Friday, May 3, 2013

The Ghost and Mr. Mayweather

The first weekend in May is not a bad time to be a sports fan.  Baseball is in full swing, hockey and basketball have their playoffs underway and Louisville plays host to a little horse race called the Kentucky Derby. Over the past few years it’s also become the weekend Floyd Mayweather, Jr. brings his flash and bombast to Las Vegas.  In 2007 he beat Oscar De La Hoya, in 2009 it was a washed up Shane Mosley and last year it was Miguel Cotto’s turn to play the antagonist.  This year Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero is the lucky challenger for Floyd’s “May Day” party.

I don't think Guerrero is stong enough to beat Floyd this way.

Guerrero brings a good enough story to the ring. Like Mayweather he keeps the sport inside of the family.  In Guerrero’s case it’s his father Ruben serves as his trainer in the ring and as his hype machine outside of it.  There is also Guerrero’s wife Casey, whose battle with leukemia garners almost as much press as his in the ring accomplishments.

While storylines are nice (and it didn’t take Showtime long to cast Guerrero as the hard-working, school-visiting family man and Mayweather as the money-flashing, theater-renting-out superstar in their “All Access” promotional show) what happens in the ring is really what matters.  Not surprisingly, the devout Guerrero has already cast himself as David to Mayweather’s Goliath. Does the southpaw, who is relatively unknown outside of the boxing world, have what it takes to become the first man to beat Mayweather in the ring?

It would be nice to say yes, but in all likelihood Guerrero will end up as notch number 44 on Mayweather’s march to immortality.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t things to like about the southpaw’s ability as a boxer.  He works well off of his jab, uses both hands and does an excellent job of making contact with his punches.  Watching him throw endless jabs-straight lefts- right hooks against Vincente Escobedo in 2010 was a joy to watch.  As was his early round pummeling of Andre Berto in 2012 (the victory that let him even be in the conversation to be Mayweather’s opponent) showed that he has the power to knock anybody down.

Still….he seems to be a good fighter, heck a really good fighter, but not a great fighter.  And even as Mayweather enters the twilight of his career, it will take a great fighter to beat him.  Guerrero strings his punches together well, but his handspeed isn’t great.  He may have earned the moniker “Ghost” for being elusive in the ring, but that didn’t stop a nearly blind Berto from strafing him with big shots at the end of their fight. 

Yup, that's a damn near blind fighter drilling The Ghost in the face.

Mayweather feasts on his opponents’ weaknesses and Guerrero’s tendency to drop his left hand when he jabs is going to be an opening that the current pound-for-pound best fighter in the world is going to exploit at every opportunity. So the same goes for Guerrero’s habit of backing up stiff-legged from pressure. 

This fight, however, isn’t about how good Guerrero can box. The contest on Saturday is going to be between Mayweather and the effects of time.  He is 36-years-old now. His last fight, a year ago against Miguel Cotto, left him marked up in a way he had never been before. It seems he is resigned to the fact that the six-fight deal he signed with Showtime will mark the end of his boxing career.  Figuring he fights twice a year (once in May and once in November) he will be out of the boxing game by the time he turns 40. Which isn’t a bad thing for a fighter who relies primarily on speed and elusiveness to win fights.

A result of Floyd slowing down or having Bieber in his corner? Discuss.

This is also his first fight after spending a little over two months in jail for a misdemeanor domestic battery charge.  Will the time spent in jail, away from his family, away from his daily routine and the fame he craves have a negative effect on him? Probably not as much as it would other fighters.  The year off between fights isn’t even the longest sabbatical for him. His first “retirement” in 2008 caused a layoff of 20 months which didn’t prevent him from dominating Juan Manuel Marquez upon his return.

The footage on “All Access” seems to support his claims that he is in better shape now than he was for last year’s Cotto fight. There is scene of Mayweather heading to the gym at 1am for his third workout of the day (followed by a Taco Bell run). He also talks about “overtraining” for the Cotto fight and being more “rested” for this fight. Only in boxing would three intense workout sessions be considered a more relaxing way to approach a big moment.

The long held wisdom for beating Mayweather has been to crowd him, bully him and turn it into a street fight.  As Floyd is keen to point out 43 people have tried that already and 43 have failed.  For Guerrero to win this fight he has to be willing to be patient and make Mayweather attack him.  While it won’t make for dynamic television and will elicit more than a few boos from the crowd it’s the smartest way to attack Mayweather.  If Guerrero insists on moving straight in and bombarding him with punches he will end up on the canvas.  He should work his jab, score point and get Mayweather out of his rhythm. It’s no secret that Mayweather is content to win a fight on points – his critics call it running while his supporters claim elusiveness.  Whatever it is, it has been effective for more than two decades for the multiple-belt winning champion.

Can his 36-year-old legs keep up over 12 rounds or will the Ghost be able to track him down?  Can Guerrero resist the urge to mix it up with someone who is faster and better and boxing then he is? Well, that’s why people pay to see the fight even when the favorite is 7-1 in Vegas.