Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s defensive wizardry the key to his long-term success

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s defensive wizardry the key to his long-term success



LAS VEGAS – Floyd Mayweather Jr. was not shown a thing about how to throw a punch the first day he walked into a boxing gym as a young boy in Grand Rapids, Mich.

He didn't learn how to use his legs to add power to his blows. He wasn't taught in those early days how to throw straight shots, or how to put combinations together.

Rather, Floyd Mayweather Sr. worked with his son exclusively on his defense on those first few days he was teaching his son how to box. And every day since the two have worked together, defense remains a big part of the coaching.

Mayweather Jr.'s magnificent defense – according to CompuBox, he is the second-most difficult active fighter to hit, behind only Guillermo Rigondeaux – is a large reason why he's guaranteed $41.5 million to fight Canelo Alvarez for the WBA-WBC super welterweight titles Saturday in a bout at the MGM Grand Garden.

[Related: Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez bout reaching for historic heights]

The elder Mayweather's philosophy always was, if you can't hit him, you can't beat him. Mayweather Jr. routinely avoids big punches, and frequently makes opponents swing at nothing but air.

"You get hit in the head day after day and fight after fight, you ain't going to be fighting too long and you ain't going to be thinking right, either," Mayweather Sr. said. "You want to have a long career in boxing, you want to win fights, you got to know how to defend yourself."

Alvarez will face a daunting challenge, even though according to CompuBox's rankings, he's got the best connect percentage among active fighters. The match on Saturday will thus pit the fighter with the best connect percentage against the one who's second-most difficult to hit.

But Mayweather's connect percentage is second only to Alvarez's, because he knows how to turn his defense into offense.

"There is nobody better right now at doing that, at making you miss and making you pay, than Floyd Mayweather," Hall of Fame matchmaker and promoter Don Chargin said.

Mayweather's signature defensive move is the shoulder roll, a difficult-to-master tactic that has frustrated dozens of opponents and sparring partners throughout the years.

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Mayweather stands at an extreme angle to his opponent, with his chin hiding behind and defended by his left shoulder. His left forearm guards his body and his right hand is cocked near his head, ready to throw.

The move and Mayweather's vision and reflexes enable him to block punches either by letting them bang harmlessly off his shoulder, by picking them off with his gloves or by using his reflexes to shift out of the way.

The shoulder roll is only one of a number of defensive moves in Mayweather's arsenal, something that allows him to stand directly in front of the hardest hitters in the game and feel safe.

"He makes you miss a lot in his fights," said former world champion Paulie Malignaggi, who will work as an analyst Saturday for Showtime, "but he doesn't make you miss the same way. If he made you miss the same way all the time, guys would start timing it and start hitting him.

"He'll make you miss the right hand in different ways. He'll make you miss the left hook in different ways. … He varies the ways he's able to defend and that is what makes him so difficult."

A lot of boxers pick off punches with their gloves, pawing their gloves toward an opponent and interrupting a punch on the way in. It's a move that Mayweather is good at.

But he can give a fighter an impression he's going to do that and then change tactics and pull another move. He creates punching room for himself and he then is fast enough and accurate enough to deliver punishment with his counters.

It was all part of Mayweather Sr.'s master plan when he started his son in boxing. He'd teach him how to be extremely difficult to hit and then show him how to hit his opponent with minimal risk to himself.

Mayweather Jr. said he wasn't particularly good against Robert Guerrero in his last outing and vowed to be better this time around. When he heard that, Mayweather Sr. laughed heartily.

"How can he be better than that?" Mayweather Sr. says. "He says that because he's a perfectionist. But he fought great in that fight."

Alvarez is likely to try to pressure Mayweather by throwing a double or a triple jab, and then follow it with a hard body attack.

Oscar De La Hoya laid out somewhat of a blueprint for Alvarez in 2007 when he fought Mayweather. De La Hoya was doing well early by using his jab frequently. But De La Hoya couldn't keep up the pace, and Mayweather came on down the stretch to win a split decision.

Alvarez conceded that Mayweather has a great defense, but shook his head knowingly and said, "He hasn't faced me yet."

The same could be said about Alvarez facing Mayweather. Mayweather frustrates so many opponents who routinely miss shots against Mayweather that normally land on everyone else.

[Watch: Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight predictions]

Malignaggi said it all could have a cumulative affect on a fighter's psyche if the fighter isn't careful.

"After a while, I think guys start losing their minds and it's hard to deal with the frustration," Malignaggi said. "He's then pot-shotting you in the middle of the ring, catching you with all kinds of offense. He'll show you something and you go for it and it was a trap and he makes you miss.

"Floyd is so smart, and that's such a big part of his defense. I think I'm a pretty smart, thinking man's fighter and I'll see Floyd making these moves and think, 'What's he going to try?' And then he does it, and I'll go, 'Yeah, now I see what he was doing.' But he's so smart and he's able to frustrate guys so much that it just completely changes what they do."

Mayweather Sr. would have it no other way. Like every father, he had lofty ambitions for his son.

But there were two key things that were most important.

"I didn't want him to lose his ability to think and talk and use his head just because of boxing," Mayweather Sr. said. "He's taken no damage. He's boxing all these years and he's the same now as he ever was.

"The other thing is I wanted him to win. And I knew defense wins championships, so I taught my son defense."

It was one of the best decisions he ever made.

On Saturday, Junior will have another 41.5 million reasons to thank Senior for those early lessons.