Floyd Mayweather Does Have Weaknesses… But Exploiting Them To Beat Him Is A Whole ‘Nother Matter

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. Tomorrow — keys to the fight, breaking down how each man stacks up in important categories.


Guides to beating Floyd Mayweather, Jr. are a dime a dozen. And it’s not that they don’t all have points. It’s just that it’s easier said than done, or somebody mighta done it by now. The next person who will try to do it is Juan Manuel Marquez, up Saturday in an HBO pay-per-view event.
It’s also not that Mayweather is perfect. No fighter is perfect. Every boxer in the history of mankind had weaknesses. What separates the elite fighters is how they manage their flaws. From fight to fight, and even mid-fight, almost every time Mayweather encounters a spot of trouble, he adjusts, adapts, overcomes.
I’ve spent some time paying attention to the rough spots in Mayweather’s fights. I think I remembered him being more untouchable than he is in reality. But by the same token, I came away even more impressed with how he reacts when he does get touched.

Some of this stuff is stuff that bothers everybody, by the way. It’s just that these are the things that at times have bothered Mayweather specifically. And they’re in no particular order.
The Jab. Oscar De La Hoya’s jab messed with Floyd Mayweather in their fight, at least until he stopped throwing it inexplicably. I don’t think it messed with him THAT much; some of that, it strikes me, has been built up into legend. This is one where Mayweather never adjusted, per se, just that a guy with a good jab flat stopped using it against him. Generally, jabbing Mayweather, doubling and tripling it even, is a good idea, as it is against any speed fighter, but in practice, he’s very good at countering it with his patented straight right. It makes people reluctant to throw it too much, or it makes them unconscious if they get countered too often.
Hand Speed. It may seem strange to suggest that Mayweather, a speedster of the highest order, would have to worry about anyone else’s speed. But Zab Judah really gave him a run for his money in the first few rounds of their fight, actually, in my view, outquicking Mayweather. Then, Mayweather went into a more conventional, high-guard stance that flummoxed Judah, who is always looking for an excuse to fade in a fight anyway. Still, I suspect a fighter who could match Mayweather’s quickness of hand would give him trouble if he ran into such a creature again. Good luck finding very many such creatures.
Body Punching. It is so much easier to hit Mayweather, a defensive master, to the body than the head. Jose Luis Castillo did it in Mayweather’s most difficult fight, the first of two meetings between the two. Judah did it from the outside, and Castillo and De La Hoya, albeit somewhat ineffectively in De La Hoya’s case, both did it from the inside. If there’s something that people ought to have done more of against Mayweather than they have, it’s this. It is not that anyone gets dissuaded from punching the body by anything Mayweather does, per se, that I’ve seen.
Activity. Because Mayweather much prefers to pot-shot and throw single punches — it’s safer — merely being busier than Mayweather can win you some rounds. It worked for De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton both. Neither man was connecting on all that much early on, but because they were the aggressors, they were winning rounds on the scorecards. The problem? Mayweather is such a great counterpuncher that the busier you are, the more he hits you. And it catches up to you, especially when you have to expend so much energy to even connect on the guy at all. It caught up to Hatton, that’s for sure.
Unexpected Angles. DeMarcus Corley, a southpaw, kept tagging Mayweather with overhand rights. It forced a shootout, but because Mayweather was the far better technical fighter, throwing shorter, crisper punches, he won the shootout. Incidentally, this is what bothers Mayweather vis-a-vis combination punching — after a series of punches, he can’t necessarily detect where the next shot is coming from as easily — but the idea of throwing five-punch combos against Mayweather, as De La Hoya has advocated, is a challenging one. He’ll usually have moved out of range or countered by then.
Pressuring Him to the Ropes. Castillo did this better than anyone, using head movement, a high guard, an absolute disregard for any return fire and cutting off the ring. De La Hoya did it with superior size and his jab. Corley did it some by staying busy and confusing Mayweather with angles, which made him back off. Getting Mayweather’s back to the ropes doesn’t guarantee success; ask Diego Corrales, who would back Mayweather up only to find him gone a fraction of a second later. He’s also a pretty good infighter, which means he might trade with you while his back’s on the ropes, and he’ll win his share of those trades. But it does enhance your chances of connecting compared to having to deal with him in the center of the ring. I do think that when Mayweather says, and I paraphrase, “Everybody who fights me talks about pressure — it isn’t working,” that he has a point. Pressure by itself isn’t even close to enough. Mayweather really learned after the first Castillo fight, improving his results in the rematch, although some blame Castillo for chasing him too much in that second bout.
Starting Fast. Mayweather studies his opponents for a few rounds. That sometimes contributes to him giving those rounds away, although they’re often just closer, since Mayweather fighting naturally, on instinct, is good enough to win rounds against almost anyone. See: Judah, De La Hoya, Hatton. The downside of this is that by the time he’s lost a few rounds, he’s figured you out and your goose is cooked. Still, if you’re looking to win a decision, it doesn’t hurt to take the rounds that are often most available to a Mayweather opponent, and those are the first several.
Forcing Him To Lead/Countering. At various points in his career when Mayweather has been trying to make a point of being more exciting, he’s taken the lead. He’s good at it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as natural for him. Judah countered him well early, and broadly over the course of his career, Mayweather’s been at his most vulnerable when he’s punching. That tendency to get countered is why Mayweather often retreats into a defensive-first mindset; when he does that, countering opportunities evaporate. I wonder what would happen if someone just backed off and stunk out the joint waiting for Mayweather to throw so he could be countered.
Ignoring His Power. Mayweather’s not super-powerful, but he’s powerful enough that he can hurt most anybody. A significantly bigger fighter, or an iron-chinned type like Castillo, is going to have a much better chance of wading through Mayweather’s sharp counter shots and outworking him. It’s noteworthy that Mayweather hasn’t fought many people naturally bigger than him. I think he realizes he’s tapped out as far as optimal size, because he hasn’t fought a naturally big welterweight yet, and he knew De La Hoya was on the decline. I’m not saying he wouldn’t beat a naturally bigger guy, I just think a naturally bigger guy could take his shots better, is all.
I honestly think it’s going to take a fighter being able to do nearly ALL these things to beat Mayweather, assuming he’s the same Mayweather from his last fight in 2007. Or, alternately, someone would have to expose some hitherto unrevealed weakness in Mayweather’s game. Can Marquez do either or both? We’ll explore that tomorrow and later in the week, as well as whether Mayweather is the same as before.

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.