Mayweather-Pacquiao: Five things that will determine a winner

Just hours away from the biggest boxing match in decades, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have put in all the work to prepare for their 12-round showdown Saturday night in Las Vegas.

The two fighters have been talking about this matchup for the better part of six years, so Mayweather and Pacquiao have undoubtedly broken down the technical aspects of this bout dozens of times in their own heads and with their trainers.

Chances are everybody tuning in to watch “The Fight of the Century” on pay-per-view will have a favorite — whether it’s Mayweather with his outspoken antics and undefeated record or Pacquiao with his humble attitude and rip-roaring fists of fury.

But which fighter actually has the better chance to win based on recent fights and history against similar opponents? Are we about to see boxing excellence and a bout that will set the world on fire or 12 rounds of dancing with minimal damage being inflicted by either aging fighter?

What are the keys to victory for the 38-year-old Mayweather? What does Pacquiao, 36, have to do to hand Mayweather his first career loss?

Here are five things to look for heading into this once-in-a-generation fight.

The aggressor vs. the counter-puncher

Pacquiao-Mayweather pits one of the greatest punchers in boxing history against a fighter known for precise counter-punching.

Pacquiao has thrived by throwing huge flurries and combinations while typically using superior footwork to get inside on bigger opponents. He used this method to perfection when picking apart Oscar De La Hoya in their 2008 fight and the same style to dismantle Ricky Hatton in 2009.

Conversely, Mayweather is a classic counter-puncher who uses his “shoulder roll” defense to block or avoid punches before firing back with quick jabs and a powerful right hand that is so deceptive and quick many of his opponents don’t see it coming before it lands.

The real key in this matchup is whether Pacquiao’s offensive flurries can throw Mayweather off his game or if the undefeated fighter’s defense and counters are built to eat up the Filipino legend when he gets too aggressive and refuses to back down.

"Freddie Roach and I will be looking to add a lot of the strategy we used against De La Hoya and (Miguel) Cotto. It will be attack and pressure," Pacquiao told reporters about the matchup with Mayweather.

The danger in Pacquaio applying constant pressure is Mayweather’s ability to shrug off the punches and come back over the top with his right hand, which is usually cocked and ready to strike whenever an opponent steps forward. Mayweather also uses great head movement to avoid damage and frustrate his more aggressive opponents, which usually leads to a miserable percentage for accuracy by the time the fight is over.

Because Mayweather is so hard to hit with power shots, Pacquiao may have to leave himself open to the counter at some point if he wants to do any real damage. The counter shot is Mayweather’s best weapon, so it’s a gamble as to whether Pacquiao can flurry with combinations and get out again without taking two or three punches for his trouble.

"Pacquiao has to take chances out there," former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis told reporters about the fight. "But that’s going to open him up to a counter-puncher. That’s what a counter-puncher loves to do. He wants you to commit yourself."

Orthodox vs. southpaw

A huge part of the way this fight plays out will come down to stances, defense and the way punches are thrown in an orthodox-versus-southpaw matchup.

Southpaws such as Pacquiao typically have a power left hand, but the Filipino fighter in this bout also happens to have a deadly right hook that can follow his lead shot. Pacquiao fires off punches in such rapid succession it often looks like a blur as he lands three or four with devastating power.

Mayweather likes to employ a sideways stance with his shoulder pointed out, which allows him to block punches with his arms or duck his head away before opponents can land anything with power. Defensively, Mayweather is a marvel because he avoids punches so well that opponents are typically defeated mentally simply from the fact that they can barely ever hit him.

But against southpaws, Mayweather has typically had a tougher time unleashing his own offense with great accuracy. In his eight bouts against left-handed fighters, Mayweather has landed just 41 percent of his power punches, versus a whopping 58 percent against orthodox opponents.

Mayweather has had some difficulty against lefthanders such as Zab Judah.

In his 2006 fight against southpaw Zab Judah, Mayweather struggled early as he constantly took a right-hand jab from his opponent that came over the top of his defense as well as to the body.

"Pacquiao will need to get his jab over Mayweather’s guard,” southpaw boxer Paulie Malignaggi told the Wall Street Journal. "You can do that by parrying and going over the top of the other guy’s left jab.”

Though Pacquiao has a stiff lead jab, his tendency to step into his punches so they land with maximum power leaves him open to the right hand, which is exactly what happened when he got cold-cocked by Juan Manuel Marquez during their fourth fight in 2012. Pacquiao got overaggressive when trying to force a knockout after hurting Marquez and paid for it by getting laid out face-first on the canvas.

Mayweather paid close attention to that one.

"He’s a very, very reckless fighter," Mayweather told reporters about Pacquiao. "In the Marquez fight, fighting very, very reckless. I could have had the same type of career, but my career wouldn’t have lasted as long and I probably wouldn’t be at this point if I was a reckless fighter like him."

The biggest factor in this lefty-versus-righty matchup might be Mayweather’s ability to adapt. No boxer today has a higher in-ring IQ than Mayweather. Even when he’s lost some exchanges or struggled with an opponent’s best weapon early, he knows how to reset in the middle of the fight and figure out a way to win.

It’s that mindset that led him past Judah in 2006, when he was having a hard time with the southpaw’s lead left and right jab in the first few rounds. Mayweather made the necessary adjustments and in the fifth round he completely took over with stellar defense and counter-punches.

"One thing about Floyd Mayweather — I make adjustments. Always,” Mayweather told reporters. “Last time I checked, I think I’ve faced eight southpaws and I’m 8-0 against southpaws.”

Power vs. power

When it comes to power punching, Pacquiao seemingly has a massive edge.  He’s authored some of the most vicious, head-rattling knockouts in boxing history, toppling much bigger opponents by combining hard punches with blinding hand speed.

Pacquiao’s “punches in bunches” strategy has a tendency to overwhelm opponents, and his quickness makes it hard to block all of his strikes.

"When he can be the quicker guy, he’s going to reach you no matter what," Miguel Cotto who fell to Pacquiao in 2009, told reporters.

Still it can’t be ignored that in the past few years, Pacquiao’s power has seemingly slipped a bit. He can still put together combinations like nobody in the sport, but the pop he had in 2008 and 2009 doesn’t appear to be the same. He nailed Brandon Rios with combination after combination in their 2013 fight and just couldn’t put him away. Maybe Rios had a great chin, but maybe Pacquiao just couldn’t deliver the knockout he would have five years ago.

Mayweather isn’t known for his power like Pacquiao, but he can pack a punch when necessary. His counter right straight could certainly slam into Pacquiao’s jaw and do damage, but Mayweather rarely goes for the kill and instead looks for a tactical way to dismantle opponents.

It also has to be noted that Mayweather is the bigger fighter in this matchup. He will have a 5-inch reach advantage.

Finish vs. decision

This fight is scheduled for 12 rounds, and based on recent history it will probably go the distance.

Pacquiao knocked down Chris Algieri six times in his last fight.

Pacquiao built his reputation by finishing opponents, but since his knockout loss to Marquez in 2012, he hasn’t been able to put anybody away in his three most recent fights. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still pack a serious punch — just ask Chris Algeiri, whom he floored six times en route to a lopsided unanimous decision win in 2014.

Mayweather has plenty of knockouts on his record as well, but he hasn’t finished an opponent since putting away Victor Ortiz in questionable fashion after a restart in their 2011 fight. Ortiz’s hands were down, and Mayweather uncorked a huge shot to score the win.

Because Mayweather is so hard to hit, Pacquiao has already adjusted his strategy with trainer Freddie Roach to prepare for a 12-round bout. Pacquiao has to know Mayweather has been knocked down only once in his entire career and has been stunned in only two fights in recent history – by a stiff right hand from Shane Mosely in 2010 and a hard shot from Marcos Maidana in their first of two 2014 fights.

“The strategy is to make every round the fight," Pacquiao told reporters. "To win the fight, I must win each round. And to win each round, I must overwhelm him with speed, punch volume and power. If the opportunity to knock Floyd out presents itself, I will take advantage of it."

Marquez, who has fought both men, has said if this fight goes to the judges he doesn’t see a way Pacquiao walks out with a victory.

Recent history vs. the result

Part of the reason Mayweather and Pacquiao are getting so much attention leading to this fight is because it took nearly six years to put it together. In 2009, when both fighters were standing tall at the top of the sport, it seemed like a matchup between Mayweather and Pacquiao would determine who truly was the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing.

But the fight never came together, and six years is a long time. Both fighters have changed dramatically from 2009 to 2015.

First and foremost, Pacquiao has slowed down just a step. His blinding speed was one of his best weapons during his undefeated streak while racking up wins over De La Hoya, Cotto, Mosely and Hatton. Since losing a controversial decision to Tim Bradley in 2012 and getting knocked out by Marquez later that same year, Pacquiao has started to show the slightest signs of slowing down and that the numerous battles he’s been through are catching up to him.

Pacquiao isn’t alone in that regard.

Mayweather is still undefeated, but no one would have predicted Maidana, an upstart, would have given him the bout he did in their first 2014 matchup. To his credit, Mayweather came back and won the second fight without nearly as much trouble, but the first Maidana fight showed that just a few missteps could have resulted in the first loss of his career.  Mayweather did beat a young gun in Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, but as talented as the Mexican fighter is, he was still raw and only 22 at the time of the 2012 fight.

So what do recent fights tell us about the outcome?

Pacquiao’s punching power is still there, but he doesn’t seem nearly as willing to get into exchanges since losing to Marquez by knockout. If he hesitates to unload combinations, Mayweather will pick him apart.

The story of this fight will start to come together in the first three or four rounds. Mayweather has been known to give away early rounds before adjusting in Rounds 4 and 5 to completely take over. He can’t give away too much to Pacquiao because this is the most dangerous combination puncher he’s ever faced. If Pacquiao lands flurries early, his confidence will rise as the fight progresses.

If Pacquiao starts slow and doesn’t steal the opening few rounds, Mayweather will likely cruise through the middle rounds before upping his offense and cruising toward a unanimous-decision victory.

The best part about this fight, though, is the fact that no one knows for sure what will happen. Mayweather and Pacquiao are the best two fighters of this generation, and Saturday night they will finally settle a years-long debate over who is better.