Predictions of Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s looming demise at 36 were clearly overblown but what beyond a display of his defensive wizardry was gained in his one-sided victory over Robert Guerrero Saturday night?
Well, you could start with the $32 million guaranteed paycheck he left the MGM Grand Garden Arena with after being awarded a well-deserved but far from crowd pleasing 117-111 decision that retained his WBC welterweight title and lifted his record in world championship fights to 21-0.
You could also point out that those who feared Mayweather’s legs had begun to desert him saw them on full display all night, a number of times moving him so quickly off the ropes that Guerrero fell into them while trying to muster an attack against an opponent who had already fled the scene.
Even the disappointed Guerrero (31-2-1, 18 KO) had to give Mayweather (44-0, 26 KO) props for his elusiveness if not his boldness not long after his volcanic father had bellowed from inside the ring after the fight ended: “He ran like a chicken!’’
“He was definitely on his game tonight,’’ the younger Guerrero conceded. “He really moved in the ring tonight. He’s very slick, very quick. He has a great defense. That’s why he’s undefeated. He did his thing.’’
The problem was “his thing’’ was roundly booed by the crowd of 15,222 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, many of whom grew increasingly bothered by Mayweather’s refusal to engage. With his father back in his corner after a 13-year absence, what also returned was the passive, defensive shell Floyd, Sr. had schooled his son in so well as a young boy that he became the best defensive fighter since Pernell Whitaker.
Unfortunately, with that also came the displeasing absence of offense that limited Whitaker’s popularity with the boxing public. Mayweather suffered from the same for a number of years but after his father’s absence he began working with his uncle Roger and slowly became more offensive minded.
Naturally that led to being hit more often than in his early days as well but it also made him far more popular as he began to punish opponents not only by embarrassing them with his slick defensive maneuvering but also with the stinging results of his fast hands.
This reached its height-nadir in his last fight, a win over Miguel Cotto a year ago in which his lip and nose were bloodied despite winning a clear decision. Mayweather said that experience led him to ask his father to return to his side, putting aside the well-documented differences between them that once led them not to speak for seven years.
The elder Mayweather’s revival had three immediate results: his brother Roger was derailed and did not work his nephew’s corner Saturday night after working with him in training camp; his son was seldom touched by the flailing Guerrero; and the crowd was bored half to death by the absence of anything resembling either risk taking or aggression.
Mayweather attributed some of that to a claim of injuring his right hand after repeatedly landing it square in the face of Guerrero, a southpaw vulnerable to such a punch. He insisted this was why he did not score a knockout late in the fight, especially in the eighth round when he seemed to stun Guerrero but didn’t work hard enough to close the show that round.
“People thought the layoff would play a factor but it did not,’’ said Mayweather. “I felt I got hit by too many shots against Cotto. I had to bring the defensive master back – my father.
“I was boxing smart. After the Cotto fight I realized my defense was not as sharp as it should be. The less you get hit the better. The great thing about my father is he says if you’re winning and not taking punishment keep doing it.
“The last thing my father told me was ‘I’m gonna tell you what’s going to get him – right hands all day.’ I went out and executed the game plan delivered to me. I showed the world I could still box. My defense is still there.’’
That was made obvious not only by the half dozen or so times Guerrero reached out to hit Mayweather only to find him gone as he fell into the ropes punching air, but also by his 11 per cent connection rate with his jab and 19 per cent overall connection rate (113 of 581) according to CompuBox statistics.
Just as telling, in his first two appearances as a welterweight Guerrero averaged 71 punches per round. Against Mayweather that was nearly halved to 48, a sign that Mayweather’s elusiveness, agility and reflexive reaction time had caused Guerrero to grow tentative and unwilling to punch.
”If you call that running you must be blind,’’ Mayweather Sr. said in response to Guerrero’s father/trainer, Ruben, claiming Mayweather “ran like a chicken’’ all night. “Floyd just made his son look like a fool all night.’’
Certainly as the fight wore on Guerrero (31-2-1, 18 KO) found it more and more difficult to find Mayweather. Even when he had him on the ropes or in the corners, Guerrero had trouble creating safe punching distances, often being tied up by Mayweather or punching from too far away at an apparition who kept sliding off, often slipping behind him before he could land.
Yet as brilliant as his defense was, Mayweather’s offense was absent much fire beyond a steady stream of right hand leads his father told him would decide the fight. They did, repeatedly going unblocked as they slammed into Guerrero’s face often enough to finally put a divot above his left eye but they were seldom accompanied by a following left hand and even less often did he try to press his obvious advantages.
Instead Mayweather boxed like he was working for Mutual Life, working the actuarial tables of risk reduction. While that earned him an easy victory it also earned him the enmity of the crowd and, in the end, it is the crowd that pays you.
They began to boo midway through the fight and that persisted into its final rounds and after the final bell tolled. Seemingly unmarked and uncaring, Mayweather said if his right hand was ready he would return on Sept. 14, which would be the quickest he’d been back in the ring in 13 years.
Whether anyone is there to watch or, more significantly to his benefactors at SHOWTIME, whether 1.3 million people (SHOWTIME’s break even point on Mayweather’s six-fight contract) are willing to again pony up $70 to watch what appeared to be a shadow boxing exhibition by a Quaker remains to be seen.