Prior to Saturday's matchup against Marcos Maidana, Floyd Mayweather's last truly close call in the ring was in April of 2002 against Jose Luis Castillo (their first fight). Seventeen boxers over 12 years have had opportunities to beat him since that night; all but two of them put forth an effort far below their best – the notable exceptions are Castillo in their second meeting in 2002 and Miguel Cotto in 2012. Sure, there were other brief moments of doubt over that time period. Zab Judah had a solid first four rounds before a lack of maturity led to his implosion. Oscar de la Hoya fought well during the first half of his bout before abandoning his jab and with it whatever momentum he had built up. Shane Mosley landed two massive right hands and then spent the rest of his fight looking for the same shot, which never materialized. In short, most of Floyd's opponents have helped to beat themselves.
The psychological pressure of facing Mayweather in the ring repeatedly manifests in his opponents. Many fighters blindly follow him without throwing shots. Others stare at him in the center of the ring refusing to let their hands go. Punchers try to win with boxing; boxers hope to suddenly become punchers. Others break down in non-traditional ways. There is that familiar look in many of Floyd's opponents who act as if they have been defeated before the fight even enters the second half. There are very few fighters who have retained their wits for 12 rounds against Mayweather. Marcos Maidana stepped into this caldron on Saturday.
When the name of the promotion, The Moment, was first announced, boxing fans derisively mocked its vague and nonsensical meaning. But after witnessing Saturday's performance by Maidana, the moniker now seems more than apt. Unlike so many others fighters, Maidana didn't wilt under the bright lights or cower under the pressure and scrutiny. Through the ups and downs of a colorful boxing career, Maidana fully embraced his Moment, and he helped to produce a wonderful fight.
From the jump, it was damn refreshing to see a Mayweather opponent go for the jugular. There were no pleasantries. No bowing down before Floyd's ring. No kisses. No silent agreements to let the fight go 12. Maidana was there to kick ass.
For a while, everything was going to plan. Maidana bumrushed Mayweather in the first four rounds, pounding him along the ropes with overhand rights, left hooks to the body and any other punch that he could manage when he had a free hand. And although the majority of his shots weren't landing cleanly, Maidana's attack forced Mayweather to spend an inordinate amount of time on defense.
But a number of truly big shots got through and I have never seen Floyd get hit before with such ferocious power punches. Sure, Castillo neutralized Mayweather with a lot of volume and pressure, but he didn't land the same types of bombs that Maidana did.
Throughout the first six rounds, Maidana followed the perfect fight plan: drive Mayweather back with power, swarm him along the ropes, beat him with volume, vary the attack and be ferocious; make it a street fight. As the first half of the match ended, I had him up 4 rounds to 2 on my card.
But then Mayweather made significant adjustments. He spent far less time on the ropes and when he did he was able to avoid that high, over-the-top right hand. In addition, he insisted on being first, landing blistering, pinpoint lead left hooks and right hands. He went to the body a ton. Mayweather also refused to give ground. He held his position in the center of the ring and let his power shots go. This wasn't Mayweather gliding around the ring to earn his victory. No, he engaged Maidana in a vicious dogfight and got the better of it in the second half to take five out of the last six rounds on my card.
Although Mayweather won most of the late rounds, he didn't dominate Maidana; there were a number of potential swing rounds. In my estimation, he won many of his frames 60-40 or 65-35. Maidana had his moments throughout the fight but there were fewer of them as the fight progressed.
After the final bell sounded, there was genuine suspense. The official cards, so often a formality in a Mayweather fight, now took on supreme importance. Surely Maidana had won a number of rounds. Would the judges be swayed more by Maidana's volume and pressure or Mayweather's accuracy and ring generalship?
The final scores were announced and Mayweather would again raise his hands in victory – the scores were 114-114, 116-112 and 117-111, giving him a majority decision victory (I scored it 115-113 Mayweather). Although I didn't have a major problem with the judges' tallies (perhaps 117-111 was a bit wide), I believe that the fight could certainly have been a draw or a two-point Maidana victory; it really was that close.
For Mayweather, Saturday's fight was gut check time. He really hadn't experienced a fighter pressing him in that manner since Castillo. At 37, he had to engage in an all-out brawl in order to keep his status in the sport, the type of fight that hastens the end of a career. He did enough to win. It wasn't pretty, but it was deserved.
Unlike Mayweather's last outing against Saul Alvarez, the Maidana fight won't be remembered as one of Floyd's technical masterpieces. He made some mistakes, both strategic and tactical. He was slow to make key adjustments and he ate a lot of leather.
I'm positive that Mayweather was compliant in going to the ropes early in the fight – it wasn't all Maidana. In my estimation, the plan was to catch Maidana with something big early in the fight. Don't forget that Maidana had been down on the canvas numerous times as a pro. In addition, Mayweather wanted to tire Maidana, count on his own conditioning to prevail and try to get Maidana to punch himself out. Although there had never been questions about Maidana's heart or determination in the ring, his conditioning had been subpar during many points of his career. He had certainly taken rounds off during fights.
Even though Maidana was very successful early in the match in cutting off the ring, I noticed several occasions where Floyd could have spun off the ropes to reset the action or walk Maidana forward in a clinch. Floyd chose not to do these things. He wanted to get some work done.
I believe that Floyd underestimated Maidana's ability to get off effective shots in close quarters. Even when Floyd locked an arm or used his body to grapple, Maidana still found a way to launch the right to the head or a left hook to the body. In the second half of the fight, Floyd mostly avoided these situations and except for a brief flurry in the 11th, he wasn't hit by that high right hand shot again.
Perhaps more troubling for Mayweather was how successful Maidana was with his jab at points in the fight. Throwing the stick to the head, chest and stomach, Maidana used his jab very well to initiate offense. And although Floyd will sometimes give an opponent the jab, his upper body movement wasn't nearly as good as it had been in past fights. In addition, Floyd's supposed advantages in lateral movement and foot speed were not factors. Or to put it another way, he did not use these advantages to help him win the fight.
However, I'm not ready to say that Mayweather has significantly declined. Just eight months ago, he looked sensational in dispatching Alvarez. Although Floyd's legs may not be as fresh as they were when he was 25, he still possesses an enormous punch arsenal, first-rate intelligence, wonderful accuracy and an ability to make excellent adjustments. I believe that Maidana's success was a combination of the fabulous teachings of Robert Garcia, improved conditioning under Alex Ariza (not a favorite of mine), his own internal fortitude and his unorthodox attack.
A great attribute of Robert Garcia is his ability to maximize the talents of his fighters to make them their best selves in the ring. He is not the type of trainer who tries to create clones. From working with the power counterpunching of Nonito Donaire to the cerebral, patient style of his brother Mikey to the hell-or-high-water pressure of Brandon Rios, Garcia is comfortable keeping a fighter's style intact while making notable enhancements.
With Maidana, Garcia has not tried to create a new entity in the ring. He has supplemented Maidana's approach with better footwork, a purposeful jab and improved conditioning. However, Garcia also knows enough not to change the attributes of Maidana's that led to his initial success – high work rates, a willingness to engage in wars, awkward-angled shots and massive left hooks to the body.
Furthermore, he understood that Maidana's rawness and unconventional attack would be an asset against Mayweather, who is masterful in countering familiar punch sequences. So when Maidana threw a lead left hook to the body off of the wrong foot and followed it up with a straight right hand to the chest and then another left hook to the body which drove Mayweather back to the ropes, it was not a cringe-worthy moment for Garcia. He realized that these forays were pivotal in keeping Mayweather guessing.
In addition, Garcia knew that volume is a key to beating Mayweather. A fighter can never go punch-for-punch with Mayweather and expect to win. Garcia wanted Maidana to get to 100 punches a round, with a full understanding that two-thirds of them might not land. Garcia wasn't looking for beautiful combinations or accuracy; he needed to get Mayweather out of his comfort zone. He wanted Maidana to make the fight more visceral and less cerebral. And when Maidana was hitting everything that was in sight against the ropes – arms, elbows, shoulders, air and often Mayweather's head – you can bet that Garcia was happy with the results.
In Mayweather's corner, Floyd Sr. repeated the same lone instruction throughout the match: keep going underneath. To Senior, the fight was all about taking some of the steam out of Maidana, reducing his output and will just a little bit. And while Junior and the team made some excellent adjustments regarding the geography of the fight, those body shots were successful in helping to reduce Maidana's output. In the first six rounds of the fight, Maidana averaged 78.5 punches; in the final six, 64.5 punches. Power punches told a similar story with Maidana throwing 54 per round in the first six frames and 45.3 in the last six rounds. These reductions are not insignificant numbers.
Ultimately, Floyd did enough to deserve the victory; however, both fighters truly distinguished themselves. Maidana earned a rematch or at least another lucrative opportunity for later in the year. Mayweather demonstrated that he still has the fortitude and skill to pull out a win against a relentless foe who refused to beat himself. Mayweather didn't squeak by against an 11-1 underdog. He bashed his way to victory over a psychologically unbreakable fighter who was having a great night. And you know who else had a great night? Boxing fans.