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Here we go again. The boxing phenomenon that is Floyd “Money” Mayweather returns to centre stage at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas tonight, where he will step through the ropes for the 45th time as a professional, as yet still unbeaten, to face what many believe will be his toughest test to date in the shape of Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
At this stage in his remarkable career it is undeniable that in boxing terms Mayweather is playing chess while everyone else is playing draughts.
His domination of the sport over the past decade has been on the same level as Michael Jordan’s was in basketball or Pete Sampras’s was in tennis.
The fact that Mayweather has exercised his dominance in the toughest sport there is, and that regardless of his inordinate success his hunger for more remains undiminished, rightly makes him an all-time great, regardless if he wins or loses against Canelo.
At 36, Mayweather faces questions surrounding his ability to continue at the very pinnacle of the sport for much longer which are inevitable.
And given that at the age of just 23 he is facing in Canelo Alvarez an opponent whose power and handspeed is up there with any opponent he’s ever faced, this promises to be a contest worth the price of the pay-per-view subscription for the privilege.
An intriguing aspect to this fight is how much of a factor Canelo’s size will be in the ring. With the fight being fought at a catchweight of 152lbs, Mayweather is taking a risk, given that his optimal fighting weight is somewhere around 147.
Canelo is most comfortable fighting at 154, but he has to work to get down there, so getting down to 152 will not have been easy for a young man who enjoys a massive following in his home country.
Given the difference in the optimum fighting weight of both athletes, it is not inconceivable that in the ring tonight, 24 hours after the weigh-in, Canelo may outweigh Mayweather by as much as 15-20lbs.
Many commentators believe that this weight difference, manifesting in the added power it will place behind the Mexican’s punches, may define the outcome. But this analysis is based on the assumption that Mayweather will stand in front of his opponent and be available to take those punches.
After he fought Miguel Cotto in 2012, a fight in which he proved he can stand and trade when required, Mayweather brought his father into his camp to specifically work on and tighten up his defence.
He felt that against Cotto he took more shots than he should have, even though he outgunned the Puerto Rican warrior to win by unanimous decision. But the reintroduction of his father, Floyd Mayweather Snr, into his team was a smart move.
Mayweather Snr was responsible for teaching his son the famed shoulder roll that he has utilised to wonderful effect up to now.
His ability as a trainer is undisputed, specifically when it comes to emphasising the “without getting hit” part of the truism that boxing is the “art of hitting without getting hit.”
The key to this fight for Mayweather will be his ability to continually change the distance and employ the lateral movement necessary to make his opponent’s ability to land clean shots and combinations difficult.
If he does this successfully in the first half of the fight, frustrating Alvarez, then he will look to capitalise in the second half as the Mexican starts to take chances and leaves himself open.
For Alvarez it’s all about cutting off the ring and forcing the pace. Mayweather is a fighter who thrives on space and time, so Alvarez has to make him work outside his comfort zone with constant pressure. The ability and fitness to sustain this kind of pressure over 12 rounds will be the key to his success.
The magnitude of the fight, reflected in pay-per-view hits that could be among the highest in boxing history, is such that WBA and WBC light welterweight champion Danny Garcia is defending his titles against Argentinian KO king Lucas Matthysse on the undercard.
Hold on to your hats.
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