Howard Cosell to Muhammad Ali 9/20/72 in the ring after Ali stopped former heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson in their rematch:
Cosell: Muhammad, you couldn’t put Floyd down, is there anything left of your punch?
Ali: No Howard, I can’t punch, I only punch hard enough to win.
As most know, former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali wasn’t known for his knockout power. Ali may perhaps be the greatest overall heavyweight fighter/boxer in history, but he certainly wasn’t a life-taker like Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers. Incidentally, in eight fights against those feared killers, Ali went 7-1 (5). Former champs Larry Holmes and Gene Tunney also weren’t known as punchers, yet they convincingly beat beasts named Shavers and Dempsey.
When Ali fought Foreman in 1974 for the title, the prevailing thought was he couldn’t tickle George with his punch, therefore George should just walk right through him on his way to a spectacular knockout win. Ali knocked Foreman out. When Sugar Ray Leonard fought Marvin Hagler in 1987, Hagler was known for having a titanium chin and it was inconceivable to think Leonard could hurt Hagler, let alone beat him. Yet despite Leonard not being able to hurt Marvin, Hagler couldn’t just go to him as though Ray were handcuffed and rip his head off. Leonard went on to score the upset and make history. When Pernell Whitaker fought Julio Cesar Chavez in 1993, Chavez was known for having a cast-iron chin and a debilitating left-hook to the body, and everyone knew Whitaker couldn’t bust a grape when it came to punching power. So how in the world could he keep Chavez from tearing through him on his way to a stoppage victory? For the record, Whitaker boxed circles around Chavez and should’ve been awarded the decision instead of getting hosed when the fight was scored a draw.
Before the third bout between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez earlier this month, it was said that Marquez didn’t have the power to really hurt Pacquiao. Thus there was nothing for Manny to worry about fighting Marquez above 140 pounds, he should just blitz through him and win inside of five rounds just as his trainer Freddie Roach predicted he would. And you know what, they were half right. Marquez never hurt Pacquiao once over the course of 12-rounds. However, an overwhelming majority of the writers and fans who attended the bout thought Marquez won the fight and should’ve won the majority decision that went against him.
Forget for a second who you thought won the fight. The question is, if Marquez can’t punch a lick, then how did he manage to go the distance and prevent Pacquiao from breaking him down and busting him up? It’s not as if Marquez was kicking Pacquiao, he didn’t leg sweep him, nor did he posses a gun and we know Pacquiao wasn’t handcuffed. Again, why couldn’t Pacquiao, or Foreman or Hagler or Chavez simply walk through Marquez, Ali, Leonard and Whitaker? The answer is simple. All world class fighters can punch. No, they’re not all life-takers, but they can all hit with enough power to keep the baddest of the bad from simply taking liberties with them. Just because a fighter doesn’t go down or wince, doesn’t mean he’s not hurting or feeling a little pain or discomfort. Marquez yielded two things that stymied Pacquiao’s all out attack, his left and his right gloved-fist, nothing else. And as the world saw, Pacquiao couldn’t just go through Marquez could he? Marquez’s first tier boxing aptitude and ability along with his adequate power really were enough to get the job done and neutralize Pacquiao’s aggression.
Getting punched in the face by Marquez, Ali, Leonard or Whitaker is not something that their opponents thought was a walk in the park. To win a professional fight at the world class level, the fighter who is not thought of as being a big hitter doesn’t have to hurt his opponent to win. If Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather sign to fight, it’ll be repeated over and over how Mayweather can’t hurt Pacquiao enough to deter him from pressing the fight. And that’s probably true, although a fighter that hits as accurately as Mayweather can get anybody out if he catches him right. The point is, a good boxer doesn’t have to hurt or knock his opponent out to beat him conclusively. All he needs is to posses enough power to disrupt him and knock him slightly out of range, thus giving himself time and space to either get out before he’s countered or cut loose again. And all world class fighters hit hard enough to do that.
Physical strength and leverage is more important than punching power. An overload of strength can enable the bigger puncher to impose his power on his weaker opponent most of the time. However, physical strength and punching power don’t go hand and hand. Muhammad Ali wasn’t a knockout puncher, but he was never manhandled or moved around the ring by his opponent because his ring strength was very underrated. Marquez is no where close to the puncher that Pacquiao is, but in their last fight he demonstrated that he wasn’t inferior to Pacquiao when it comes to physical strength.
Fighting/boxing is much more than just hitting power. Today’s fans and writers are too enamored with power. The problem is, power has to be delivered. If the fighter who is supposedly a tremendous puncher meets an opponent who prevents him from delivering his power, what good is it, especially if he doesn’t have something else to fall back on?
If and when Pacquiao and Mayweather fight, most observers picking Manny will be confident that due to Floyd’s lack of finishing punch, Manny will be able to dictate the fight. Because they believe that Mayweather can’t punch, they’ll feel secure that Pacquiao should be able to do whatever he wants and just blast through him on demand during the bout. But they’re wrong. Mayweather punches hard enough to blunt and disrupt Pacquiao’s assault. And like Marquez, Mayweather will be able to make Pacquiao think and not just attack, something that Marquez showed really does impede Pacquiao’s aggression, thus rendering him less effective. If Mayweather can manage to make Pacquiao think his way through the fight, that’s a big edge for him and would probably be the difference as to why he won.
In their last fight, Marquez didn’t try to stand his ground and fight and trade with Pacquiao. He drew Pacquiao to him in a more controlled manner and then hit him on the way in. Whereas Pacquiao had to reach and lunge at Marquez who was going away from his power. Look for Mayweather to do the same. Floyd won’t even try to hurt Manny if they fight. He’ll shoot one-twos to his face and either knock him out of range for a return attack or blunt him in the middle of his aggression before he gets close enough to do any damage.
Like Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather is no life-taker. But at the same time he punches hard enough to win and defeat a wrecking machine the likes of Manny Pacquiao. Does that ensure that Mayweather will win if and when he fights Pacquiao? Of course not. But he does punch hard enough to beat him convincingly.