Following on from our insight into Manny Pacquiao’s boxing style, Michael McCarthy discusses the style of his upcoming opponent – undefeated Floyd Mayweather.
Style: Defensive counter-puncher
Make ‘em miss and make ‘em pay is the Mayweather way of boxing. If you believe that boxing is the art of hitting your opponent without being hit in return then Mayweather truly has a claim to his self-styled “T.B.E.” (The Best Ever) moniker.
The pound-for-pound king has defied convention by becoming the world’s highest paid athlete despite fighting in what is not considered a fan-friendly style.
The unbeaten Mayweather has made his career on the back of his defensive genius. In his early days he went by the ring name “Pretty Boy” Floyd, alluding to the 1930s bank robber, but also to his remarkable tendency to emerge from fights with his facial features intact.
Whilst Mayweather’s defensive acumen has long been associated with his patented shoulder-roll technique, there is significantly more to his skillset. Yet it does all begin with that now-iconic stance.
Mayweather rarely stands squarely across from his opponent. Instead he prefers to stand almost side-on, with his left foot forward and his legs widely spaced, while keeping his left arm low to protect his body and his chin tucked behind his left shoulder.
In this stance, Mayweather presents his opponents with very little to aim for. Right hands will be blocked by Mayweather’s back, his left arm or absorbed on the shoulder before they can reach his elusive chin, whilst Floyd keeps his right arm free to parry any punches thrown from his opponents left.
This sets the stall for his impregnable defence but it is by no means the whole show. The second pillar of his defence is upper-body movement. This relies on Mayweather’s boxing brain as much as his physical flexibility.
There is no fighter in the sport with a greater boxing I.Q than Floyd. His anticipation and ability to recognise a punch instantly, coupled with the wide stance and even weight distribution allows him to recoil, duck or turn away from most of his opponent’s blows with little or no foot movement.
However, there is only so long a fighter can be expected to dodge bullets in the pocket, which brings me to the final pillar in Mayweather’s defensive fortress – footwork. Where opponents have had (albeit limited) success against Mayweather is when they have succeeded in trapping him in a corner, or pinning his back against the ropes and unloading with combinations.
The counter to this tactic is the use of footwork to evade the rushes of his opponent and outmanoeuvre them. Mayweather has demonstrated this ability against pressure fighters countless times, most notably perhaps against Ricky Hatton and more recently against Robert Guerrero.
Interestingly however, in his two most recent fights against Argentine Marcos Maidana, Mayweather struggled to keep off the ropes. Time and again Maidana was able to force Floyd backwards, pin him against the ropes and unload with wild punches from unorthodox angles.
Manny Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach has taken a lot of heart from these two fights, insisting they are evidence that Mayweather’s legs have gone and he no longer possesses the necessary footwork to keep himself out of trouble.
Offensively, Mayweather has mostly relied on counter punching. Again this is a by-product of his shoulder-roll defensive stance. This allows him to stand in front of his opponent, evade their lead punch – crucially whilst keeping his feet set – and then land with a counter-punch of his own before pivoting away to safety.
There is a long standing perception that Mayweather is not a power-puncher. It is seven and a half years since Mayweather scored his last real knock-out, against Ricky Hatton. The evidence certainly stacks up to suggest that the perception is close to reality.
However, his opponents are often keen to stress that although Floyd may lack one-punch KO power, he hits a lot harder than people think. This is a by-product of his accuracy and technique. Although his punches may not be thrown with real venom, Floyd excels at landing clean, sharp and accurate punches.
Mayweather is perhaps unparalleled when it comes to landing a lead right hand. An opponent who remains in front of Floyd, and fails to employ good head movement will soon find himself being peppered with straight right hands.
His jab is also one of the more effective, and sometimes under-rated punches in the Mayweather arsenal. He uses the jab to the body to great effect.
The check-hook is another favourite of Mayweather’s. Again, this punch relies on timing and accuracy rather than power, but was still sufficient to separate Ricky Hatton from his senses and introduce him to the turnbuckle in their December 2007 encounter.
Luring his opponents into a reckless attack, timing their lunge and delivering a short, sharp counter-punch is quintessential Mayweather.
Landing clean, accurate punches will usually succeed in winning rounds but despite the testimony of his opponents, Mayweather’s punching power remains his greatest weakness, simply for the fact that it removes his destiny from his own hands.
Scoring a knockout is the only way to ensure victory in boxing. Mayweather has thus far kept his perfect record intact but recently he has relied almost completely on the competency of the judges at ringside.
Putting his precious “0” in the hands of three judges time and again is perhaps the biggest risk Mayweather has taken in his illustrious career. Boxing is littered with instances of questionable and at times downright atrocious judging.
Both Mayweather and Pacquiao have been the victims of questionable scorecards in the past; Pacquiao in his defeat to Timothy Bradley and Mayweather in his one-sided victory over Canelo Alvarez in 2013. Although Mayweather still claimed the win, the drawn scorecard of judge C.J Ross led to widespread criticism, as many had scored the fight as a 12-0 whitewash for Mayweather.
What these instances highlight is the risks associated with allowing the fight to go to the scorecards. On May 2nd the odds suggest that, once again, Mayweather will go the championship distance and he will again allow the judges to decide his fate, this time in the biggest fight of his career.
Another area where Mayweather may be vulnerable is in his choice to put his father in control of his corner. Floyd is considered to be largely self-taught at this stage of his career. Having been raised in a boxing environment all his life and boxed from an early age, he has developed a boxing I.Q that compares favourably with any in the sport.
Floyd is keen to stress that his preparation for fights does not involve studying his opponent or developing a strategy. Instead, he uses camp to simply get himself in supreme condition and trust his boxing brain and instincts to formulate the necessary strategy during the fight.
Watching Floyd fight, he tends to struggle a little in the opening few rounds. But usually he figures out his opponent, makes the necessary adjustments and takes over the fight.
This system has served him extremely well thus far but the question remains, if things start to go against Floyd, does his corner possess the necessary insight, calmness and communication skills to make adjustments? If Floyd becomes rattled, if his plan isn’t working, if he cannot figure out his opponent, can Floyd Snr. step up?
Mayweather’s defensive mentality is responsible for the final weakness in his make-up – he rarely puts combinations together. As his career has progressed he has relied more and more on single, clean, accurate punches to impress the judges.
Yes, it has proven to be very effective but it is a risk nonetheless. Sugar Ray Leonard showed in his 1987 showdown with Marvellous Marvin Hagler how judges can be swayed by short bursts of flashy combinations to close out rounds.
Pacquiao has the ability to reel off such combos, could boxing history repeat itself?
Michael McCarthy, Pundit Arena