When Marcos Maidana moved up to the welterweight division in February 2012 to face fellow ex-junior welterweight Devon Alexander, Maidana didn't look like himself. We'd grown accustomed to a relentless pressure fighter with big power, a guy who wouldn't stop coming.
That night, though, Maidana looked downright feeble, as he was routed over 10 rounds by Alexander. Here's what we said in the post-fight recap that night:
"Even if you've thought Maidana was a mediocre, crude fighter whose flaws were covered up by his sheer toughness and good punching power, you probably wouldn't argue that he's ever looked this bad before. He was exceptionally slow, didn't land one really big punch on Devon, and just did not look like he had the usual fight in his body. By the latter rounds, he was an obviously defeated man, still trying but also in some ways, just surviving."
Maidana himself told HBO's Max Kellerman in the ring after the bout, "147 is not my division." But he hooked up with trainer Robert Garcia, now has strength and conditioning guru Alex Ariza, and instead of returning to the junior welterweight ranks, the Argentine slugger soldiered on at welterweight, where there was more money to be made.
He returned to the ring seven months later, slugging it out with Jesus Soto Karass, stealing the show on the Canelo-Lopez card on Showtime, stopping the rugged Mexican veteran in the eighth round. A tune-up three months later in Argentina followed, and then he was back in the States for a pair of fights in 2013.
In June, he went toe-to-toe with the game and daring Josesito Lopez, beating his opponent down and finishing him in the sixth round, simply overpowering a good fighter. Six months later, he got a bigger shot: Adrien Broner and the WBA welterweight title.
Broner had been spoon-fed overmatched foes most of his career, and boxing fans were force-fed Broner's shtick, as he declared himself the heir apparent to Mayweather's throne, whenever "big brother" retired. Flashy handspeed, a big mouth, and weird outside the ring escapades had made Broner a bigger star than wins over the likes of Gavin Rees, Antonio DeMarco, Vicente Escobedo, and Eloy Perez, and Broner's two best opponents to date had both given him fights.
Still, Maidana didn't fight much like Daniel Ponce De Leon, an awkward lefty, or Paulie Malignaggi, a crafty, highly-intelligent veteran. Those guys took advantage of some holes in Broner's game. But Maidana, a pretty crude slugger with an orthodox stance, was expected by most to get out-quicked.
That didn't happen. Broner talked a big game coming in, and even mockingly humped Maidana early in the bout, but the tables turned in a big way in round two, when Maidana ripped Broner and put him on the canvas. He'd do it again in round eight. Later, he'd return the hump, much to the delight of the Alamodome crowd and those watching around the country on TV.
There was no house fighter robbery in this one, no Texas nonsense. Maidana beat Broner and got the win he deserved. He also, at a late hour, threw himself into the mix to face Floyd Mayweather on May 3, 2014. Going into Maidana's bout with Broner, everyone and their dog and their mother and their mother's dog knew that Mayweather was going to fight Amir Khan.
Maidana, though, shoved himself into the discussion. Almost as soon as he got his hand raised and donned that dorky crown in San Antonio, the calls for Maidana to get the fight against Mayweather started going out. Khan, it was argued, had not earned the fight. And this was true; Khan had not earned it. Sure, he'd won two straight, but against a woefully overmatched opponent in Carlos Molina, followed by a narrow escape in England against Julio Diaz.
Maidana, meanwhile, had beaten the most (over?) hyped name in recent boxing memory, a guy who sold himself as a superstar and a transcendent talent. Whether he really was or is is not important, really. What's important is that many believed he was, the networks pushed him as that guy, and then Maidana humbled him on a big stage.
Eventually, Maidana secured the fight with Mayweather, as Floyd chose to pass on the increasingly cold Khan idea and go with the hotter name.
Mayweather, a major betting favorite, is saying like he always does that he cannot afford to overlook Maidana, but few are giving the underdog any legitimate chance of beating Floyd. Maidana is strong, yes, and determined, but he is also slow and plodding, the sort of fighter we've seen Mayweather rout handily many times over.
Still, Floyd (45-0, 26 KO) isn't just talking when he says he won't overlook Maidana (35-3, 31 KO). Mayweather never overlooks his opponents. That's why he dominates at age 37. That's why he's never lost.
Mayweather also believes that Maidana has legitimately improved since the loss to Alexander. "I think he's more confident now than he was when he faced the kid from St. Louis, Devon Alexander," Mayweather says. "So I think he's more ready and tough. If you have more confidence, it's going to make you fight harder."
Maidana, 30, will certainly bring his A-game on Saturday night, when he faces Mayweather on Showtime pay-per-view at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The trouble, as most see it, is that Maidana's A-game still won't be enough to put that "1" on Mayweather's record, and that soon than later in the fight, we'll be treated to yet another Mayweather blowout.
Whatever happens on Saturday, though, it's pretty crazy to think that just two years ago, Maidana didn't look like he even belonged in the welterweight division, as he was shut out by Alexander, dropped and discouraged, made to essentially give up on himself. Now, with some adjustments in the gym, some personnel changes, and that building confidence, he'll be across the ring from the sport's biggest star.
Maidana is another in the long line of casual fan hopes to find a fighter suited to knock off boxing's most profitable villain. Can he do it? The answer, most likely, is no. But he's gotten himself here. Nobody handed Maidana this opportunity. Now that it's here, it's up to him to deliver.