Roberto Duran, but then again he won’t have to be because Floyd Mayweather is no Sugar Ray Leonard.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com