At its core, boxing is not about the physical attributes that so many use to define it - it's not about speed or power, endurance or accuracy, and these things, in the end, have but a minute impact on the outcome of any given bout.
In reality, this game is all about timing: throwing that straight right at the exact moment your opponent recklessly leaps in, or letting that hook go a fraction of a second after his rear hand drops. Yeah, that's what it's about: not only doing something perfectly, but doing it at precisely the right time so as to amplify its affect and maximize its pain.
Timing is why you win.
It's just as important outside the ropes, where knowing when to fight someone is every bit as important as knowing how to fight them, and the subtle differences in the words and actions of a rapacious young challenger and an aging king who's dodging the Sword of Damocles can speak volumes about that.
Timing is what just might make the difference on Saturday night.
Now, I'm no fool, and if I was a gambling man, I would not be betting against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Rarely in boxing history has one force been so dominant over so long a period, and even at 36 years old, it's still tough to picture him losing in any fashion.
But make no mistake: this fight is as much about Mayweather's war with Father Time as it is with the baby-faced, red-haired Mexican who will be staring across the ring at him. Even Floyd is mortal, and there will come a point when, like all fine athletes, his prime has decidedly passed, and his fists can no longer capitalize on the openings his eye sees.
What's more, his Philly shell - a disposition more favored by fleet-footed young bucks as opposed to older superstars - is decidedly not a stance that suits the slowing reflexes that accompany advancing age. And although his counters are still crisp and his understanding of range remains unparalleled, the swift head movement that's pulled him just out of harm's way on so many earlier occasions has suffered, especially above welterweight.
And then there is the 23-year-old Canelo Alvarez. Muscular and intimidating, with the easy swagger that youth often carries when it's never tasted the metallic bitterness of defeat, he is a boxer with prodigious power in either hand. He punches straight, stays loose, and is, after 42 victories, as physically sharp as he will ever be. He is undoubtedly a dangerous opponent, one who can, if things go a certain way, end this fight in booming fashion.
But there's also a lot that can go wrong for Alvarez. The eyes of the world will be upon him Saturday night, and that's pressure few have even experienced, much less performed well under. Meanwhile, the man he faces has made a name for himself by, if nothing else, rising to the occasion every time it's demanded. Add to that the fact that, in prior bouts, Alvarez has gone long rounds without letting his hands go, and you've got a recipe for disaster; Mayweather, like Tom Brady, is not someone who you want to hand the ball to and say, "Go ahead, pick me apart." Most of the boxing world, it appears, expects that to be the outcome. I am not one of those.
I would be lying if I said that the dynamics surrounding this match don't remind me a little of Muhammad Ali's first fight with Sonny Liston. Nobody - and I mean nobody - picked the 22-year-old native of Louisville, Kentucky, to upset the fearsomely heavy-handed champ. Ali was a 7 - 1 underdog, and most boxing writers thought Liston would have him unconscious by the fourth. I need not remind anyone of what happened that night.
Don't get me wrong, I don't expect Floyd Mayweather to answer the opening bell looking like an old Sonny Liston. I don't expect him to get knocked out, or put on his back, or stopped. But I wouldn't be all that surprised if he didn't exactly look like the fighter we're used to seeing, and if Alvarez catches him far more often than he's been caught before.
Maybe, just maybe, Mayweather actually did pick the wrong opponent this time...and when the tide turns against him, he won't be able to blunt its roll.
He, after all, will not only be brawling with Canelo under those lights - he will also be locked in the great struggle that all legends fight, once their inevitable decline is realized and their mortality is brought sharply into focus.
And that is a battle even he cannot win.