Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Mayweather-Guerrero

In the eighth round of the Floyd Mayweather-Robert Guerrero fight, Floyd consistently landed a punch that I had never seen him throw previously. It was a punch that few fighters would even consider having in their repertoire. I'll call it a lead sweeping right hook. First of all, the majority of orthodox fighters don't throw even a traditional rear-handed hook. There's a lot of inherent danger with the punch. If ineffective, it leaves the whole right side of a fighter exposed. If you observe Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. or Erik Morales, you will often see them throw a right hook when at close range (incidentally, Abner Mares scored his first knockdown over Daniel Ponce de Leon on Saturday with a cuffing right hook). And although Floyd did throw some traditional rear hooks on Saturday, this sweeping shot was something different entirely, and he certainly didn't throw it from close range.

Often, when orthodox fighters end combinations or counter with a left hook, they will throw it to a specific area and not where a fighter is presently when they start the punch. (Danny Garcia is a master at it. Consider his left hook that dropped Amir Khan) For instance, if Fighter A throws the straight right hand/left hook combination, he will start the left hook anticipating where his opponent, Fighter B, will wind up after he reacts to the right hand. So, if Fighter B avoids the right hand, he most likely will move to his right, providing the opportunity for Fighter A to land the left hook.

These types of left hooks are often called "clean-up" left hooks – they end a combination and cause serious damage when landing. "Clean-up" left hooks are wide shots and are far less surgical than something like Floyd's "check hook" that derailed Ricky Hatton, where he stepped back from close range and unloaded with pinpoint precision, or a typical left hook to the body often seen during infighting.

Again, the above was referring to "clean-up" left hooks at the end of a combination. What Floyd did with his right hand on Saturday was completely different. In the eighth, he fired this "clean-up" type punch, but with his right hand, and often as lead shots, not counters. Floyd repeatedly connected with the punch and by the end of the round Guerrero was battered and cut. It was a wonderful new wrinkle from Floyd. But what did he see in the ring that enabled him to land this untraditional shot?

As Guerrero started to get hit more throughout the fight, he would duck down and to his left after exchanges. Perhaps thinking he was out of reach or at a bad angle for Floyd to land his straight right hand, Guerrero soon found out that this strategy provided him only temporary shelter.

Floyd waited for Guerrero to throw a quick combination and then he unloaded to a spot. He landed big with the sweeping rights. Ultimately, these were the most impactful blows of the fight. And like a veteran athlete, Floyd kept exploiting his opponent's weakness. It was Guerrero who needed to make an adjustment, and it was too late in coming.

Everything else Floyd did on Saturday was worthy of one of his vintage performances – finding the range with pinpoint shots, dazzling with quickness, scoring with single right hands, working in his large arsenal with increasing effectiveness, spinning out of trouble along the ropes and neutralizing his opponent's strengths with his combination of technique, reflexes, accuracy and feints.

But what stood out to me on Saturday was that sweeping right hook, which was a further symbol of Floyd's compulsive quest to achieve perfection. In Floyd's last fight against Miguel Cotto, he scored consistently with a looping overhand right. Mayweather claimed that he stole the punch from Shane Mosley, who had success with the shot in his fight against Cotto. So, in the last two fights, the best boxer in the world decided to add two new punches to his arsenal. How's that for not resting on one's laurels!

When Michael Jordan was in his prime, it was said that every summer he would add an additional dimension to his game for the next season. One year it was a turnaround-J; another year it would be the 18-foot pull up jumper or the spin move to the baseline. Jordan was the best of his time, but in his eyes there was always room for improvement. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have shown the same type of initiative in working on their games to continually get better.

It's fair to put Floyd in that category of athletes who compulsively strive for perfection. The great competitors are never satisfied with their past accomplishments; they're always looking to improve. And for Mayweather, it wasn't only the sweeping right hook as a means to get better.

In the lead up to the fight, and certainly after the bout, Floyd admitted that he worked on defensive improvements for Guerrero. For Floyd, this meant bringing his somewhat estranged father back as lead trainer to work on defensive technique and footwork. In the Cotto fight, Miguel had some success against Mayweather along the ropes. Although he didn't win a lot of rounds, he certainly got more than a few good shots in and Floyd granted Cotto extended time to try and hit him. Perhaps it was an off night for Floyd, but he didn't look particularly sharp.

With Floyd Sr. back in the fold for Guerrero, the results were evident, not just in defensive positioning but in temperament. Instead of permitting Guerrero to wail on him along the ropes, Mayweather would leave exchanges and find a new angle for engagement. In addition, if Mayweather couldn't goad Guerrero to engage, he would use the ring to find a different plan for attacking or countering. He didn't stand in front of Guerrero nearly as much as he did against Cotto.

But back to that right hand, I'd be surprised if the Mayweathers practiced it that often in the gym, if it all. It's an untraditional punch and normally fighters work on their straight right hands or uppercuts instead of trying out hybrid offerings. I'm fairly certain that Floyd improvised in the ring on the fly as the greats often do. He recognized the opportunity instinctively and he successfully executed the punch without hesitation. I can't imagine Floyd Sr. (who's not very verbose in the corner) telling his son, "O.K., I want you to throw a lead, slinging right hook, and that's the key to the fight." No, Floyd saw the opportunity, and he capitalized on it. It was a way for him to win the fight, an admission that something new was needed.

Saturday was my first live Mayweather fight, and it was quite a pleasure. To many, Floyd's performance could have been considered workmanlike. There were no knockdowns or very few sustained moments of action. But Floyd's "workmanlike" was wonderful and humbling. Dominating a good fighter with relative ease, I was enthralled.

To watch him think his way through the match was a special experience. Everyone can talk about the straight right hand, but what about his counter jab, which was pulverizing and was his first counter shot to land consistently. His legs looked great as well and he seemed so much faster live than on TV.

Because of Floyd's superior speed and accuracy, Guerrero had to respect almost every feint. Floyd's athletic and technical gifts forced Guerrero to become a spectator in his own fight at points because he was so worried about defending himself from getting hit cleanly. In addition, Floyd showed yet again how good his chin is. Guerrero actually rocked Floyd with some bruising shots in the first two rounds, specifically a counter left uppercut in the first and a counter right hook on the top of the head in the second. Floyd took Guerrero's best and continued on with his game plan.

Saturday may not be remembered as one of Floyd's more memorable fights, but when Floyd is at his best, his matches most often won't be worthy of ESPN Classic. He's a neutralizer on a grand scale. Even when Guerrero did well in the first two rounds, Robert still stood there, semi-motionless, waiting on Floyd; he was fighting the wrong fight.

Floyd's renewed commitment to defense will mean fewer opportunities for his opponents and more boos from the crowd. However, the best version of Floyd does not make blood-and-guts fights. He's a fighter on the top of his game at the highest echelon in the sport. And if that's boring to you, it's not my problem, or, with buckets of guaranteed money, his.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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1 comment:

  1. AnonymousMay 11, 2013

    Beautiful article bro.

    ReplyDelete