by David P. Greisman
Floyd Mayweather has long been confident that there was no blueprint for beating him, that his undefeated record and longevity were all the proof that anyone needed.
He’d won his first championship as a 21-year-old in his 18th fight, just two years into his pro career, and he had been at the top of the sport ever since, for more than 15 years. Going into this past weekend, his 45-0 record included 20 victories over 19 fighters who held, had once held or would go on later to hold a world title; and 23 wins in bouts with a lineal championship or sanctioning body belt on the line. Mayweather had earned recognition as the true world champion of the 130-, 135, 147- and 154- pound divisions, and he’d also been a titleholder at 140.
He is the best boxer in the world. But a perfect record doesn’t mean perfection in the ring. That is an impossibility in a sport in which other world-class fighters are also seeking to force handfuls of leather onto your head and body.
No one has triumphed over Mayweather, but some have troubled him.
Mayweather has long said that Emanuel Augustus, the skilled journeyman, gave him his toughest fight back in 2000. Jose Luis Castillo outworked and outlanded Mayweather in their first meeting in 2002, though Mayweather left with the controversial decision win. Zab Judah had some success in the first four rounds of their bout in 2006.
Oscar De La Hoya was able to force Mayweather to the ropes during their 2007 fight, though he wasn’t able to connect overly much or overly well once he got him there. Shane Mosley stunned Mayweather with a right hand in the second round of their 2010 match, but Mayweather recovered and took a wide decision. And Miguel Cotto drove Mayweather to the ropes and landed enough body shots that Mayweather urinated blood after their 2012 bout.
Barring the argument for Castillo, none of the rest did enough that they deserved to win. In fact, only twice had a judge turned in a tally that wasn’t in Mayweather’s favor: the one judge who had De La Hoya ahead, and the judge who scored last year’s bout with Canelo Alvarez a draw and was subsequently forced out of the sport.
There’s been no blueprint for beating Floyd Mayweather, but there has been a theory based on those who had limited success. For years, the logic has said that if you can’t beat Floyd Mayweather with speed and smarts — and you can’t — then you’d have to do it with the right mix of talent and tenaciousness.
But there hasn’t been anyone whose attributes added up. That’s because Mayweather has been so good at subtraction, taking away what his opponents do well and then taking over. His skill has been too much for their will, his sweet science too good for their brute force.
We knew Marcos Maidana had the will. We weren’t very certain, however, that he could find the way.
Maidana’s reputation was built on his aggressive style, but no slugger can get far if he lacks in mettle. Maidana has shown an iron chin, balls of steel, and the brass to keep going until he lands the shot he’s been looking for.
He came off the canvas three times in order to break Victor Ortiz down in 2009. He rose from a body shot and ultimately hurt Amir Khan late, though he was unable to finish him and ended up losing a close decision in 2010. Maidana battled with Jesus Soto Karass until he stopped him in 2012. And late last year he had Adrien Broner reeling in the first round, on the canvas in the second and again in the eighth; Maidana left with the decision victory.
The Broner win was high profile enough to earn Maidana the opportunity to stand opposite Mayweather in a pay-per-view main event. There still was doubt as to whether he stood a chance.
Maidana has improved in the nearly two years he had spent with trainer Robert Garcia, whom he joined following a decision loss to Devon Alexander in early 2012. Yet this bout was still seen as a fighter with plenty of determination and a puncher’s chance against a boxer who had shown himself quite able at making fighters miss more often than not and hitting them nearly whenever he desired to do so.
Fighters eventually stop pressing forward and stop leaving themselves open for Mayweather’s leads and counters, or they find themselves unable to compensate for Mayweather’s footwork, fast hands and ability to adjust, break down the problem and then break down his opponent.
Beyond that, Broner, simply put, was no Mayweather.
Then again, it would make a difference if Mayweather wasn’t Mayweather, if by some combination of his age and his approach — and his foe’s efforts — that he showed signs of slipping from the form that had made him great.
That’s what happened this past Saturday. Maidana was able to make Mayweather uncomfortable in the first half of the fight, roughing him up with tactics legal and illegal. Everyone who faces a better boxer seeks to impose his style rather than be intimidated by his opponent’s skill. Maidana came forth with utter disdain for Mayweather’s speed and technique, and sheer disrespect for Mayweather’s ability to land quickly and with accuracy.
Mayweather claimed afterward that he could’ve made the bout easier by moving more, but had decided to stand in with Maidana and give fans an exciting fight instead. That would’ve made sense had the bolder approach been working well for him. It wasn’t, though, in the first five rounds. It seemed that Maidana was utilizing a version of the strategy that others had found some success with in the past, and that Mayweather, at 37 years old, was finally aging.
Maidana has an awkward style in which he throws punches from odd angles and at odd times. He was pouring that style on in volume and combining it with pressure. At times he would come forward without sending out shots, his feints and approach driving Mayweather to the ropes. Sometimes he’d walk through Mayweather’s shots to end up at the same destination.
Once there, he’d duck his head into Mayweather’s and throw clubbing blows to the body and head, placing them on unfamiliar trajectories to work around Mayweather’s gloves or to catch him as he ducked or weaved.
Maidana also mixed in shots behind the head, a low blow at the end of the first round, a wrenching of Mayweather’s left arm in the third, an accidental clash of heads that drew blood from above Mayweather’s right eye in the fourth and left his vision compromised for two rounds, and even what appeared to be an attempted knee in the fifth.
Mayweather is no stranger himself to techniques outside of the Queensberry Rules, including forearms and elbows that create distance in the clinch. That didn’t make him any more accepting of Maidana’s fouling.
And as Mayweather wasn’t moving as much, it didn’t help that he was no longer fighting three minutes of every round — something that is easier to get away with when you’re controlling distance. Mayweather was also jabbing less than statistics showed he’d done in his recent run, a tool that can be crucial for establishing room.
Maidana took the first by putting Mayweather on the ropes and on the defensive, going 26 out of 100 on the round, though Mayweather was able to counter with short shots in close. Maidana’s activity dropped in the second, when Mayweather began to keep his distance better, landing good left hooks and right-hand leads. Mayweather was credited with sending out an average of just 34 punches per round during the first three rounds, according to CompuBox. He was still exceedingly accurate, landing more than half of his total punches, and a ridiculous two-thirds of his power punches.
Mayweather’s output dropped even further in the fourth and fifth, while he was contending with the cut.
As uncomfortable as Maidana may have made him in the early going — and as rare as his difficult moments have been in his career — Mayweather nonetheless responds well to tough challenges. Some of that can be attributed to him sparring hard and often while training, working with bigger fighters, and doing so for extended rounds and without breaks. He also has the in-ring intelligence to match his skill. Mayweather may have come out flat, and may have been showing his age, but he was warming up and working to cool Maidana down.
Mayweather adjusted as the fight approached its halfway point, coming forward more often and making Maidana, a natural aggressor, fight in reverse. Mayweather landed sharp hooks and leads, hit Maidana with counters, went hard to the body on occasion, and changed his tactic for dealing with Maidana’s rushes. When Maidana came forward, Mayweather would sometimes shuffle backward quickly, giving himself room to land a counter and halt the approach. Even when Maidana got him on the ropes — and on occasion Mayweather seemingly chose to remain there — Mayweather was moving away from the clubbing blows better and began to tie Maidana up to stop the barrage sooner.
Maidana hadn’t hurt Mayweather when he was hitting him, and now Maidana was hitting him less. Mayweather had established distance, was landing 54 percent of his punches, 65 percent of his power shots, and now was pulling ahead on two of the three judges’ scorecards.
Dave Moretti saw the fight 116-112, or eight rounds to four. Burt Clements had it at 117-111, or nine rounds to three. Some who had watched on television or from ringside saw a more competitive bout in which Mayweather came back to take a close win or force a draw. The third official judge, Michael Pernick, had it 114-114, even at six rounds apiece.
The bout seemed closer than Clements’ score indicated, and it was definitely closer than most had expected. Mayweather says that this was because of his strategic decision. Maidana’s fans will argue that it was their fighter who made the bout unfold the way it did.
Mayweather, like the 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins, has been able to outbox a slate of younger, stronger and sometimes bigger opponents. But time is something that even the greatest defensive wizards cannot forever avoid. Eventually speed slows and reflexes decline, and eventually the most intelligent boxers will not be able to make up for what they’ve lost.
Even the fittest fighters with the most dedicated gym routines will rack up mileage from all the early morning runs and damage from all the rounds in the gym.
A few boxers have retired before that’s happened. Mayweather still hasn’t been defeated, still hasn’t lost that zero at the end of his record. But if the Maidana fight is any indication, Mayweather will have to use his smarts to recognize how best to use his skills. That’s what he’s always done, of course — he’s adjusted when necessary to get the win.
It could be, though, that Mayweather may someday need to adjust to keep from losing. After all, time, too, is undefeated.
It just depends on how and when it takes its toll.
The 10 Count
1. My concern about a potential rematch between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana is that it could stylistically resemble the sequel between Mayweather and Jose Luis Castillo, in which Mayweather moved more so as to better ensure a victory.
The other questions are whether you believe Maidana did as well as he could do against Mayweather, and if you believe that Mayweather could do much better next time.
Maidana said that he wants to have his preferred gloves in any rematch, given the last-minute arguing over which gloves Mayweather would allow his opponent to lace up and wear in the ring.
Mayweather has his pick of potential opponents, though. And so while Maidana may end up being the best option for business, I see it as more likely that any rematch with Maidana would only come with Mayweather dictating the contractual terms.
We shall see. This past weekend only just ended, after all.
2. Amir Khan got his first true welterweight victory, outpointing Luis Collazo in a win that Khan hopes will land him a shot at Mayweather.
Yes, Khan was 142 pounds when he struggled against Julio Diaz in April 2013, but I don’t really consider that a welterweight bout. Though it’s within the 147-pound limit, 142 pounds is what Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward came in at for their trilogy, and we considered them to be over-the-limit junior welterweights. Beyond that, Khan had an additional five pounds of leeway this time for his frame.
It was a notable win for Khan, given Collazo’s past pedigree and his knockout of Victor Ortiz earlier this year. But what it essentially showed was only that Khan might be able to compete in the welterweight division — and not so much that he might be able to trouble the best 147-pounder out there and the best boxer in the sport.
Khan won’t be fighting in September, which would traditionally be when Mayweather’s next fight is held. That’s too close to the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which would involve a month of daytime fasting from late June through late July. Khan has asked for a Mayweather fight to be in November instead.
We’re more likely to see Mayweather face someone else this year, and for Khan to attempt to notch another win of significance that would give him more of a case for facing Floyd.
3. Adrien Broner’s move down to 140 from 147 pounds was the right move for him. It had been a business decision to skip the junior-welterweight division in the first place — and now he’s going to a division that he has more business competing in.
Broner won his first world title at 130 and his second sanctioning body belt at 135. Yet neither division was packed with star power that would further enhance his status in the United States. And seemingly from the moment Broner arrived at lightweight, people were asking him when he’d move up to 140, where there were numerous stars and significant challenges.
Many of those names were tied up, though, and so Broner jumped to 147 last year to challenge Paulie Malignaggi for one of the world titles in that weight class. Broner took a relatively close split decision, then proceeded to defend the belt against Marcos Maidana this past December.
We all know what happened next. Broner’s body is a better fit for 140 right now; his reflexes were slower at 147, his power hadn’t carried up, and Maidana came in with a good strategy for taking advantage of all of that.
Broner’s win over Carlos Molina this past Saturday wasn’t overly impressive, though. Molina was game but undersized, and he was chosen for those very reasons.
“It was a sparring match on TV,” Broner said afterward, and that was very true.
Broner didn’t really show what he might have to offer at 140. But we’ll find out soon enough. He’ll be back on television and will ultimately end up in a bout that should show us if Broner can compete with the best at junior welterweight.
Or his team can fast track it and put Broner in with Danny Garcia next…
4. Boxing referees are often the target of abuse. Sometimes, however, they deliver it themselves:
Way back in 1998, Bernard Hopkins and Robert Allen were entangled in a clinch when Mills Lane stepped in, attempted to extricate them and proceeded to accidentally push Hopkins through the ropes, injuring Hopkins and forcing the bout to end as a no contest.
Last year, in another Hopkins fight, Karo Murat head butted “B-Hop” after the bell ending the final round, and Steve Smoger shoved Murat away forcefully.
And this past weekend, referee Jay Nady got himself a 10-8 round with his flooring of super middleweight Marco Antonio Periban, whom he shoved away after Periban’s assault put J’Leon Love down on one knee in the fifth round of their bout.
It was a bad round of officiating for Nady.
Periban landed a big right hand about halfway through the round, leaving Love reeling. Love staggered back to the ropes, and Periban sent out a flurry of head shots. Nady looked as if he was about to step in and stop it, then realized that it was too early to do so, but he still partially grabbed Periban as if that were his intent.
And then, with the knockdown, Love appeared to have taken a knee — the camera angle didn’t show — and Nady still allowed Periban to keep throwing, including a couple blows that landed behind Love’s head.
5. The legal system tends to move at a snail’s pace, so do keep an eye on this lawsuit that Main Events filed last week against light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, boxing adviser Al Haymon, promoters Yvon Michel and Golden Boy Promotions, Showtime, and eight unnamed “John Doe” defendants:
That wasn’t the only litigation news of note last week. Andre Ward’s move to part with Goossen Tutor Promotions ended in defeat, with the California State Athletic Commission ruling that Ward’s contract with Goossen remains valid through late 2016.
Ward’s team quickly fired off a statement saying that the super middleweight champion’s lawsuit is in another venue, with a case “in California Superior Court … continuing to move forward.”
Ah, boxing — the sport that is supposed settle disputes by raising hands against each other, but also settles disputes by raising your hand and promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Canadian junior featherweight Tyson Cave is facing charges stemming from a Jan. 1 incident that led to “charges of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon, a beer bottle,” according to Nova Scotia newspaper The Chronicle Herald.
Though the alleged incident occurred in January, Cave was arraigned just last month.
The 32-year-old is 24-2 with 8 KOs. His losses came when he stepped up: an eighth-round stoppage against then-prospect Willie Casey in 2010, and a technical decision dropped to AJ Banal in 2011. Cave has won nine in a row since that last defeat, including a decision victory in April over Sebastien Gauthier.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: A heavyweight fighter named Vincent Thompson was arrested a couple weeks ago in Washington state and accused of being part of a group that allegedly robbed six banks, according to the Federal Way Mirror.
Thompson, 31, is 13-2 with 2 KOs. He appeared on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” a couple of years ago. His two defeats came in his last two fights, with the most recent loss coming in a January decision dropped to Travis Kauffman.
8. Jim Gray wasn’t suffering any silliness during his gig Saturday night as Showtime’s post-fight interviewer. He wasn’t following up when a question of his went unanswered, either, but that’s not what will be remembered from this past weekend’s pay-per-view.
Instead, we got him objecting to Adrien Broner’s usual rehearsed and recycled shtick:
Broner: “At the end of the day, I’m still Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner, ‘The Can Man.’ Anybody can get it. Afri-cans. I just beat the f*** out of a Mexi-can.’ ”
Responded Gray: “No, no. Come on. Let’s show some class and dignity.”
Gray does realize that this is boxing, right? And that this is Broner?
And then his post-fight interview with Maidana began with Maidana not answering Gray’s first question, instead asking for “One moment, one moment” while he ate a cookie — made by one of his sponsors — and then held up the wrapper.
“No, no, no,” Gray said, and he grabbed the wrapper.
Maidana continued to chew as his answers were being translated. The snack remained in his right hand for a bit before it was handed off to a member of his team behind him (his manager, I believe) — who proceeded to take a big bite of it.
9. Post-fight interview etiquette, lesson one: You can thank Al Haymon all you want. But just don’t tout your alfajor sponsorship in such a blatant fashion.
10. Post-fight interview etiquette, lesson two, with Amir Khan showing you what not to do:
“And also, can I just thank Allah for all the success, and also [deceased WBC chief] Jose Sulaiman, who, you know, passed away. He was a great friend of mine, and I’m glad to hold this WBC title [looking down at his fringe WBC belt]. Also, my adviser in boxing, Al Haymon, who I’ve decided to work with. I just want to thank him as well. And Golden Boy — Richard Schaefer.”
Sam Watson, the longtime partner of Haymon’s, was standing behind Khan. He began to nod when Khan finally got to Haymon.
Next time, Amir, remember the protocol: It’s Haymon first, everyone else next.
At least Khan remembered Haymon. The same couldn’t be said for Adrien Broner when he conducted his post-fight interview with HBO’s Bob Papa following a June 2011 win over Jason Litzau.
“Well first of all I want to thank God, thank HBO for giving me another shot to exploit my talent, giving me another chance,” Broner said. “Thank Golden Boy. My new management, uh, Shelly Finkel, and R&R Promotion as my co-promoter.”
The problem? Broner was now with Haymon, and Sam Watson and one of Watson’s sons, Marcus, were standing behind him and appeared to be visibly upset.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]