So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2013, Floyd Mayweather vs. Robert Guerrero on Showtime pay-per-view May 4. Previously: putting Mayweather-Guerrero in context; the undercard, previewed. Next: a full preview and prediction.
In all the years I've been producing "keys to the fight" for big pay-per-views, where I evaluate how the combatants' mental and physical qualities match-up, I've never had an occasion where I could say one fighter was superior in all 10 categories. With only one possible exception where Guerrero might come out ahead, maybe two or three where it's relatively even, that is the case for Mayweather-Guerrero. As such, we'll abandon the usual "Edge: Mayweather" or "Edge: Guerrero" format and just do an evaluation of each fighter's merit in all the categories.
(The don-keys to the fight.)
Size. Mayweather is no huge welterweight, but he's a big enough one that he can compete at junior middleweight. He's physically strong and hard to dislodge or bully around, which, given Guerrero's expected strategy, is problematic for the kid from Gilroy, Calif. His reach has always been an asset — at 72", he's accustomed to that reach being an advantage over everyone, and he'll have a 2" advantage here, too. Guerrero equals Mayweather's height, though, 5'8", and despite moving up from lightweight only two fights ago, has proven he's physically well at home at 147 pounds. This is one of the closer categories, but it's no push.
Speed. This is not one of the closer categories, and it hardly ever is with Mayweather. Usually smaller men moving up carry a lot of speed with them, but Guerrero, while faster of hand than the plodding welter Selcuk Aydin, certainly wasn't faster than Andre Berto in his last bout. He moves well, so foot speed is a plus for him. Yet even the flatter-footed version of Mayweather we've seen as he's aged has an edge there, and the hand speed edge is profound. Mayweather's hand speed isn't as blinding as it once was, but his fists gets from his stomach or chin to his opponent's stomach or chin awfully fast still these days, and unless his jail stint and the passage of a year's time really eroded his quickness beyond my imagination, he'll be the far quicker man overall.
Power. It might be hard to gauge Guerrero's power adequately at welterweight based on who he's fought. It's at least solid, maybe better than that. Aydin hadn't shown anything less than a sterling chin against anyone, and he showed the same against Guerrero. Guerrero put Berto down twice, but he's far from the only welterweight to rock Berto's world. At lighter weights, especially 126 and 130, Guerrero displayed big-time, sizzling punching power at times, but this ain't 126 or 130. Mayweather, meanwhile, does most of his damage with pinpoint shots that accumulate. He knocked out Victor Ortiz under fluky circumstances, but he has dropped or hurt everyone else he has faced since his 2009 "comeback," among them Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto. Both men too, carry power in both hands, although their lead hands are the bigger weapons. At this weight, absent any big knockouts for anyone (or at least for a while, in Mayweather's case), we'll go with the man hurting his opponent every single time over the man with less of a track record.
Chin. Here's the main one where Guerrero could have an argument. In his two welterweight bouts, he's faced two pretty considerable punchers, and while he backed off once or twice against Aydin, he responded to Berto's massive shots by throwing more of his own. Guerrero can take punches, then, from big-punching welters, and he'll have to take them from Mayweather if he's going to maul and beat up the pound-for-pound king, because Mayweather is excellent at using people's aggression to generate his own offense. Guerrero hit the mat against Joel Casamayor at 135, but it was a flash knockdown at best. Mayweather most notably had his knees buckled early in his bout against Mosley, but he's otherwise only been knocked down officially once and that was due to a hand injury where pain made his glove touch the canvas. Anyway, his recuperative powers are Wolverine-quality, so he has the slight edge here.
Condition. This is a catch-all category for stamina, wear and tear, and tendency to cut. And it's kind of a grab bag for each man. Guerrero at 30 has been in some punishing battles, and Mayweather at 36 has only has the occasional grueling bout, although Cotto gave him one in his last fight. It's hard to say who will be fresher come Saturday. Guerrero has been cut and swollen as a result of his punishment — including one cut from a head clash with Daud Yordan that was sufficiently bad to lead to the fight's halt — while Mayweather wears some kind of magical skin that can only be cut by a +2 dagger, although Cotto gave him a bloody nose last time out. Mayweather once seemed to be breaking down, with hand injuries and the like, but we haven't heard much about them lately. And while Guerrero was fresh until the final bell against Berto, even throwing punches after the 12th, he has shown a tendency to fade late in some bouts, including against Aydin, Casamayor and Vicente Escobedo. Mayweather never, ever looks tired. He's always the fresher man in the final round, always.
Offense. These two are both offensively versatile fighters, although they have different basic approaches. Guerrero is in the boxer-puncher mold, showing the ability to lead or counter but he's almost always aggressive. He's a southpaw, and southpaws have often given Mayweather his toughest time. He throws nifty combinations to the head and body, is reasonably ambidextrous — right uppercuts from a southpaw, anyone? — and can do the jabbing/boxing thing when he needs to, although it is not his nature. His 1-2 from distance is a weapon, but he cornered Berto and hammered him, even mauled him, inside. He also has a whole arsenal of tricks for getting inside, many of them reliant upon his footwork: If you step to him to punch, he steps into you a split second after you miss and won't let you back up cleanly without firing a combination; if he jabs at you, he keeps stepping forward afterward and gets closer; if you start biting on the jab, he feints his way in. That arsenal will be essential for him against Mayweather. Mayweather, meanwhile, is more of a pure boxer, a natural counterpuncher with pinpoint accuracy who pot-shots from range but can work on the inside off his opponents' mistakes. He's got the superior jab and will do things effectively that usually are not encouraged, like jabbing to the belly, but his straight right and left hook tally the most damage.
Defense. No contest — Mayweather is one of the best defensive boxers ever, and even with Cotto hitting him as much as he did, Mayweather's defense remained brilliant. That said, the frequency of the blows in part led Mayweather to switch trainers from uncle Roger to Floyd, Sr., the latter a defensive specialist. He doesn't get away from punches as much as he used to with his legs, but he is the rare boxer who can stand directly in front of you and you can't touch him. Guerrero relies almost exclusively on his legs, throwing then pivoting nicely to reset, and is capable of moving his head reasonably well. But Floyd, Sr. says he's vulnerable to right hands, and it's a good punch to throw at a lefty — Guerrero took forever to figure out how to get out of the way of Aydin's long right and Berto's right uppercut.
Intelligence. Mayweather, Andre Ward and Bernard Hopkins remain the smartest fighters of this era. In a fight, between rounds, Mayweather adjusts to what his man wants to do and by the end of each bout, he's got it all figured out, if not sooner. It's a remarkable thing to behold from round to round, but it is one of the greatest achievements of Mayweather's career that every supposed vulnerability he displays later disappears. Crowding him doesn't work anymore after it worked for Jose Luis Castillo; southpaws don't bother him as much as they used to; a good jab still helps but isn't the silver bullet it was for Oscar De La Hoya for so long in their bout; Cotto's intelligent pressure probably won't work for Guerrero if he thinks that's going to do the trick. Guerrero can adjust pretty well, too, just not how Mayweather can. It's a much slower process. After Gamaliel Diaz beat him, Guerrero redoubled his aggression in the rematch and pounded him. He eventually got out of the way of Berto's uppercut. Both are family-trained — Guerrero pa Ruben, uncle Roger/pa Sr. for Mayweather — and both typically come in with a good game plan.
Willpower. The Guerrero who used to lose interest or fade inexplicably in bouts has largely faded himself. He was an unstoppable steamroller against Berto, and he's carried himself for this promotion like a man who can't imagine losing to Mayweather. He doesn't appear to be as easily intimidated as some past Mayweather opponents, either, and I'd be surprised if he loses his cool before Saturday with whatever provocation Mayweather throws at him. I doubt Mayweather was especially perturbed by Guerrero's pop bringing up his domestic violence history, because the harder you go at Mayweather the more focused he seems to get, which could be trouble for Guerrero if he tries to get down and dirty in the ring Saturday. Whatever insecurities are at Mayweather's core, nobody has been able to exploit them; rather, they burn inside him like jet fuel once he gets between the ropes.
The Rest. Both are adept rule breakers, with Mayweather using his shoulders, forearms and elbows to great effect, while Guerrero is fond of holding and hitting, rabbit punching or head butting… Mayweather has more experience on the big stage, not that Guerrero comes off like someone likely to flake under the spotlight… Because of how the hero/villain lines haven't broken down as neatly as planned, and because of Guerrero's relative obscurity outside of Gilroy, it's not clear to me who will have the crowd on their side Saturday, which primarily makes a difference not in how a boxer responds to cheers or jeers but in how judges can be influenced by crowd reactions to blows real or imagined… Both men arrive with distractions or disruptions from their usual routine, Guerrero with a gun charge and Mayweather with a trainer switch.