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Right around now, Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana are beginning in earnest their respective training camps for a September 13th rematch in Las Vegas. And as is customary, the invective has been flying towards the supposedly chary Mayweather for his choice of opponent since the fight was announced. The standard accusations of the naysayers don’t hold much water this time however. With El Chino being neither too young nor too old, fighting at his optimum weight and in no way shot, the criticism appears more abstruse than normal. In fact, looking back on the first bout, it is easier to find reasons for Floyd to avoid the Argentine than evidence of the promise of another easy payday.
Mayweather Maidana I was the fight that Saúl Álvarez should have given Money in September of last year. A rodeo show brawl against an untamed criollo who puts his own personal safety a distant second to winning on his list of priorities. Between weigh-in and first bell, Maidana bulked up to 165 lbs to enter the ring a full 17 lbs heavier than his opponent. It confirmed a game plan that was never in any doubt; the gaucho from Santa Fe was intent on marching into Mayweather and breaking him down by force and aggression rather than speed and guile.
And it worked. For the first quarter of the fight it worked. The adjective barnstorming was invented to describe the first round of this welterweight contest. Mayweather’s defensive genius in the ring is legendary. He turns side on and tucks his head behind a raised left shoulder that protects enough to take the majority of the sting out of every right hand directed at his chin. It is a key part of the recondite May Vinci Code puzzle that 45 previous fighters have failed, by hook or by crook, to crack.
Maidana, a brute force too blunt for hooks or crooks, decided to kick over the table on which Floyd’s puzzle lay and then take a sledgehammer to the pieces on the floor. He launched into an immediate onslaught of looping overhand right hay-makers, thrown with a trajectory to bypass Mayweather’s shoulder and crash down on the top, or more often back, of the pound for pound king’s head. The Vegas sky was raining Argentinian fire down on Floyd in a frantic first round that all three ringside judges awarded to the underdog.
By the fourth, however, it seemed that Mayweather, as he always does, was calmly navigating out of the violent seas whipped up by Maidana’s fury and the passion of Latino chants for their sports personality of the year. Two of the judges had him 3-1 up on their scorecards and the general consensus was that El Chino was only going to tire as the fight progressed. Then Floyd tasted blood. His own blood.
Mayweather basically doesn't get cut. His hand-wrapper and cutman, the venerable octogenarian with a hat full of pins, Rafael Garcia, is one of the best in the business. Yet after over 15 years with the Money camp, he could sell his enswell as new and he’s still on his first vial of adrenaline chloride. It was an accidental (a subjective term in boxing) clash of heads that opened Floyd’s skin and after the fight he said his blood flowed freely enough to cause him vision problems. It led to him losing a rough-house fifth and Maidana’s trainer, Robert Garcia, sent his charge out into the sixth with a cry of, “este hombre, él tiene miedo”. Fear is probably overstating it, but Floyd was flustered and Maidana certainly had his full attention.
If history has shown us anything, it is that when Floyd Mayweather gives something his full attention, that something normally finds itself comprehensively picked off and outpointed. He caught Chino with a stinging uppercut early in the sixth and finished the round with a couple of straight rights that stopped the South American cowboy in his tracks. In the seventh Floyd used his considerable reach advantage to land more overhand rights as Maidana attempted to pull his head back out of trouble after throwing his own jab.
The underdog’s speed and intensity had dropped but to his credit he roused himself in the eight and, going downstairs to work Mayweather’s nether regions, he drew an exasperated “damn!” from the champ. In the press conference a couple of hours later, with the word rematch dominating the discourse, Floyd spoke warmly of his opponent being a great fighter and champion with a beautiful family. But he then added pointedly, “next time, don’t hit me in the dick”. It was undoubtedly a low blow in every sense of the word, but par for the course when a street fighter meets a boxer. At every clinch the head started going in as well and at one point a knee even appeared to be raised. Maidana prayed for a brawl.
Mayweather will, on occasion, stand and trade, but he is far too slick and clever to ever engage in an all-out brawl. Floyd worships at the temple of Hit and Don’t Get Hit and apostasy is not likely any time soon. He used the first minute of the 9th as a breather and then landed three or four perfectly timed rights, of which at least two were followed up by thumping left hooks. A thudding, winding body shot ended the round and any lingering thoughts of an upset.
Maidana beat his chest in the 10th and beckoned Floyd to fight. In the 11th he butted like an Andean mountain goat and wrestled his foe to the floor and half-way through the ropes. It was ungainly but he was desperate now. All three judges had Mayweather winning five of the six rounds from the sixth through the eleventh. The scrap continued in the twelfth but, despite the now seemingly obligatory left-field scoring from one judge, it was all academic at this stage.
At the end, celebrate though Team Maidana and the large Latino contingent in the MGM crowd certainly did, Floyd moved to 46 and 0 with a majority 114-114, 117-111, 116-112 decision. The latter scorecard was probably the most accurate. Yet it was far from comfortable and next month’s rematch is, in my opinion at least, something to look forward to.
Though a relatively limited boxer, Chino’s style is one of the more awkward for Mayweather and, having just turned 31, he will continue to be as hard as a coffin nail and as tough as Roberto Duran’s old boots for a few years yet. The statistics say he landed more shots than any of Floyd’s previous victims and he’ll maintain the belief that he only needs to land one cleanly to stop whoever is in front of him. Maidana and his team will surely have taken enough from the first fight to build on and come up with a game plan to discomfort the champion and make it, at worst, a genuine contest.
Does the above paragraph mean I am auguring the first blemish on Mayweather’s pristine record? Of course not. Though he’ll be closer to 40 than 35, and any changes in the fighter must surely be negatively vicissitudinary at this stage, the first three minutes last May were probably Floyd’s nadir against El Chino rather than a harbinger of defeat this time around.
Mayweather is still the best boxer on the planet by a distance. Don’t be fooled by his apparently turbulent lifestyle outside of boxing; inside the sport, Floyd continues to be one of the most assiduous athletes operating today. In Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, Father Jacobus states that “every science is, among other things, a method of ordering, simplifying, making the indigestible digestible for the mind”. In other words, an exercise in understanding.
The sweet science is no different and Floyd remains the greatest exponent of submitting to its chaos while simultaneously retaining faith in an order and meaning that others fail to grasp. An order and meaning that sees him prepare well and then win. Always. He understands boxing better than every man he enters the ring with. He remains in control on every level of the game and that is why I believe he will ultimately retire as one of those rarest of beasts, an unbeaten fighter.
Follow Paul Gibson on @BallsOfWrath