Manny Pacquiao, widely considered the world's best pound-for-pound fighter, is defending his WBO welterweight championship against "Sugar" Shane Mosley on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET, Showtime PPV, $54.95).
The fight marks Pacquiao's second defense of the 147-pound title he won from Miguel Cotto in 2009. The first came against Josh Clottey in March 2010, after which Pacquiao moved up and beat Antonio Margarito for a vacant super welterweight title last November. That victory made Pacquiao the first boxer to capture world championships in eight different weight classes (from 112 to 154).
When Mosley shocked the heavily favored Antonio Margarito in January 2009, the demand for a Pacquiao-Mosley showdown reached an all-time high. How things have changed. Mosley followed up the Margarito coup with a 15-month layoff, a lopsided loss to Floyd Mayweather and a listless draw with mid-level contender Sergio Mora. Once considered one of boxing's most desirable matchups, Pacquiao-Mosley is now regarded as a mismatch. Yes, the 39-year-old Mosley is a former lightweight, welterweight and junior middleweight champion, but he's nowhere near the fighter who twice upset Oscar De La Hoya in the early 2000s. Most boxing people are asking not if Mosley can win but whether he can survive.
That's less an indictment of "Sugar" Shane -- a first-ballot Hall of Famer who's never been knocked out -- and more a tribute to Pacquiao, the eight-division champion who's become the face of boxing around the world. If he's not unequivocally the sport's greatest fighter (the inactive Mayweather is the other claimant to the mythical pound-for-pound title), then he's certainly the most exciting boxer today. The 32-year-old Pacquiao is a global phenomenon who's cracked the sporting mainstream like no other Asian-born athlete. He's been the subject of a 60 Minutes profile and was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people. He sings, he acts. He was elected to Congress in the Philippines last year and hobnobbed with President Obama in February. It's been more than six years since he lost a fight.
*Exact weights to be announced at Friday's official weigh-in (6 p.m. ET/PT, SHO EXTREME/sho.sports.com)
Pacquiao's electric ascent through boxing's weight classes -- titles in eight divisions between 112 and 154 pounds -- is without precedent.
A world champion in three divisions, Mosley has consistently gone against the best available competition in a Hall of Fame career.
Pacquiao is on a streak of six victories against larger opponents: a ninth-round TKO of David Diaz for the lightweight title in June 2008; an emphatic ninth-round stoppage of Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008 that sent the Golden Boy into retirement; an awesome second-round starching of Ricky Hatton for the junior welterweight crown in May 2009; a TKO of Miguel Cotto in the most lucrative fight of 2009; and back-to-back lopsided decisions against Clottey and Margarito in 2010. With each successive outing, the Filipino seems to be getting better and better. He's not just bringing his punch up with him, but he's also absorbing opponents' shots more effectively.
Mosley, who is 2-2-1 in his last five fights, is coming off a one-sided loss to Mayweather and a lackluster draw with Mora -- but he's never looked as good against defensive movers of their ilk. ("Poor matchmaking on his side," said Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, of the Mora fight.) Theoretically at least, a smaller, offensive-minded fighter like Pacquiao is tailor-made for Mosley's "power boxing" philosophy.
Pacquiao's blinding hand speed has proved difficult for opponents in any division, but it's the foot speed that enables the southpaw to create impossible punching angles while seamlessly transitioning to defense. (Said Cotto: "I didn't see where the punches were coming from.") While his right hand was once merely a table-setter for the crushing left, Pacquiao has evolved into essentially an ambidextrous puncher whose oppressive punch volume keeps opponents on their heels. Mosley's speed still ranks among the best in the sport, but both Mayweather and Mora exposed a fighter whose reflexes are undeniably on the wane.
Roach, a four-time Trainer of the Year, is one of the game's best corner men whose teaming with Pacquiao is becoming one of boxing's historic fighter-trainer partnerships. Mosley has been working with Naazim Richardson, a similarly respected trainer who's overseen Bernard Hopkins' late-career resurgence. Advantage to Pacquiao, but only by the slimmest of margins.
Instinctively, there are questions about Pacquiao's motivation, and whether all of his non-boxing commitments will compromise his attention. But those same distractions were present during the build-up to his fights with Hatton, Cotto, Clottey and Margarito ... and we all remember how those worked out. Pacquiao seems to feed off the chaos, benefiting from powers of compartmentalization that are without parallel.
Oddsmaker William Hill lists Mosley as a 5-to-1 underdog.
Mosley has never been stopped, but Pacquiao is a powerful, ruthless opponent much closer to his physical peak. Anyone banking on a Pac-Man letdown should think twice: Roach claims Pacquiao "has never looked better in training" and says they settled early on the perfect game plan to dismantle "Sugar" Shane. Expect fireworks early as the bigger and stronger Mosley looks to test the fresher and quicker champion. But Pacquiao's ability to eat a welterweight's punch and keep moving forward is well-documented, and he'll prove too fast and too busy for Mosley to press the natural power advantage. The only drama will be whether Mosley will go the distance. He won't. Pacquiao by ninth-round TKO.
Manny Pacquiao jumps rope during a workout at the Wild Card Boxing Club. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)
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· Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. vs. Jorge Arce, 12 rounds, for Vazquez's WBO junior featherweight title
· Kelly Pavlik vs. Alfonso Lopez, 10 rounds, super middleweights
· Mike Alvarado vs. Ray Narh, 10 rounds, junior welterweights
· Non-PPV bouts: Jose Benavidez vs. James Hope, 6 rounds, welterweights; Karl Dargan vs. Randy Arrellin, 6 rounds, lightweights; Pier Olivier Cote vs. Ariz Ambriz, 8 rounds, junior welterweights; Rodel Mayol vs. Javier Gallo, 8 rounds, junior bantamweights; Jonathan Gonzalez vs. TBA, 4 rounds, flyweights
· Showtime's James Brown will emcee the four-fight telecast. Gus Johnson will call the action from ringside, with Al Bernstein and Antonio Tarver providing fight analysis. Jim Gray will serve as backstage, ringside and in-ring reporter.
· The referee assigned to the main event is Kenny Bayless. The judges are Duane Ford, Dave Moretti and Glenn Trowbridge.
· Fans can watch the official weigh-ins Friday at 6 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime Extreme (tape-delayed on the West Coast) or online at http://sports.sho.com.
· The fourth and final episode of Showtime's Fight Camp 360° debuts Friday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. CBS re-airs it Saturday at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT.
· Mario Lopez and Ines Sainz are hosting a Red Carpet Show Live with undercard bouts, celebrity interviews and behind-the-scenes footage on Saturday (Showtime Extreme, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT).