BY LARRY HAMEL
For the Sun-Times
The richest bout in boxing history will take place Saturday in Las Vegas, and two Chicago-area legends are ideally suited to lend first-person perspectives on the combatants.
Angel Manfredy was stopped in the second round in 1998 by a 21-year-old phenom named Floyd Mayweather Jr., back when “Money” went by the nickname “Pretty Boy.”
David Diaz was the WBC lightweight champion when he faced Manny Pacquiao in 2009, but he was no match for the “Pac-Man” in his prime, taking a horrific beating before going out on his shield in the ninth round.
Both victims fittingly picked the man who beat them to win the ballyhooed match.
Manfredy, the heavily tattooed “El Diablo,” was 24 and a star on the rise when he challenged young Mayweather for his WBC super-featherweight belt in Miami. Out of nowhere, a right over the top by Mayweather staggered Manfredy with around 40 seconds left in the second round. Mayweather followed with a furious flurry that prompted the referee to wave off the action with 13 seconds left. The stoppage was somewhat controversial in that Manfredy never went down.
“Floyd caught me with a right hand that stunned me, woke me up,” Manfredy recalled. “To me, the fight was stopped prematurely. My hands were still up.”
But even though Mayweather was fighting in just his 19th pro bout, Manfredy knew his conqueror had special talent.
“It didn’t surprise me at all that Floyd would become who he is because of his natural boxing ability, his confidence and the way he works in the gym,” Angel said.
Diaz, a Chicago native and 1996 U.S. Olympian, was 32 when he was TKO’d by Pacquiao in Las Vegas. At that time, Pacquiao was at or near the top of the world pound-for-pound rankings. Diaz was cut badly over his right eye, and his face was grotesquely swollen before he was dropped like a rag doll in the ninth round, prompting the bout to be halted.
“I got knocked out in the ninth by a beautiful left hand I didn’t see coming,” Diaz said. “What I remember most about that fight was Manny’s incredible speed. I had fought some pretty fast southpaws before the amateurs and as a pro, but Manny’s speed was too much for me.
“But I really can’t be upset about losing to Manny because he was on top of the world and blowing though everybody. He had already beaten Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. After he got me, he beat Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton. So I was in pretty good company.”
Diaz believes Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) has the goods to derail Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs), even though the latter is a 1-2 favorite in most lines.
“The best thing Manny could do is just to jump on him, pressure him from the start,” Diaz said. “Floyd is a defensive fighter at heart, and Manny has fought more guys that resemble Mayweather than Floyd has fought guys that resemble Manny. On defense, Manny has to steer clear away from Floyd’s right hand because Floyd is a great counter-puncher. Manny has to stay on Floyd’s left hip in order for Mayweather not to hit him with a right hand that southpaws always are vulnerable to.”
Diaz predicted that Pacquiao would win by decision, noting that, “No way Manny will knock out Floyd. But Manny comes at you with so many punches and from different angles that I believe he can win this fight on volume alone.”
On the flip side, Manfredy sees Mayweather keeping his “zero” intact.
“Floyd needs to be Floyd, hit and not get hit, stay boxing on the outside.” Angel said. “Manny tends to come in open, so Floyd should be able to catch him with a counter shot. Manny will try to get off first, work the body, then go up to the head. But Floyd will outbox and frustrate Manny with his defense and boxing ability. My prediction: Mayweather by split decision.”