I'm on record: Manny Pacquiao will win this fight. Quicker feet. Equally quick hands and strategic mind. Far more powerful puncher. Deeper desire.
Yes, Pacquiao will win because of a stronger will. A warrior's will. A dad-killed-the-family-dog-for-food will.
As Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, recently told me, "Manny just wants this fight more than Floyd does."
Pacquiao has wanted this fight for five long years, wanted it far more than a Floyd Mayweather who (I believe) was finally shamed into taking it instead of having to live the rest of his life being asked why he always ran from Pacquiao. Mayweather recently told Stephen A. Smith he lost his love for boxing about six months ago but now has it back. Does he really? He constantly talks about how much he's looking forward to retiring this September.
Yet with The Fight finally upon us, I must admit I have one nagging doubt no bigger than a grain of mustard seed. I use this tiny object of a New Testament parable because Pacquiao constantly talks about the Bible in interviews.
About three years ago he underwent a spiritual conversion -- he says he accepted Christ in his life and was born again -- and he's now so on fire with his faith that, according to insiders, he reads his Bible throughout the day and shares his faith with random fans he meets. Just two Sundays ago, he gave his testimony to a packed house at the megachurch he attends just outside Los Angeles, Shepherd of the Hills Church, telling the throng how lost he once was while constantly getting drunk and cheating on his wife (who was with him that Sunday).
Yes, here we have a man who 1) zealously believes in the "turn the other cheek" teachings of Jesus and who 2) says he wants to knock out Mayweather in the hand-to-hand combat that is prizefighting. Jarring, I know.
But my concern over Pacquiao's conversion is that Roach has been so concerned about how it has impacted Pacquiao in the ring. Again and again, Roach has believed Pacquiao pulled his punches when he had an opponent in trouble. Instead of going ahead and knocking the man out, or forcing the ref to stop the fight and awarding Pacquiao a technical knockout, he took it easier on the opponent, trusting the judges to declare him the winner. Or so Roach has thought.
If in fact Pacquiao opted not to go for the knockout against Timothy Bradley in their first fight, it cost him. The judges' decision to award Bradley the fight remains the biggest robbery I've witnessed in boxing.
So in recent weeks, Roach has turned up the volume on his "good versus evil" theme to reporters -- and in turn to Pacquiao. Though Pacquiao has made it clear he does not "hate" Mayweather, Roach wants Pacquiao to at least despise what the wealth-flaunting, woman-beating Mayweather stands for. Mayweather has a long history of domestic violence (five convictions, the last resulting in a two-month jail term) and when recently asked about it by Stephen A. and ESPN's John Barr, Mayweather refused to show even a hint of remorse or to assume any guilt.
So Roach wants his man Manny to make it a religious crusade to smite Floyd Mayweather Jr. to the canvas and vanquish him as the Face of Boxing. Onward Christian soldier! A "bad guy," Roach calls Mayweather, and a "terrible role model for boxing."
Roach recently told USA Today: "That is a big plus for me that Manny does not like the guy. I think the killer instinct is going to come back faster."
That quote hit me between the eyes. Roach referred to the killer instinct he believes Pacquiao lost when he became a Christian. Can a man who has given his life to Christ still be capable of killer instinct? Can a Christian also be a lion?
Absolutely -- while competing in a sport. Not that Pacquiao must want to "kill" Mayweather, just to compete as hard as he can within the rules, which includes knocking out Mayweather if he has the chance.
That's my view as a Christian. You might believe differently. Your call.
And yes, I realize the potential hypocrisy of a man of God participating in a violent competition in which men have died or been rendered "punch drunk" for the rest of their lives -- this globally hyped fight being staged in Sin City (Las Vegas) and its "there will be blood" allure helping make Mayweather a reported $180 million and Pacquiao anywhere from $80 million to $120 million, depending on pay-per-view buys.
Just my two cents: Even as a Christian, I love boxing because it's the ultimate stand-alone test of a competitor's skill and will. Just two opponents, lightly gloved, and a referee ready to jump in and stop it the moment he believes one opponent can no longer defend himself.
I'm perfectly fine with Pacquiao the Christian wanting to separate Mayweather from his senses.
Listen to Carl Lentz, a spiritual adviser for many pro athletes, including the NBA's Kevin Durant and the NFL's Brandon Marshall. (Yes, Lentz also has counseled Mayweather's pal Justin Bieber.) Lentz, pastor at Hillsong Church in New York City, continually reminds athletes after he baptizes them that "saved doesn't mean soft." Lentz says: "Now you should take your sport even more seriously, because now it's not for your glory but for God's ... it's a passionate, give-all-you-have-every-second instinct you must have."
Of course, winning games (or fights) can obviously increase an athlete's influence and ability to reach more people and potentially save more souls. That, now, is Pacquiao's priority. (By all accounts from insiders, his faith isn't for show. It's 100 percent genuine.) So as warped as it might seem to some, Lentz completely understood when Pacquiao said he wants to knock out Mayweather, then sit with him later Saturday night/Sunday morning and share how God can fill the voids in his life created by greed and ego. Pacquiao reiterated his offer at Wednesday's media session with Mayweather sitting down the dais from him.
"That's exactly what Manny would want to do," Lentz said.
Yet -- I must admit I was troubled by something Pacquiao said recently on "First Take." Maybe you should take it with a grain of, well, mustard seed. Pacquiao gets a kick out of sparring with my debate partner Stephen A., and it's never quite clear whether Pacquiao completely comprehends rapid-fire English. But while explaining to an antagonistic Stephen A. why Mayweather will lose, Pacquiao said, "God will deliver him to me."
I certainly could be wrong, but I don't believe God decides athletic competitions. I've long been offended by not-so-godly pro football players I've known who showed up for pregame chapel -- Sunday-only Christians rubbing the proverbial rabbit's foot -- then after victories declared it was "God's will" that their team won.
Sorry, just don't believe that. Will God favor the team that prays harder? Not in my view. Will God make sure Pacquiao wins just because he has been so faithful to God and Mayweather has not? Nope. I've seen too many devout Christians lose to Philistines. Goliath almost always beats David. As Carl Lentz says: "What if you say God will deliver an opponent to you and you lose? Then what do you say?"
That's why I always appreciated that Tim Tebow could be heard praying during the games he started at quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 2011. Always something like, "Please God, give me the strength to handle whatever happens today." Winning or losing.
If Pacquiao believes this fight is divinely fixed -- that God will make sure he wins no matter how hard he has trained or what strategy he deploys -- he could be in for a soul-shaking shock. If he thinks (as some athletes I've known) that he can make a one-night deal with God, as in, "If you will let me win, I will devote the rest of my life to you," he could be sadly mistaken. If he has lost heart for boxing's brutality and thinks he can go easy on Mayweather and win, he will lose.
Of course, strictly on a psychological level, it's possible if Pacquiao believes with all his heart and soul that God is on his side -- even if He isn't -- Pacquiao could fight with invincible confidence. It's also possible that even though Pacquiao's faith is real, he has referred to it so often in interviews just to win the prefight mind game with Mayweather.
Maybe it's working. Mayweather recently hinted at concern when he said to Stephen A., "I'm a child of God too, aren't I?"
Pacquiao definitely believes you are, Floyd.
But I believe Pacquiao the boxer will simply prove to be better than Mayweather the boxer.
Without being asked about it, Pacquiao told the media on Tuesday in Sin City, "My killer instinct is there."