Is Floyd Mayweather unbeatable?
After dismantling Saul "Canelo" Alvarez over the course of 12 rounds on Saturday, he's making an awfully good case for a definitive "yes." And, never bashful, he'll be the first person to tell you that beating him in the ring is highly unlikely.
“Of course I feel unbeatable,” Mayweather said in a media call earlier this year. “I’m the best. I’m not going into any fight figuring that I’m beatable. Anything is possible in life, but as far as my career, I feel I can adapt to anything.”
Others aren't quite so sure. Boxing history is filled with champions who looked like they would never lose. With a single exception, undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, they've always met defeat.
Sometimes age has been the culprit, costing a fighter precious speed and power. Think Roy Jones, losing a step, and consciousness, against the unheralded Antonio Tarver.
On other occasions, a great champion just meets his match, coming face to face with a fighter with the particular style to beat him. Here consider slugger Jack Dempsey, beaten by the exacting science of Gene Tunney in 1926 and 1927.
Mayweather, at least according to critics, is bound to run into his particular kryptonite at some point.
In boxing, the difference between success and failure can often be measured in inches. Eventually, or so it is supposed, those thin margins will catch up with Mayweather too. It's just a matter of cracking the code.
"You don't crack Mayweather's style by trying to outspeed him or trying to counter him. When Mayweather wants to throw, you throw," former Mayweather opponent Oscar De La Hoya told Ring Magazine (subscription required).
De La Hoya was the last fighter to really challenge Mayweather, losing a split decision in 2007. He says the key to success is to get into position and then simply outpunch him. Mayweather can be defeated—if you refuse to let him get in your head and beat you mentally before the bout even begins:
Floyd's a guy that throws one or two punches at a time. He will not throw three and four punch combinations. He really only fights about 30 seconds of each round. You have to make him work longer than those 30 seconds, but you also need to throw your punches when he's throwing.
Of course, no one had more success against Mayweather than Jose Luis Castillo. In their first fight in 2002, for the undisputed lightweight championship of the world, Castillo was ahead on many people's scorecards when the bout ended.
He landed 203 punches to Mayweather's 157, including 107 more power punches. The crowd booed lustily when the winner was announced. But their opinion mattered less than that of the official ringside scorekeepers, all of whom scored the bout for Mayweather.
Grantland's Erik Raskin says, even in defeat, Castillo created a blueprint for success against Mayweather:
If you’re willing to eat some punches, including the counters that you open yourself up to when you focus on banging Mayweather’s body, you can get things done against him — even in the center of the ring, where Mayweather theoretically wants to be at all times. You have to get close, which Mayweather will allow because he’s confident in his defensive skills, keep punching, and not worry about landing everything.
Castillo was also willing to mix it up with Mayweather, taking advantage of a nearly 10-pound weight advantage and fighting dirty and aggressively—but not recklessly, as Bad Left Hook's Scott Christ pointed out:
Castillo got in Floyd's head from the get-go in this fight...Team Mayweather expected a guy that was going to come full throttle, try to make it a barroom brawl. They could have countered and outboxed that guy all night.
Instead, for as rough as Castillo wanted it to be inside, he boxed in this fight. He moved Floyd around, trapped him constantly, and made good use of his power advantage when he had a chance to throw some big shots. He didn't headhunt; the vast majority of his good work went to the body.
It's no coincidence that Castillo and De La Hoya both had the most success against Mayweather. Both were significantly bigger in the ring than Floyd and used that to their advantage, taking blows from Mayweather if it meant they could wail away at the body.
Alvarez had the same edge, but he couldn't get it done. His tremendous weight advantage, 15 pounds according to Showtime's unofficial fight-night scale, made no difference at all.
Mayweather's movement was so precise, his feet so fleet, that it didn't matter that Alvarez was bigger and stronger. He couldn't catch him to make that size pay off.
What was most remarkable was Mayweather's willingness to stand and trade with Alvarez. He stood in the pocket with Alvarez—and the bigger man still couldn't catch him. The keys to Mayweather's success are his timing and boxing IQ. Goliath is never going to beat this David. It will take like to beat like.
Instead of a giant, Mayweather's toughest test will come from someone with the speed and boxing acumen to match him in a game of physical chess. The next great challenger for Mayweather, the man to kill the king, will be a smaller fighter coming up in weight, someone just as fast and sharp as he is.
The question is, does such a man even exist?
Adrien Broner has shown the potential to match Mayweather move for move and punch for punch. Amir Khan, likewise, has the speed and boxing prowess to take it to Mayweather. And Mayweather, a light puncher, isn't likely to test Khan's glass jaw, by far his biggest weakness.
Can either man beat him? Will they even get the chance to try? It will be fun finding out as Mayweather finishes out the final four fights of a Showtime deal that should take him into 2015.
By then the champion will be 38. Will Father Time finally beat him on the cards? Or will he retire undefeated and walk into boxing history as one of the best ever to walk into the squared circle?
No one can say for sure. But after his dismantling of Canelo Alvarez, you'd be foolish to bet against him.