Mayweather is primarily an outfighter, known for circling outside his opponent’s punching range and sniping pot shots from a long distance. When fans and pundits talk about his inside game, they’re usually discussing it in the context of holding and stalling.
It’s true that he uses the clinch to smother his opponent’s offense, and to avoid exchanges. This can be grating on the viewers, but it is far from the extent of Mayweather’s infighting ability. In truth, much of his most damaging offense comes in clinch exchanges. Given that Mayweather is always focused on limiting his opponents’ options, clinching is a way to prevent the opponent from "getting it back" after he’s landed a good shot. Once he’s in the clinch however, he can control his opponent while punching simultaneously, allowing him to comfortably open up.
The first fight between Mayweather and Jose Luis Castillo provides the best example of Mayweather’s proficiency in the clinch. Mayweather had picked up the early rounds with his modus operandi of pot-shotting and moving, but Castillo began coming on strong somewhere around the sixth round. He was pressuring Mayweather to the ropes and hitting him when he moved out. His body work was landing consistently and Mayweather found himself eating counters when he threw to keep Castillo off of him.
By the end of the tenth round, the fight was neck and neck. If Mayweather was up on the cards, it wasn’t clear at all. As Mayweather sat on the stool waiting for the eleventh round to start, his uncle and trainer, Roger Mayweather, told him that he needed to "sit down, exchange, move on" before re-emphasizing that he wanted Floyd to "sit down [and] exchange."
As soon as the bell signaled the start of the round, Mayweather stormed out and met Castillo in the clinch. He soon moved off after eating a few good hooks to the body and started moving around, but with two minutes left in the round he went back to the clinch and refused to back himself out of range. Mayweather spent the rest of the round battling Castillo head to head in his area of strength, even making Castillo back off to reset himself at points with his counters. Even more impressively, Mayweather arguably won a round spent infighting with one of the greatest infighters he’d ever fought.
Defense and Positioning
Mayweather’s clinch game is built around the same principle his distance game is – defensive soundness and responsibility above all else.
In the above picture, you can see Mayweather’s general resting position on the inside. His lead shoulder is raised high and turned inwards, protecting his chin from the straight right and rear uppercuts. His lead arm is folded across himself to protect his body, while his rear arm covers the right side of his head and body. A small fold at his right hip leaves him ready to duck down low if Miguel Cotto tries to go over the top of his shoulder with an overhand right. He’s standing at an angle to conceal his center line, and his bladed stance causes his lead shoulder to occupy Cotto’s center line, obfuscating Mayweather’s rear hand from his view.
Along with ducking down to deny the overhand, Mayweather will rotate his lead shoulder further inward so that his elbow is pointing at his opponent.
The high elbow creates a barrier that jams the overhand or forces it to roll off the shoulder, and also serves to create distance and prevent Mayweather’s opponent from stepping in further.
Part of what makes Mayweather’s defense so effective is that, despite the lack of openings, it makes opponents want to throw at him. Standing directly in front of Mayweather, you have a clear view of his chin. The top half of his head is peaking out above his shoulder, and there’s daylight either low or high on his right side, depending on the placement of that hand. Mayweather’s guard appears to present clearly defined openings, but he’s aware of the path of attack his opponents will likely take, and has carefully planned tactics to shut them down. His guard acts as a funnel, drawing opponents into a few specific targets.
Of course, when his opponents do open up, they find that his guard is much more difficult to crack than it appears. Mayweather will often stand on the inside in his shell, waiting for his opponents to jump at an opening they see. When they throw at him, Mayweather will adjust his guard as necessary to block, and shoot a counter through the window left by his opponent’s punch.
Mayweather has a deep repertoire of catch-and-pitch counters. When he feels a punch on his guard, he knows that the punching hand is briefly out of position to defend and he can freely counter on that side while his opponent recovers their guard.
He uses short straights with very little weight transfer on the inside to disrupt his opponent’s rhythm and land counters. These punches are thrown straight from his chest and travel only a short distance to his target, making them incredibly fast.
Mayweather’s protruding lead shoulder occupies his opponent’s center line, concealing the right hand. As he rotates the shoulder out to throw his straight, the right hand follows immediately with almost no delay. By the time his opponent is able to see the rotation of his lead shoulder and process that a punch is coming, it’s too late and he’s already been hit. These are nearly impossible to see coming and react to. Note also how Mayweather’s lead shoulder protects him from the right hand of his opponent.
Mayweather’s shoulder roll also leads nicely into short, quick counter uppercuts. Rotating his torso inwards to roll the right hand allows him to bring his rear hand back with him as he rotates his torso back into place. He pulls his weight back as he rotates his torso which prevents him from getting the level change he needs for a hurting uppercut, but like his short straight, these uppercuts come quick and are difficult to see.
Mayweather rotates his torso inwards and gets behind his shoulder as Marcus Maidana tries to hit the body. When he feels a hook on his body, Mayweather quickly snaps an uppercut through Maidana’s open guard. Maidana shells up, bringing his forearms in front of his face, and Mayweather sends another uppercut to his wide open body.