Mayweather more than just defense

Mayweather more than just defense
By Kevin Iole, Yahoo Sports
December 3, 2007

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
LAS VEGAS – There is little doubt what Ricky Hatton will do when the first bell rings for his welterweight title bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden.

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The unbeaten Briton will race from the corner – "The only thing we can't be sure of is if he'll take one step or two before he breaks into full sprint across the ring," boxing historian Bert Sugar cracked – and deposit himself in front of Mayweather. And he'll stay there as long as the fight lasts.

Hatton, though, need not take such desperate measures. Because Mayweather's preferred spot will be in the same place, directly in front of Hatton.

Mayweather is the game's finest defensive fighter, and to many, that connotes someone who is constantly circling and moving away.

But Mayweather, who is widely regarded as the world's No. 1 boxer, usually eschews that tactic in favor of standing in the pocket and daring his opponent to hit him.

"You know what?" Mayweather asked. "I will be right there and he still won't hit me." Mayweather's estranged father, Floyd Sr., began teaching his son to box while he was still in a crib. By the time he was 12, he was a better defensive boxer than many men who were already professionals.

And he never stopped working on his defensive prowess. One of his former opponents, Carlos Baldomir, worked for Mayweather as a sparring partner in his preparations for Hatton.

He flailed helplessly at Mayweather in their bout for the linear welterweight title last year, and has had much the same luck in their sparring sessions.

"Very frustrating guy to fight," Baldomir said, "because he's right there and you think you see an opening, but he's so quick and can spin and turn so fast that you can't hit him." Mayweather rarely moved in his bout with Baldomir, but punished the one-time feather duster salesman with a series of hard, powerful shots after Baldomir had swung futilely trying to hit him.

Sugar calls Mayweather as "close as there is alive to Pernell Whitaker," defensively, while Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who will work Saturday's fight as an analyst on the HBO Pay-Per-View broadcast, said Mayweather has a feel for the defensive game that few fighters have ever had.

"He doesn't use a lot of slipping and sliding," Steward said. "He uses the one basic move, with that shoulder roll, but he's so good at it, and it comes so naturally to him, that he seems like he has fun trying to make a guy miss from right in front of him.

"I was pretty amazed by what I saw when he fought Oscar (De La Hoya, in May). Oscar's a veteran of all these super fights and won the gold medal and had a world title so early in his career, but at the beginning of the fight, he was so nervous like he was a kid.

"Mayweather gave him that shoulder roll and Oscar threw maybe 100 punches and he didn't land."

But it's a misnomer to label Mayweather, who is 38-0 and has won world titles at 130, 135, 140, 147 and 154 pounds, a one-dimensional fighter. If anything, he's overrated defensively and vastly underrated offensively.

"I think that's a very accurate statement," Sugar said. "He fights in a safety-first manner a lot of the time, which doesn't allow for the most exciting fights, but when he's motivated to or when he needs to, he has a lot of very good offensive moves."

And that offense is a part of his game that is easily overlooked. Many fans who watched Mayweather's first fight with Jose Luis Castillo on HBO in 2002 came away believing the Mexican deserved to win, so Mayweather willingly accepted a rematch. In the return bout, Mayweather doled out so much punishment that Castillo said afterward he didn't want to fight him again.

Steward remembers Mayweather as a teenager in Michigan and saw a highly skilled offensive fighter.

That fighter has occasionally emerged as a pro, but he most often resides in that defensive cocoon. Hatton, though, can't bank on Mayweather simply trying to make him miss. He needs to be prepared if Mayweather opts to open up.

"If Floyd decides to be aggressive, that's when Ricky better worry," Steward said. "Floyd has a lot of beautiful combinations. He won a lot of these amateur fights fighting very offensively. And he still shows that at times, but he mostly likes the role of the defensive expert.

"But Ricky is going to have a problem if Floyd decides he wants to be aggressive. I'll tell you this: He'd be knocking most of these guys out if he decided to fight that way." That ability to combine offense with his defense is what makes him the game's preeminent talent."

One of the things that tires fighters is when they swing and miss repeatedly, which Mayweather unquestionably will make Hatton do. And so it's a good bet that by the second half of the fight, Mayweather is going to take more chances.

"Everybody talks that Mayweather's fatal flaw is his brittle hands, but Hatton's flaw is his brittle eyebrows. If Floyd opens up, he could really cut him up and cause problems for Ricky."

Mayweather would cause problems for anyone he faced. He proved that by the way he dominated the late Diego Corrales in 2001 and by the way he handled Castillo when Castillo was clearly in his prime and regarded as the world's finest lightweight.

He seems to want to take it a step further and declare himself the best ever. Sugar said Mayweather "is on the cusp" of being good enough to be regarded as one of the top 100 fighters ever.

And though Steward raves about Mayweather's skills, he said he thought Mayweather would have "real, significant problems" with the top fighters from the 1980s like Thomas Hearns and Aaron Pryor.

Don't take that in any way as an insult, though. Saying that Kobe Bryant isn't as good as Michael Jordan is hardly demeaning Bryant.

"All you can do is face the guys who are in your era and he's faced them all and so far, he's beaten them all," Steward said. "You can't dog him for not beating Tommy or not beating Ray (Leonard), because those guys are gone. The thing about Mayweather is, he's answered every challenge he's ever been given. That's all you can ask of a guy."

  • More Mayweather-Hatton coverage.

    Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

    Updated on Monday, Dec 3, 2007 5:49 pm, EST

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