Could Manny Pacquiao’s southpaw stance prove to be the difference for the Filipino against Floyd Mayweather?
On Saturday May 2nd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will finally do battle in a clash between the two most elite fighters of their generation. It will be boxing’s biggest event for nigh on thirty years, a chance for both men to settle the much-debated score and in the process pocket a mountain of cash. With an estimated pot of $250 million, it will be the richest bout in the sport’s storied history.
So why has it taken over five years to make a fight that is so integral to the careers of both its protagonists? Well, that’s a question that has divided opinion as much as the outcome of the fight itself. But there’s one theory that has for the most part dominated the conversation throughout this lengthy game of cat and mouse. That Floyd Mayweather, at least until this point, has been reluctant to fight Manny Pacquiao.
“I promoted the guy for ten years and I know how difficult it was to get him in the ring with any southpaw,” Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum opined in an interview with The Telegraph late last year. “When you talk about a southpaw who can move like Manny, that’s not the kind of opponent that Mayweather feels he would do well against. That’s the problem. If Manny agreed to fight right-handed, the fight would be agreed in five minutes.”
Arum clearly has a slanted outlook when it comes to Floyd Mayweather; the two parted company acrimoniously in 2006, a year before Floyd took part in what was then the richest bout in boxing history with Oscar De La Hoya, another former Arum charge. Mayweather has publicly aired his bitterness towards Arum at every opportunity since the split and the fact that the Top Rank chief has promoted Pacquiao throughout the saga that we’ve seen for the past five years has only exacerbated Mayweather-Arum relations.
To a certain degree, whatever Arum says has to be taken with a pinch of salt. He’s a promoter after all and one that many people within the game will testify as being dishonest and manipulative. There is no smoke without fire.
But the same applies to Mayweather, and the 83-year-old promoter of his arch-rival is not the only voice shouting Floyd’s affliction with southpaws from the rooftops.
“I think he’s a little worried about the style match-up and Manny’s southpaw stance,” is the opinion of Pacquiao’s Hall of Fame trainer, Freddie Roach. “I think that worries him a little bit. But I won’t say that he’s scared, because fighters aren’t scared, we don’t work that way.”
Arum however went further to suggest that Mayweather is scared of dealing with Pacquiao.
“His whole style is geared for a right-handed fighter,” he continued. “And to compound that if the southpaw is really fast and moves, that would give Mayweather and his style a lot of problems.”
With a record of 47-0, Floyd has fought eight southpaws during his professional career, with Pacquiao to become the ninth. It’s estimated that southpaws account for little more than 10% of fighters – a translation that makes sense seeing as roughly one in ten people are left-handed – so from that standpoint it’s hard to make a case that Floyd has avoided them. After facing Pacquiao, southpaws will make up 18.9% of his career opposition.
At the highest level of the sport however, southpaws appear to be in a far greater abundance due to the well-documented problems that they cause orthodox fighters. For that reason, you could perhaps argue that a fighter with Mayweather’s championship experience should actually have shared the ring with more.
Mayweather fought three southpaws in his first nine fights and all within the first twelve months of his professional career, Reggie Sanders, Bobby Giepart and Jesus Chavez. But after dispatching Chavez by fifth-round stoppage, it would be seven years before Mayweather squared off against another left-hander.
Former 140lb titleholder DeMarcus Corley had lost just two of his thirty-one fights heading into his clash with Mayweather in 2004 and each had come via split decision, one of which was in his previous outing in which he lost his WBO crown to fellow southpaw Zab Judah. Mayweather was making his debut in the division, after making several defences of his lightweight crown. ‘Chop Chop’ was a test, but Floyd was expected to win in style.
In the end he did, dropping Corley twice en route to a wide unanimous decision by scores of 119-107, 119-108 and 118-108, but what most observers take away from the fight was what Corley was able to do to Mayweather.
A hard left hand stunned the Grand Rapids’ native in the third round and then Corley landed a huge right hand in the fourth, backing Mayweather into the ropes and presenting a mini-crisis for the Pretty Boy who for a few difficult seconds faced a barrage of punches from the Washington man. Ultimately it was nothing more than a gut check which Floyd came through, but it’s since been cited countless times as evidence of Floyd’s vulnerability to left handers. Mayweather’s next southpaw assignment at least would pour water on that theory.
That was Sharmba Mitchell, who was the opponent for Mayweather’s welterweight debut in 2005. Floyd won by a sixth-round TKO after a one-sided fight and then in his very next bout, faced what could perhaps be classed as his first elite southpaw opposition in Corley conqueror Judah. It was the Judah fight that confounded the opinion in many observers that Mayweather is indeed vulnerable against southpaw fighters.
Though he too would lose a runaway decision, Judah’s speed from the southpaw stance was a nightmare for Floyd for the first four rounds. Surprisingly, the Brooklyn native’s hands appeared to be quicker than Mayweather’s and he enjoyed continued success with his straight left throughout the opener, before a controversial exchange in the next round. Judah was also dominating the second stanza when he caught Mayweather with a right hook as he was lunging in to send Floyd reeling backwards, and the glove of the unbeaten fighter – who had never legitimately been knocked down – touched the canvas.
Referee Richard Steele waved it away but replays suggested it should have been called a knockdown, yet in the end, it was immaterial as Mayweather adjusted to run out a clear winner. From round five onwards he proved to be the superior fighter and comprehensively outboxed Judah, whose speed became less of a factor and he resorted to fouling in the later rounds as his frustration boiled over.
The phantom knockdown can be attributed to the fighting stance that Judah adopted; Mayweather reached in with a straight right to the body so flawlessly effective against fellow orthodox fighters but put himself right in the firing line for the short right hook from the southpaw stance. Corley is on record as saying that whilst he had the power to trouble Floyd and Judah had the speed, both attributes were needed to have a chance of beating Mayweather. Both attributes however that few could deny Pacquiao possesses.
Since the Judah fight Floyd has beaten two more southpaws in Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero, the latter of which was little more than a glorified sparring session in which Mayweather wasn’t troubled at all. It’s worthwhile noting that Guerrero isn’t exceptionally fast or a heavy hitter; Ortiz’s power was neutralised by Mayweather for the best part of four rounds, but the Californian was beginning to enjoy some success before that fight’s bizarre and premature ending.
When it’s all considered, despite some of the more troubling moments of his career Floyd is 8-0 versus southpaws with 4 knockouts. One of his greatest abilities in the ring is to adapt to whatever is thrown at him and on the competitive evidence we have that’s no different for the southpaw stance; it’s simply just another equation that his boxing intelligence solves once he’s warmed into the fight.
But what about the southpaws he didn’t fight? Paul Williams, often mooted as a potential Mayweather opponent in his prime and present for a number of years during Floyd’s reigns at welterweight and light middle, is often talked about as a fighter than Mayweather avoided. The significant height and reach advantages for Williams would have magnified any problems posed by his left-sided orientation. And what of his namesake, Paul Spadafora? A fighter whose problems outside of the ring blunted his potential, ‘Spaddy’ was a prominent lightweight of the late 90’s and early 00’s and although they never met for real, he shared the ring with Mayweather for a sparring session way back in 1999 that became the stuff of legend.
As seen in the above video, Spadafora clearly got the better of Mayweather in the infamous meeting, after which Mayweather drops to his knees exhausted in his corner, reportedly with a bloodied nose. Spadafora landed a considerable number of left crosses and his conditioning and hand-speed were major factors. To provide some context, the then unbeaten Spadafora was only a few days away from a fight whereas Mayweather wasn’t in camp and as anyone who knows boxing will tell you, sparring and fighting are completely different animals. But that doesn’t change the fundamentals of Spadafora’s boxing and what brought him success against Mayweather in that session.
Floyd’s patented shoulder roll has been a key cog in achieving his status as by far the greatest defensive fighter of his generation and a fantastic counter-puncher, but it’s particularly effective against a fellow right-hander because with his right hand he can block his opponent’s jab or parry and counter over the top with his fabled straight right. The left shoulder then protects his chin from his opponent’s power punches and allows him to deflect them, leaving the opponent open to being hit with Floyd’s right hand on the inside.
Against a southpaw, physics don’t allow either of these fighting permutations however and it’s the backhand of Floyd’s opponent that the right glove is forced to block, which ergonomically is a much more difficult prospect. When you’re talking about a southpaw that has the speed and movement to slip inside Mayweather’s guard, like Judah and Spadafora were at times able to and as you’d expect Pacquiao would, that’s a problem. Add some punching power to that left hand and it’s potentially a nightmare.
Which may well explain why it’s taken this long for the fight of this century to be made. Is Mayweather all of a sudden now accustomed to the southpaw stance? Or, as many feel, is it the case that with few plausible options remaining and with a wave of public pressure like never before, Floyd has been backed into taking the fight with Pacquiao?
As the sport’s biggest cash generator, Mayweather has been able to pick and choose his opponents for years and he has chosen to take on tough challenges, like the Canelo Alvarez fight. Though it’s not in the interest of the fans, few can blame a man in Mayweather’s position for not choosing to fight the man who stylistically could pose the biggest threat to his unbeaten record. Fans and members of the boxing media share some of the responsibility for allowing Mayweather, and other fighters today, to be in a position to choose their opponents.
It’s a business decision, not a fighting one and like Freddie Roach said, even if Mayweather does have concern about Pacquiao’s stance, it’s unlikely he’s actually afraid of the Filipino. He’s a fighter, to this date still an unbeaten one and has overcome all of the obstacles he has had to face before. Though an explosive southpaw could prove to be his kryptonite, there are some stylistic headaches that Mayweather poses for Pacquiao.
Fans of the self-proclaimed ‘best ever’ will cheerfully remind you of the counter right hand that knocked Pacquiao out cold and Juan Manuel Marquez’s combined success against Manny across four meetings. Mayweather and Marquez are very different breeds of fighter but what Marquez has revealed is that a clever counter-puncher can score freely against a Pacquiao with a penchant for charging in and leaving little regard for defence. Also, whereas Mayweather has proven to be highly adaptable in the ring, Pacquiao’s style – whilst brutally effective in most cases – is essentially always the same. Versatility is probably an underrated ingredient in the recipe needed to take Mayweather’s ‘0’.
In short, while there is weight in the argument that Pacquiao provides a stylistic nightmare for Floyd, the same argument can also be made in reverse. Both men possess the tools required to beat the other but for a fight being billed as the “Fight of the Century” you surely wouldn’t expect anything less?