Saturday, September 13, 2014

:boxing: Quick Pick:: Mayweather vs Maidana II

Last time we were here for Mayweather-Maidana, I picked Floyd Mayweather, Jr. to win, not so much because his skill set or him being a better fighter, but because Marcos Maidana posed more questions than definitive answers as to whether he could truly upend the fighter with his own formidable toolset and skills. Their fateful May 3rd encounter developed those answers as the Argentine gave the American all he could handle with a smothering assault and making him fight less characteristically.

While it was a very close bout that saw Mayweather as the eventual winner by majority decision, some thought Maidana was the victor. I was among those that did, but the thought of who won that kind of a fight fell more on what one's ideology of a successful fight plan is. It was very close (a mix of what one did and didn't do on both sides) and I did not have too much of a gripe about Mayweather--of whom I do not hold in as high esteem as others do--winning it.

The rematch has arrived very quickly, but I do not foresee much changing in either's gameplan beyond a tightening of was done just four months ago: Mayweather's orthodox style, finessed skills, and superior speed vs. Maidana's no-respect-given (but still smart) pressuring style, unorthodox movements, and greater power. This time, however, expect a more aggressive Mayweather to be on the attack more instead of boarding up the storefront and using his agility more. Maidana, on the other hand, will likely not look too different from last time, but will possibly seek out an even more assertive stand against Mayweather and tightening his haymakers more so not as to waste his shots (and chances) as before.

As this is the sequel to a previous bout and one already has a decent idea of what to expect from two individuals with fight games that vary little from match to match, picking a winner should prove to be an easier endeavor this time around.

Not quite.

One of the chief intrigues this time is that between both fighters, only Mayweather has ever fought the same person twice, last in 2002--defeating Jose Luis Castillo once more after a bout earlier in the year that some believed he should have lost (myself included, though others believe he won the first and lost the second…). Tonight's rematch twelve years forward bears some of the same marks as the last, but while Mayweather had a better grasp of Castillo and a better, more conclusive outing against him (who did not look as good as he did months earlier), the conditions for Maidana II are not quite the same.

Beyond that rematch being over a decade ago, there is not as much for Mayweather to ameliorate vs Maidana as there was vs. Castillo. Outside of being far too pensive, he did not stray too far from what he has been doing all these years. If anything, it might be more beneficial for him to take the offensive more and use his speed and accuracy to take away some of Maidana's assault.

Another difference is that Maidana, with his solid trainer Robert Garcia, has more of an upside against him than Castillo did in terms of physical attributes, ring smarts, and fighting style. Maidana is capable of fighting a more disciplined--and thus, more effective--fight and had he done so, he would have likely won the first bout. His room for error correction and growth is greater than that of Mayweather's. As blasphemous as it might sound to some, Maidana has a better chance of winning the rematch than Mayweather does.

Therein, however, lies the other side of the complication: Maidana has never had rematch in his professional career, even after his three previous losses. It will be intriguing to see how he will fight and react against someone that not only has fought him before, but has an idea of how he clicks and what works and doesn't work against him. Will Maidana switch gameplans (much less use the previous one) if he looks ineffective early on? Will he be any more aggressive or add a more technical layer on top (will that be to his detriment)? Garcia will be there to crack the whip and Maidana is mentally tough, but the Mayweather of May will likely not be the Mayweather of September and will try to make it a more slick and complex fight as he tries to out-skill him.

As stated, I do not expect tonight's match to depart too much from the previous one, with Maidana being the aggressor and Mayweather keeping his defensive and picking off Maidana when he can. This time, however, Maidana will likely fight tighter, but more vociferously, still forcing Mayweather to the ropes but looking to dominate away from them more, as well (just don't be surprised if he reverts to "Old Maidana" fairly quick). Mayweather, on the other hand, will likely be more offensive-minded and assertive in his own right and elect to trade with short, pinpoint flurries before moving away from Maidana's counter. Yet, things went and didn't go according to plan for anyone last time…

Prediction: Maidana, UD. I thought Maidana would have a better chance at beating Mayweather than the other way around in a rematch and I do not see anything changing that (with a razor-thin UD, maybe closer to a split decision given it is in Las Vegas again…). Mayweather is capable of giving Maidana a frustrating night and has enough underrated power that, if pushed (i.e. disrespected a la Ricky Hatton and Victor Ortiz) could feasibly knock down or take out Maidana with a good, stiff, quick shot (perhaps no KD, but "Mayweather, UD" if he has his night).

That said, I could say the same thing about Maidana, who stands a better shot at making it a rough night for Mayweather and potentially catching him with a game-changing shot (though Mayweather may have the better chin). Regardless, it should be better fought on both sides, with Maidana putting down the peddle and making sure Mayweather does not escape him this time…


Outcome: Mayweather, UD. Looks like the counter-prediction rang truer, with Mayweather frusterating Maidana with his skill and movement…and apparently much holding and running around. That's not too surprising given how the first fight went, but it sounds like referee Kenny Bayless allowed the clinching to happen (which isn't terribly surprising in the larger picture). As for Maidana, it sounds like Murphy's Law had a better night than he did, as he was apparently less aggressive this time, Mayweather had his way, allegedly bit his hand at one point (?!), and was deducted a point late for shoving him down. That sounded a lot like the really bad old Maidana, who I thought was finally vanquished after the Devon Alexander fight, but I guess we will see come the eventual replay…

Final Thoughts: Walking to the ring, Floyd Mayweather looked serious and very focused, as if determined to do a better job this time around versus Marcos Maidana. Once the bell sounded--and throughout much of the bout--however, he did not do anything remarkable in it. Certainly, he dodged and moved around more to prevent from setting up his offense and used his technical abilities to outwork him, but the increased mobility (which sometimes resembled running) only came every other round (sometimes looking as if he wanted to avoid fighting Maidana altogether and run some clock off). His offense was very basic, as well (jab, couple of hooks, a few speedy combos)and with the amount of clinching he employed, he looked to do just enough to survive and win--which was basically all he had to do with the way Maidana fought.

With the level of success Maidana had against Mayweather in May, it would seem that approaching him again would just require better accuracy and more controlled aggression to help ensure a more definitive outcome. With his capable trainer, the plan seemed ripe for deployment, but rather, an opposite approach was taken. Against his better instinct, he tried to fight technically in the center of the ring with a fighter that built his fame on fighting technically. Someone who built his career on pressuring and brawling and is not as adept at technical fighting has no business attempting such a feat. Perhaps it was fueled by Mayweather's success in the middle of the ring and his own uncouth offense in the past meeting, but Maidana was more measured and cautious from the start and elected to face Mayweather on his favorable ground more often than his own.

Of course, when such a situation occurs, the fighter is destined to lose, and once Maidana came out the way he did in the first round, the fight was over. Not helping Maidana's case was his skinnier and less-than-toned shape, and his questionable energy level in the mid-late rounds. That is nothing to say of the laughable biting incident in the 8th or the shove down point deduction in the 10th. Kenny Bayless is usually one of the better referees in the sport, but it was not one of his best nights, either, taking a too hands-on approach with the preceding and breaking up too many of the close exchanges (particularly against the ropes) and one-arm clinches without letting the two fight out of them (all key to what gave Maidana an advantage in the previous fight, and in addition to Mayweather not being warned for his clinching and the fight taking place in Las Vegas, well…that's another post for another day…)

The Mayweather vs Maidana series played off like a two-parter in reverse. Maidana fought like a guy in the first fight who knew he underperformed and missed an opporitunity in the previous bout and was looking to rectify that mistake in the second outing--only in this case, that "previous match" is actually what happened in the sequel! Mayweather did what he had to to survive and win, but did not look very inspiring, or altogether different. He did not win the fight so much by taking complete control of it as much as Maidana doing nothing to grab the reins. Essentially, he was the winner by default, and only the latter has himself to blame for that.

However, with his choice of tactics, piecemeal pacing, and his body language in the latter portion of both fights, this fight may have been the first time that Mayweather has truly looked old. Yet, in spite of his level of vulnerability, Maidana let him off the hook with his own level of blase. Both seemed to be channeling their inner Erislandy Lara: for Maidana, it was overplanning and taking unnecessary steps when he had the right blueprint in front of him, and for Mayweather, it was doing the bare minimum and being overly protective in seeking a win when he could have easily made an emphatic statement with an uneasy opponent. To give him credit, though, after the fight, he was honest with his "C-" self-assessment and acknowledging he could have done better. If only Maidana was that reflective afterwards, erroneously believing he should have won the match…

The rumor mill has been rolling about with news of Mayweather having two fights left in him and maybe a third Maidana bout. The only way the latter would look attractive is if there was a guarantee that Maidana will do what he could have done in the second (only glimpsed in the fourth round of that fight) and take it all to Mayweather. For the former, Amir Khan and Danny Garcia have been listed as strong possibilities. If so, I would be banking on Khan if he hadn't regressed as he had in the past few years and paired himself with Virgil Hunter. Garcia, on the other hand is a real wildcard, being very solid in his deceptively ordinary way, but who also had an un-scintillating encounter with a very tricky Mauricio Herrera, doing nothing to dissuade notions  of how he would hang with a Mayweather-type fighter. The path looks a bit clearer for Garcia following Mayweather's latest performance, but it is by no means a lock.

In conclusion, Mayweather-Maidana II was not as bad as public opinion declared, but nonetheless, "ho-hum" is the one term that could succinctly define it. It was not a total bore or sloppy, but it was not exciting or even mildly fulfilling, either. Both combatants did not fully rise to the occasion in both outings in different degrees each time. Mayweather has a good reason to look towards hanging up his gloves, while Maidana has plenty of good match-ups to be placed in, including a revisit to his heralded brawl with Khan, Ruslan Prodvodnikov, fellow Argentinian Lucas Matthysee, Timothy Bradley and Danny Garcia. Regardless of the lackluster sequel's outcome, the light-/ welterweight division remains a bright spot in boxing.

P.S.: (…But this fight was for belts in both divisions? Um, ok, didn't know that could be done but it doesn't sound right/ethical, either…)

[UPDATE (09/26/14): "Final Thoughts" added.]

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