Floyd Mayweather – Juan Manuel Marquez: Keys To The Fight

So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fight of 2009, Floyd Mayweather against Juan Manuel Marquez, culminating in a live blog of the bout Saturday. Previously — the importance of Mayweather-Marquez and a look at Mayweather’s weaknesses, such as they are. Tomorrow — previewing the (for once in boxing) stellar undercard.

There is very little suspense in how Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez will match up Saturday night, physically. Pull the lever on any athletic category, and it comes up Floyd, Floyd, Floyd. It gets a little more Hitchcockian, though, in the aspects of boxing that require more than physical gifts. (OK, maybe a little more DePalma-ian, but still.) The central tension of this fight is whether the underdog Marquez has enough edges in those other aspects, and not too much of a gulf in the physical aspects, to spring the upset.


Size. If Mayweather and Marquez were the same size, nobody would have anything bad to say about this fight. They aren’t, so they do. Marquez is a pure featherweight. He’s the lightweight champion, but he’s had the kind of moments against fellow lightweights that suggest he’s pushing his physical limits as far as how high he can be effective. Mayweather really began as a junior lightweight, but fought Oscar De La Hoya at junior middleweight. He’s not a big, big, welterweight, but he’s big enough. They’re reportedly fighting at 144 pounds, nine higher than Marquez has ever fought and a few pounds below Mayweather’s comfy welterweight limit. Mayweather is 5’8″ with a 72″ reach; Marquez is 5’7″ with a 67″ reach. It’s almost that easy.

But here are a few variables. Is it possible Mayweather suffers a little coming down to 144? Maybe, but I doubt it — Mayweather always stays in shape and I bet he could make 140 if he wanted to. Marquez looks surprisingly ripped at 144, and the delay in the fight from July to September has given him time to grow into the weight a little, but is it possible that he’s given away some speed by bulking up? His trainer, Nacho Beristain, seems extremely worried about that, and I think he has a point. Size was supposed to be a huge advantage for Oscar De La Hoya last year against Manny Pacquiao, who was leaping from lightweight to welterweight, so is it possible Marquez can do the same? Perhaps, but these are somewhat different circumstances; Mayweather isn’t as old as De La Hoya was, and isn’t coming down to a weight he hasn’t made in seven years like De La Hoya was. If some of these “maybes” go Marquez’ way, obviously his chances improve a good deal. But overall, edge: Mayweather.

Speed. Once upon a time, Marquez had above average speed. Not so much anymore. His hands and feet both have slowed as he’s advanced in age and climbed weight classes. For comparison’s sake, look at how much quicker Juan Diaz was than Marquez in February. Diaz is fast enough, but I wouldn’t call him a speedster. Mayweather, that’s a guy you’d call a speedster. It’s arguably his biggest asset in the ring. If you were making a list of the fastest hands in boxing, you’d put Mayweather in, what, the top two? His feet are agile as hell, too. It’s so not even close in the speed category that I’m not sure it would have even changed much if Marquez came in light and faster — the gap wouldn’t be closed hardly at all. Edge: Mayweather.
Power. Both men aren’t what you would call “punchers,” per se, in that they don’t have crushing natural power. But both are so accurate that they can hurt people bad. It’s not just what kind of cannon you have, it’s where you shoot. Mayweather and Marquez shoot with precision. Marquez, strangely, has done pretty well in the power department at lightweight, knocking out two men, Diaz and Joel Casamayor, who never had been before. The Casamayor knockout was particularly impressive, as massive punchers like Diego Corrales didn’t KO Casamayor. It’s possible that by staying at a low weight so long, he was suppressing his raw power, and he’ll be a hard hitter at 144, too. That’s just conjecture. We know that Mayweather has good, solid power for a welterweight. I’m going to go edge: Mayweather.
Punch Resistance. Mayweather doesn’t get hit that much for his chin to get tested very often, and he’s only been on the receiving end of a knockdown ruling once, when he badly hurt his hand and touched it to the canvas. Zab Judah scored a real knockdown on Mayweather, albeit more the out-of-balance kind, but it wasn’t ruled such. When Mayweather does get hit, he handles it pretty well. Even flush shots from pretty good punchers rarely bother him, and when he’s been buzzed here and there, he’s recovered very, very quickly. Marquez has also shown excellent recuperative powers, such as when he went down three times against Manny Pacquiao in the 1st round of their first fight and fought his way back to a draw. Good recuperative powers or not, Marquez does have a track record in the last few years of getting knocked down or buzzed with some regularity, even getting staggered by the relatively light-punching Diaz. Here’s another one to go edge: Mayweather.
Age/Wear. Mayweather is 32, and has never been in anything you might call a slugfest. Marquez is 36, and he’s been in some serious wars, especially as he’s slowed down slash adapted his style to be more exciting and therefore make more cash. It would be straightforward enough if it ended there. Mayweather reportedly suffered a rib injury in camp to delay the fight from July to September, and before he retired, he’d complained about injuries all over his body; he also has been plagued by hand injuries. Mayweather’s camp says he’s healthier than ever as a result of taking almost two years off from the sport. No way of knowing if that’s true. And he may have suffered a rib injury, but if you know Mayweather at all, there’s very little to no chance that he’d risk his precious undefeated record by coming into a fight hurt, so he’s no doubt healed. There may be some uncertainties here, but the totality goes edge: Mayweather.
Stamina. Have you ever seen either Mayweather or Marquez get remotely tired? Have either of them ever done anything other than get stronger as the fight goes on? Yeah, stupid category, in retrospect. Although at least it gives me a chance to write something besides edge: Mayweather. Edge: push.

Offense. Technically speaking, you’d be hard-pressed to find many better in the sport on offense than Mayweather or Marquez. Mayweather’s straight right, which he can lead with or counter with, is his primary weapon. When he decides to jab, he’s a good jabber, and he likes to jab to the body to paralyze his opponents. He hooks with both hands to the head and body and has a right uppercut that he brings out of the closet sometimes. If there’s a knock, it’s that he’s so preoccupied with defense — and has hurt his hands when opening up — that he rarely takes the risk of throwing a combination anymore, at least the version of Mayweather before he retired. Marquez is anything but worried about throwing combinations. He may be the best combination artist in the world right now. Like Mayweather, his best punch is his straight right, but after that, in order of effectiveness, it’s uppercuts with either hand, hooks to the body and a very stiff jab. Both Mayweather and Marquez are natural counterpunchers, but Marquez is a tad more comfortable taking the lead than Mayweather. For the first time, I can say edge: Marquez.
Defense. If speed isn’t Mayweather’s top asset in the boxing ring, then it’s his defense. That L-shaped stance — his left arm horizontal across his body, his right arm vertical from his side up to his head — makes him very hard to hit, because he’ll block, roll or step back to get out of harm’s way. His reflexes are excellent and he has almost a sixth sense for when a punch is coming. When he gets cornered it’s less reliable, but still excellent, and it really is remarkable to watch him stand in front of his opponent and never get hit. As for Marquez, he used to either focus on defense much
more than he does now or age has made it harder for him to do so, because he gets hit a ton these days. His main defensive maneuver, such as it is, is to take a step out of range. But this is a whole lotta edge: Mayweather.
Experience. Mayweather has fought just about every kind of boxer, although I’m pretty sure he’s never battled anyone who is as skilled Marquez. He’s also not been in the ring in a serious way for more than a year and a half, and some observers have thought Mayweather has looked a tad less sharp than when last we saw him, so some kind of ring rust could come into play. Likewise, Marquez has fought just about every kind of boxer, including guys who were a little bit in the Mayweather mold. Joel Casamayor was a fleet-footed counterpuncher with good defense. Freddie Norwood had that “negative” style, like Mayweather. Pacquiao was close to as fast-handed as, if not faster than, Mayweather. Beristain points to Julian Wheeler as a taller, longer-armed guy that Marquez beat. And while there’s been some tradeoff in ring wear, Marquez has fought a very high level of competition in Mayweather’s absence. Edge: Marquez.
Trainers. Beristain is one of the preeminent trainers of his generation, a thinking man’s bloodsport guru. He’s taken lots of guys to the next level, and Marquez may be his masterpiece. He’s doubted Marquez a bit, both for taking the Mayweather fight and reportedly with gripes in camp, and that’s a knock, but for coaching, it’s hard to get much better. Roger Mayweather hasn’t taken anybody to any level besides Floyd, and that’s a little like giving any nincompoop off the street an NBA team of Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. You’ll look like a really good coach. Roger may or may not be a good one, but there’s just no proof of it, and what evidence there is isn’t very favorable. Edge: Marquez.
Mindset. There is nothing weak of will about Marquez or Mayweather once they get into the ring. They exude focus and confidence, and they bounce back swiftly when they get in trouble. What I wonder about is what they’re fighting for. Marquez seemingly fights for intense personal and national pride. Mayweather once did, and may still, love boxing. That’s the story his camp is selling. But every week, new tales of Mayweather’s money woes accumulate. I very much wonder if this return to the sport is exclusively related to needing cash to pay off his debts and the IRS. If that’s his motive, the massive paycheck he gets for this fight may be ample to fill that hole, so losing becomes less of a problem. It’s also just not the best way to think when you’re going into the boxing ring — “I’m doing this for the cash only.” Because there’s reasonable cause for skepticism of why Mayweather is fighting again, I’ll go edge: Marquez.
Intelligence. As much as I appreciate the physical feats of boxers, I’m usually fans of boxers who have a high “boxing IQ.” Again, you won’t find many smarter than Mayweather or Marquez between the ropes. Mayweather and Marquez have “solved” all manner of fighters who posed formidable obstacles. Corrales could never lay a hand on Mayweather. When Judah gave him some trouble early, Mayweather adjusted. But he always, every step of the way, could count on terrific physical attributes he was born with to help him dig his way out. Marquez has used his intelligence to overcome physical attributes that are less scintillating. And he’s solved puzzles, like Casamayor and Pacquiao, that nobody else even had a clue how to deal with. He’s presented with a similar challenge Saturday night. If there is hope for a Marquez win, it may be that he finds some critical flaw in Mayweather that no one ever has, as in this category it is a slight edge: Marquez.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.