At this stage of things, three days and counting down before the biggest fight of the year, it is all mind games. All the training has been done. The fighters are as physically prepared for what they are about to face Saturday night as they will ever be, so now the focus is on the mind, the place where many matches of this magnitude are actually decided.
No one understands this better than Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who Wednesday was playing such games with both himself and Saul “Canelo’’ Alvarez, the undefeated 154-pound WBC/WBA champion Mayweather is about to challenge.
Even the thought that he is a challenger is dismissed by the undefeated Mayweather, owner of eight world titles in five separate weight classes. He is no challenger, he says, he is a challenge, especially for some young Mexican kid across the podium whose resume, Mayweather reminds the world to remind him, is thinner than gruel.
“He’s facing Floyd Mayweather,’’ Floyd Mayweather says of the 23-year-old Alvarez. “I’m facing just another opponent. I been here before. I know what it takes. He hasn’t faced 42 Floyd Mayweathers or he’d be 0-42.’’
Whether Mayweather (44-0, 26 KO) truly believes this is immaterial because he has proven over the past 17 years that he is ready for anything he might face inside the ropes, prepared with answers for any questions his opponent raises. Young Alvarez, Mayweather keeps reminding him, cannot yet know if he is cut from the same cloth because, well, look at the record.
“I fought Ricky Hatton, I didn’t fight Ricky Hatton’s brother (as Alvarez did),’’ Mayweather reminds him. “I fought Miguel Cotto. I didn’t fight Miguel Cotto’s brother (as Alvarez did). Can he box like Cotto? Can he fight like Cotto? Has he fought opposition like Cotto? No! So am I worried? No.’’
There is a rhythm to the way Mayweather is speaking and a rhyme and reason to what he is saying. He is planting the seed of doubt, he hopes, inside the mind of a young opponent who knows the man he is about to face is not only the best fighter he has ever fought but pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world.
And speaking of pounds, Mayweather goes to work on that too. Although Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KO) is the reigning junior middleweight champion he will not be allowed to fight at his usual 154 pounds. To get Mayweather in the ring and the biggest payday of his life ($12.5 million) in his pocket, Alvarez had to make concessions.
The biggest of these was that neither fighter can weigh more than 152 pounds. This is no problem for Mayweather, who at this stage of his career is more a welterweight than anything else. But for Alvarez shaving off two pounds from a body that has grown used to fighting at 154 and then going even higher between the weigh-in and the fight, there is both a physical and a psychological barrier that has to be crossed.
One may think two pounds should mean nothing to a 23-year-old athlete and there is some truth to that if one is talking merely about the physical side of things. But there is another side and Wednesday Floyd Mayweather attacked it.
“You see he didn’t drink no water, right?’’ Mayweather points out to a few old friends gathered around him at a podium in the Ka Theatre at the MGM Grand, where the final media hype has just concluded.
Someone asks if he thinks Alvarez looks “washed out,’’ the sign of having to endure a waterless drying out period to strip the final few stubborn ounces away. That process can also strip away a man’s strength, weakening him when he most needs to be strong in the way picadors and banderillos weaken a bull before he faces the matador.
“He still has a lot of weight to get off,’’ Mayweather pronounces matter of factly, a huge grin on his face. “I’m 150 already.’’
The day before, Mayweather had said after training he was going to dine on a FatBurger, a food source whose name implies exactly what it is. Later he admits he didn’t because his training ran late, forcing the midnight road work that is a staple of his oddly nocturnal training regimen and making such a dinner impossible… but the implication is clear.
Floyd Mayweather can eat what he wants. How about you Canelo? Maybe not?
Asked how he could know what weight Alvarez might be at the moment or even whether or not he is struggling to get those last stubborn pounds off, Mayweather smiles broadly again, as he’s done through most of the months leading up to a guaranteed $41.5 million payday that will spiral up to much more depending on how much pay-per-view is sold across America and around the world.
“It’s my job to know,’’ he said, sounding as if the NSA has nothing on him when it comes to snooping into other people’s business.
Whether Alvarez is struggling to make 152 or not, Mayweather is reminding him that he has less margin for error this week than he’s had in the past. Two pounds less is two pounds less and it is not an insignificant figure because even if you are on it tonight because you have baked your body and denied it even a bottle of water, you may still wake up in the morning with the scales laughing at you.
These are the little things that will go on between now and Saturday night, the games inside The Game, the fight for mental superiority that comes before the battle for physical superiority begins.Canelo Alvarez has never faced a fighter like Mayweather because there is no other like him today but he has also never faced the kind of constant mental battering Mayweather offers up in the final days before a fight.
As he prepared to leave the Ka Theatre long after Alvarez had finished his interviews and vacated the premises, Floyd Mayweather unleashed one last salvo at his challenger, one more reminder that the real champion is decided not by a belt but by the world’s perception and their willingness to pay enormous prices to watch him ply his dark trade.
“You know we was the smart ones,’’ Mayweather said about agreeing to come up to a catch weight of 152 to face Alvarez. “We gave him $8 million and nothing on the back side. So it’s obvious we were the smart ones. I’m guaranteed $41.5 million but I’m going to make more than that. I could make $100 million. I’m the highest paid athlete in the world for a reason. He knows he’s facing the truth. I believe that.’’
The question is, does Canelo Alvarez believe it too?