By Ivan G. Goldman
Mayweather fans contend Canelo Alvarez is too slow to beat Floyd, but Canelo isn’t slow. He’s fast. It’s just that Mayweather is faster. Besides, in boxing, speed doesn’t necessarily trump other assets such as power, conditioning, strategy, and courage. If it did, we wouldn’t need a fight to see who will win. All we’d have to do is measure the velocity of the two fighters’ punches.
Against Mayweather, fighters suddenly find themselves in the ring with an opponent who is much quicker than anyone they ever faced – and who telegraphs nothing. They have a pretty good idea what’s coming, but they don’t know when. Sometimes it doesn’t take long for them to fall apart. That’s what happened to Victor Ortiz. His exaggerated, ridiculous head butt in the fourth round was an act of temporary insanity. Failing to protect himself afterward was just more of the same.
But what analysts – and many fighters — don’t always realize is that it’s not necessary to be quicker every minute. Michael Moorer made George Foreman look like cold molasses, but in that key moment in the 10th round, when he threw the big right, Big George was faster. And that was all he needed — a split second of quickness. He understood that a fighter can be slower for eleven and a half rounds and still win the contest. Although he was taking a bad beating, he never lost hope. That’s why he was in position to score a phenomenal triumph, regaining the championship after 20 years.
The key to Mayweather’s attack is his lead right. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when. His opponents prepare for it, but eventually it hypnotizes them, and in many cases, they stop throwing punches as they try to anticipate it. Next time, they tell themselves, they’ll get in a counterpunch to turn the tide. They never do.
Sometimes Mayweather’s opponents just keep coming, the way determined Ricky Hatton did. Result? Floyd took him out with a tremendous left hook. There’s more than one tool in Mayweather’s box.
Other extraordinary Mayweather assets are ring intelligence and physical and mental toughness. When Shane Mosley had him hurt, Floyd called on his experience and know-how to weather the storm. He cleared his head and went right back at him. What, thought Mosley, do I have to do to beat this guy? It took the air right out of Sugar Shane’s tires.
Floyd, 44-0 (26 KOs) doesn’t inspire terrible physical fear in his opponents – not the way Foreman, Mike Tyson, or Sonny Liston could. Most of their opponents were beaten before entering the ring. But Floyd does inspire fear – the fear of being made to look foolish. That’s something every fighter dreads. True warriors would rather lose like a champion than be turned into a clown, which is why Roberto Duran said “No mas” against Sugar Ray Leonard. It wasn’t physical punishment that got him down.
In Showtime’s first episode of the “All Access” pre-fight reality programming, we were reminded, watching him ride bareback and tooling along the beach in a dune buggy, that Canelo, 23, is still just a kid. He probably doesn’t completely realize what he will be up against Sept. 14. He will need exceptional mental toughness to prevail. But in his eight years as a pro Alvarez has never shown that he can’t meet that test.
Last week WBC featherweight titlist Abner Mares looked like a young man so used to being undefeated that he didn’t really comprehend how close he might be to disaster. Jhonny Gonzalez had to show him. Mayweather, though brash and often disrespectful, understands that any fighter is vulnerable at any time, that he can’t phone it in. He probably also understands that a little fear is helpful. A fighter needs to understand the possibilities. But does Mayweather, 36, understand that a fighter can grow old at any minute? Probably not.
Canelo, 42-0-1 (30 KOs), has already shown that there’s nothing he doesn’t do well. He can punch with true authority and speed, he can be unpredictable, he can move, he can take a punch. He’s always looking for combinations, and when he gets his man in trouble he’s a murderous finisher. But to be successful against Mayweather he will have to show the kind of emotional toughness that George Foreman showed when he knew in his heart for every moment of the fight that his opponent was in terrible trouble.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in June 2013 by Potomac Books. It can be purchased here.