Marcos Maidana bucked most predictions this weekend by pushing Floyd Mayweather, the sport’s reigning Pound for Pound King and it’s defensive grand master, right up to the limit of his ability. In a thrilling match, Maidana swarmed and slugged Mayweather up against the wall, forcing Pretty Boy to stand his ground and fight.
Also See: Mayweather vs. Maidana Photo Gallery
In the wake of these results, boxing’s punditry are by and large following two general lines of explanation. One is that Mayweather is getting old, and that might have some truth to it. Certainly the Michigan native showed signs of fatigue, and caught an extraordinary amount of leather (by his own standards, anyway).
Against that, there is the obvious fact that Pretty Boy faced off with El Chino, the strongest, most powerful, and toughest customer in the welterweight division today. Mayweather fought Maidana’s fight, and whether he was forced to do so against his will or not ignores that he did so and still managed to eek out a win. While that suggests Mayweather is no longer at his peak, it also suggests he is still very near the top of his game.
The other line of explanation is closer to the mark: Maidana had the game plan to get to Mayweather, and carried it out so successfully as to very nearly steal Mayweather’s “0.” This is something I have believed all along: that a puncher who was willing to grab onto Mayweather’s belt, refuse to let go whatever Pretty Boy threw at him, and keep up a sustained assault would find his way through the defensive tactics and smother Mayweather’s counter-punching. I knew that because I have a long enough memory to recall Jose Luis Castillo.
Mayweather fought the Castillo fight twelve years ago, when the Mexican tough guy was the Lightweight Champion. I have always believed that, as the champ, Castillo did enough to win (albeit just barely) that night, and he more or less pursued the same gameplan that Maidana did on Saturday night. On that night in 2002, Mayweather was the young up-and-comer taking on a seasoned, gritty veteran, and in a rematch he showed the ring smarts and skills to make adjustments and win handily. This past Saturday it was Maidana who was the young lion, and more to the point the Argentine bull was bigger, stronger, and more powerful than Castillo or even Ricky Hatton — Maidana weighed 165 lbs on fight night, entering the ring as a Super Middleweight.
Incidentally, Hatton was the last opponent who really tried to swarm Mayweather. His 2007 attempt failed so completely largely because The Hitman was already suffering the physical toll of drinking a dozen pints of beer per day and ballooning in weight between fights.
In watching Mayweather struggle against Maidana, I saw shades of his struggle against Castillo. The strange part is not that Maidana was able to apply those lessons, but that it took a dozen years for boxing to produce a guy with the grit and physicality to do it again.