First, let me start with the caveat that this is not going to be a completely exhaustive list of everything Floyd can do in the ring, because if it were, this would turn into more of a 200-page doctoral thesis than an article. That being said, I'm really just going to give an overarching analysis of certain aspects of Floyd's game, that when taken all together, set him apart from every other fighter over the last 20 years. At the end, I will circle back to explain why all of this makes him a better fighter than the other contenders during the last two decades. Finally, I'll tell you why he's an even more complete fighter than 'The Greatest.'
Because I'm assuming most of you are familiar with Floyd, I'm going to gloss over certain aspects of his game that I believe to be universally recognized as his strengths. Readers can either use some of their own working knowledge to corroborate some of the things I say here, or do a bit of your own research. I will, however, provide enough video evidence to illustrate my overall argument. So let's get down to it.
I could give you about 100 reason as to why Floyd Mayweather is the most well-rounded fighter of this generation (and even better than many of his HOF predecessors), but they really only boil down to one that matters for these purposes: Versatility.
Floyd may well be the most versatile fighter I've ever seen. Now before you start coughing up a lung or anything, note that I am not really considering some of the all-timers who have little or no tape on them for me to make adequate comparisons (i.e. Sugar Ray Robinson, Jack Johnson, and so forth). I'm simply talking about about the fighter's I've seen in my lifetime, and those that I have seen on either YouTube, ESPN Classics, VHS tapes (if you remember those things) and in person, which actually happens to amount to quite the many fighters. I'm also not comparing their respective careers, legacies, or whatever else you may want to turn this into. This is purely about tools in the belt.
So - the reason that Floyd is the most versatile fighter of, at least, this last generation - in a sound byte - is because there simply isn't anything he can't do well in the squared-circle. He is second to none when fighting on the outside, he is superb fighting on the inside, and he can do everything in between. In conjunction with his natural speed, accuracy, and coordination, he might also be the most cerebral fighter I can think of. He can lead, counter-punch, fight coming forward, fight moving backwards, heck he can even fight standing still. He can sharpshoot, punch in combination, he utilizes great feints and footwork, he's almost never off balance, and he can control distance in a plethora of ways. Lastly, he has a full array of punches, all of which are technically proficient, and he goes to both the head and body with equal effectiveness. While all of these traits are great individually, what really separates him from the pack is that he has all of them, and knows exactly when he wants to execute each of these aspects of his game.
Let's check some tape.
One of the paradoxes of Floyd Mayweather is that most people think of him as the consummate boxer. While he does have elite boxing skills, he style doesn't exactly fit in that "box." Most "pure boxers" work behind a prolific jab which they throw in quantity while they circle the outside - much like Muhammad Ali. Floyd, however, isn't exactly plentiful in dispensing his jab, but his technique when doing so is tremendous. He's learned from Floyd Sr. well and when he does throw it, he throws it straight, hard, fast - and with full extension - to both the head and body. In fact, this is one of his primary tools for controlling the distance between him and his opponent. He uses this approach against pretty much everybody, but it comes in handy much more when he's outsized against bigger opponents. This is precisely what you're hearing from his corner between rounds when they tell him to "stay behind that stick."
Here, in what most consider Floyd's best performance against then-undefeated knockout artist Diego Corrales, Floyd was seen as the underdog for one of the very few times in his career. He was clearly outsized by a man who was just plain wrecking everything in his path up to that point. Floyd uses his far superior boxing skills and speed to negate the size and power disadvantage.
Carefully watch how Floyd manipulates Corrales. He starts with a hard jab to the gut, which noticeably backs the bigger man off. He then gives a slight feint to trick Corrales into thinking the same hard jab is coming, but instead he comes with a looping right hook over the top as he pivots to his right to create better punching and defensive angles. He then gives another hard feint to the body with some picture-perfect footwork and proceeds to pop Corrales with a jab to the head to maintain his preferred distance from the big fella. Additionally significant, watch the way his head and shoulders sway from side to side while he's doing all this - never giving Corrales a clear target to fire back. This is idyllic boxing right here.
Floyd excels at manipulating distance between he and his opponents so that he's seldom at a range he's uncomfortable with. As depicted below, Floyd's versatility allows to him temporarily go into a southpaw stance to give Corrales a different look, as Corrales is looking to land a big punch on Floyd. When Floyd gets to the ropes, he slides along them on both sides so Corrales doesn't know the escape route he's looking for. When Floyd gets trapped, he ducks down and steps in - smothering Corrales' punching range - and pushes him back ever so slightly. Once he's done this, he's able to calmly slip a left hook and use his cat-like reflexes to step back from a wide right hook to the body, only to circle back to the middle of the ring where he's most comfortable. He promptly proceeds to unleash a three-punch combination to the body and head of Corrales.
After repeatedly punishing Corrales with that hard jab to the body, Floyd then switches his tactics a bit. He shows the left hand as if he's going to throw it upstairs, but instead throws it downstairs once again to the gut. Having gotten Corrales' attention and having him look for another one of those shots, Floyd instead feints the jab to the body, only to throw a lead left hook over it just as Corrales' hands drop to protect his body. See below.
I assure you, if you think this is just run of the mill stuff...it isn't. Be careful to note the footwork and technique in executing these maneuvers - he never overextends himself, and he never leans over his front foot to reach for the taller opponent. Because of this, he always has good balance and leverage on his shots. This is truly a technical thing of beauty.
Lets take it a step further to see how he manages distance in one of his more recent fights with Canelo Alvarez. Note that one of the nuances Floyd uses to manipulate distance is his hand positions. Sometimes he has them down, sometimes he has them flowing loosely in front of his face, and sometimes he has them tight against his body.
While subtle, note that he's moving his hands around in front of him before he goes into a tight shell and takes a step back from Canelo. In fact, he had been previously changing his defensive posture between the high guard and the shoulder roll to conceal distance. In this instance, what this does is present the illusion to Canelo that he is actually further from Mayweather than he actually is. Floyd takes a full step back to the ropes so he can time his counters. As he does this, Canelo throws two long punches that whiff. Canelo then gathers himself while not even realizing that he's already well within Floyd's punching range. Floyd then takes advantage of this opportunity to land a two punch combination, the latter of which is a straight right that is arced right over Canelo's jab. I like to think of this as a "Distance Trap." And Floyd has mastered throwing the right hand over the jab utilizing several angles.
Another example of Floyd's booby traps was evidenced in his fight with Robert Guerrero. See Below.
Here Floyd uses head and lateral movement to circle off the ropes. Once he ducks a right jab and hook, he circles out giving the cue that he's about to start "running." Guerrero then starts to chase after him and as he does so Floyd walks him to his left, then immediately back to his right, and walks Guerrero right into a lead right hand - perhaps his best punch.
Lets quickly take a look at another example of him changing rhythm, using great feints, and catching an opponent unprepared.
He feints a left jab, walks off, feints it again, walks off, and then unleashes it on the third time only to have it miss. But he immediately strikes again, coming off of a slightly quicker rhythm, with the lead right which Guerrero is totally unprepared for. This is something he does routinely and because of it, you never really know when he's coming, and when he does, you're never completely sure where he's going. Floyd might well have the best feints in the business - and this is largely because of his impeccable footwork. He feints in exactly the same motions he punches off of, and isn't lazy about selling the feint with his feet. Seems pretty logical, but in practice is really difficult - but the great ones make it look easy. This is another product of versatility, and Mayweather's ability to instantly alter his fighting rhythm and utilize great feints in the middle of a fight is second to none.
Defense to Offense
This should be the most logical for us all. Obviously since most people think of Floyd as a counter-punching boxer, he excels a transitioning from defense to offense and back again. Lets take a look at another clip from the Canelo fight.
Clearly almost any knowledgeable fan won't argue about Mayweather's defensive prowess. But how he's able to swiftly go from defense to offense is a cut above all others. Here you will see Floyd utilize subtle shifts in his posture to slip and duck every part of a four punch combination from Canelo - all while standing directly in front of him. As Floyd notices the expended energy that Canelo just used, what does he do? He immediately goes on offense, starting at the body, and coming to the head. Anyone who has ever been in the ring before can tell you how much a good body shot can sap out of you, especially when coming right after you've expended a lot of energy throwing several hard shots of your own. Punches that land expend energy, and punches that miss expend even more energy. Floyd is fully aware at all times, and surgical-like, in targeting his shots in opportune moments like these.
Next - take a look at a clip from his fight with Emanuel Burton (as he was named at the time) as another piece of evidence of his prowess in going from defense to offense.
Notice how Floyd catches Burton's punches on his elbows and immediately comes back with a right uppercut - left hook combination. After landing those two hard shots, Floyd continues to stand right in front of Burton, utilizing head movement to slip five jabs from Burton. As he's moving his head around and under Burton's punches, he subtly shifts his back foot and his hips counter-clockwise to get a better angle on Burton, and once he does, he lets loose with a left hook - right hook combo. He's mixing up his punch variety, continually making angle adjustments, and doing so with flawless balance and footwork.
To further this point - I will now reference a couple clips from his Zab Judah fight.
Now this right here might be my favorite maneuver of them all! He tries to counter a Judah jab with a straight right that misses - but still manages to duck a right hook, pivot counter-clockwise, and clock Judah with a perfectly-placed left hook to the liver - ALL IN ONE SEAMLESS MOTION. I cannot even begin to describe to you how incredibly difficult it is to pull off something like this. It's complicated enough to practice in the gym but to pull off in real-time against a fast opponent...I don't think I ever seen anyone do it other than him...at any level. What you don't experience in this GIF is the loud 'pop' noise it made when it landed - the effects of which had Judah trying to shake it off, but you don't shake those shots off. The fact that it seems so nondescript is really more of a testament to how fundamentally great Mayweather really is. Again - the timing, footwork, balance, and leverage to be able to do this is truly masterclass stuff. And Floyd uses all of these aspects in fluid and versatile ways.
Ok so we all recognize Floyd as a great outside fighter. And most of us acknowledge he's a great inside fighter as well. He might actually be as good on the inside as he is on the outside...versatility. One of the standout things that Floyd does well is throw to both the head and body in combination. For those of you who say he can't throw combos, you're wrong. He often chooses not to (more increasingly as of late) because his temperament is defensively oriented, but he can, and has, and will when it suits him.
Having let a bit of punishment soak in on Judah - Floyd just goes straight to work, coming forward and landing hard shots to both the head and body. You will note the punch variation, with all of them being well-executed. And that talking that you see Zab doing afterwards, was because none of that felt so good to him. And speaking of variation on the fly, have a look at this sequence.
A lead double-right hand. You almost never see anyone do this. In part because it's rarely taught (in the way it's being executed here) and partly because it's really not as easy as it looks. Being that the best punch against a southpaw is the straight right hand, what does Floyd do? Throw it twice in succession. "If you can land one, you can land two," it's often said by trainers. Well here is direct video evidence of that.
Here is another clip of Floyd taking out Sharmba Mitchell with a straight-right to the solar plexus. Once again - punch variation to both the head and body with equal effectiveness.
Of course not all of Floyd's varied offense has to come out of the orthodox stance. He actually can fight really well from the southpaw stance as well. He doesn't do it often, but frankly speaking, he really doesn't have to.
I could have used a clip of Mayweather rocking Corley with a right hook to the clavicle from the southpaw stance, which nearly knocked him down, but I choose this one instead to exemplify his wide punch arsenal from different stances - obviously to, again, illustrate my point on versatility.
My last point about offense and versatility is that Floyd, if you haven't noticed by now, can use both hands equally well. In the clip below (the finale of the Burton fight), Floyd has again broken his right hand in the mid-rounds, rendering him a one-handed fighter. That however, doesn't stop him from unleashing a left-handed barrage to the both the head and body in the 9th round, which effectively ended the bout seconds later. For those questioning his heart, notice how he's still mixing in the broken right hand. Trust me, punching with a broken hand can be much more excruciating than getting hit by a punch.
Ok so I noted how Floyd is just as good fighting on the inside as he is on the outside. Let's take a couple of quick looks as to how that manifests itself. I'm going to begin with another clip from the Corley fight.
Notice how he's able to stand right in the wheelhouse, make Corley miss, and counter back with straight rights and uppercuts to both the head and body. This is against Corley, a southpaw, against whom the shoulder roll is supposedly 'ineffective.' Hopefully after seeing these clips of him hammering Corley, Judah, Mitchell, and Guerrero we can finally, pretty please?, dispel the rumor that Floyd has a weakness with southpaws.
Here is another example as to how Floyd can even create distance while standing in the pocket to get his own shots off.
He hits Corley a few times to the body with a right uppercut, then sensing that Corley wants to retaliate, he takes a half step back which opens up the lanes for this right hook- right uppercut - left hook combination. I suppose this could just as easily fit into the 'distance' section, but oh well - it works both ways.
The last section I'm going to touch on I could give you 100 examples of, but I'm just going to use one. One of the other things Floyd does better than his peers is change levels. When I say change levels I'm talking about both with his head placement as well as his punches. Lets take a look at an example from the De La Hoya fight.
Here we see Floyd use another one of his effective tactics. He crouches low to throw a hard jab to the body, and immediately stands tall to get off a right hand across the chin. He actually does it twice in row here. Him using this tactic serves two purposes - 1) his opponents never really know where his head is going to be to get off their own shots, and 2) They don't really know which part of their own body to protect, since you can't guard everything at once.
So given the aspects of Floyd's game that I've outlined above, all of which stand out from his peers, why is it that he's most complete fighter of the last 20 years? Well it's not so much about each of the aspects I mentioned above - it's more about ALL those aspects taken together. Floyd can truly do it all, and he does it all with the kind of technical proficiency that's rarely been seen in the sport's history. So let me breakdown why I think he's more complete than the other greats of his time: Roy Jones Jr., Bernard Hopkins, and Manny Pacquiao. I know people are going to bring up the power differences, but truthfully I think its purely incidental in this case. Floyd was a knockout puncher before he got to 147. By the time he got there, he had already had several surgeries for broken hands and was wrapping his hands like pillows. Despite this, however, he clearly still has enough pop to keep even much bigger men from walking straight through his punches. So, given that I've already illustrated above what Floyd does better than all of these guys, I'm just going to break it down swiftly.
Roy Jones Jr.: Look, let's face it, Roy was an athletic freak of nature. His combination of speed and power were so far ahead of anyone else that he really could fight as unorthodox as he wanted, and he could get away with it because of his speed. However, once his physical tools began to diminish, he had far fewer fundamentals to lean on (particularly on defense)...and then the knockouts started to happen...and continued to happen...against people who shouldn't even hold a candle to Roy.
Floyd, with his physical tools starting to erode, still has top-notch technical abilities which he can rely on to get him out of tight spots. That's the most significant difference between the two men, and why Floyd edges out Roy in the completeness department.
Bernard Hopkins: Again, we're talking complete skill sets here. Hopkins is both skilled and savvy. He's a very calculating and cerebral fighter, perhaps the only one who can challenge Floyd in that department, but he just can't do as many things in the ring as Floyd can. Sure he can clinch the hell out of anyone, but that's often out of necessity. Floyd doesn't really have to lean on clinching (though he is doing it a bit more as he ages) and to be perfectly honest, he simply looks better in the ring than Hopkins. Fancier footwork, better reflexes, quicker, and just a more skilled and dynamic fighter.
Manny Pacquiao: Well - I can already feel the boo's raining down upon me. Look, I don't have a horse in the race so there's really no incentive for me to make up some bullshit to appease one side or the other. I'm a fan of both men, but Floyd is just a more complete fighter than is Pacquiao.
Pacquiao has come a long way in his development under Freddie Roach. He was pretty much a one handed fighter but he's developed his right hand quite a bit. In particular, I think his right hook to both the head and body have come a long way. That said, he still mostly paws his jab as a measuring stick to unload the straight left - his favorite punch. Pacquiao is quick with his hands and his feet, just as Floyd is, but they use their speed differently.
Manny has a constant in-and-out motion and he darts in behind hard punches which has been very effective for him during his career. He also punches off of his constant natural motions which make him tricky for foes. Floyd, on the other hand, moves his feet in a more slow and steady pace but punches off at a different speed altogether, which makes it even more difficult for his opponents to time him. When he wants to, though, Floyd still has plenty spring in that step to dart out of punching range and can move around with the best of 'em. While Pacquiao might be the more dynamic puncher in terms of volume and power, Floyd is the more dynamic overall fighter because of the different rhythms he can fight in to negate opponents timing.
As far as overall technique goes, Floyd still has the better of it. Floyd has the better jab, I think their straight crosses are mostly a wash. Floyd slightly edges Pacquiao with uppercuts because he can throw them to the body equally good, and Floyd probably has a slightly better left hook than Manny's right hook. Generally speaking, I think they both go to the body well with both hands. Pacquiao edges him in the power department, but, Pacquiao still has a tendency to lean over his front foot, and off balance, while lunging in to land that left hand. If I'm not mistaken, Roy Jones actually pointed this out during the Algieri beating, as a reference to why Pacquiao has been open to getting knocked out in the past. Here is an example of this taking place during the Algieri fight.
Notice how he comes all the way off his back foot as he lunges to get off that left hand. This is a tried and true practice for him. He can still get away with it for the most part - like Roy Jones used to - because of the speed factor, but it will always leave him susceptible to good counter-punchers. Here is another quick example from the same fight.
Notice how he again lunges off his back foot again trying to get that left uppercut off. You can tell he's off balance with his punching because the miss causes him to stumble forward a couple steps. You'll also note his foot position gets switched up as he continually tries to press the attack.
Clearly Floyd has the much much better defense of the two. Manny still uses a split high guard that's always been vulnerable to straight punches down the middle. And Manny gets hit with jabs fairly often. Even if you wanted to throw in some intangibles like heart, stamina, and chin - I think the first two are still a wash between them, and Floyd apparently has a better chin than Manny (being that he's never been knocked out, or even truly knocked down from a punch). We could quibble about intangibles all day, which is why I mostly left them out of this article. So all things considered, Floyd gets the nod.
Muhammad Ali: So I mentioned this in the comments section a couple days back and I might as well defend it once again in this article. Floyd Mayweather is a more complete fighter than Muhammad Ali was as well. Like I said before, after people bite down on the shock value of that statement, they may have to choke on the reality of it. I'm not saying Floyd had a better career than Ali did, but he can surely do more things in the ring than Ali could. For one, Floyd has better defense than Ali had. That has caused him to take significantly less damage than Ali has throughout his career. I think their upstairs offense (jabs, crosses, hooks) are comparable across the board, though I think Floyd has slightly better uppercuts than Ali, and Ali was more prolific with the jab. But getting back to defense, these instances below were far more commonplace for Ali than for Mayweather. Ali has a great chin to be sure, but these punches still do damage. This is what can happen when you fight with your hands down in punching range, no matter who you are.
And another example of getting caught cleanly while being lazy on defense...
And look, these lapses aren't exactly coming during the championship rounds neither, you know, when he's supposed to be gassed! This is Ali - Fraizer I...the fourth round. So to stick to theme, I could literally pick out 100 other examples within this very fight alone to illustrate this very same point. Keep in mind, I'm not just picking out isolated incidents to skew the comparison - I'm just providing isolated examples of a much larger sample. Please feel free to go back and watch video histories on both fighters if you disagree with me. And if you're inclined to just write this off with the justification of, "Well, that's Frazier in there!" then I submit you these...
Ali vs. London. 1966. Ali is fighting a completely outclassed opponent who is really just in there as a "look good" fight.
Ali goes on to win by knockout in the 3rd round, as he should have, but his careless disposition allows him to take some clean and unnecessary shots from someone who shouldn't have even been able to lay a hand on him. We've rarely ever seen Floyd take any unnecessary shots.
My point here is that Floyd not only has more offensive tools than Ali, he also has a much tighter defense. I mean we've all seen Floyd go several fights in a row without getting hit as cleanly and often as I've shown right here in two fights, against opposition that couldn't be wider in disparity.
Aside from that, I really don't think I have to look any further to make this point than to bring up body punching and inside fighting. Floyd can go both upstairs and downstairs with his whole array of punches. Ali rarely, if ever, threw a body punch at all. He either couldn't or just didn't, and it really doesn't matter which of the two it is. If he had actually invested in body punching, I honestly believe he might have greatly lessened his own accumulated damage by taking more steam out of his opponents. But, doing so would probably have greatly altered his style altogether so I guess it cuts both ways.
As far as inside fighting goes, Ali never wanted to fight on the inside. Almost any time things got to close range, he would initiate a clinch where he would grab an opponent behind their head with either one or both gloves, as he awaited a break. Often times, as he was doing this, his opponents would throw shots to the body until the break came. Maybe the judges and audience didn't care about this work, but his organs sure did. And I suppose that lends itself to an unfortunate reality about Ali, he was a larger than life figure, and an even larger than life figure in his own mind as well. He truly believed he could toughen up his organs by taking body shots, and even went so far as to train that very same way. There are several documentaries about this if you don't want to take my word for it. And I also want to be crystal clear that I'm not bashing Ali here at all. I admire him in some ways and rate him amongst the greatest fighters of all time.
But that's exactly a trait that all of the greatest athletes have in common, Ali and Mayweather alike. Pacquiao and Jones alike. Even Jordan and Bryant alike. A larger than life persona that manifests itself into a supreme self-belief that nothing on earth can transcend them in their endeavors. It manifests itself in their professional and personal lives in different but similar ways. It indeed can be a gift and a curse, but unlike in many other sports, in the fight game the stakes are so much higher.