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(Note: To find out how Floyd beats Manny, click here to read part one of this article.)
So, in part one we looked at the weaknesses of Manny Pacquiao. It's a tall order, but it's certainly not an insurmountable task to fight errors on Pacquiao's part. In a sense, his career has been built on errors. There is a redemptive quality to screwing up, for fighters. When Pacquiao gets hit clean and stopped in his tracks, he habitually bangs his gloves together, gives a quick nod, and comes back twice as hard. We love him for it. We respect him for the many tiny failings that make his fights so exciting.
Floyd Mayweather is a different animal altogether. Analyzing a fighter like Mayweather is a minefield of subjectivity. Don't get me wrong--everyone makes mistakes, and it's no tall task to pore through Floyd's footage to find some screw ups. But they're certainly much rarer for Floyd than they are for Manny, and as any economist will tell you, rarity enhances the perceived value of a product. Can I really watch Mayweather eat half a dozen hard left hands from Zab Judah and call that an exploitable weakness? Especially when I've just watched Manny Pacquiao take as many lead rights from Algieri who, despite his infamous inconsistency, is still no prime Zab Judah.
Breakdown of Pacquiao's killer (and underrated) uppercut
Floyd's failings stand out because there are so few of them. His undefeated record is the story of each individual fight write large. Yeah, there are a few dust-ups in there, and some close calls, but altogether, how can we really criticize what has so far proven unbeatable?
So today I will attempt to take the broadest possible approach to strategizing for Mayweather. Rather than seeking out the specific weapons that could trouble him, a plan doomed to fail anyway given Floyd's renowned adaptability, I will attempt to find the theme behind each of his failures. It matters little to me--and certainly to Manny Pacquiao--that Floyd was hit by this punch or that punch, or that he missed this punch or fell of balance, or whatever. The specifics are less important than the whole--not tactics, per se, but strategy. The big picture. The circumstances are all that matter when discussing Floyd Mayweather's downfall.
Fortunately for Manny Pacquiao, I think they are circumstances he just might be able to recreate.
As a side note, before we begin in earnest--has there ever been a worse phrase than "The May-Vinci code?" Really? We're gonna name the defensive mastery of our generation's greatest fighter after a Dan Brown novel? What's next, we're gonna name Wladimir Klitschko's hands after the Twilight series? Left hook, New Moon; straight right, Breaking Dawn? Can we upgrade to James Ellroy or something? Yeah, I propose Mayweather's defense henceforth be known as "The Black Dahlia May-der." Done.
Alright, alright. Now that's settled, let's get into our gameplan--you know, for solving the Black Dahlia May-der (it'll catch on). These are the three keys to victory for Manny Pacquiao, and they're listed in order of increasing importance.
3. Be first, be last
2. Angles before, during, and after
1. Offensive variety
Sounds simple, but nothing with Floyd ever really is. Let's tackle each point one at a time.
#3 - BE FIRST, BE LAST
As noted in part one, Mayweather isn't really a counter puncher so much as he is an out-fighter with great counters. His bread and butter has always been that flexible jab and, more frequently against southpaws, the awkward and stinging lead right hand. These are one-and-done techniques because that's how Mayweather likes it. He will counter when pressed, but those counters really only serve to give him room to escape so that he can resume his preferred range. Even his knockout punches are usually followed by some automatic defensive maneuvers.
Mayweather likes distance because it allows him to see his opponents' attacks coming. The more room he has, the more easily he can make his adversary miss. And because he knows his opponents are trying to do the same thing to him, he fills the empty space between punches with feints and flinches, constantly threatening only to attack when the opponent finally relaxes and takes a breath. Mayweather loves to make his opponents think, and once they're thinking, he's got them beat. So what Manny Pacquiao do about it?
Well, as it turns out Manny Pacquiao is actually a pretty solid counter puncher, and puts together great combinations when given the opportunity to plant his feet.
Floyd likes to counter, but only when he knows exactly what the opponent will be throwing at him. His defense, of course, is airtight, but he is uncomfortable letting his hands go in an exchange. This GIF from his bout with DeMarcus Corley should tell you why. Nowadays, Mayweather spends the early portions of his fights slowly putting fears and anxieties into his opponents, specifically to help him avoid dust-ups like this.
You see, Mayweather thrives on single shots from his opponents. He doesn't want them throwing long, creative combinations, but rather shy, tentative punches. He wants them so worried about the counters and so unsure of the distance between them that they merely poke at him, and leave themselves open to a hair-trigger counter.
The classic example is his pull counter, which he sets up by giving his head to the opponent, only to pull back and to the left when they inevitably jab, before slinging a right hand over the top.. It's actually a very old technique--you can even find Jim Driscoll using it--but Floyd has definitely perfected it and made it his own.
What happens when an opponent doesn't fire tentatively at the open target in front of him, though? Marcos Maidana, never a man renowned for his speed, showed how effective a simple 1-2 could be against the pull counter in his rematch with Mayweather, hitting the undefeated champ hard enough not only to rattle him, but enough to send something--a tooth or veneer, perhaps?--spinning out of his mouth. And again, the 1-2 of Maidana isn't what matters here. The circumstances behind the 1-2 are the key detail: Mayweather has been making people tentative for so long now that he expects it. And as Mayweather's opponents all know, it's a nasty shock when your expectations are subverted.
#2 - ANGLES BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER
Angular footwork is one of Pacquiao's best assets. Moving in and out and from side to side, he peppers his opponents with combinations and pot shots as they turn to catch up with him. Floyd Mayweather has great footwork, but even good footwork requires a fighter to turn himself to face his opponent. There's simply no way for Mayweather to avoid moving his feet to keep up with Pacquiao, and it's during those little turns and shifts, when Mayweather is out of position to punch or defend properly, that Pacquiao can find opportunities.
Miguel Cotto gave Mayweather one of the toughest fights of his career--shockingly, he spent lengthy portions of the bout boxing with Mayweather, circling around him and sneaking sharp punches through while he was playing catch-up.
Again, for Pacquiao this is all a game of initiative. Mayweather has always thrived on holding the initiative. Whether countering or leading, you can't help but get the impression that most of Mayweather's opponents are doing exactly what he wants and expects them to do.
Turning Mayweather is the simplest way for Pacquiao to start eroding that "what I say goes" confidence. Notice, in the GIF above, how Cotto moves around Mayweather with his jab. The first two attempts fail, but the third one gets through as Mayweather is still trying to catch up to his circling opponent. When Mayweather tries to close the distance, Cotto pushes him or sneaks in short punches before changing direction and sliding around to Mayweather's back, ensuring a safe escape. The more Pacquiao can force Mayweather to turn, the more openings he will find. And regardless of the effect of his punches, he will be forcing the older Mayweather to work at a much higher rate than usual.
#1 - OFFENSIVE VARIETY
As my co-host and co-conspirator Patrick Wyman said on the latest episode of Heavy Hands, "variety is the spice of life." And for Floyd Mayweather, it is the smell of defeat.
There's a simple analogy that describes Mayweather's boxing genius perfectly. His cold confidence and mechanical efficiency is like nothing so much as the behavior of a boxing machine. A boxing supercomputer, even. As a boxing computer, Mayweather knows all the algorithms. Especially after 47 fights, he's seen enough fighters to know the signs and tells of every basic combination and movement. Step hard to his right? Floyd is preparing to shoulder roll or roll under before your foot even lands. Pawing with your jab? You'd best believe there's a counter right coming over the top of that very soon.
But what happens to a computer when it gets a confusing, unknown equation? Or even a completely nonsensical one? Here's a very small example from the DeMarcus Corley fight we looked at earlier that might demonstrate this point.
Corley steps in on Mayweather with a left uppercut to the body--a great distance closing punch for the southpaw. As he closes the distance he shifts into an orthodox stance and comes shoulder-to-chest with Floyd, and immediately throws two punches with what is now his lead left hand, a hook to the chest that gets Floyd's attention, and a short, clean punch to the jaw. I can tell you now, that's not a combination Mayweather sees every day.
Is it any surprise that Mayweather, who was already three years past his dominant win over the top-ranked DIego Corrales, decided to switch to southpaw numerous times in the fight with Corley, who wasn't even ranked in the top five of the 140 pound division at the time Floyd fought him? That's because Mayweather has to be the one with the opponent reacting to him. Once again, initiative is the rule Floyd lives by, and when it's taken away from him he has no choice but to start taking risks to get it back. It must be said, Mayweather has proven incredibly good at taking risks. He can fight, and people forget that too often.
But if Pacquiao can force him to take those risks, he will absolutely have opportunities, and Pacquiao at his best has some of the most mind-bendingly diverse offense in the game. He doesn't need to hit Floydto wear him down. What he needs to do is to is overload him with information. Too much data, and the boxing computer slows down, and starts making errors.
As with my plan for Mayweather, all of these concepts play together and enhance one another. For Pacquiao, however, there is a single guiding rule behind all of these goals. That is to say, he will only be able to beat Floyd Mayweather if he can maintain his optimal distance as often as possible.
Floyd Mayweather has fought a lot of tough opponents throughout his career, but almost none of them have consistently maintained optimal distance--that range from which their punches can have the most effect.
Miguel Cotto probably came the closest of anyone. Watch these two sequences from the middle rounds of Mayweather and Cotto's bout, when the Puerto Rican had just begun to turn up the volume and pressure. Cotto slides into range, wary but not anxious. Curiously, Mayweather waits to get hit before responding. That's because Floyd relies on opponents who overcommit, and consequently end up tumbling into extreme close range. Not only does this trigger a Mayweather counter for them to run into, it also means they end up smothering themselves.
Marcos Maidana was extremely busy against Floyd in their first fight--busy enough to stifle Floyd's activity for several rounds, even. But when we all calmed down and looked more closely, it became clear that Maidana was never close to hurting Floyd. For all the talk of his need to close the distance and maul Floyd against the ropes, his single greatest success in twelve rounds with Mayweather came at range, when he could get maximum extension on a straight right hand.
That distance is essential to everything Pacquiao needs to do to win this fight. He can't draw and counter the counter unless he's close enough to hit Floyd. Nor can he do it if he's too close. He can't use his angular footwork if he's too close, and if in using those angles he throws himself out of range, he'll be forced to undergo the tedious process of trapping Mayweather all over again. And there's no way he can overload Mayweather with information if he's too close to make the punches count, or so far away that Mayweather has plenty of time to process what he's seeing.
Distance and initiative should be the words ringing in Freddie Roach's ears as this fight draws near. Without controlling one and seizing the other, Manny Pacquiao will become just another number on Floyd's record.
For an in-depth, technical breakdown of Mayweather-Pacquiao, check out this week's episode of Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching. Hosts Connor Ruebusch and Pat Wyman give their three keys to victory for each fighter, and discuss the style matchup between these two great boxers.