06 September 2014

What's most intriguing about Mayweather-Maidana 2

In exactly one week we get the biggest boxing rematch in a very long time. Floyd Mayweather Junior, the undisputed king of the sport, sets out to distinguish any doubt that Marcos Maidana is a real challenge to his throne. The first fight was arguably the most competitive fight Floyd's ever been in. It was expected to be a domination but surprised everyone by how close and exciting it was. September 13 marks the heavily anticipated rematch and regardless of what the odds and expectations may be, this is definitely one of the more intriguing fights of Floyd's career.

Figure 1: Mayweather-Maidana 1. Photo from wellthatsdifferent
Like most, I was assuming the Mayweather-Maidana bout back in May was going to be another showing of Floyd’s masterful evasive counter-punching abilities. I figured this would be the typically dull fight boxing fans are used to from Mayweather. Mayweather’s just too good. This is his farewell tour and he’s not taking any big risks, at least not if he wants to keep the lure of a Pacquiao superight alive. Like most, I was ready to watch Floyd put on yet another clinic on how to box.

Before Mayweather-Maidana 1, the most exciting fights Mayweather gave us in a maybe a decade were against Shane Mosely in 2010 and Miguel Cotto in 2012. Mosely landed 2 of the hardest punches anyone ever had before, and Cotto’s power and relentlessness, albeit falling short of Floyd’s superior skill and efficiency, made it moderately competitive. Moderately however is the key word. Aside from maybe 30 seconds of wobbly legs on Floyd and the world thinking Mosely could actually knock him down, no one watching ever thought Mayweather was actually in danger of losing. Mayweather-Maidana 1 was different.

After the first round, there was a strong sense of surprise by what was was seen of both fighters. Mayweather was the faster, smarter and more agile fighter, and Maidana, relatively, is a brawler. This was how it’s always been and really, this comparison isn’t exactly unique. Compared to Mayweather, every fighter would be classed as being the slower, less technical and more action orientated fighter. In the first round, however, Mayweather stood still and traded blows. He wasn’t evasive, he wasn’t bobbing or weaving and he definitely wasn’t showcasing his footwork. Maidana hit him with volume and aggression that no one ever has before. The first round was a slugfest and Mayweather lost.

The first half of the fight continued in this fashion. Maidana was smothering him with combinations and for whatever reason, Mayweather was stationary. Despite being inaccurate, and the odd low blow and overheads that came close to being behind-the-heads, Mayweather was definitely getting hit more, and Maidana had has more success against the pound for pound champ than anyone ever had. This is not to say Maidana was dominating. Even though Mayweather had his hands full he was still pinpointing jabs, straights and uppercuts and landing at a much higher percentage. After 6 it was close. There were two only opinions at the halfway point, Maidana was winning or the rounds were split. Eitherway, nobody thought Floyd won most of those first 6 rounds.

Figure 2: The official scorecards from Mayweather-Maidana 1 courtesy of fightnews. Based on these, its very clear the first half were either split or slightly for Maidana. It's just as clear that the second half was definitely in favour of Floyd, possibly from wider margin. 
As we all know by now, this is as close and exciting as it ever was in this first fight. Maidana seemed to tire and grow sloppy and Mayweather’s technical strengths -- his fitness, intelligence and accuracy, tipped the fight in his favour. As shocking was it was, and as fun it is to question whether those first 6 rounds were a draw or in Maidana’s favour, no one questions Floyd’s dominance in the second half of the fight. It was a competitive and action packed fight, more so than we’ve ever seen anyone give Floyd. He won without question, however for the first time in a long time, someone came close enough to deserve a rematch.

This is what is so exciting about Mayweather-Maidana 2. On the 13th of September, We’re going to find out if this was just an aberration, or if someone is on the verge of seeing the king dethroned. On top of that, the challenger is someone virtually no one saw coming. Maidana has always been a top ranked fighter, but in the eyes of both the casual and the most dedicated of boxing fans, anyone not named Manny Pacquiao is just not in the same class.

Figure 3: Australia time courtesy of foxsports

Floyd’s stance throughout the aftermath of the first fight and in the lead up to the second has been that the close nature almost intentional. He wanted to give the people an exciting fight. During the post-fight interviews he said he wanted to deviate from his usual plans so he could stand, fight and put on a show for the crowd. Of course, the idea of someone purposefully performing poorly to make for a more competitive showing seems a little suspect, but this is boxing. Integrity has always been questionable in the sport, but if there’s one fighter that wouldn’t deliberately lower his chances of victory, and expose himself to damage just for business, it would be Floyd. That being said, this is boxing. Above all, Mayweather is a promoter who has admitted that a lot of his brand is built because he’s aware he doesn’t typically have an exciting style.

Of course, Maidana’s camp says they were right there on the edge but just couldn’t cross over. Trainer Robert Garcia boasts about how much they learned about Floyd and how close they came, but just needed more of it. On Maidana’s side, they fell a hair short, but believe they now know how to beat him and are going to ramp everything up -- the fitness, the aggression, the combinations and the suspect tactics. Loosely quoted, Garcia has been saying that if that first fight was dirty, they haven’t seen anything yet.

With a week until the rematch, the stage is set. Somehow, what was believed to be just another boring “not Paquiao” stepover-opponent for Mayweather turned into what could be another tremendous back and forth battle. One side is as confident as ever -- Floyd seems adamant in finishing his career on top. The experiment in excitement is over and its time for him to remind us how much better he is than everyone else at picking his shots and being almost entirely unhittable. The other side is going to bring everything from the first fight, but a lot more of it. Maidana will throw every punch possible, some too low and others too high, all with the purpose of hurting Floyd as much as possible.

Personally, I’m expecting the first scenario. I noticed pretty early on how much more stationary Floyd was in this fight, and in my opinion, there were many instances where I was wondering why he wasn’t sidestepping and turning the corners like he usually does. As aggressive as Marcos was, I don’t think he was actually cutting the ring off. There were plenty of chance for Mayweather to move, but it felt like he chose to sit and see what would happen.

Either way, there’s only 1 more week until we all find out.

Figure 4: Mayhem. Courtesy of ibtimes