Can Pacquiao Hand Mayweather His First Defeat?

The smart money says no.

Floyd Mayweather by Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports; Manny Pacquiao by Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports

Floyd Mayweather by Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports; Manny Pacquiao by Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports

In the unparalleled hype surrounding the May 2 mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, few have discussed the most important thing for sports bettors: How do you make a smart wager?

To place a bet that has a chance of at least covering the $99 cost of the pay-per-view, it’s important to look past the media and ticket-buying frenzy, and past all the hoopla that comes with any major sports event in Las Vegas (particularly a championship fight). Just like the Super Bowl, you have to turn a deaf ear to all that noise, and study history, fundamentals and situations.

Which boxer is best positioned to win this fight right now? Not back in 2010, when everybody thought it was going to happen, but on May 2, 2015. What are their current skill sets? Their current strengths and weaknesses? Who wants it more? And if both want it the same, who’s more capable of imposing his will?

You start finding answers by examining the traditional “tale of the tape”—just don’t rely too heavily on those raw numbers. The tale of the tape starts the process, but should not make the pick for you.

One handicapping tool I used to break down this matchup was to review what happened when Mayweather and Pacquiao battled five common opponents: Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton and Juan Manuel Márquez. It’s a luxury for one boxing matchup to have that much common history to study, so what did we learn?

Well, Mayweather swept the slate, going 5-0. Pacquiao swept the first four, then went 2-1-1 in his epic four-match rivalry with Márquez. Those results are largely reflected in the odds for this bout: Mayweather is essentially a 2-to-1 favorite. Many boxing pundits are picking Mayweather because it’s so difficult to bet against a guy who always finds a way to win (plus, it’s easy to side with the minus-200 favorite when all the media is asking you to do is pick the winner, not actually lay the chalk!).

The 2-to-1 price makes it easy to evaluate the matchup in mathematical terms. Imagine if these superstars fought three times: Is it reasonable to think Mayweather would win all three? Could he win two and force a draw in the third? Would Pacquiao prevail at least once? Could Pacquiao split two and earn a draw in the third?

If you’re going to lay the 2-to-1 odds, you’d better be confident Mayweather has a decided edge. On the other hand, if you’re looking at backing the underdog, you have to determine how Pacquiao is going to break through when each of Mayweather’s previous 47 opponents failed.

If you’re just betting low stakes for fun, pick your favorite guy and root your heart out. If you’re looking at this fight as a moneymaking opportunity, work through the process and try to find value. Which is exactly what I’ve done. Here’s how I see things unfolding:

Many experts believe Pacquiao will attack early and often, looking to end the fight quickly. I’m not so sure this would be a wise tactic, because this isn’t the 2010 version of Manny. As usual, he’ll likely want to come with his straight left, but as we saw against opponents who move well, Pacquiao missed. In fact, he missed a lot. That spells trouble against one of the best counterpunchers in boxing history.

Remember Pacquiao’s aggressive style early in his career, how he would constantly move forward and press the action from start to finish? Well, when the level of competition increased and he was forced to fight a more intelligent opponent, Pacquiao didn’t always fare well.

Márquez and Timothy Bradley both made Pacquiao change his approach in the ring, and Manny went just 3-2-1 in six fights against those two boxers. Well, no fighter forces his opponent to adjust as much as Floyd Mayweather.

Now, Pacquiao’s speedy footwork could work in his favor, and he does close distance as fast as anyone in the squared circle. However, he also tends to get a little wild at times and overreach. If this happens May 2, Mayweather will land his straight right hand.

Then there’s Mayweather’s highly intelligent defensive game plan. Over the years, I’ve said several times that you have to be in attendance to fully appreciate Floyd’s incredible skills. When facing right-handers, he uses his shoulder-roll defense and is virtually unhittable. However, he doesn’t use it in the same way against southpaws. Instead, he will look to get in and quickly get out, using his feet to avoid a puncher’s range.

If this fight had taken place in 2010, I believe Manny would have caught Floyd often because of his hand speed and his straight left. But this is 2015, and the video doesn’t lie: Manny’s fists no longer fly with the same speed and accuracy as they did five years ago.

Bottom line: Pacquiao would love to make this a brawl; Mayweather is too smart to let that happen.

I’ve sat in the first 10 rows for many fights since I moved to Las Vegas 31 years ago. I’ve witnessed some of the best in the sport, including Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Evander Holyfield, and I have never seen a more intelligent fighter than Floyd Mayweather. Yes, he’s 38 years old. And, yes, even the greatest of the greats usually end their careers with a loss. But Floyd is too ring-savvy for Manny, and Pacquiao’s skills aren’t what they used to be.

In the end, I see Floyd—after frustrating Pacquiao as the fight progresses into the later rounds—exiting the ring with a 48-0 record. So my top play is a bet on Mayweather to win. (As recently as six days before the fight, you could’ve found Mayweather as low as minus-203, so shop around for the best price.) I also think the fight will go to the judges’ scorecards, but the prop of “Will the fight go over 11½ rounds?” is minus-300. That’s some big juice to lay, so while my opinion is to play the “Over,” my only official recommendation is betting Mayweather to win.

Whether you get involved monetarily or simply take it in as a spectator, enjoy the Fight of the Century—and may the night end with a clear-cut winner.

A longtime Las Vegas-based handicapper and sports bettor, Scott Spreitzer is also the host of’s “First Preview,” which airs at 10 a.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1100-AM, 100.5-FM.