August 25, 2017
LAS VEGAS — A devilish grin crept across Floyd Mayweather’s face, because he’s heard it before. Too many times, in fact. How he can’t punch. How his shots feel more like pinpricks than actual punches from a supposed world-class fighter. He’s been boxing since he was three years old, the gloves dangling from his sides, almost as big as he was then.
Punching power, speed, and accuracy to Mayweather is cataloged and filed under muscle memory. It's always there.
Mayweather is this generation’s best boxer and he is 49-0, with 26 knockouts. Granted, he hasn’t stopped anyone in six years – not since Victor Ortiz made the foolish mistake of letting his hands down and “Money” nailed him in the face during the fourth round of their WBC welterweight title fight on September 17, 2011 – but that doesn't mean Mayweather's punches don't hurt.
On Saturday, in what will be more spectacle than boxing match, Mayweather stands a very good chance of breaking that six-year, seven-fight knockout rut when he faces mixed martial arts superstar and UFC champion Conor McGregor, the strutting, mouthy Irishman who swears he’s going to crush Mayweather, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, in a 12-round, 154-pound bout, fighting with eight-ounce gloves.
Throughout the promotion, and in the media, McGregor has been portrayed in general as the heavier puncher, though he’s never had one second of professional boxing experience, whereas Mayweather has been depicted more as basically what he is, a defensive genius with fast hands, whose off-the-charts boxing acumen can easily detect an opponent’s flaws and exploit it within a few rounds.
But the truth may be somewhat different.
“I’m not 49-0 for nothing,” Mayweather said. “Look at who I faced in my career, the best – Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo Alvarez – and I beat them all. I must have something going in these hands for me to be able to beat them.
“I know the game is to hit and not be hit, but if you can’t hurt [your opponent] when you hit [him], you won’t be any good. I know I’m the best because I can hurt people. I know I don’t get much credit for it, but so what? The results speak for themselves. If I couldn’t crack an egg with my punches, do you think I’d be where I am today? Probably not. But let them keep thinking that. It’s the same mistake they all make — and it’s a mistake Conor will make too.”
There is a difference between the way MMA fighters like McGregor throw punches and the way pro boxers do it.
Mayweather has what could be defined as “stinging power.” It’s not enough to knock anyone out with one shot, as Mike Tyson used to do, but it has respectable pop that will make opponent’s think before they step into the 40-year-old fighter's punching zone.
If anyone can relate to that, it’s Sugar Ray Leonard.
The 1976 Olympic gold medalist and all-time great had almost the same reputation as Mayweather, deemed a “pretty boy” with little power. Leonard supposedly won on speed — and throughout most of his career, he did.
But there was some power in his punches, and that couldn’t have been more apparent than when Leonard fought Tommy Hearns the first time in the “Showdown,” on September 16, 1981 at Caesars Palace in Paradise, Nevada, to unify the world welterweight championship in a scheduled fifteen-rounder.
It’s the famous fight in which legendary trainer Angelo Dundee uttered the resonating phrase to Sugar Ray between rounds 12 and 13:
You’re blowing it now, son! You’re blowing it!
“And I was,” said Leonard, who came back to win a 14-round TKO over Hearns. “Like Floyd, no one ever gave me any credit for my punching power, but the world saw it the first time I fought Tommy. I like to say that there comes pain with speed. You hit someone fast enough, that pressure makes an impact, and that impact will make anyone think.
“In my first fight with Tommy, the roles were reserved. He played the boxer, and I played the stalker. But I proved in that fight that I could hurt you. People think Conor McGregor is the stronger man going into this fight. He’s the bigger man, but I don’t know if he’s the stronger man. If he thinks he’s going to walk down Floyd Mayweather, his face will pay an awfully steep price for that attitude. Floyd’s punches hurt. He wouldn’t be 49-0 if they didn’t.”
Another great, who preceded both Leonard and Mayweather, wasn’t really considered a strong puncher, either, and that’s Muhammad Ali.
“If he couldn’t punch, he wouldn’t have beaten me,” admitted Hall of Famer George Foreman about “The Greatest.” “Ali didn’t have that one-punch power, but he did hit you with fast punches, and if those punches hit you in the right area, you’ll feel it and the next thing you know, you’re looking up at him.
“Mayweather is like that. People underestimate how hard he hits and the other thing I think they underestimate is how tough he is. He doesn’t take many shots, because you can’t hit him. But the one time he did get rocked, he knew how to react.”
That one time came against Shane Mosley, when a hard right hand rocked Mayweather with precisely 2:05 left in the second round during their May 1, 2010 fight. Mayweather took the shot and then went on to win almost every second of every round after that.
“Floyd’s tougher, there’s no two ways about it,” said Paulie Malignaggi, who sparred twice with McGregor and will be part of the Showtime Pay-Per-View broadcast team alongside blow-by-blow man Mauro Ranallo and color analyst Al Bernstein. “I’ll tell you this, Conor is intense, but he’s also not the bravest guy. When things don’t go his way, you see a little fold in him. He’s a typical bully.
“He’s never been hit before from someone like Floyd Mayweather.”
Follow Joe on Twitter: @JSantoliquito
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports