Semi-Column: Small giant, big shoulders

Mayweather’s supreme defensive skills mean he simply doesn’t get hit often enough.

Written by Jonathan Selvaraj | Published: May 5, 2014 12:40:09 am

There is a reason why Floyd Mayweather had a 45-0 record going into Sunday’s bout with Marcos Maidana. “You can’t hit what you can’t see,”  father and trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. had quipped before the Maidana bout.

Mayweather’s supreme defensive skills mean he simply doesn’t get hit often enough. Contrary to instinct, he doesn’t try to stay out of range of punches but rather inside its striking zone — or what in boxing terms is known as “fighting in the pocket.”

Mayweather does this by employing an old fashioned defensive technique known as the shoulder-roll. This has the orthodox  boxer (Mayweather, in this case) hold his left shoulder close to the chin to glance off shots and the left arm held horizontally to protect the midsection. At the same time, the right hand is held close to the other side of the face ready to deflect the opponent’s own cross and then counter with a jab to the now open rival. All this when the upper-torso is held at a slight angle to present as small a target as possible.

The man on the attack, especially a heavy puncher, tires fast in any case — mainly by missing more than connecting. But the defender and the effectiveness of his shoulder-rolls are only matched by its challenging nature. The defender needs lightning handspeed and most importantly the ability to read the opponent’s combination and how he moves.

Otherwise he can easily roll into a punch instead of away from one. All boxers know of this  code but only someone with the talent of Mayweather has the ability to make it as effective as he has in the past.

Adrien Broner is a good example of a cheat-sheet being only as good as the user. Broner was reckoned as Mayweather-lite for his mannerisms and also for his use of the shoulder-roll. He had racked up a 27-0 record by the time he took on Maidana in a WBA welterweight title defense in December ‘13. Maidana swarmed Broner from the start, dropping him twice as he earned an emphatic (unanimous decision) win.

Maidana brought the same gameplan to the ring against Mayweather on Saturday night. Flurries of shots from all angles forced Mayweather on the ropes early, restricting his movement. Since the time punches were recorded, no one hit Mayweather more than Maidana in a match (221 lands, 858 attempts).

Against the unpredictable Maidana, Mayweather took time to pick up the small tics that let him predict which shots were coming. Past the halfway mark, it was clear that Mayweather had worked him out. He kept the action to the centre of the ring. Then, it didn’t matter where he was. Even on the ropes, Mayweather was able to give his masterclass by slipping punches and connecting more frequently.

Maidana  tried fighting dirty (an ‘accidental’ headbutt in the 4th and a low-blow in the 8th) but Mayweather was just too good landing 230 shots (out of 426). In the end, as Mayweather once quipped, “skills pay the bills.”

Jonathan is Delhi-based senior correspondent.

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