We find ourselves at that time of the year (again) where people are lamenting the absence of Mayweather-Pacquiao and bashing the "substitute", since, well, it's not Mayweather-Pacquiao. Not too difficult to understand given expectations, but with the soap opera-caliber negotiations that sunk it (multiple times), the deep legal trouble Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has placed himself in after the beating of his ex over the summer, and Manny Pacquiao's commitments as a congressman in the Philippines, the chances of that fight happening are dropping closer to zero with every passing month. It's not totally out of the realm of possibility, but at this point: just give it up. It's not happening, period, unless Mayweather is cleared of wrongdoing and Pacquiao is either 1) coming off a loss, 2) returning from a lengthy absence, or 3) is ancient/out-of-shape when he finally decides to fight him. That's just how he rolls, not because of the "blood testing" he suddenly cares about.
So instead of that fading dream match-up (unless you *really* want another Hopkins-Jones II a few years down the line), we get reasonable encounters (on paper) like that between Mayweather and Shane Mosley, and the one this Saturday against Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito that people write off for the reason above. Conversely, while those attractive bouts are overshadowed by that point of criticism, there are others contributing to this particular one. Margarito had, and always will have, a cloud of suspicion and dishonesty hovering above him after getting caught with plaster-of-Paris in his gloves pre-fight against, ironically, Mosley, and many have believed that he should not have been given a permit to fight again following his suspension, much less against the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. There is also the matter of what happened later that night, when Mosley bludgeoned and battered the seemingly-unstoppable Margarito en route to a knockout in the latter rounds (and not even cinder blocks would have saved him).
By virtue of that performance alone, Pacquiao should have his way with him even more so than Mosley did, since he is the stronger and faster of the two, and possibly be fueled by Margarito's puerile mocking of trainer Freddie Roach's Parkinson's disease. However, the world of boxing, and sports, for that matter, does not operate on "inevitabilities" and "supposeds". Margarito will be Pacquiao's biggest and strongest opponent, and regardless of his transgressions, has always been a tough pressure fighter not to be taken lightly with or with lethargy, which both he (going by reports of a poor training camp and lack of focus) and the public apparently have. While he has fought well against increasingly larger, more powerful opponents and taken their punches better with each fight, he can still be bothered by those shots (especially when cut) and can get uncomfortable with pressure types, which is Margarito in a nutshell. The perennial question as to whether Pacquiao can take a punch from a real welterweight has been asked from De La Hoya to Clottey, and the affirmative answer has gotten bolder with each victory. Now it is whether he can take a shot from perhaps the strongest in that class, who he meets at light middleweight.
On the other hand, the outcome of the Mosley fight begs a question in of itself: if Margarito could not take the speed and power attack by him, what chance does he have against someone of the likes of Manny Pacquiao? The height and reach advantage is there, as well as weight, but he is also has the same dimensions as De La Hoya at 5'11", 73" reach (though an inch taller), which did not pose much difficulty for Pacquiao to whip him. Even so, how effective can Margarito be to use his length and power to keep Pacquiao at bay and contend with his ability to dart in-and-out and land a flurry of punches from anywhere ("punches in bunches")? While Margarito is known to walk through blows, it served to his detriment against Mosley and not only highlighted his slowness but also exposed his one-dimensional style of fighting. The fight will very likely be a contest of "who" can take "what" and it will probably be apparent early on of who will be in control. Pacquiao has speed, power, and endurance, but can still get shaken up by a strong shot and constant pressure. Margarito has great, natural power at welterweight (which should translate well one class up) and tenacity, but that latter aspect can also be his undoing, not to mention there is only so many punches he can absorb, especially with his skill and speed limitations.
Being an either-or sort of fight, it is more difficult to predict who will come on top, though I expect it to be a one-sided, decisive fare for one. I don't see a back-and-forth match given the setup, though momentum shifts are entirely possible. On the outset, I thought Margarito would have the upper-hand, primarily due to his longer dimensions, pressure, and his ability to take a shot, in spite of the Mosley match. I also questioned Pacquiao's training camp issues, the real-life distractions, and the limit of not only his own ability to take a shot from increasingly heavier opponents, but also to affect one with his usual zippy power punches.
They may very well play a role in fight, but Pacquiao's speed and ability to move around and land barrages at all angles undoubtedly will be the key, as it has been in his previous ventures. He is smaller than Shane Mosley, but Pacquiao should be able to dictate the action with his physical abilities and evasive skills. But it will also be especially telling how his usually-exceptional body operates around 150lbs and if he can take a "light middleweight" punch (or given rehydration after weigh-ins, maybe "super middleweight"). He will surely get tagged by some good, flush shots, but if he can ride them out like he could against Cotto and Clottey (though at welterweight) and minimize the number of times he gets hit by being evasive, he should be well. Speed has always been the deciding factor in Pacquiao's upper weight-class victories, and it will be no different here, especially against the slower Margarito. Again, it could go either way, but Pacquiao has the slight edge.
It should be an entertaining, action-filled bout--too bad it's not getting the attention it deserves just because another "M" is there besides "Mayweather".
Prediction: Pacquiao, TKO12 (if he fights poorly, cannot take his power/affect him, or cannot adjust to the weight, Margarito, TKO10). I wouldn't be terribly shocked if this went the distance either way, but I don't see it ending on a decision or being an evenly-fought bout. Both fighters make for an intriguing match against one another, but feels like it will be an easier night for one than the other. Both have endurance and stamina and look in good shape, but Pacquiao stands the greatest chance of losing or getting knocked-out against the larger Margarito than any other opponent he has faced in. However…I have said the same thing in the past with De La Hoya, with Hatton, with Cotto, and (to a lesser extent) with Clottey, so maybe I have learned my lesson by now…maybe.
Outcome: Pacquiao, UD. It certainly sounded like it was his toughest fight to-date (to be expected), and had his share of moments in the latter rounds, but Pacquiao still managed to dominate the match with his speed and footwork. Seemed like a brutal fight, too, with Margarito's face said to be a mess and Pacquiao seriously losing steam at one point. While he does gain his eighth title at a different weight, perhaps he should stop at this level, as better, trickier guys in Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez could make for a really difficult night for the Pacman. And right now, I'd say Martinez is the absolute worst kind of fighter for Pacquiao to face… I'll keep my full thoughts for the eventual HBO rebroadcast, though.