Previously, in the first installment of this two-part analysis, I examined the preferred techniques of the most scientific fighter in boxing today, Floyd Mayweather. On top of that, I also highlighted some of the ways in which one, namely Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, could potentially scout some of those techniques and look to capitalize on them.
In today’s concluding part, I will be taking one last look at both Mayweather and Canelo, along with going over some of the more strategic and intangible elements of what promises to be the biggest fight of 2013.
Floyd “Money” Mayweather
Mayweather’s single greatest asset, although you wouldn’t believe it judging by the way he acts outside the ring sometimes, is his marvelous analytical mind; only Bernard Hopkins and Juan Manuel Marquez—lesser athletes with considerably less hand and foot speed—are possibly his equals in that regard.
What separates Mayweather from the rest of his peers though, is an ability to tailor his style to suit the opponent’s by making on the fly adjustments throughout the course of a bout—he improvised brilliantly against Miguel Cotto and Robert Guerrero, using uppercuts to exploit the Puerto Rican’s forward leaning stance and by throwing looping right hooks (considered a fundamental no-no for an orthodox fighter) around the Ghost’s guard after pre-conditioning him to narrow it with straight rights down the middle.
A master of the fundamentals, Floyd’s genius lies in his ability to marry fairly basic boxing techniques with elite-level timing. Take his right hand lead for example; where most trainers will advocate that the jab is the nucleus of a well-rounded offensive/defensive game, Mayweather has crafted a career out of neutralizing and subduing his adversaries (both orthodox and southpaw) with little more than his right hand lead.
Fighting with an out-of-sync, scattered rhythm that would throw off a metronome, Floyd times his opponent’s steps and then catches them in-between steps with a hard right, before immediately looking to either tie-up or angle off to avoid being hit with counters. Floyd’s creativity and variation even with the most rudimentary of tools is a sight to behold. As Sun Tzu stated in his Art of War, the orthodox and the unorthodox revolve around each other.
Mayweather also has a superb command of range and knows precisely what tools are available or unavailable to both him and his opponents depending on the range they are in—it’s one of the reasons you’ll see Floyd using different guards after transitioning between ranges.
While he is known as a defensive fighter first and foremost, Floyd is as offensively gifted as anyone in the sport. He is superb at setting traps and creating false patterns by looking to establish a pattern of attacking one target for a period of time before suddenly switching the attack to another.
Although he rarely searches for the knockout, Floyd still punches with enough venom and conviction to prevent his opponent from attacking him without fear of what may come back.
To say Canelo is going to have his work cut out for him would be a gross understatement.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez
Technically speaking, Canelo does most things very well and is much underrated. Unexpectedly fast and with considerable punching power, Canelo can counter and lead with equal aptitude, and has a variety of precise power punches at his disposal that he can unleash from both hands. He possesses a strong stiff jab, excellent uppercuts from both hands (although Floyd’s backward leaning stance could make them redundant in this fight), a dexterous left hook (especially to the body and when hooking off his jab) and a deadly right cross that he can throw either as a lead, behind his jab as part of a combination, or as a pre-emptive counter over the top of the opponent’s jab.
Comfortable at all ranges, Canelo is probably at his best working at mid-range when throwing his imaginative combinations. Once he cuts loose, his combination punching (particularly when his combinations flow from counters) is of the highest order. Canelo is also highly proficient at setting up counters off of leads by slipping or rolling to the left or right immediately following his jab or straight right.
Although I wouldn’t label Canelo a technician on the inside, he clearly knows many of the range’s subtle nuances and can create some wonderful punching angles at close quarters (angling toward his opponent’s lead side to set up left hooks from an outside angle etc.).
Canelo is by no means on Mayweather’s level when it comes to making his opponent miss, but one can clearly see that he has progressed defensively—during the Austin Trout fight, we saw a full array of parrying, slipping and weaving techniques, not to mention an improved ability to roll with the opponent’s punches. Over the course of his last five fights, he has become a lot more practical and methodical with his offense too. He is certainly a far more cerebral fighter these days.
In addition to everything else, Canelo is also a tremendous finisher once he has his opponent reeling.
The question, then, is does Canelo have what it takes to pull off the upset against the consensus world’s best fighter and shock the boxing universe?
Yes, I believe he does, but it won’t be easy.
Here’s what he’ll need to do:
In today’s game, no other fighter gauges distance, observes angles and singles out the techniques that are most likely to be used by his opponents any better than Mayweather.
While this obviously has a great deal to do with his fine appreciation of timing and distance, it also has a lot to do with the fact that the vast majority of Mayweather’s opponents were tactically inept—attacking him at the wrong range at specifically the wrong time and with the incorrect tools.
Therefore, it is important that Canelo doesn’t simply follow suit and play directly into Floyd’s hands by allowing him to dictate the pace and geography of the fight. Basic techniques will not land with any regularity on Floyd unless Canelo can do something that will force Floyd into opening up on HIS (Canelo’s) terms. Canelo has got to try and disrupt Floyd’s timing and draw out predictable responses; he will accomplish this by working behind a jab, using lots of head and upper body movement, and with feints.
If Floyd is looking to stick and move, Canelo will likely be forced into pressing the attack and will have to cut off the ring. Should Canelo try to pressure Floyd without setting his attack up first or without doing anything to disrupt Floyd’s rhythm, he will end up walking into traps all night long. In this scenario, Canelo must apply steady, educated pressure without overcommitting. Reckless aggression won’t beat Floyd.
The Jab is boxing’s most functional weapon; it can nullify speed, manage distance or it can disturb rhythm. Therefore, Canelo MUST use the jab to its full capacity. Floyd may be exceptional at evading and countering regular jabs, but I personally believe he may be accessible to stiff jabs aimed at his body, chest and lead shoulder like the ones Oscar De La Hoya was subduing him with during the seventh round of their contest (round seven was arguably Oscar’s best).
Not too concerned with hitting Floyd’s head, Oscar focuses on Mayweather’s lead shoulder and lands a stiff jab.
Advancing in a similar fashion to how Sandy Saddler used to, blocking off the exits with good footwork, feinting on the way in and with an extended rear glove ready to catch the opponent’s jab, whenever Oscar was presented with Floyd’s raised lead shoulder, instead of looking to thread his punches around it, he simply hit what was available and proceeded to bang it with straight, jolting jabs. Roy Jones did something similar to Eric Harding, another fighter who often fought behind his lead shoulder.
While I wouldn’t necessarily label this a blueprint per se (as Oscar himself has been trumpeting throughout the entire promotional tour), there is still much that can be learned from that 7th round (35:40).
Yet another variation of the jab that Canelo may find to be of use against Floyd is the kind that Andre Ward was controlling Carl Froch with.
Ward slips outside and lands a jab on Froch.
To combat the Englishman’s superior length, Ward dipped and slipped to his right (forcing Froch’s jab to sail over his lead shoulder) and aimed for Froch’s chest. Most of the time, Ward and Froch were jabbing simultaneously, but because of Ward’s body alignment and elusive head movement while he was punching, it was the man with the shorter arms who managed to establish boxing’s longest weapon.
I’d encourage Alvarez to do the same. Whenever Floyd transfers his weight over onto his back foot and hides behind his lead shoulder, I’d forget about targeting the head for the time being and instead aim for Floyd’s body, chest and lead shoulder to try and unbalance him. Floyd, like everyone else, aims most of his leads and counters toward the opponent’s center.
Therefore, it would be good strategy if Canelo were to slip to his right slightly as he throws his jab. In addition, to prevent Floyd from making his customary adjustments, Canelo must also mix things up—feint the jab, throw blinding jabs to probe and set up power shots. Guard-piercing up jabs (thrown with the thumb up) are a good option too (Floyd won’t be expecting them), as are double jabs to prevent Floyd from throwing his counter right.
As we discussed earlier, Canelo is also very good at slipping off of his own jab—which will usually draw out some kind of attack from the opponent—to set up counterpunching opportunities (an old Mike McCallum trait).
Canelo would be well advised to use all of these different types of jabs against Floyd.
Because of his defensive craft and composure amid heavy fire on the inside (similarly to Muhammad Ali, Floyd’s visual clarity at this range is quite remarkable), Mayweather will often gravitate toward the ropes and corners—perceived vulnerable places—in order to sap his opponent’s energy while conserving his own. Floyd has never gassed late in a fight because of this.
This is why Canelo, who may have problems with endurance, cannot afford to make the same naive mistake that nearly every single one of Mayweather’s opponents have, which was to think that they could simply out-muscle and out-hustle Floyd by swamping him with activity.
If Floyd does gravitate toward the ropes, it is important for Canelo not to smother his own work and tire himself out there; Mayweather is brilliant at limiting his opponent’s offensive options on the inside by jamming their straight weapons and drawing their hooks—how many times now have we seen Floyd catching hooks on his elbows and immediately returning fire with short shovel hooks and uppercuts on the inside?
To this day, only Jose Luis Castillo has enjoyed any sustained success against Floyd and one of the main reasons for this was because he didn’t smother himself anytime he had Floyd up on the ropes.
As we also discussed in part one, many of Floyd’s opponents alternated their punches in a very predictable way, rarely doubling up with the same hand in the middle of combinations.
Canelo must take a leaf out of Paulie Malignaggi’s book, then, by doubling and tripling up on his lead hand while adding feints and rhythm changes in-between; I’m certain Mayweather would be no exception to the same brand of unpredictable, non-rhythmic combination punching that managed to throw Adrien Broner’s timing off.
Typically, Floyd will use his half guard defensive posture to draw out a right so that he can roll and come back with a right of his own. In this situation, I’d advise Canelo to feint a right hand and come back with a left hook to catch Floyd rolling against the grain (into the blow rather than with the blow).
Feints are kryptonite for good timing. Floyd has the best timing in boxing. Therefore, it is absolutely paramount that Canelo feints and feints often.
When Floyd rolls, he has a tendency to lean back and to his right slightly. To take advantage, Canelo should draw out Floyd’s defensive maneuver, again with a feint or jab, and angle toward Floyd’s left (lead side) where he should throw left hooks from an outside angle.
Miguel Cotto had a tremendous sixth round against Floyd and much of his success can be put down to the two left hooks he managed to nail Floyd with while executing this very technique (Cotto set up his first hook with a feint and the second by angling off of his jab).
Angling toward Mayweather’s lead side, Cotto lands a left hook.
In fact, along with the seventh round of the De La Hoya fight, I consider the sixth round of the Cotto fight to be one of the best and most relevant rounds of boxing anyone has ever had against Floyd. During the round, Cotto spat in the face of those who subscribe to the popular notion that “to beat Floyd, you have to turn things ugly and rough him up” by working behind a jab, giving him some angles and out-boxing him in the center of the ring. Cotto even managed to turn the tables on Floyd by forcing him into becoming the aggressor (32:30).
Mayweather isn’t someone who waits for his opponents to make mistakes—he baits them into making them. By manipulating the opponent’s decision making process through superior positioning, Floyd fabricates situations in the ring where his opponents are subconsciously lured into throwing what he wants them to throw.
Therefore, when Floyd tries to draw out a lead that he wishes to counter (see Floyd’s fade counter description in part one), I would advise Canelo to feint a jab (drawing out what Floyd thinks is going to be HIS counter right), and unleash a left hook to catch Floyd as he is punching.
Similarly, by first feinting and then throwing an overhand right in conjunction with an inside slip, Canelo could draw out a jab from Floyd and land his right over the top. Theoretically, this would cause Floyd’s jab to sail somewhere over Canelo’s rear shoulder while Canelo’s right hand would find the target.
Easier said than done I know, but one must always be thinking outside the box against a boxing cryptographer like Mayweather.
As we know, Floyd will always look to tie-up, angle off, or roll under and out immediately after throwing his straight right. Predominantly, Floyd will duck underneath and resurface out at his opponent's lead side (a pre-emptive measure against the likely left hook counter that most opponents will throw after receiving a right).
As a result, Canelo will have to anticipate the roll and figure out where Mayweather will end up. As Floyd rolls underneath, Canelo should reset his feet and look to catch him on the rise with something.
Canelo’s hands are deceptively quick (among the fastest in all of boxing by my estimation) but sitting back and waiting for counterpunching opportunities is probably not really the best option against Floyd, who conceals his intentions by delivering his techniques with very little telegraphic motion, making it very difficult for his opponents to employ a wait-and-react strategy against him.
However, “counterpunching” in and of itself can be a pretty vague description at times as there are various different ways to counter an attack. To combat Floyd’s impeccable timing then (as I mentioned briefly towards the end in part one), Canelo will benefit more by being proactive with his counters. One of the reasons Rocky Marciano—viewed by many as a crude and defenseless slugger—was able to get the better of far slicker and quicker ring mechanics in Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore, was because of the way he moved his head while he was punching. Instead of waiting and trying to react, Rocky would often slip and roll in the midst of an exchange, thus making the opponent miss while creating counterpunching opportunities on a pre-emptive level.
A quick look at this little video illustrates just how underrated Rocky was in terms of his elusiveness while he was punching.
In all honesty, I have absolutely no idea how this fight is going to play out from a strategic perspective. Because of the all-round ability of both men, I simply cannot state with 100 percent confidence that “Floyd is going to do this…” or “Canelo is going to do that”.
What we do know, however, is that the fight will be contested at a catch weight of 152 pounds, two below the regular limit of 154. We also know that Canelo’s endurance was definitely an issue during his victory over Austin Trout last April and a more substantial weight cut than he’s had to make since 2011 could amplify the problem even more.
Let’s not beat around the bush here; the 152 pound weight limit—that Floyd obviously requested—could be the biggest factor in the outcome of this fight.
Hopefully, Canelo won’t have any problems making 152 and will be fully hydrated once the opening bell sounds. That being the case, then, the fight will mostly come down to skill, will and strategy.
What’s that you say? Oh yes, I almost forgot. Canelo still has stamina problems, even at 154.
Here’s the thing: from a tactical standpoint, Floyd’s style isn’t really geared towards making his opponent work for every minute of every round. Can you really see Floyd throwing almost 800 punches and pressing the attack the way Austin Trout did on occasions against Canelo? In truth, Canelo and Floyd are actually pretty similar, in that neither man is really known for having a relatively high punch output. Much has been made of the fact that Canelo is such a slow starter. But in case you’ve forgotten, let me remind you that so too is Floyd, who doesn’t really hit his stride until the third or fourth round himself.
Rumors have been swirling around for days now that Mayweather is going to put Canelo’s stamina to the test with body work. Going to the body early in a fight is definitely the way to go if one is looking to take advantage of an opponent’s poor conditioning, but is Floyd really going to afford Canelo—a man who could out-weigh him by almost 20 pounds on the night and is possibly the biggest puncher he’s ever faced—with ample opportunities to land something significant and potentially end the fight in an instant?
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Mayweather will be looking to stay out of danger and score when Canelo will be looking to rest. That means he’ll be moving laterally, using deft footwork to take advantage of Canelo’s “slow and plodding movement” by quickly stepping in on him and catching the young Mexican unawares and off balance, thus never allowing him to get set.
Undeniably, Mayweather’s footwork looked outstanding last time out against Robert Guerrero, yet I can’t help but feel it was aided tremendously by a slow-footed opponent who didn’t seem to have the faintest idea of how to cut the ring off after his initial plan to try and counter Floyd was ripped to shreds once he realized he wasn’t quick enough to implement it.
And besides, in his last showing against a fairly mobile Austin Trout, Canelo proved that he’s more than capable of getting into a position where he can manipulate his opponent’s movement with movement of his own. One would never mistake Canelo for Willie Pep, but as Oscar showed against Floyd when he employed a similar stalking style to Pep’s eternal tormentor, Sandy Saddler—a fleet-footed fighter can be corralled by efficient and methodical footwork.
Bottom line: regardless of how elusive Floyd will be, Canelo WILL catch up with him at some stage during the fight.
Still, no matter who he is facing, Mayweather always seems to be able to slow down the pace of the fight and limit his opponent’s offense because of his footwork; he has a knack of always being either too far away for the opponent to reach him or too close for the opponent to work effectively. By the middle rounds, Mayweather has usually instilled so much doubt in his opponents that by the time the final bell arrives, they tend to be fighting without a real sense of purpose.
I cannot see the same thing happening to Canelo.
Personally, I don’t think it is a stretch of the imagination to believe that Canelo will be the most complete fighter Floyd has ever been in the ring with. Unlike many of Mayweather’s previously hand-picked opponents, Canelo doesn’t seem to have any one weapon that can be taken away from him, thereby leaving him exposed and with nothing else to call upon.
Canelo may indeed fight in spots (there are many periods of inactivity during his fights), but I have a feeling that his sudden changes in tempo (Canelo is a lot quicker than his burly frame would have us believe) coming from any lulls in the action will surprise Floyd and catch him off guard, both figuratively and literally.
Thus, it is Canelo’s patience and intelligence (more so than any of his advantages in size or strength) in combination with his explosiveness that I find most intriguing about this contest.
Sure, Canelo’s chances may not appear great on paper, but I firmly believe, because of his IQ (of which many people are sleeping on), deceptive hand speed, feints, subtle angles, punching power, head movement while punching, explosiveness and all-round calm demeanor, he will at the VERY LEAST provide Mayweather with his most competitive fight in years.
On paper, Mayweather's advantages seem vast, but as we all know, fights are won and lost inside the ring, not on a sheet of paper.
I’ve never picked against Floyd Mayweather before, but I’m picking against him here. Young, in his prime and harnessing a multi-faceted game the likes of which Floyd has never seen before, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, one way or another, is going to shock the boxing world and will hand Floyd Mayweather his first official loss as a professional prize fighter.
Expect the unexpected; the Money Team may have miscalculated on this one.
Follow Lee Wylie on Twitter.
Would you pay to see Manny Pacquiao vs Saul Alvarez?