By Geoffrey Gray
LAS VEGAS -- In the beginning of training camp, once he'd landed in Los Angeles and started his preparations in the Wild Card Gym for the so-called "fight of the century," Manny Pacquiao wasn't interested in a strategy against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
"Let's just fight and let God decide who wins," he told Freddie Roach, his trainer.
Roach was irate. He wanted Pacquiao to study boxing, not Bible classes.
"Manny," he said, "God doesn't give a f--- who wins this fight. He's got better things to do."
Whatever strategy Pacquiao and Roach hatched together, on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Arena they had no answers for Mayweather, who masterfully handled the spurts of offense Pacquiao could muster, and spun and slipped and clinched and counter-punched and spun away again to a unanimous decision. Pacquiao was able to land his greatest punch, the straight left hand, but he could never capitalize on those advantages. By the time he lined up the punch, Mayweather was gone, spinning out of harm's way and resetting.
One judge scored the fight 118-110. Two judges had it 116-112. We had it 117-111. All for Mayweather, and in a fight that never felt competitive.
"He had moments, but I'm smart," Mayweather said afterward.
The fight began like an audit, tense and studious. In the early rounds, Mayweather and Pacquiao circled each other cautiously, flicking jabs, gauging their ranges, inspecting each other's arsenal as if going through each other's pugilistic paperwork. The fine print was clear. Mayweather was not only bigger, he was faster, and proficient in all the defensive tricks like headlocks, clinching, pushing down. And when he wasn't tying up and befuddling and obfuscating him, Mayweather proved an offensive tactician, leashing Pacquiao to the end of a pawing jab and straight right hand.
Mayweather's size and reach advantage, nearly half a foot, proved critical.
"He could never figure out my jab or right hand," Mayweather said.
The most explosive moment in the fight came at the beginning of the fourth round, when a stalking Pacquiao leaned into Mayweather's guard and launched a straight left hand, rocking him back into the ropes. The crowd jumped to their feet as Pacquiao hauled away at Mayweather, who covered on the ropes, expertly parrying the onslaught. By the time the round was finished, Mayweather had slipped away and reestablished himself, pumping and pawing the jump, connecting with right hands behind them.
The rest of the fight followed the same rhythm. Pacquiao stalking. Mayweather pawing. Pacquiao bumrushing his way in, throwing off balances punches to find... nothing. Mayweather had disappeared again.
"As a long as I moved to the outside, I was OK," Mayweather said.
In the final rounds, Pacquiao pressed harder, but not hard enough. He'd stalk Mayweather into the corner, trying to get in range, only to have Mayweather spin and clinch his way to safety. Despite all the talk about Mayweather's old legs, he moved beautifully in the late rounds, lulling Pacquiao into his own rhythm, a spider spinning his web, countering Pacquiao with check hooks and striking at will with counter right hands. Some thought Pacquiao could catch the older Mayweather late, but the 11th round appeared to be Mayweather's best. He punished Pacquiao with more right hands and slipped away with ease, as a frustrated, depleting and swelling Pacquiao trailed him in vain.
Pacquiao did not do enough. He did not throw enough punches, nor combinations, nor have the answer, nor throw any prayers of punches. He never came close to fighting his fight.
Curiously, though, Pacquiao thought he won.
"I caught him many times," Pacquiao said, surprised at the scores. "I was never hurt." Asked why he didn't throw more punches, Pacquiao said, "[Mayweather] was moving around. If he stayed still, I could throw more punches."
Pacquiao said he was under the impression he was winning, and that's why he didn't press harder in the final rounds.
"He didn't do anything," Pacquiao said. "He was always moving outside."
Whatever Mayweather did, it worked. He was patient, measured, efficient, effective -- a master technician at work. And yet, after climbing the ring ropes and raising his hands in victory, and after the judges' scores confirmed his domination of Pacquiao, it was hard to hear him. The cascade of jeers from the pro-Pacquiao crowd drowned him out. Even in victory, Mayweather didn't convert any followers.
With one fight left on his Showtime contract, Mayweather said he would retire after his next bout. "I'm almost 40 years old now," he said. "It's time for me to hang it up." Asked about the fight's place in history, Mayweather said, "When the history books are written, this fight will have been worth the wait."
Mayweather had all the right answers Saturday night, except that particular one. Said the guy behind me: "They talk about this being the best fight in history... This wasn't even the best fight this month."
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