Before Saturday night's fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, no one in his or her right mind would have envisioned the awkward slugger Marcos Maidana holding his hands high over his head after the bout against Floyd Mayweather in legitimate assertion that he won the fight.
This fight wasn't supposed to be close.
But Mayweather, age 37, only defeated Maidana, age 30, by majority decision in what turned out to be his toughest scrap since his back-to-back fights with Jose Luis Castillo in 2002. Judge Michael Pernick called the fight with Maidana a draw, 114-114. Burt A. Clements had Mayweather the winner, 117-111, while Dave Moretti scored it 116-112 for the same.
The fight was thrilling, rough and oh so close. Despite the two wide scores for Mayweather by Clements and Moretti, the prevailing view from those sitting ringside and those watching from the comfort of their homes was one thing: the fight could have been scored a win for either fighter.
Few likely sneered when Maidana said (via USA Today's Bob Velin) after the fight, "I thought I won the fight. I feel like (the decision) was an injustice."
According to the CompuBox screen graphic used by Showtime on last night's pay-per-view, Maidana threw twice as many punches as Mayweather over the 12 rounds, 858 to 426, but was outlanded 230-221. As usual, Mayweather was absurdly accurate in power punches, landing 178 of 274, while Maidana had to throw them in bunches to land 185 of 540.
According to MLive.com's Josh Slagter, Maidana landed more hits on the superstar defender than had ever been tracked by CompuBox.
"If it seemed like Floyd Mayweather was getting hit more than usual, that's because it really was happening," Slagter wrote. "CompuBox has now tracked 38 of Mayweather's 46 professional victories, and says Marcos Maidana's 221 punches landed Saturday night is the most of any fighter."
But was Maidana just a lot better than everyone expected? Or is Mayweather not what he used to be?
The answer lies somewhere in between.
First and foremost, an immense amount of credit is due to Maidana and his team. Trainer Robert Garcia has transformed Maidana from a simple slugger to an awkward-but-skilled attacker. Maidana has a sharp jab, and he doesn't simply rush into the fray without feinting or stepping away first.
The Argentine is a very good fighter. He throws hard punches from unorthodox angles and appears to have hit his physical peak. He's a tough out for anybody at 147.
But Garcia, or any other trainer for that matter, can't add something to a fighter that isn't really already there. All they can do is help bring that something out. Maidana possesses a willingness to tussle in close and a hard punch that few can match. Garcia has brought it out of him in its fullest measure.
Maidana doesn't have terribly fast feet or hands, though, and that's why Mayweather was able to survive the fight with his unblemished record intact.
And of Mayweather? He's simply not the same.
Oh, sure, he's still great. He's remained undefeated this long for a reason. Moreover, it takes a special type of fortitude to withstand an onslaught like the one Maidana threw at him on Saturday and live to tell about it.
But the old Mayweather is gone. He's now officially started the slow slide down the mountain, and he will never be as young or as fast or as wonderful a fighter as he's been in the past.
That's life, and boxers have it rougher than any of us.
The good thing for Mayweather, of course, is that his style is precisely one that goes gently into the good night. Mayweather has always been a superb technician, and he is one of the hardest workers in the history of the sport.
It's conceivable, then, that he would maintain his perch atop the pound-for-pound lists until he decides to retire. He's just that good, and he showed against Maidana that he still possesses a lethal and adaptable craft to pull out a win when his back is against the wall. As ESPN's Brian Campbell notes, "One that saw Mayweather, by landing 54 percent of his punches overall and 65 percent of his power shots, prove once again why even in his supposed twilight, he’s still the best in the game."
Next up for Mayweather should be a rematch with Maidana. The slugger gave Mayweather his hardest fight in years and deserves another pay day at least.
Should the bout happen in September as is expected, Mayweather will likely win by a wider margin this time. Maidana threw everything he had at Mayweather on Saturday but couldn't sink the ship. Mayweather is sure to change some things the second time around. He's too smart to go into the second fight unprepared.
But after that, can Mayweather avoid high-risk fights against younger, stronger and hungrier opponents? Or will his lucrative contract with Showtime force him to eventually bite off more than his aging body can chew?
It will be fun to find out.
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