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Heavy Hands: Three Keys to Victory for Mayweather and Pacquiao

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The Heavy Hands team of Connor Ruebusch and Patrick Wyman offer up their three keys to victory for Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, who fight tomorrow night in Las Vegas.

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Connor Ruebusch and Patrick Wyman each give you three keys to victory for Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in their epic, long-awaited contest this Saturday. These talking points come from the latest episode of Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching.

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Patrick: My third-most important point for Manny Pacquiao is to push the fight to the ropes. Manny isn't a pressure fighter by nature, but I've always thought that he does some of his very best work when he gets his opponent pushed back to the ropes or into the corner where he can flurry. For Manny to give himself the best chance of winning the fight, it needs to be fought as close to the ropes as possible for as long as possible. That's the easiest way for Manny to keep the fight at a range where he can consistently land shots.

Connor: The interesting thing is that particularly against southpaws, Mayweather is easier to back into the ropes than you might think. He's quite good off of the ropes, but Mayweather's expertise is is more in his upper-body positioning, his counters, and his movement at range rather than his footwork when he's being pressed. He does actually retreat in straight lines if you give him enough pressure.

Connor: My third-most important key to victory for Pacquiao is that he needs to throw counters. If we look at the plan B for both fighters, Mayweather's will likely be to stalk Pacquiao and actually be the aggressor and come forward, something he's done against many southpaws in the past, trying to assert himself early in the fight, while Pacquiao's plan B is to counter. I actually think Manny is a better counter fighter than Floyd is a pressure fighter...He's a credible counterpuncher, and I think it's important for him mentally. I mentioned before that Floyd tries to assert himself - he's a very accurate puncher, and a consistent one - and it seems important to me that Manny put him off that when he tries to do it. He needs to take advantage of the fact that Mayweather rarely throws in combination and he needs to hit him back as soon as he can and remind him that he's not somebody that you can just wail away on.

Patrick: I think it's important for Manny to be last in those exchanges, if only for the judges.

Patrick: My second point for Manny is volume, volume, volume. You cannot let yourself settle into Floyd's pace, because if you're fighting at Floyd's pace there's no way that you're going to pick him off a shot at a time. That's Floyd's world, and you're just not going to win there. You can't let yourself settle in, and in almost every Mayweather fight, we see guys eventually just agree to fight at that pace and settle into what Floyd wants to do. You can't do that. You may be competitive with him there, but you're not going to win it there.

I think a lot of guys go in with the idea to throw volume, but whether the shots are actually landing or not, you have to keep throwing. The appearance of activity can help you win a decision. Manny needs to look like he's winning, whether they're landing cleanly or not. Part of the way that de la Hoya kept himself in that fight was those stupid, squared-stance flurries against the ropes that did nothing but looked good but did nothing.

Connor: Especially with the kind of built-in judging bias that Floyd's style affords. Look, he's the defensive master, these things aren't landing cleanly, is just kind of the assumption. With that said, some opponents have had some success boxing with him - Miguel Cotto, for example.

Patrick: True, you can have success boxing with him in short bursts, but even if you can win a certain way it's really about putting yourself in position to win it the greatest percentage of the time.

Connor: Yeah, and when you agree to box with Floyd you're essentially agreeing to the lower-volume style.

Connor: My second-most important point for Pacquiao is angular footwork before, during, and after every attack. For me, this takes the place of your point about pushing Floyd to the ropes. He's good when he pushes you there, and I'm sure it'll happen, but to me the best part about Pacquiao's game is his footwork and the angles that he takes. His footwork is often unorthodox - it's not always flawless, and he'll leave himself off-balance, open, or exposed in some way - but he's always going in the right direction at the right time. It's perhaps the most practical footwork in all of boxing, and in this fight Pacquiao has the potential to out-footwork Floyd, even as he's throwing volume at him. What I mean by that is moving in at awkward angles, setting up little sidesteps with weird rhythm changes and feints, hitting Mayweather and then rolling out or pivoting and ending up behind him.

This is especially useful against Floyd, because his crab stance is all about defending the centerline. When pressured, he'll either take a high guard or lean back from that crab position and use his shoulder to cover his chin. It works because opponents are trying to attack his centerline, but it's very difficult to get around his foot and his shoulder. Fighters have had success, though, by just going the other way. If he can force Floyd to turn with him, he can get behind him and create his best opportunities to land clean punches.

Patrick: I think our number two points play together nicely, because it's not as simple as saying, "Throw volume." You have to put yourself in position to throw volume, and angular movement is going to put you in position to throw that volume because it means that you're keeping Mayweather within your preferred range. I'll say, though, that Manny needs to change it up and instead of using those angles to get all the way out of danger, he needs to do the opposite and use them to keep himself in danger, because the danger is worse for Floyd than for him.

Patrick: The most important thing for Pacquiao: variety is the spice of life. Pacquiao has to mix up the type of punches, the location, the timing, the number of punches in his combinations. He can't get overly reliant on his straight left or his right hook. He needs to throw anything and everything at various targets at various rates in different rounds. Floyd is a boxing computer, and as you feed him information he's going to figure out the appropriate response to the information you're giving him. You need to overwhelm him with information, not let him get into a pattern where he can anticipate what's coming next. Instead, you need to show him too much.

Connor: You're a son of a bitch, Pat.

Patrick: Was that your point?

Connor: That was exactly my point. We finally agree on something: I had "offensive variety," even the "boxing computer" analogy.


Patrick: My third-most important point for Floyd is to throw the left hook. The left hook, I think, is by far Mayweather's best punch in terms of the force he gets behind it and the technical way that he throws it. That's not to say that Floyd's right isn't technical, but the important place it occupies in his game and the fact that he does so many different things with it means that a lot of the time he doesn't get much pop behind it.

Connor: The weird thing about Floyd's lead right is that he goes through all the steps that go into generating power in a punch before he throws it. He puts himself in the finishing position for a cross and then just snaps the hand out, so there's no power behind it. It's all speed, and I don't think it's as punishing as a lot of people seem to believe. It's fast, so it snaps heads back, but people don't tend to run into it an awful lot. He uses that right hand like a jab against southpaws, and the left hook behind it, he used that beautifully against Judah, and when he did use it against Guerrero it was very effective. It's a very tricky punch for a southpaw to deal with.

Patrick: Yeah, exactly. And that was really what stood out to me: I wish he'd thrown it more against Guerrero. Also, throw it to the body. If Floyd's left hook is his best punch, then the left hook to the body is the best incarnation of that punch. He really rips it, and I think it's the tightest, most technical, and most forceful punch that he throws. Even though Manny was knocked out by Marquez, he's still an incredibly durable and tough dude, and you need to hurt him. I don't think it's enough to just take rounds, I think you need to hurt him and show him that he can't just stay in the pocket and take your punch. You need to force him to back off, and the left hook is the best way to do that.

Connor: My third point for Floyd is to work on the inside. At times, this will undoubtedly turn into an in-fight, as Pacquiao's momentum carries him forward and so will Floyd's with that lead right. There have been fights where Floyd has just decided to tie up or wait on the inside, but when he decides to really go to work at close range, he is a masterful in-fighter. You can see that at points against Cotto, and you can definitely see it through all ten rounds with Ricky Hatton. On the flip side, Pacquiao is a pretty bad in-fighter. It's the one area where he doesn't really do a lot; he tends to just wrap up an arm and wait for a break or he'll just kind of back up and leave himself vulnerable. If there's one phase of the fight where Mayweather has a distinct advantage, it's the in-fight, so when they end up there he really needs to do some damage or at least work Pacquiao to the body and punish him for coming in that close.

Patrick: My second point for Floyd is to hit Manny as he turns, because while those will be the points where Manny can land his volume on Floyd, they're also the points where he's most vulnerable to the big shot. He exposes the side of his head and he drops his gloves, especially as he throws. If you're Floyd and you want to pick him off a shot at a time, those are going to be the points where you can really hurt him. As we discussed, it's not just about hitting Manny, it's about hurting him, and that's the place where you can really hurt him.

Connor: Walk him into a sweeping right or a left hook, either to the body or the head, and attack the space rather than a particular target. A lot of what we've touched on is that Floyd needs to spend the first part of the fight convincing Manny that what he wants to do isn't a good idea.

Connor: My second point for Floyd is to attack the body early and often. We've already touched on this, but everything Manny needs to do to win - angles, activity, etc. - requires a lot of energy. Look at the second Maidana fight: he had volume and plenty of it, but Floyd attacked his body with vicious right hooks, uppercuts, body jabs, left hooks, and by about the sixth round Maidana was struggling to get anything going even at his preferred ranges and near the ropes. Mayweather needs to do the same thing to Pacquiao. He needs to decrease the chances of Pacquiao being able to keep up with him as the fight goes into the later rounds. Pacquiao stands a better chance of staying in the fight late than anybody else Floyd has fought unless he's deterred by a specific kind of body attack.

Patrick: You have to assume that both guys are going to be in good enough shape to fight their kind of fight, at their pace, without tiring over twelve rounds. Instead, you have to do something to tire your opponent out. You can't assume that they're going to tire on their own, so that means lots of body punching, and for Floyd, that means leaning on Manny when you're in tight. If you don't want Manny throwing volume in the later rounds, you need to make sure that Manny can't throw volume in the later rounds, and body punching is the way to do that.

Connor: My final point for Floyd is an either/or. He needs to either lead or counter Manny mid-attack. Floyd's at his best when his opponent doesn't even get a chance to throw, when he has the higher ground, he has the advantage, he has the initiative. The opponent finds himself befuddled, waiting on him, trying to guess what he's going to do next. It's especially amazing when you consider how pared-down his offensive variety has become over the course of his career. He throws a slimmer variety than ever before, especially against southpaws: the straight right, right to the body, sweeping right hand, and left hook, and then a couple of special moves like the pull counter. He doesn't do much, just spaces the ways in which he sets them up, changes the look that he gives prior to the attack or the rhythm and the timing of the attack. Nothing will ruin Manny's game-plan faster than forcing him to play that guessing game with Floyd. The other half of that is to counter Manny mid-attack. Manny's always struggled with guys who throw at him while he's throwing, like Marquez in all four of their fights. That's where Manny's at his most vulnerable and most likely to be hurt.

Patrick: I really like the distinction that you drew there, because you want to counter Manny but you don't want to exchange with Manny. You don't want to put yourself in a layered exchange where you're going three, four, five, or six layers deep. Floyd might win the occasional exchange, but he's not going to win most of them.

Patrick: My number one for Floyd is to shorten the fight. I don't mean that you're going to make the clock run faster, but that you minimize Manny's opportunities as much as humanly possible and limit the action. When Floyd gets on the inside, yeah, work Manny over, but hold when you have to. Keep yourself off the ropes as much as humanly possible, get yourself out in open space. Why? Because distance is time, and if you give yourself that space it'll cut down Manny's opportunities to throw and land combinations, to flurry, to get that in-and-out, angular game going. Floyd just needs to do what he normally does, but more so, to limit Manny's opportunities to throw the kind and volume of shots that he wants to. Put the fight, as often as possible, in the spots where you're better than him, and that equates to open space in the middle of the ring or the inside.

(Click here for more Mayweather vs. Pacquiao coverage.)