He found himself in the type of grueling battle that his talents and shrewdness have long conspired to insulate him from. Doggedly pursued by Marcos Maidana, a roiling menace of ill-will, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., clawed his way to a majority decision last night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was not supposed to be this way, of course, which explains the transparent hijinx leading up to the fight. We were encouraged to believe that distractions in his personal life, strategically made public by none other than Mayweather himself, threatened to infiltrate the sanctity of his preparation. There was talk, too, of potential retirement, as if the man who branded himself “Money” would bid goodbye with earnings in the neighbourhood of $100 million still on the table. And as “The Moment” drew nearer, objections to Maidana’s gloves were raised, emptily threatening to scuttle the fight. This is what passes for promotion in a Mayweather event: broken bells and whistles unable to drown out the collective groan amongst those who crave bang for their buck in a combat sport.
Mayweather, Las Vegas, Nevada, so consciously courts the lowest common denominator, in part, because most of his fights are little more than the song in the credits. Yes, matchmaking plays a role in his uninspiring dominance, but, if we are fair, Mayweather’s pedigree, preparation and professionalism are the true sources of his superiority.
Another exhibition of that superiority was expected Saturday, where the unpolished and plodding Maidana was largely regarded as just another overmatched opponent. His only real hope lay in a purposeful mayhem. So Maidana, Santa Fe, Argentina, bit down and started swinging. He jabbed Mayweather to the ropes and wailed away, ripping wild overhand rights and an assortment of hooks into whatever flesh he found exposed. More often than not, a forearm, glove, or shoulder absorbed the blow, and Mayweather managed to sprinkle in a number of clean counters, but that was to be expected. What was surprising, and undoubtedly encouraging for Maidana, was how Mayweather struggled to escape. At range, Mayweather stung Maidana with jabs, crosses, and lead body shots, but with little more than head movement and a busy jab, Maidana was able to crowd Mayweather back to the ropes and outwork him. However effective Mayweather was at slipping, parrying, and countering inside, he was on the ropes because that is where Maidana, 146 1/2, wanted him. Heading into the second half, the outcome was very much in doubt. And Mayweather, still measuring, puzzling, and uncomfortable, knew it.
Maidana was unable to maintain the same ferocity for the full twelve rounds, however. Fatigue from his own relentlessness combined with Mayweather’s potent bodywork produced a noticeable dip in Maidana’s output after the seventh round. This fading provided Mayweather, 146, with the opportunity to work himself back into the fight. Inside, Mayweather snapped uppercuts into Maidana’s head and ribs, and in those increasingly frequent moments where he could breathe he walked Maidana back with hard, accurate punches. What age has stolen from his legs was never more prevalent than last night, and that toll was exacerbated by Maidana’s pressure, but when defeat loomed largest Mayweather’s precision carried the action. At the end of twelve pitiless rounds, the scores read 114-114, 116-112, 117-111 for Mayweather.
Offering an explanation for his struggles as predictable as it is unpalatable, Mayweather, 46-0 (26), went immediately on damage control, saying that he purposely engaged in a battle the fans wanted. The truth is that, for the first time since he faced Miguel Cotto at junior middleweight, Mayweather’s legs betrayed him some. He remains quick at range, but in close, where he needed leverage to drive Maidana off him, Mayweather laboured. Maidana deserves plenty of credit for getting Mayweather to the ropes, but age played a factor in keeping the 37-year-old there. The question is whether age will become a more significant, even insurmountable, factor as Mayweather races the clock to complete the three remaining fights on his Showtime contract. The first of those remaining three fights appears to be a September rematch with Maidana. Unlike its predecessor, that fight will sell itself: there is a history there, controversy, and most importantly, a compelling nemesis.
That nemesis continues to be a matchmaking miscalculation, which is a designation befitting a fighter with his intangibles. He remains, for all his improvements, primarily a slow-footed slugger; and yet those limited attributes, when complemented by his will and a high-powered offense can drag nearly anyone into a rumble. Moreover, perhaps because he lives in Argentina and does not speak English, Maidana, 35-4 (31), remained unflappable, even unimpressed by the celebrity frenzy that accompanies a Mayweather event. He simply prepared and fought, and while his best was not enough, it was enough to earn Maidana a second crack at the king. Whether that king wants it or not.