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; a look at Mayweather’s weaknesses, such as they are; the keys to the fight; and a preview of the stellar undercard. Tomorrow — the ultimate guide.
Never before have I so eagerly anticipated a fight that so disappointed me when it was made the way I do Saturday’s pay-per-view fight between Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez.
From moment one, it was obvious that Mayweather, a welterweight, picked Marquez, a blown up lightweight, because he thought he would win easily, that it would be a mere tune-up. It’s Mayweather’s modus operandi since 2003: Fight someone with a big enough name or resume that the selection has an air of credibility, but who will ultimately have a worse chance of taking Mayweather’s undefeated record away than someone else. Since Marquez is my favorite fighter, I didn’t — and still don’t — relish the idea of him walking into a massacre.
On another level, I’m a sucker for the big “event” fight, the parade to battle that is usually more pomp than circumstance. A fight involving Mayweather, pitting his title as former pound-for-pound king against Marquez’ place as the #2 man in the sport, is, if not as big an event as he thinks it is or as his promoter wishes it was, nonetheless a real event. And there is a significant segment of the boxing populace that gives Marquez a real chance of winning. The mere prospect of that, however slight, is enough to put butterflies in my stomach.
We start there — with how Marquez might win.
I’ve already laid out Mayweather’s weaknesses and how he stacks up physically and mentally against Marquez. It is the marrying of those two enumerations where one could make the case for a Marquez victory.
This is the first time Mayweather is fighting an opponent who is arguably smarter than him in the ring. Mayweather usually outsmarts his man, so even if someone has some success against him for a spell — rare, as he’s not easy to have any success against at all — he’ll switch up his game and figure it all out. Marquez is the master of figuring people out, which gives him a better chance of lining up all the colors on the Rubik’s Cube that is Mayweather’s tremendous defense, overall skill set and physical advantages. There’s nobody Marquez hasn’t been at least competitive against, and he’s exposed gaps in his foes that none ever had before. So if there’s a weakness in Mayweather that hasn’t been discovered yet, Marquez stands a good chance of finding it, and if Marquez finds himself in a hole, he can be counted upon to dig his way out.
Some of Mayweather’s past weaknesses, the ones we know about, are areas where Marquez excels. The thinking is that you won’t hit Mayweather with single shots; Marquez is a fantastic combination specialist. Mayweather’s body is easier to hit than his head; Marquez is an excellent body puncher. Mayweather is more vulnerable when he’s on offense; Marquez is a pure counterpuncher. At times, Mayweather has been troubled by the jab; Marquez’ is very good.
But Mayweather’s physical advantages are substantial, and Marquez will have to hope that they are dulled somehow, some way. Fighting at 144 means Mayweather will be closer to his comfort zone sizewise than Marquez. But maybe coming down in weight will hurt Mayweather’s stamina a little, especially late, when Marquez usually makes his charge; and maybe Marquez, who looks strong at his new weight, will carry unexpected power up with him, the way he has since he moved up to lightweight, meaning that when Marquez connects he gives Mayweather reason for pause and/or staggers him; and maybe Marquez replicates the “size doesn’t matter” lesson Manny Pacquiao showed against Oscar De La Hoya last year moving up from lightweight to welterweight. Mayweather is far faster, but maybe Marquez, the smaller man, is a little faster himself than Mayweather is used to fighting. Mayweather is going to hit Marquez with more physical strength than he’s ever been hit, but maybe if Marquez gets knocked down, he shows the powers of recovery he’s always exhibited and storms back.
Maybe, too, Marquez catches a break. Maybe Mayweather, coming off a nearly two-year layoff, comes in rusty, a step slow, out of rhythm. Maybe Mayweather, who reportedly suffered a rib injury this summer to delay the fight from July to September, is tender in the torso and Marquez deals out some painful reminders. Maybe Mayweather, who has historically brittle hands, smashes one badly and fights one-handed, giving Marquez another advantages.
That is a lot of maybes. A lot of maybes. Too many.
We can’t forget that Marquez isn’t the only one who has some match-up advantages. With his long arms, Mayweather is probably going to be able to keep the smaller Marquez at a distance that will make it even harder for him to get much done than anyone usually can. Marquez may have been competitive with speedy boxer-types like Chris John and Freddie Norwood, but ultimately he lost on the scorecards to both. Mayweather is the speediest boxeriest type Marquez will have ever faced by a long shot. Marquez has gotten more and more hittable as he’s gotten older and/or focused more on offense, and they don’t get much more accurate than Mayweather. And once he gets hit, Marquez has been put on queer street by lesser punchers than Mayweather. Then, Marquez also hasn’t fought anyone as smart as Mayweather.
The case for Marquez winning requires a lot going his way. The case for Mayweather winning really doesn’t require much at all. He’s bigger, faster, younger, better on defense and just plain all-around good, the last point of which is very important because it really dulls Marquez’ chances of overcoming his limitations the way he has in the past. When faced with a faster, harder-hitting Pacquiao in their first fight, Marquez was able to use his brain to get back in the fight against a boxer who was, at that point, a good deal more one-dimensional than he is now. That’s a more far-fetched scenario with Mayweather, who’s anything but one-dimensional.
Mayweather, I predict, will win. It’s not unimaginable that Marquez keeps it close and pulls out a decision, but it is more like a flight of fancy than it is a strong chance. How Mayweather wins, I think, is the question. If he wanted to, I think Mayweather could bull rush Marquez the way Juan Diaz did earlier this year when Diaz went all out and hurt Marquez a few times early in the fight, reasoning that he can get Marquez out of there faster than the smaller, lighter-punching Diaz could. I don’t think that’s his nature, though. I think he’ll fight cautiously early, then slowly start to turn on the spigot. Marquez isn’t the kind who fights to survive, or who shrinks when wounded. As such, if he makes it out of the 8th round, I’ll be surprised.
There’s something deeply galling about Mayweather using such an honorable, elite boxer as target practice. I hope I’m wrong and that Mayweather doesn’t wreck Marquez, that Marquez puts on a strong showing and makes it to the final bell. And if Marquez wins, it’ll be the happiest moment of my life as a boxing fan. I don’t know what county you live in, but if you hear someone screaming with joy all the way from Washington, D.C., it’s because the underdog from Mexico has toppled the villainous character from America.