WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Wylie Dissects Mayweather and Canelo's Game, Part 1
Floyd Mayweather is generally regarded as the best fighter in boxing today. Despite being almost 37 years-old, he has yet to show any conclusive signs that may point to his decline. That his record has remained unblemished in spite of a 17 year-long professional boxing career that has seen him rise through five separate weight classes is really quite astonishing. While his many critics will highlight the fact that he has, on more than one occasion, managed to avoid some of the more risky challenges that were out there for him, only an all-time great could have faced the opposition Mayweather has without ever tasting defeat.
And so, ahead of Saturday’s clash with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, I will attempt to shed light on some of the nuances of perhaps the most well-rounded pugilist on the planet. In addition, I will also be taking a brief look at Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and will be highlighting some of the ways in which he could potentially take advantage of some of Mayweather’s technical intricacies.
Trying to find imperfections in a fighter who boasts a perfect fighting record is no easy task. All fighters, however, have a tendency to fall into certain habitual patterns—some good, some bad—that can be exploited.
Because no fighter is perfect—everyone makes mistakes from time to time—habits are the smartest aspect of a fighter’s game to analyze and try and take advantage of.
Habits are formed in the gym, where the average fighter will spend hundreds of hours honing their skills.
Floyd Mayweather is not your average fighter.
It is no secret that Mayweather quite literally grew up in a boxing gym; his craft and ring savvy mirror that: according to CompuBox, Mayweather, with a plus/minus rating of +24 (that’s the difference between a fighter’s overall connect rate and that of his opponents), is the finest exponent of the-hit-and-don’t-get-hit philosophy in the entire sport. His opponent on September 14th is ranked number two on that list with a plus/minus rating of +18.
Nevertheless, Mayweather is no different from any other fighter in that the very same gym-sharpened techniques can be seen being used in almost every single one of his fights. It is while performing these techniques that a fighter (even a seemingly flawless one like Floyd) may present the opponent with openings on a somewhat predictable level.
We’ve got an awful lot to get through between now and the end of this analysis, so without further ado, let’s now take a look at some of Mayweather’s tendencies and signature techniques.
Despite being regularly touted as the finest “pure” boxer on the planet, much of Mayweather’s success in the ring can be attributed towards how he controls his opponents when he isn’t throwing punches.
Similarly to Bernard Hopkins, Mayweather is not afraid to manipulate the rules, often operating just inside the legal boundaries—and even beyond them—but always completely unawares to the official, of course.
One of Mayweather’s little tricks on the inside is to raise his lead arm and push his elbow or forearm into the opponent’s chest (or into their head or neck), causing them to try and hold on or turn to the official in the hope that he calls for a break or issues Floyd a warning.
This can be seen throughout his fights with Shane Mosley and Ricky Hatton.
Mosley looks to close the distance on Mayweather…
....but ends up running head-first into Floyd’s lead elbow.
It’s not just when the opponent is on the attack that Floyd will employ these tactics either; Mayweather will often initiate an attack with a straight right hand, and will then look to immediately smother the opponent’s counter or clinch attempts. If it’s the latter, once his elbow is wedged firmly up against the opponent’s chest or neck, Floyd will push off and continue punching as they try to hold. Using his non-punching hand, elbow or forearm to pin the opponent in place while he’s punching with his free hand, Mayweather will hold, punch, maneuver, and then punch again, giving the opponent little option but to try and cover up or hold on.
Mayweather closes in on Mosley.
Mosley slips outside of Mayweather’s straight right.
Mosley’s clinch attempt is thwarted by Mayweather’s right forearm.
Mayweather pushes Mosley off and immediately nails him with a left hook…
...followed by a right hand.
Mayweather’s intermitting hold-and-punch style of fighting makes it very difficult for the opponent to forecast and defend against.
A quick look at the Ricky Hatton fight shows just how effective (and sneaky) Mayweather can be on the inside when employing these holding tactics.
Yet another staple of Mayweather’s game is the undervalued body jab. Although he doesn’t regularly invest to the body—a la Joe Frazier—Floyd will target the body with his jab—a la Ali—to probe and open up targets for further attacks. Once the opponent begins lowering their guard to defend against his body jab, Floyd will shift his attack upstairs.
Mayweather used the body jab quite magnificently against Ricky Hatton (on display in the previous video) and Diego Corrales—changing levels for what both men assumed would be a body jab before catching them stepping in with a left hook or straight right up top.
Mayweather distracts Corrales by showing him a raised lead hand (blinding jab).
Mayweather drops low and sinks a jab deep into the pit of Corrales’ stomach.
Mayweather adjusts his feet to re-establish his range.
Mayweather’s feint causes Corrales to hunch over and lower his guard in anticipation of the body jab.
Mayweather lands a lead hook to the head.
Although some trainers will discourage their fighter from throwing a jab to the body because of the increased vulnerability to counters, it is an excellent way to condition the opponent into adjusting their guard to compensate (sometimes without them even realizing) so that further openings may be created and exploited.
“I make the enemy see my strengths as weaknesses and my weaknesses as strengths, while I cause his strengths to become weaknesses and discover where he is not strong”.
Similar to how one may set a trap in order to catch a mouse, one of Floyd’s go-to moves is his fade/pull counter, which he uses to draw out a predictable attack from the opponent that he can then counter.
Standing just outside the pocket and often with his gloves lowered and slightly apart, Mayweather baits the opponent into leading with a jab, where he will then lean back and to his left (similar to an inside slip if not for the difference in weight transfer) and land a straight right. It may seem fairly obvious when Mayweather is plotting this counter attack—he raises the heel of his back foot and shifts his weight over on to his front leg—yet his opponents, snake-charmed by his “vulnerable” glove position and “exposed” head, always seem to give into temptation and lead off in a predictable way.
Mayweather leans forward, shifting his weight onto his front foot, gloves slightly apart, looking to draw a lead from Mosley.
Taking the bait, Mosley overcommits and ends up over-reaching with his jab.
Mayweather counters with a straight right.
By offering false targets, Mayweather—like all of the great counterpunching technicians—can funnel his opponent’s options and draw out the very attack that he intends to counter.
Half Guard Defense
Mayweather is not only one of the most fluid movers in boxing, but when he decides to plant his feet and stand his ground, he is also one of the very best pocket fighters in the sport too, thanks, in no small part, to his half guard/shoulder roll/Philly Shell defense.
Although it is not something we haven’t seen before, Mayweather’s effectiveness with the half guard defense, where jabs and hooks are parried or blocked with the rear hand and the lead shoulder is turned in to divert and diffuse any right-handed attacks, has earned him the reputation as one the greatest defensive savants of this or any era.
Using an open right glove to parry the jab, Mayweather uses his lead shoulder almost exclusively for deviating the (orthodox) opponent’s right hand off target so he can come back with counter rights.
Oscar De La Hoya forces Mayweather to the ropes.
Mayweather parries Oscar’s jab with his rear glove.
Mayweather rolls with Oscar’s right hand…
...and comes back with a right hand.
Mayweather’s rolling of the lead shoulder to protect his jawline does two things: 1) it serves its main purpose (which is to defend) by deflecting the right hand off of the lead shoulder, 2) it spring-loads Mayweather’s hips and places him at a more desirable angle to come back with right hand counters.
Although Floyd is primarily a defensive fighter, he most certainly cannot be accused of being passive in the ring. Whenever an opponent is made to miss, he nearly always makes them pay tenfold.
Another variation of Floyd’s rolling and countering is when a right hand is thrown at him from range; Floyd will use his lead elbow or forearm to spike the opponent’s extended right arm (rather than his shoulder) to steer them toward his right hand.
Mayweather attempts to draw a lead from Baldomir by offering him a tempting target.
Baldomir tries his luck by throwing a right hand aimed toward Mayweather’s “unprotected” left flank, but Floyd deflects the blow off target using his left forearm…
...and counters with a short right hand.
Floyd then immediately weaves out (to his right) to avoid Baldomir’s counter.
Against Carlos Baldomir, Floyd knew that by countering with his right hand, his right flank would immediately open up and become a potential target. By rolling under and out to his right, Floyd managed to evade his opponent’s most likely response after throwing a right hand; a left hook aimed toward his unprotected right flank.
Closing the Doors on the Right Lead
A boxer’s job is not complete until they have “closed the door” after finishing an attack, either by jabbing their way out, or angling out. One of the safest exits to round off an attack with—attention Amir Khan, this concerns you-- is to duck under and out to the left or right depending on which direction one’s last punch came from. For example, after a right hand, one should roll underneath and out to the right (to avoid the opponent’s likely counter left), and after throwing a left hook, one should roll under and out to the left (to avoid the opponent’s right hand).
Thrown straight from the guard and with very little that may signal to its arrival, Floyd executes his right hand lead better than anyone else in the sport—often forcing the opponent to step to him where he will catch them in-between steps on what is known as the half-beat, before taking some kind of pre-emptive measure against the most common reaction.
Mayweather closes in on southpaws Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero respectively.
Mayweather distracts with a “blinding jab”.
Mayweather throws a right hand lead…
... and immediately ducks underneath and out to his right to avoid the southpaw left.
Mayweather epitomizes what good boxing is all about. To compete at the highest level, boxing is about doing what is absolutely necessary in order to minimize one’s openings while taking advantage of the opponent’s.
Moving in behind a high guard, Floyd presses the attack…
...and connects with a straight right.
Anticipating a left hook counter, Mayweather ducks underneath…
...and rolls out to his right.
As you can see, Mayweather’s brilliance is not a result of his speed, reflexes or any other physical attribute; Mayweather is brilliant purely because of his timing, control of distance and unrivalled ring intelligence.
Needless to say, as of yet, there is no definitive blueprint on how to beat Floyd Mayweather. As slick as he is, however, Mayweather is certainly not without a stylistic flaw or two.
Let’s now take a look at some of the ways in which one (specifically Canelo) could possibly take advantage of some of Mayweather’s tendencies.
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when we are far away, we must make him believe we are near”
—Sun Tzu, The Art of War
In many fields of endeavor, people rely on deception to help them reach their targets. In sports, such as basketball and football, players will fake a pass in one direction to throw off opposing players only to execute the actual intended play in another.
In boxing, the success or failure of such deceptive ploys depends upon the ability of the deceiver to lull the opponent into believing and acting upon a false action.
Early in the second round, Shane Mosley used a body jab to lure Mayweather’s rear hand away from his guard. As a result, Mosley was able to connect with a hard right cross that—if not for Mayweather’s defensive instincts that saw him clamping down on Mosley’s right arm immediately afterwards—would have almost certainly led to his demise.
Mayweather is ready to defend inside his half guard defensive posture.
Mayweather lowers his rear hand to parry Mosley’s low jab…
...but fails to react to the subsequent right hand in time.
A strategy that relies solely on a direct approach will soon result in a predictable attack. By targeting the body first and diverting Mayweather’s attention away from the intended target, Mosley was able to take advantage of a momentary lapse in Mayweather’s defensive structure.
Performed well, the half guard defense can be a tough nut to crack. However, like all guards, no one guard is impenetrable as every single one of them leaves an opening somewhere.
As we know, defensive-minded counterpunchers like Floyd love to set traps and draw the opponent in. Since Mayweather is very calculating, it is possible to confuse him by simply not giving him what he expects. Establishing a pattern and then abruptly breaking away from it can accomplish this as it is very difficult to counter effectively unless there is a pattern to predict. In other words, if they are not attacked in a predictable way, counterpunchers cannot mount a reliable counter-strategy.
For so long now, Mayweather has been faced with opponents who all shared the same game plan; pressure him, close the distance, and try to overwhelm him with volume on the inside.
Consider Mayweather’s bout with Philip N’Dou. Every time N’dou found Mayweather up on the ropes, he threw nothing but predictable left-right-left-right combinations that were easy for Mayweather to time and roll with.
The half guard defense is the perfect foil for this brand of generic attack. Even the mercurial Juan Manuel Marquez, a stunningly beautiful combination puncher at his best, fell into the same trap against Floyd by failing to vary the rhythm and sequence of his combinations.
Back in June, Paulie Malignaggi entered his fight with Adrien Broner a massive underdog. Because of an intelligent game plan, the fight ended up being far more competitive than many had anticipated and while Broner certainly did enough to earn himself a larger portion of the rounds based on him landing the cleaner and more effective punches, Malignaggi was successful where others have failed recently in exposing some of Broner’s stylistic limitations and, to some extent, those of the half guard defense.
As opposed to route one sluggers in Vicente Escobedo and Antonio DeMarco, Paulie employed lots of lateral movement, didn’t always try to take Broner’s head off with one shot, and more importantly, he threw his combinations against the grain.
Paulie throws a low jab which forces Broner to reach low to parry it.
Instead of following up with a predictable right, Malignaggi doubles up on his left with a lead hook to the body.
Paulie then breaks up the combination by taking a half step back…
...feints a jab (drawing out Broner’s rear hand parry)…
...and lands a solid left to the head.
Unlike Philip N’dou and Juan Manuel Marquez when they were confronted with a similar defensive construct, Paulie varied his combinations and threw them discordantly. By doubling and even tripling up on the same hand mid-combination, Paulie made it difficult for Broner to block and roll with his punches.
The true essence of combination punching is not to do all the damage with the initial blow, but to create an opening for a more damaging final one (through manipulating the opponent’s guard by throwing several lesser ones) somewhere down the line. While it is important that each punch is thrown in a rhythmic, free-flowing manner (Marquez does this better than anyone), it is equally important to vary the rhythm and targets.
In other words, rather than simply launch each combination in a uniform pattern (left-right-left-right), it is often best to change the speed of the individual punches and the length of pauses between them (left-left…..left-right). This is what Paulie did brilliantly against Broner (notice that Paulie’s entire combination in the above stills was thrown entirely off his lead hand).
During their fight, Canelo, a brilliant rhythmic and non-rhythmic combination puncher, managed to floor recent opponent Josesito Lopez with a quite vicious, but in no way reckless attack. The key to the whole combination was Canelo’s doubling up on his lead hand and sudden change in tempo.
Canelo forces Lopez to the ropes.
Canelo throws a blinding jab.
Instead of coming back with a predictable right cross, Canelo moves in behind yet another jab.
Canelo angles to his left off a right uppercut.
From a dominant angle, Canelo plants a left hook deep into the floating ribs of Lopez.
If one always maintains a consistent pattern of timing during a combination, the opponent can easily identify and time each blow. However, if one can break up the rhythm and sequence of the combination by slowing down and speeding up one’s punches, as well as by lengthening and shortening the pauses between them, the combination will become a lot more difficult for the opponent to time and, in Mayweather’s case, roll with.
Hooking off the Jab
“A feint is an outright lie. You make believe you’re going to hit your opponent in one place, he covers the spot and your punch lands on the other side. A left hook off the jab is a classy lie. You’re converting an I into an L. Making openings is starting a conversation with a guy, so another guy (your other hand) can come and hit him with a baseball bat”.
—Jose Torres, former light-heavyweight champion of the world.
Although it is a highly effective way to block the jab and set up counterpunching opportunities, boxers who tend to reach out too far to parry the opponent’s jab (as Mayweather did against Mosley) can be susceptible to hooks immediately following the jab (hooking off the jab). The aim of this technique is to use the jab to draw the opponent’s rear hand out and set him up for a left hook around the guard.
Joe Louis was an absolute master of this technique.
Louis’ subtle pressure forces his opponent to the ropes.
Louis throws a jab to lure the opponent’s rear hand away from his guard…
...and lands a crushing left hook.
Hooking off the jab is a lost art in modern boxing and is rarely seen nowadays, yet Canelo seems to have perfected the technique and is one of the very few who looks to implement it in the heat of battle.
Canelo cuts the ring off on Matthew Hatton.
Hatton reaches out to parry Canelo’s jab.
Canelo changes the trajectory and lands a left hook around the guard to Hatton’s newly exposed head.
Feint to Angling off Left Hook
During his fight with James Toney back in 1994, Roy Jones managed to exploit a major weakness in Toney’s defensive armor. Quite often, when an opponent is looking to close the distance, the half guard defense calls for the exponent to shift one’s weight over onto the back foot, thus making the head a more elusive target. Jones seemed to find the half guard defense’s sweet spot repeatedly against Toney; preceded by a feint, Jones would angle to his right (Toney’s left) and throw a left hook before sliding out behind Toney’s lead side, making it all but impossible for Toney to come back with counter rights.
Roy Jones’ early knockdown of James Toney illustrated this perfectly.
Jones is looking to capitalize on Toney’s retaliatory clowning.
Reacting to Jones’ feint, Toney immediately leans back.
With Toney’s balance severely compromised, Jones angles toward Toney’s lead side and lands a left hook.
Jones now has Toney’s back and has eliminated Toney’s ability to throw an effective counter.
Here is the very same technique performed again.
Jones throws a feint at Toney.
Jones lands a left hook as Toney, reacting to the feint, dips to his right (Jones’ left).
Placing his rear glove on Toney’s back, Jones secures a dominant angle by skipping out to his right, where he lands yet another left hook.
By the time Toney turns and resets, Jones has already exited on a different line to the one on which he entered.
So would the same kind of attack that neutralized James Toney’s half guard defense work just as well against the finest defender in the modern game for someone who doesn’t quite have the same kind of foot speed that Jones possessed during his prime?
Cotto closes in on Mayweather.
Cotto feints with a level change.
Cotto slides his right foot up and out to his right, and lands a left hook on Floyd, who is leaning back and off balance.
Cotto places his rear hand on Mayweather’s back and moves to his blindside. From here, Cotto can continue punching or exit on a different line.
Miguel Cotto doesn’t have nearly half the amount of foot speed that Roy Jones did during his heyday, yet that doesn’t matter; by first feinting, Miguel was able to gain time and draw out a predictable response from Mayweather—leaning back and bending slightly to his right—just as Jones was able to with Toney. Consequently, this kind of attack nullifies the defender’s ability to come back with right hands; the go-to counter from out of the half guard defense.
As we’ve previously discussed, Floyd will lower his lead arm to bait the opponent into throwing their right so he can then roll and counter with his own (for a reminder, look at the opening photo in the Baldomir sequence).
During his fight with Kermit Cintron, Canelo would feint a right hand in order to set up his left hook. Reacting to the feint, Cintron would then bend over at the waist and to his right (as Floyd, Broner and Toney do), only to inadvertently roll directly into Canelo’s incoming left.
Canelo closes the distance behind a jab.
Canelo feints a right hand, forcing Cintron to transfer his weight onto his back foot.
Canelo angles to his right slightly and lands a left hook to the chin of Cintron, who is now leaning over to avoid Canelo’s “right hand”.
When Floyd lets his hands go, he leaves openings just like everyone else. It is no coincidence, then, that on three of the four occasions where Floyd has been in the most trouble inside a boxing ring, he was tagged while being on the offensive.
Against Chop Chop Corley…
...and Shane Mosley.
As the above images clearly illustrate, Floyd can be hit cleanly while he is punching.
Although it is rarely mentioned when discussing Canelo’s strong points, Canelo is actually fairly difficult to hit cleanly during exchanges aimed toward his center because of the way he moves his head and upper body as he throws his punches. This is especially true when Canelo is throwing his overhand right (cross counter over the top of an opponent’s jab).
Alvarez closes in on Cintron.
Alvarez slips inside Cintron’s jab…
...and lands a hard right hand over the top.
Not only does Alvarez take his head off line, he also changes the elevation of his entire body too. Because of this, Canelo’s opponents soon find out that he is a lot more elusive than they had previously anticipated.
Here’s another example of Canelo’s elusiveness while he is punching.
Alvarez and Trout are both looking to engage.
By slipping outside, Alvarez forces Trout’s jab to sail past his right shoulder and connects with a straight right hand, sending Trout to the canvas.
It is by observing a fighter’s habits (that can then be taken and used against them) that we soon realize—regardless of what any pound-for-pound list may tell us—that every single fighter is capable of losing a fight through meticulous preparation and strategic thinking.
If Floyd were to lose to Canelo on Saturday, it wouldn't be because of Canelo’s physical strength, heart, desire or even a lucky punch—it would be because of the young man’s craft and because of a superior strategy.
The concluding part of this two part piece will follow on TSS soon.