HERE'S HOW to beat Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Get physical with him. That's what Jose Luis Castillo did. In 2002, Castillo roughed up Mayweather. For 12 rounds he applied pressure, forced Mayweather into corners and made him fight with his back against the ropes. Castillo lost by decision—but it was hotly disputed.
Here's who can beat Mayweather: southpaws. For years Manny Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum—who was Mayweather's promoter for the first 10 years of his career—has insisted that Mayweather doesn't like fighting lefties. Too awkward, Arum says. A commonly cited example is Mayweather's bout against Zab Judah, in 2006. Judah gave Mayweather problems in the early rounds, even clipping him with a wobble-inducing right hook, before fading and losing a unanimous 12-round decision.
Yet here's the thing: Nobody has actually beaten Mayweather. His record stands at 47--0. Less than eight months after that near defeat, Mayweather whitewashed Castillo in a rematch. And for all the problems Judah gave Mayweather early, he still lost by at least four points on all three judges' scorecards. "He's a smart fighter," says Judah. "He makes great adjustments during a fight."
On paper Pacquiao (57-5-2) appears uniquely built to beat Mayweather. He's a southpaw who applies relentless pressure and possesses a stinging jab, the weapon Oscar De La Hoya used effectively in the early rounds of a split-decision loss to Mayweather in 2007. Once almost unhittable, the 38-year-old Mayweather has seen age limit his mobility, which should create more opportunities for Pacquiao to land combinations.
Still: It's Mayweather. He may be more stationary, but he remains sufficiently elusive. Since reuniting in 2013 with his father, Floyd Sr.—the man who taught Mayweather the shoulder-roll tactic that he has mastered and turned into a signature move—Mayweather has raised his defense to a new level. And while one strategy might be to bully Mayweather toward the ropes, that's often exactly where he wants to be—and exactly where he's most effective and dangerous. Just ask Ricky Hatton.
Accuracy is a Mayweather strength, too. He softens opponents up—and scores points with the judges—with a long jab to the body. He reacts instantly to punches he sees coming. Right hand. Check hook. Uppercut. "He knows how to box inside and outside," says Shane Mosley, who dropped a decision to Mayweather in 2010. Though not known for his power, Mayweather has enough pop behind his punches to make opponents, after taking a steady diet of pinpoint blows in the early rounds, leery of opening up in the later ones.
In a way Pacquiao's style suits Mayweather. Pacquiao will step in looking to trade and step out after eating a power shot. He will try to win on sheer volume: According to CompuBox, Pacquiao has landed three more punches per round than Mayweather in their last five fights. Yet Mayweather has connected on 41% of his punches in that stretch, Pacquiao on 35%.
That margin speaks to the precision and control of Mayweather. It will be the edge that leaves even a fighter as exceptional as Pacquiao in the same place as 18 of Mayweather's previous opponents: on the wrong end of the judges' decision.
A jab for Zab Judah (right) started strong against Mayweather, but the champion's ability to adjust allowed him to take command for another easy win.