Floyd Mayweather, Jr., reaches the midpoint of his six-fight, nearly $250-million victory lap on Saturday night when he faces quiet, clubbing Marcos Maidana at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For years, Mayweather events have been little more than grand exhibitions of sly matchmaking and wearisome promotion. Because “The Moment” involves Maidana, however, this card will appeal to anyone who appreciates an injection of meritocracy into a world that regards connections as tantamount to worth. Since losing a lopsided decision in his February 2012 welterweight debut, where the clutch-and-grab tactics of Devon Alexander not only stymied Maidana but also, incredibly, managed to make him boring, Maidana has reeled off four consecutive wins. In those wins, among them stoppages over fellow roughnecks Jesus Soto-Karass and Josesito Lopez, Maidana exhibited his power and vulnerability, while revealing technical improvements that, in all fairness, are usually ingrained by the amateurs. Better late than never, of course, whether it is a fighter learning to jab or earning a payday that changes his tax bracket.
A winning streak and his reputation were enough to earn Maidana, Buenos Aires, Argentina, a crack at Adrien Broner last December. Broner, a circus act rather tenuously likened to Floyd Mayweather Jr.—and predominantly for characteristics that are useless once the bell rings—looked to dampen the criticism he suffered for his unremarkable victory over Paulie Malignaggi. Singling out the plodding, eminently hittable Maidana was a gaff Broner and his brain trust will struggle to recover from. That December night, a fighter whose appeal lay primarily in seeing him suffer his comeuppance, had this comeuppance forcefully, humiliatingly, and worst of all, prematurely dealt to him. Maidana, 35-3 (31), closed the year then, as deserving as anyone to play B-side to Mayweather. There, in the humble fighter who slugged his way to boxing’s greatest sweepstakes, is the aforementioned meritocracy.
Like horoscopes and fortune cookies, however, you should resist the urge to read too much—to read anything, really—into Maidana’s narrative. A number of factors went into his selection as Mayweather’s opponent, and the former’s claim to earning the fight likely ranks somewhere near the bottom of the list.
No, chances are better that Mayweather, once seemingly a lock to face Amir Khan, switched opponents to punish the breakable Brit for prematurely announcing Mayweather-Khan, and thereby stealing Mayweather’s thunder. Or that Mayweather, Las Vegas, Nevada, chose to exploit the revenge angle and put his hands on the man who smacked his protégé around (though it is doubtful that Mayweather cares a lick about avenging a fighter so excitedly speaking about the post-Mayweather era). Perhaps it was that Mayweather saw an opportunity to fight someone riding a crest of popularity, a man that represents, for a generational boxer like Mayweather, an even easier riddle to solve than Khan. (Is Maidana actually a softer touch than the porcelain speedster? Given the dwindling list of saleable Mayweather opponents, the answer to that question should be answered before the victory lap is through.)
For now, there is only Maidana. And with the idealism stripped away from the explanation of his presence, what becomes increasingly apparent is that, whatever his credentials, Maidana is viewed as just one more calculated mark by a fighter whose whip hand has an unbreakable grip.
This is not to belittle the earnest and unflappable Maidana. Whatever his shortcomings, Maidana is as proven a commodity as can be found, a bona fide slugger who takes plenty of leather, but is never more dangerous than when his opponents get overconfident. Maidana, 30, is in the ring to fight, and as Broner found out, so are you if “Chino” has his druthers.
There is nothing about him that gives Mayweather pause, however. At 37, Mayweather’s legs are aging, but the plodding Maidana will look like he is on rope rolls for as long as Mayweather chooses to fight at range. Despite his fleet feet, Mayweather need not play keep-away: with advantages in technique, quickness, defense and strength, he will be able to sit comfortably in the pocket against his heavy-handed foe. Maidana has diversified his offense under trainer Robert Garcia and plans to abuse Mayweather’s body in lieu of winging for a head forever hidden behind a leather bulwark. A winning strategy perhaps, but what is often overlooked in devising the means to hurting Mayweather is the price such a strategy demands. You do not strike Mayweather with impunity, if you strike him at all; if you have him in the pocket it is because he wants to be there, and for all the false hope you may build in the opening rounds, he has already catalogued your weaknesses. Mayweather, 45-0 (26), remains a daunting proposition.
There is plenty of fight in Maidana, to be sure; he can be trusted to persist in the hunt and to honor the opportunity presented to him. Rarely, however, and almost never when the disparity in class is as pronounced as it will be Saturday night, is volition and volume enough. “Money” should spend a few rounds parsing Maidana, a few more establishing his own glaring superiority, and whatever remains of the fight cruising to victory. What else would you expect of a victory lap?