Last night at the MGM Grand, Floyd Mayweather narrowly outpointed Marcos Maidana in 2014’s biggest event to date, “The Moment.” It was a frenetic and entertaining bout which headlined a card featuring popular welterweights Amir Khan and Adrien Broner. Dubbed “The Moment” for reasons known only to Richard Schaefer’s promotional team, Mayweather vs Maidana did have some terrific moments, and exceeded the pessimistic expectations of fight fans who are used to, and rather bored by, Floyd’s surgical dismantling of carefully picked opponents. Maidana’s sheer aggression prevented “Money” from fighting on his own terms, and several times he made Mayweather look surprisingly vulnerable. For once, fans were treated to a Floyd Mayweather fight in which the outcome remained uncertain until the final bell.
First, some thoughts on the undercard: In his first fight since December’s painful loss to Maidana, Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner (28-1) earned a unanimous decision over Carlos Molina (17-2). The match was held at light-welterweight – a division lower than Broner’s last bout – and despite Molina’s best efforts, it was a fairly easy time for Broner, and one that followed the trajectory of so many previous bouts. “The Problem” started slowly, throwing infrequent potshots, and then by the middle rounds effectively set himself up in the middle of the ring where he dictated the pace in his methodical manner.
Molina simply didn’t have the power to earn Broner’s respect, and at times became lulled by his opponent’s sluggish style. Broner seems fundamentally opposed to upping his work rate, which will doom him against bigger punchers (as it did against Maidana). Despite his fast hands, Broner is not a true puncher, and will only keep more powerful opponents at bay by throwing more. He refuses to do this, though, perhaps because he’s confused about what sort of boxer he is. Ultimately, this fight didn’t tells us anything new. Broner is a beneficiary of circumstance: pretty but fragile, he boxes beautifully when the conditions are right, but if opposed by a strong wind he becomes a flower stripped of its petals.
In the co-main event Amir Khan (29-3) outpointed Luis Collazo (35-5) in a sloppy and difficult fight in which Collazo was knocked down three times. Khan was making his welterweight debut, and fighting for the first time since beating Julio Diaz a year ago. In his time away, he committed himself to refining his boxing skills by improving his footwork, balance, and in-ring decision-making, elements that hurt him in the past and exposed his notoriously weak chin. However, Khan vs. Molina was not a graceful fight, as there was a lot of holding, clinching, timeouts, and empty warnings from referee Vic Drakulich, who didn’t exactly do a fine job. Despite being the more explosive fighter, Khan was guilty of many of these offenses, and repeatedly lunged into Collazo and pushed his head down. This might be one of Khan’s stylistic changes – to fight dirtier and at closer proximity where he won’t be vulnerable to huge shots. It worked last night, and however homely the bout was, he earned a unanimous decision over an experienced opponent.
The main event was preceded by a ring walk from bunch of circus performers. I love theatricality, but failed to see its stylistic relevance. When Floyd came to the ring accompanied by Lil’ Wayne and Justin Bieber, these various modes of showmanship seemed disconnected, as if the promotional team thought that by incorporating as many gimmicks as possible, regardless of their linkages, they would cover the entertainment quota required of a spectacle. The result was forced.
When we finally got past the pomp, against all expectations, the main event easily became the card’s most exciting fight. As he did against Adrien Broner, Maidana (35-4) began relentlessly, pushing Floyd (46-0) into the ropes and throwing huge looping punches. Some of these got through, and Mayweather was forced to swivel in his shoulder roll, unused to such ferocious barrages. The pace did not abate, as Robert Garcia’s plan was for ‘Chino’ to throw one hundred punches per round. Watching Floyd get bullied by someone with no respect for his skills was an unusual sight, and the crowd–which included thousands of Argentines–exulted in Mayweather’s discomfort. Maidana came into the fight seventeen pounds heavier than Floyd, and used this extra weight to push “Money” back. Floyd’s advantages in speed, experience, defensive acumen, and savvy could do little to subdue Maidana’s aggression, and through the first five rounds the Argentine was the better man.
When an opponent presents Floyd with a problem, he typically finds a solution after a few rounds. Maidana is so stylistically awkward, though, that Floyd couldn’t find a rhythm or comfortable distance from which to exert control. In this sense, last night was similar to his first scrap with Jose Luis Castillo, when the Mexican’s uneven, awkward style mixed badly with Mayweather’s technical mastery. Midway through last night’s fight, and bleeding for the first time in his career from an accidental headbutt, Floyd made the stylistic adjustments necessary to (somewhat) subdue Maidana. Specifically, he began to command the center of the ring, where he made use of his jab, which repeatedly found Maidana’s lower stomach, and he also began to throw his right hand more liberally. Floyd’s accuracy was remarkable: despite throwing half of Maidana’s punches, he had a narrow edge in blows landed. (He did miss wildly with a couple of shots, a rare sight that was further proof of the desperate mindset Maidana had put him in).
In the last few rounds, with the fight agonizingly close, Floyd managed to outpoint “Chino” by landing cleaner shots. It’s easy to dismiss Maidana as crude, but he’s improved considerably as a boxer. Even when throwing his overhand right and fighting with the abandon of a street tough, he showed technical development, as his defense and jab were sharper last night than ever before. This ensured the fight would be competitive until the end. Even though he threw 858 shots, Maidana didn’t punch himself out, and was still coming forward late. While its control had been ceded to Floyd, the bout was close enough that the championship rounds were genuinely dramatic.
Mayweather won a majority decision, with scores of 114-144, 116-112, and 117-11. The last two are difficult to stomach, particularly the 117-111 result, which is, in a word, absurd. Floyd won the fight, but his margin of victory was closer than these wide gulfs suggest. He appeared visibly nervous when the decision was read, and didn’t even raise his hands when deemed the victor. Afterwards, Maidana said that as the true winner he would grant Floyd a rematch. While the judges deemed Floyd’s precision more important than Maidana’s volume, the Argentine’s effort and execution were exceptional.
Adrien Broner is a winner again, but he will struggle against the best welterweights until he rounds out his boxing skills. It’s unlikely this will happen, though, since he seems to possess a delusional belief in his imitative style, which will be easily solved by hard-punching 140 pounders like Lucas Matthysse and Danny Garcia.
Amir Khan made a successful debut at welterweight, and it will be interesting to see where he goes next. Fighters don’t typically make complete stylistic overhauls mid-career, and Khan, however improved or more tactical, will remain a fighter blessed with terrific athletic gifts, but plagued by bad habits. Like everyone else, he wants a piece of Floyd Mayweather, but that’s unlikely to happen soon.
The night’s biggest winner was certainly Marcos Maidana, who proved he’s a more competent welterweight than most of us believed. He’s made huge improvements under Robert Garcia, and brings a formidable package into the ring, which combines power, some cagey boxing skills, and savage aggression. His performance endeared him to boxing fans outside of Argentina, which is a tremendous boon for his career. He’s now a true welterweight star and should, hopefully, get a rematch with Mayweather.
Floyd Mayweather showed boxing fans he’s capable of dealing with a hellion and there is clearly huge interest in a rematch if Floyd wants to make his bank account even more robust. The toll of this style of fight must be considerable for a 37-year-old though, particularly for one whose most marked characteristic is caution. Tellingly, when the fight was over there seemed to be more relief, and less jubilation, in his corner than in fights past. Floyd looked weary, as if he’d been forced to confront the reality that what he does for a living can be exceedingly hard when things don’t go as planned. He still won, but not without paying a considerable physical price. No matter the wages, working as a professional prizefighter takes a vicious toll. How frequently Floyd wishes to confront this reality will determine how he winds down his career. — Robert Portis