”Boxing is the art of hitting an opponent from the furthest distance away, exposing the least amount of your body while getting in position to punch with maximum leverage and not getting hit.” – Kenny Weldon, boxing fundamentalist and coach.
The Study of the Game
As noted in first Combat Course for BloodyElbow, great coaches utilize a conceptual framework in their approach of training fighters – also known as the ‘study of the game.’ They focus on teaching and understanding the fighting game as a whole rather than a list of individual techniques. Each move is a part of a puzzle, creating opportunities or countering attacks. What comes before and after every move is important, but the game is not just comprised of techniques in chains or combinations. The game as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Tactics and objectives are very important.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s game is based in such a conceptual framework, a system of boxing which is unique to the Mayweather family – although it was originally based on the ‘Philly shell’ stance. This stance enables Mayweather to apply the shoulder roll defense and related counter attacks. However, as you will see below, Floyd uses a variety of stances to complement his Philly Shell game. His shoulder roll based techniques are only a part of his game and do not tell the full story.
Floyd vs Southpaws
Left-handed, or southpaw, fighters use a mirror image of the orthodox stance, which often creates problems for orthodox fighters unaccustomed to receiving jabs, hooks, or crosses from the opposite side. For example, a southpaw’s right jab is faster than an orthodox fighter’s right cross, and a left hand from a southpaw has power behind it unlike a left jab. There are significant differences in distance, rhythm, direction of power and combinations. The only good thing when fighting a southpaws is that their liver is on the near side. It’s also easier for an orthodox fighter to move to his own left, which is the blind side of the southpaw stance.
As noted in the title, this article will only focus on Mayweather’s game against souhtpaws. Because he is fighting a southpaw in Conor McGregor, the narrative pushed by the UFC is that Floyd is less effective against left handed fighters. In reality, the only southpaw who gave him problems was Zab Judah. Floyd still beat Judah, and made obvious adjustments afterward, as he beat all other southpaw opponents without any problems.
Floyd’s Offensive Game
A common misconception of Mayweather’s boxing style is that he is a ‘runner.’ This is not true. As a fighter Floyd reminds me of Jon Jones (without the wrestling of course). He initiates attacks from a distance and then either clinches or rolls under punches, resets and attacks again. He is not just a counter-puncher. He often utilizes a sniper-style offensive game, where he picks his opponents apart from a distance.
According to an article by Nymag.com Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s hands are his weakness. It’s plagued him since his father – still his trainer today – first taught him how to hook off the jab as a child. It’s plagued him in every training camp, in all of his 49 pro fights.
“He has all the problems in the world with his hands,” said Miguel Diaz in the article. Diaz is a veteran cutman who wrapped Mayweather’s hands and worked with him for five years after the boxer turned pro in 1996.
He has also wrapped the hands of the other fighters in the famous Mayweather boxing family: his father Floyd, his uncle-slash-trainer Roger, and his uncle-slash-former trainer Jeff.
“They all have the same hands, and the same problems,” Diaz said. He has a theory as to why. “They didn’t have enough calcium as babies. Their bones did not grow strong.”
To illustrate this weakness, on May 26, 2001 Floyd Mayweather – fighting in his hometown of Grand Rapids – pounded out a 12-round unanimous decision over future IBF super featherweight titleholder Carlos Hernández to retain his WBC super-featherweight title. Calling it "one of the toughest nights of my career", the 130-pound champion overcame injuries in both hands to improve his record to 26–0. Mayweather suffered the first knockdown of his career when he hit Hernández with a left hook in round six, which caused him enough pain that he dropped his injured left hand to the canvas. He wasn't hit, but was given a standing eight-count by the referee. (source)
This may be the main reason Floyd does not finish his opponents, although he connects often and with solid shots. And even though he rarely stops anyone in the ring, he punches hard enough to force his opponents take a step back and respect his power.
And despite his hand problems, Floyd has always been able to find a way to win. I expect him to do so in his fight against the talented Conor McGregor. So, here is an analysis of techniques and tactics he will likely use to get the job done.
Technical Analysis Part 1: Stances
Floyd uses several stances to set-up different attacks or counter attacks.
The High Guard
This is mostly a defensive guard; both hands up and sometimes even both forearms in close. However, he uses this guard to counter-attack with left hooks and jabs when his opponent attacks from a lower stance. Here is an example:
The Philly Shell
As noted above, this stance is essential to Floyd’s game. He can use it as a ‘base of operations’ to roll under punches, block and counter.
Here is a defensive example from this stance
In photo 1 you can see that Floyd’s ribs and belly are covered by the forearm. You can also see that his chin is down protected by his left shoulder. In photo 2 you can see the jab hit and slide on Floyd’s shoulder. This is just a jab used to closed the distance but if it was a threat Floyd would likely just pull back further. The shoulder is the first line of defense. Victor Ortiz in the third photo attacks with a right cross which Floyd checked with his right hand. Here is another example:
In the sequence below, you can see how Floyd blocks a left hook to the body to a left hook combo from the Philly shell stance.
You can see that all Floyd needed to do is to slightly move his right hand which is always in place. Here is the gif:
The shoulder roll is great way to utilize a pull-right hand counter against his opponent’s right jabs. More on the pull-to-right-cross-counter in part two of this series.
However, when fighting against southpaws, Floyd does not use a pull-to-right-cross counter against a left cross. He prefers to deal with left hands using other methods.
The Crouching Stance
This resembles the shooting stance used by wrestlers in MMA. Floyd can go pretty low as in the photo below.
This stance is used to invite attacks for Floyd to counter or to explode forward with lead right hands, jabs, or left hooks. When these attacks land, Floyd has already moved away from his opponent. Here is a jab from a crouching stance:
Extended Arm Stance
From a high guard stance, Floyd often uses his left hand to touch his opponent’s high guard or his head. This is used to measure distance and block his opponent’s vision as you can see in the gif above. Usually he follows with a right hand to the body:
Here is Floyd in motion:
Below, you can see a beautiful sequence where Floyd used these extending hand connections to land a series of body punches
As you can see these connecting hands are not punches. He just touches his opponents head or guard:
Sometimes Floyd uses his left hand to keep distance between himself and his opponent, by pushing the head away and thus locking on the target. This enables him to land a right hand. A move made famous by legendary boxer Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns.
Below you can see Floyd applying this head target control against Victor Ortiz:
Right Hand Domination
Another common tactic used by orthodox fighters is to dominate their southpaw opponent’s right hand as you can see below.
This is a common tactic when a boxer fights opponents with opposite stance, controlling their front hand and pushing it down or towards their opponents’ power hand. This is usually combined by the boxer placing his front foot on the outside of his opponents front foot. Here is the full sequence where Floyd lads a right cross:
When using this tactic, if his opponent attacks with a jab, Floyd can just hit it down as if he was using a hammerfist and land a jab of his own as in the example below against Robert Guerrero:
Here is a gif:
The Elbow Shield
This is not really a stance, it is a defensive move. Floyd often uses an extended elbow to control distance and also avoid the clinch by using this elbow as a shield, while at the same time blocking his opponent’s vision. The elbow shield comes naturally from the Philly shell stance. Here are two examples of Floyd applying the elbow shield and following up with attacks. First one:
As you can see, there are many options to initiate attacks; including (but not limited to) body shots, uppercuts and hooks.
Finally, if a boxer attempts to crouch and go under the elbow, Floyd will push his head down with his forearm.
Technical Analysis Part 2: Domination of Exchanges
As I noted before, Floyd either attacks and disengages or stays in front of his opponents, waiting for them to come at him. He is like a bull fighter. He does not run. His goal is to win on points and in order to do that he needs to control the ring and land shots.
Mayweather’s game is simple. It is essentially a game of reflexes. From all his stances he can launch different attacks in a similar manner. Without telegraphing he can attack with a jab or a lead right hand and the set-up is so similar his opponents do not know what is coming.
When he initiates his attack his body is already adjusting and moving to an escape route, depending on the reaction of his opponent. He reminds me of basketball players who can change direction mid-air. He has perfected a basic rule of boxing: the head must move with all punches and never be a stationary target.
Like Jon Jones, Floyd’s game is a game of beating his opponents in every exchange.
An ‘exchange,’ or sequence, is a sub-unit of a round that takes place at a specific location and time. The start of an exchange is when a fighter initiates an attack. The end is when fighters disengage and go back to their fighting stance to catch a breath or reevaluate. In essence, an exchange is a fight within a fight, with a start and an end.
Floyd wins the fight by winning exchange after exchange. He is either the one initiating the exchange or the one to end it by disengaging. This is how he imposes his own rhythm and shuts down aggressive opponents. Floyd puts order into chaos with the help of simplicity and pacing.
Examine this offensive sequence:
In the photos above, Floyd is in his low crouching stance. His opponent, Robert Guerrero, knows this is usually a way for Floyd to attack with a lead right hand. However Floyd attacks with a jab/right cross combination. Notice in photo 3, Floyd’s right foot is in the air. He is not out of balance. The foot is moving to the right to land in-front of Guerrero’s left foot as Mayweather rolls under a left hook. Floyd then moves back, disengages with a jab. This is the end of a winning sequence for Floyd. Notice that Floyd’s head is moving all the time. Here is the gif:
Now a counter-punching sequence:
Manny Pacquiao has Floyd with his back against the ropes. He attacks with a left cross to the body. Floyd pushes his head with his left hand control and pulls back just a little bit, in order to make Manny miss. Mayweather finishes the sequence with a right cross and a step back to end the sequence.
Finally here is a defensive sequences where Floyd just gets out of danger:
Manny attacks with a jab and Floyd uses his elbow from his Philly shell stance to deflect it. Floyd, expecting a follow-up left hand attack, rolls under a left hook and resets the sequence. No winners here but this disrupts Manny’s offensive rhythm. The problem with southpaws when using the Philly shell to defend is that a right jab is way faster than a right cross, so a shoulder roll is often not enough to deflect the jab. This is why Floyd often uses his elbow instead:
Technical Analysis Part 3: Dealing with Pressure
Most fight analysts seem to believe that a pressure fighter, can rough Mayweather up and beat him with body shots in the corner of the ring. However, it’s also something that many of Floyd’s opponents have tried to do in the past. Mayweather is a master of ‘rope-a-dope,’ a boxing tactic used when a fighter is trapped against the ropes, goading an opponent to throw tiring ineffective punches while weathering the storm. Most commonly associated with the match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, known as The Rumble in the Jungle.
The rope-a-dope is performed by assuming a protected stance which allows much of an opponent’s punch's energy to be absorbed by the ropes' elasticity while the boxer is bobbing and weaving – specific parts of the boxer's body like the forearms often absorb much of the punishment as well. The defending boxer needs to provide enough counter-attack to avoid the referee thinking he is no longer able to continue and waving off the fight. The plan is to cause the opponent to ‘punch himself out’ and make mistakes which the boxer can then exploit in a counter-attack.
The problem with in-fighting and pressing opponents against the ropes is that the pressuring fighter goes from a loose boxing mode to semi-grappling mode. This forces a lot of tension on the arms and makes them stiff and tired. Punches become slower. Try to lift weights and then immediately try to punch. You will notice your arms are stiff and cannot punch with speed.
Floyd uses the Philly shell. the elbow shield and tie-ups to slip punches punches or absorb their power on the forearms and shoulders. He then decides when to disengage or counterattack:
However, he sometimes uses the high guard as can be seen below while teasing Manny Pacquiao.
Mayweather’s toughness and conditioning is legendary. Body punches do not seem to have much of an effect on him. He blocks most of them but some manage to connect. Here is a clip of Oscar De La Hoya trying to do damage without success:
Sometimes, Floyd almost seems to invite his opponents to come at him with his back against the ropes as a way to play mind games with them. And if at any point he actually is in any danger, he knows how to tie up his opponent in the clinch and force the referee to step in.
This is the end of part 1. By explaining how Floyd sets up his base of operations to defend attacks and launch his own his specific moves can be analyzed.
Part two will look at the various defensive and offensive sequences of Floyd Mayweather in more detail. For part 2 please click here
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).