Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. were essentially equals in the ring at one point not too long ago. It’s obviously debatable how close the two were when they were in their primes, but for all intents and purposes, if you take personal biases out of the equation, skill-wise they stood head and shoulders above their peers.
The one distinction you could always make between Pacquiao and Mayweather, though, was their mental game.
Even before Pacquiao hit his recent rough patch, he was always susceptible to mental breakdowns. In the ring he was easily frustrated when opponents ran away from him, and he had a certain propensity for giving up (as opposed to going for the kill) when the going got tough. Outside the ring his inability to stay focused on any one thing, both personally and professionally, is well documented.
Mayweather, meanwhile, was always the guy making someone frustrated in the ring – not the one being frustrated. Say what you will about his style being too boring or defense-oriented, but it was and is successful. He is so mentally tuned into what he needs to be doing that, regardless of what his opponent is doing, the undefeated champ is consistently able to stay true to his gameplan with switching things up a bit. In his personal life Mayweather has been a mess – legal problems aplenty and random retirements. However, unlike his Filipino counterpart, Mayweather never let these problems impact how he performed in the ring.
If and when these two fight next year -- and let’s face it, if they don’t fight in early 2014, they never will -- Mayweather’s mental advantage over Pacquiao may be more important than his physical one. Both men have lost a step since their heydays. But Mayweather is still sharp as ever mentally. He’d never get overconfident in a fight he’s winning on every judge’s scorecard and walk into a counter like Pacquiao did against Juan Manuel Marquez. He’d never fail to do just enough to secure a decision victory like Pacquiao inexplicably did against a hobbled, broken Timothy Bradley. Inside the ring, mentally, Mayweather knows what needs to be done at all times.
There is a reasonable case to be made that Pacquiao isn’t as washed up as folks are making him out to be. He’s suffered two losses in seven years – one of which was a win on the scorecards of 99.9 percent of people who watched the bout. However, while physically Pacquiao and Mayweather may be a lot closer than people realize, mentally the latter is way ahead of the former.