(This article is republished with permission from the author. You can read more musings from Morgan P. Campbell at his blog, By Morgan Campbell.)
By Morgan P. Campbell / @morganpcampbell
In late June 2010, Hall-of-Fame boxing trainer Freddie Roach passed through Toronto on his way to Casino Rama to corner women’s champ Ana Julaton. No disrespect to the fighters at the news conference, but Roach was the story that day — a legit boxing celeb with some mainstream cachet, and our link to the much-discussed but still hypothetical Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather showdown.
I interviewed Roach about whether Pacquiao would call Mayweather’s bluff and agree to drug testing (Roach said heck yeah), and talked some more for a story about how Roach copes with Parkinson’s disease.
Afterward we chatted about the sweet science. I asked about Pacquiao’s future plans if a Mayweather bout didn’t materialize, and what Roach had learned watching Mayweather’s recent win over Shane Mosley.
Roach told me Mayweather had a dangerous right hand. Bad news for Pacquiao, who even back then had a bad habit of taking right hand leads to the forehead. But he said the standout factor was Mayweather’s legs.
They were dead, Roach said. Age had made him a stationary fighter, one who would struggle with Pacquiao’s speed and movement and angular attacks.
Roach watched that fight with a sharper eye for boxing detail than any of us has, gave Mayweather credit for dominating Mosley, then declared one of the two best fighters on the planet 'Over the Hill' at 33.
Are Mayweather’s legs any fresher at 38?
I doubt it, but pose the question because age has become an issue in the buildup to the fight and will probably remain one in the aftermath. As the Mayweather-Pacquiao courtship stretched from months to years, many sports pundits said Mayweather delayed negotiations willfully, hoping to face Pacquiao only after age had diminished him.
And if Mayweather wins May 2, you’ll hear that theory again from folks convinced a Mayweather cherry-picked an overripe fighter.
Don’t believe it.
I’m not even sure Pacquiao’s camp does.
This isn’t to say the 36-year-old Pacquiao’s hasn’t slipped in the last 5 years, because he has. He’s easier to hit than ever, and his vaunted knockout power has been absent since 2009.
But *checks birth dates* we can’t forget Mayweather’s nearly two years older than Pacquiao, which puts him on the wrong side of this equation. An ancient athlete has no age advantage over a rival who’s merely old.
And let’s not pretend Mayweather is something besides a 38-year-old boxer whose best asset is speed. Athletes who perform as well at 38 as they had at 28 are rare, and those who do it without chemical assistance rarer still. And if you haven’t noticed a dulling in Mayweather’s razor-sharp skills you didn’t watch his fights with Marcos Maidana closely enough.
As we’ve discussed in the past, Mayweather has aged gracefully. But we’ve also discussed why Time is undefeated, and recent bouts show both guys have absorbed chronological body blows.
Roach said five years ago he’d noticed it, and hasn’t changed his mind.
“Mayweather fights in spurts these days. He likes to lay up on the ropes. He takes a lot of rests in the ring. One of the keys to victory for Manny is to recognize when Floyd is taking a break and to stay on the offensive…” -- Freddie Roach, to the Wall Street Journal this week
Key phrase: “These days.”
It implies that in earlier days Mayweather was more mobile and more active, and suggests the five-year wait for this fight hasn’t strengthened him.
Mayweather himself hasn’t acknowledged slowing down, but here’s what he said after defeating Maidana in their rematch last September.
Key phrase: “I got hit with some shots tonight I shouldn’t have got hit with.”
You know who talks like that?
An old fighter, that’s who.
If Slow Maidana landed punches against Old Mayweather, Fast Pacquiao has a chance to hit Even Older Floyd.
Granted, athletes don’t all age at the same rate. Archie Moore won his first world title at 36, while 36-year-old Roy Jones got knocked into oblivion by an Australian cruiserweight named Danny Green. But delaying this fight five years changes the nature of the contest. In 2010, it would have measured who was the best fighter; now it’ll determine which of man has aged better.
And there’s no guarantee Mayweather has the advantage there.
Be sure to follow Morgan on Twitter and Facebook for more updates on his work for Sportonomics, the Toronto Star and general fight game commentary.
Morgan Campbell is a Toronto based sports reporter and culture critic, while also being the second-fastest person in his family.