So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2013, Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez on Showtime pay-per-view on Sept. 14. Previously: the meaning of Mayweather-Alvarez; a special edition of TQBR Radio; the undercard and week's schedule, previewed; keys to the fight part I; how good Mayweather-Alvarez could be. Next: preview and prediction for Lucas Matthysse-Danny Garcia.
Mind. Matter. How do Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Saul Alvarez stack up in those categories? In the second of two parts, we compare their more mental attributes.
The key(board cat)s to the fight.
Offense. Canelo is the more offensive-minded fighter. Whether he's the better offensive fighter is a different question. Mayweather thinks defense first, offense second, but he's so good at what he does. It's mainly the right cross, but there's also the left hook and the jab, which he unconventionally throws to the body as well as the head. He pot-shots, rarely throwing combinations, and can throw the right as a 1-2, lead, or as a counter, and can lead or counter with the left hook. The rest is improvisational. He used the uppercut more for Miguel Cotto than most because Cotto's high guard and bent-over style demands it, and looped shots around Cotto's gloves rather than throwing them straight like usual because Cotto's defense demanded it. He will punch more to the body than with just the jab if that's what's given to him. He's better as a counterpuncher than forcing the action, but he's plenty good when he's making the action happen. He's also deadly accurate, one of the most accurate punchers in the game. Once he's locked in on his target, there's very little that can be done to change the course of the fight.
Alvarez loves the combos, unlike Mayweather. His right cross might also be his best punch, or the left hook to the body. He dropped Austin Trout with the right cross, dropped Josesito Lopez with the left hook to the body a few times. His jab was better against Trout as the fight went on, reinforcing the impression that at age 23, Canelo is continually improving. He lunged while trying to get at the taller Trout, yet most of what he does is fairly straight and technically solid, which, in conjunction with his lesser opposition than Mayweather has faced, explains why he's second in Compubox stats for accuracy only to Mayweather. Alvarez punches harder than Mayweather, so that might give the impression that he's more effective offensively, and in a way, he is. Yet here, Mayweather's mastery of his game is so thorough that he almost always wins widely on the cards, and not just because of his defense. So. Edge: Mayweather
Defense. Har har har. It almost doesn't make sense to compare them. Not only does Mayweather rarely get hit, when he gets hit it almost always is nullified by Mayweather being in the middle of dodging the blow. His shoulder roll defense is super-famous, where he keeps his left across his body and his right up around is chin, which also enables his counterpunching. Yet he can play conventional defense too, with his gloves high. He switches direction constantly, unpredictably, and like his offense everything he does is so varied that you it's difficult to anticipate, and should you figure it out a little, he has something ready next. One of his best moves when he gets trapped along the ropes is to duck under in one direction or the other and scoot away, although he hadn't done it as much of late until the fight against Robert Guerrero, as his legs had shown signs of wearing down with age.
That said, Alvarez showed off some pretty flashy defense against Trout himself. Mainly, it was head movement, as Trout would fire combinations where not a single punch landed. Alvarez isn't quick-footed enough to use his legs for much defense, although he also picks off some shots with his gloves. Alvarez is an excellent defensive fighter when he is focusing in it, and melds his offense and defense together pretty well overall, it's just that Mayweather is more instinctively defensive and better in every way. That's all. Just that little distinction. Edge: Mayweather
Intelligence. Lee Wylie has done some good work describing the trickery both Mayweather and Canelo bring to the ring, so if you want a bunch of very specific examples, check out his analysis. Here, we'll just say both fighters are plenty intelligent. Alvarez might once have given the impression of a brute, an impression that was based in part on his strength, and an impression that neglects how much he wants to sharp shoot and pick apart rather than maul and overpower. He and his trainer Jose "Chepo" Reynoso have at times come in with some head-scratching approaches, such as with the "what the hell is this?" performance against Alfonso Gomez. But Alvarez clearly is a thinker, and he and Reynoso have developed Alvarez pretty rapidly for a 23-year-old.
Against everyone he's faced so far, that level of intelligence and speedy improvement has gotten the job done. I wouldn't have anticipated Alvarez could out-think Trout, then after the fight I couldn't think of a junior middleweight who could out-think Alvarez. Short of a magically shrunken Andre Ward or Bernard Hopkins, there is no one who exists in the sport today who would even have a chance of out-thinking Mayweather. It happens 100 percent of the time: If someone does something to Mayweather that works, he's neutralized it within a couple rounds (or, at worst, as with Jose Luis Castillo, by the rematch) and then nobody can ever use it again on him. Castillo's pressure, DeMarcus Corley and Zab Judah's southpaw stances, Oscar De La Hoya's jab — all were seen as the blueprint for beating Mayweather at one point or the other, and now they're all garbage. Mayweather's intelligence is the main reason knocking him out cleanly and quickly is still the best way to beat him, not that that's easy to do, either, or somebody would've done it by now. Edge: Mayweather
Willpower. There's a sweet and sour soup of insecurity and enormous self-confidence churning around in Mayweather's soul, but it ends up being a strong brew. He clings to his undefeated record as a fundamental part of his identity so much that he can simultaneously dismiss Manny Pacquiao as some horrible journeyman who is easily beaten by nobodies while also refusing to fight him out of fear that Pacquiao's alleged steroid use will put him in a coma. Yet, when you hurt Mayweather, or when you challenge him even a little, he doesn't retreat inward to that insecurity; instead, he becomes intimidatingly focused and determined. He starts off pretty focused anyway, with the "hard work/dedication" mantra annoying tripe when you have to hear it all the time in All Access or 24/7 documentaries — it just happens to also be an accurate description of his approach to the sport.
Alvarez's willpower has rarely been tested. He sometimes shows a lackadaisical approach in the ring, yet he's never really been challenged all that significantly. The Trout fight was close in the minds of most, but thanks to open scoring, he knew he could cruise to a victory. It makes you wonder if he has some next level Mayweatherian calm in the sea of trouble in him, or if he's developed bad habits of coasting too often such that when he is seriously challenged he won't be able to rise to the occasion. In the one instance where he was in any trouble, against Jose Miguel Cotto, the former showed itself to be more likely. He was wobbled in the 1st and scored a knockdown in the next round and never lost control, not that he should've against a naturally smaller opponent. In these situations, I always go with the proven commodity over the unproven one. Edge: Mayweather
The Rest. Mayweather always has the big fight experience advantage. Alvarez has fought in front of 40,000 people before, and is a rock star in Mexico. It just might not prepare him for being in a fight that has as many eyes tuned into a boxing PPV with this level of promotion since 2007. If anyone's more likely to wilt, not that it is likely overall, it's Alvarez… Alvarez is the one of the two dealing with a potential distraction outside the ring. De La Hoya has been a mentor to Alvarez, going so far as to call Alvarez his "rooster," and this week De La Hoya checked himself into rehab. That could affect his state of mind… Of the two, Mayweather is the more adept rule-breaker, showing time and again that he can fool any ref into legalizing elbows and forearms without even realizing it… Conspiracy-minded fans break different ways on which fighter the judges will consciously or subconsciously favor. I put little stock in this kind of talk. There are reasons judges might favor either man (Mayweather's the big cash cow now, Alvarez in the future), if they were so inclined to do something so corrupt. Absent any evidence of a plot like that, I still think it's more or less a wash were there one. That said, Las Vegas judges have tended to give Mayweather the benefit of the doubt even with fans screaming about his opponents' every punch thrown as if each was a round-winner by itself. So it's a clean sweep of the mental categories, unlike the physical ones. Edge: Mayweather