Nobody expected Maidana vs Mayweather to be as competitive as it was. Even I, who predicted that Maidana would force Mayweather to really work for his win, did not expect him to have such prolonged success, nor to land so many punches on Mayweather, whose former nickname "Pretty Boy Floyd" stemmed not from his good looks but from the fact that, unlike the other boxers in the gym, his face was never bruised or marked--quite the accomplishment in a sport wherein the primary goal is to punch the opponent in the head. Nonetheless, Maidana did what Maidana does: he walked through punches, made the fight ugly, and connected with more clean punches than any other Mayweather opponent in history.
This fight, like most good fights, had a twisting, shifting narrative. It was a story rife with dramatic momentum swings, each new phase of the bout defined by one fighter finding a new way to get at the other, only for the other to adjust to the threat and regain control of the bout soon after. Back-and-forth Mayweather and Maidana fought, giving the fans one of the most entertaining Floyd Mayweather fights in years.
Those adjustments are the focus of this article. Few things are more impressive than a fighter (and corner) who can learn from experiences in the moment and apply the new knowledge immediately. Though they fought very differently, that's exactly what both Mayweather and Maidana did in this fight, and why their clash of styles was so interesting.
MAIDANA: Roughhousing on the Ropes
The most surprising part of the early rounds was how well Maidana was able to cut off the ring and force Mayweather into the ropes. Whether or not you believe that Mayweather allowed this to happen is besides the point: the fact is, once on the ropes Maidana had a great deal of success against Mayweather, mostly because he refused to let Mayweather dictate the fight once his back was against the ropes.
Here's an example of Maidana's unorthodox generalship.
Maidana is far from the first opponent to try to get rough with Floyd on the inside, nor is he the first to put his back against the ropes. Where Miguel Cotto failed, however, Maidana succeeded, because he didn't just put Floyd against the ropes, he kept him there.
The first thing that stands out about this exchange is Maidana's right hand to the body. It's an ideal punch for the circumstances. Floyd's centerline is so difficult to attack, opponents have the most success when they simply approach his defenses from the other side. Where Mayweather's previous opponents fell off, however, Maidana forges on. He follows his right hand to the body with a few other quick punches, including a tapping right upstairs that brings Mayweather's guard up, and a left hook to the body that stops him circling to his right.
Once Maidana's convinced Floyd to stand in place for a moment, he keeps him there. The first thing to make it through Mayweather's guard isn't one of Maidana's gloves, it's his head. The Argentine presses his forehead into Mayweather's face, his chest, his shoulders--bending him back against the ropes and pinning him in place for some of those unorthodox punches.
This isn't exactly clean boxing, but it proved very effective in getting through Floyd's defenses. His style has always relied on leaning back to avoid shots, sometimes with his back against the ropes, but his ability to adapt and counter is predicated on being able to throw his weight back forward. With Maidana's head keeping him bent back against the ropes, Mayweather can't find the space to generate any power, or the right position to pick Maidana's head up with some uppercuts.
MAYWEATHER: Preemptive Counter
Since Mayweather spent the first three rounds learning that Maidana was a difficult enemy against the ropes, he went into the fourth round with the intention to keep Maidana from closing the distance. He did this by baiting Maidana, goading him into a chase and walking him into counter punches, often before the Argentine could get off any shots of his own.
Here, Floyd shows exactly why his left hook is his best and most underrated punch, using it to punish Maidana whenever the Argentine strayed too long over his left hip. Floyd's footwork here really is something to behold. Note that, after nearing the ropes, he begins circling to his right, forcing Maidana to cut him off. Maidana does so by shifting his weight (and his head) forward onto his left hip, and begins to load up for what looks like a right hand to the body--the same punch that initiated his mauling combination work in the GIF above, one round prior. In doing so, however, he opens his stance, allowing Floyd to not only slip to his left and outside his right hand, but to nail him with a perfectly placed left hook on the way.
What's interesting about Floyd's check hook (this is, mechanically, the exact same punch he used to drop Ricky Hatton - GIF - which was also thrown as Hatton dillydallying over his left hip) is that he doesn't pivot left as he throws it, but rather steps back with his left foot, switching momentarily into a southpaw stance. As a result, his punch begins as a hook, but ends up almost as a left cross. Floyd does this to better enable himself to move after the punch. A pivot would turn his body around a single spot and leave him in position to follow up, but Floyd has always preferred to pot shot--hit and get out--and this stepping check hook suits his needs perfectly, taking his body away from Maidana even as the punch lands.
MAIDANA: Throwing Off-Rhythm
Once Mayweather started timing Maidana's movements and attacks, Maidana had to change his timing to keep the dangerous counter puncher guessing. He did so with surprising deftness, catching Mayweather with the hardest flush shot to the face since Shane Mosley (who didn't fare nearly so well as Maidana in the fight overall).
Maidana first touches Mayweather with a jab, prompting him to bring up his hands. Floyd doesn't really use this high guard to block punches, but rather to bait his opponents. By showing them a certain selection of openings, he can draw from them a certain array of strikes. When he can anticipate the strike, he has a better chance of countering it. In this case, the high guard tends to tempt an opponent to either jab between the gloves or to the body, which is exactly what Maidana lets Mayweather think he's going to do.
Amir Khan's Dirty Boxing
This is a very rare example of an opponent out-thinking Floyd Mayweather. Maidana does a number of things to cause his thunderous right to land. First, he touches Mayweather with one jab, and then adjusts his range, moving his left foot forward as the punch retracts. Most fighters only move forward as they punch, and this small step allowed Maidana to cover the distance between Floyd and himself with deceptive quickness. Next, Maidana feints a jab, this one to the body. A suggestive flick of the left hand and a slight dropping of bodyweight--it's barely visible if you're not looking for it, but of course Mayweather is, and he reacts, dropping his left hand to catch the punch on his arms. Then, Maidana lunges forward, shooting his right hand through that gap and colliding bodily with his opponent.
His reactions being what they are, Mayweather actually does see this punch coming, and starts to lean back, as if beginning the motion of his trademark shoulder roll. Maidana's broken rhythm has him thrown off, though. The jab feints, both thrown on beat, left Floyd completely unprepared for the right hand thrown with a quickness just a half beat later. That split-second of warning, however, saved Mayweather from worse damage. Maidana has excellent power in his hands, but knockouts are rarely caused by brute force alone. Rather, to put someone away you must either catch them badly out of position or completely unawares, and Floyd was neither--watch the shock of the blow travel down his back leg and into the floor. A hard shot indeed, but not hard enough.
MAYWEATHER: Playing with Perception
Finally, Mayweather began to figure out his extremely awkward adversary. Maidana's rhythm is more difficult to read than most, but there are still patterns to exploit, and no one is better at catching onto openings than Floyd.
In the first example above, Maidana prevented Floyd from controlling the distance by allowing him to lean back and then forcing him to stay in that position. Here, Floyd reclaimed control of the distance against the ropes, allowing Maidana to back him up but forcing him to throw the wrong punch at the wrong time.
Maidana wades forward, using his jab to draw reactions out of Mayweather. Floyd reacts by slipping to his right, putting his head right in position for Maidana's clubbing overhand right, which is thrown almost like a downward hammerfist. As Maidana winds up on the right hand, though, Mayweather pulls back, taking the Argentine's target away from him at the last second and leaving him dumbfounded in front of his opponent. At this moment, Floyd launches a beautiful uppercut right into Maidana's exposed chin, the perfect counter for the moment.
Maidana fell prey to this trickery because of his persistent inability to control his weight. Once Floyd was able to make Maidana think he was open for the overhand, Chino committed to the punch, throwing himself forward as he loaded up and dragging his right foot with him. As a result, he ended up square in front of Mayweather, momentarily bent forward and out of position to throw anything else. This is a clear example of why one should always be in a position to strike, even right after attempting another punch. Left unbalanced by his first attempt, there was little Maidana could do but hope to adjust in time to avoid the counter, and he failed.
This manipulation of perception is part of what makes Floyd such a great boxer. The ability to not only figure out his opponents but let them think they're figuring him out in the process is something that few other boxers possess. Maidana gave Mayweather the stiffest test he's had in a while, battering him with hard punches and grinding him down, but in the end one thing should stand out about this fight: Marcos Maidana got the exact type of fight he wanted against Floyd Mayweather, and still couldn't depose the king.
For more analysis, as well as fighter and trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face punching. Coming tomorrow, special interviews with UFC contenders Lorenz Larkin and Soa Palelei, both set to fight at this weekend's event, UFC Fight Night: Cincinnati.