One of the greatest joys of being a die-hard fight fan is that you never know where the best fight of the year is going to come from. It could be the result of two of the best and brightest in a division meeting each other with serious title ramifications, or a collision between a young up-and-comer and a veteran on the way down who isn't quite ready to give up the ghost. But when a great fight materializes, the feeling is unlike anything else. It's part car crash and part feel-good film. You want to call up all your friends but you don't want to miss an instant.
If a few million more people had caught the first boxing match between Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams, or the UFC bout between Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida, the world would have a lot more boxing and MMA fans for life. Unfortunately, the public has a tendency to only grab on to names and so often that ends in disappointment and alienation. Not many people really enjoyed watching an old and wild Mike Tyson get roughed up by Lennox Lewis. Similarly, not many found Saturday night's Fight of the Century to be all they had hoped for.
A sparring session. Salad for the price of steak. The media is full of descriptions for Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao. Some are saying Manny Pacquiao was robbed of a decision, others are saying Mayweather completely out-boxed him. As always, the truth lies between these two hardline views. While the match was not even the greatest bout of the year, let alone the century, it had its moments. If you're looking for it, there is always art to be found inside the fight.
The Low Left Straight
If you read the 3500 word scouting report on the fighters, Killing a King: Mayweather versus Pacquiao, earlier this week you will know the factors which I considered key to the fight. I suggested that Pacquiao's left straight, particularly to the body, would be the keystone punch, and that his ability or inability to cut off the ring would effect the course of the bout greatly. I noted the ease with which he is tied up, and that the referee's attitude to Mayweather's tie-ups in any bout would play as much a factor as the blows thrown.
With the fight over and done, and the heated rivalry between fans seemingly deflated by the uneventful bout, we can review how those factors affected the bout. The first thing to note was that Pacquiao's left straight, when thrown, was remarkably effective. My reason for thinking this might be the case was Mayweather's few past bouts with southpaws, but I noted that the left hand to the body, rather than directed against Mayweather's elusive head, would be the most significant punch for Pacquiao.
This was due to Mayweather's dual dislike for southpaw left straights, and being jabbed in the body by orthodox fighters. Readers will remember that Shane Mosley was able to bring Mayweather's hands down with just a few jabs to the body, before cracking him with a tremendous right hand. Mosley never went back to the tactic, which had rewarded him almost immediately, but it was clearly bothersome for Mayweather.
Pacquiao didn't actually have too much trouble getting Mayweather to the ropes—this wasn't the jogging Mayweather who fought Maidana, or the ultra-mobile Mayweather who out-classed Marquez—but Pacquiao did meet the same problems when he got Mayweather there. As soon as he threw, Mayweather could duck underneath and tie him up.
The left straight to the body proved successful because:
- Mayweather couldn't duck under it.
- The straight blow acted, as a good jab will when it connects, to maintain space between the two fighters, presenting a chance at a follow up blow.
- Mayweather has always been reluctant to drop his right hand or move his right elbow to deal with body blows.
But this brings us to the key point of the fight. Manny Pacquiao overcomplicated his job. The basic southpaw angle is to step the lead foot outside of the opponent's lead foot, lining up the rear shoulder with their centreline and taking your own head past their lead shoulder, into an area of relative safety. This is why the southpaw left straight is such a killer. It has all the utility of the jab, perhaps more in certain cases, but with the power of a full body rotation, the distance to travel and generate force, and a transfer of weight.
You will remember that Oscar De La Hoya was eaten alive by these left straights alone.
Notice Pacquiao's head is outside of De La Hoya's lead shoulder, completely safe, and his left shoulder is lined up with De La Hoya's centreline, reducing the distance the left straight must travel.
We've dissected this idea before. Angles—steps to the left or right—are used to shorten or lengthen the paths of strikes. Shortening strikes makes them faster and more difficult to see coming, lengthening them allows strikes to come in from less commonly used angles and to circumvent defenses.
The Check Hook and the Inside Angle
In recent years, however, Pacquiao has found more of an affinity for the inside angle. This is the new kid on the block in terms of southpaw strategy, you step the 'wrong' way. Rather than stepping outside of the opponent's lead foot, as if to move towards his back, the southpaw steps inside of it. This means a slight move to the left, shortening the path of the southpaw's right hand. Pacquiao uses this to line up powerful right straights—they could be called jabs, but the way he throws his weight into them and torques his hips might make that a misleading term. It's a power punch, have no doubt about it.
This is Pacquiao 101. He'll step to his left side to line up that powerful right straight or uppercut. Against guys like Antonio Margarito, who followed him around the ring, attempting to assert their size advantage, it allowed blistering four or five punch combinations to land. But there has always been a flaw.
Fighting an opponent along the ropes is like holding a bubble underwater. If you overcommit to a side, they will slide out the other. Pacquiao's stepping in to the inside angle along the ropes showed itself to be something of a weakness against Ricky Hatton, though fortunately Hatton was not a tremendously mobile boxer and was already on shaky ground after eating some heavy leather.
This unconventional angle has worked against elite boxers before, but against a boxer with the ringcraft of Mayweather—who is always looking to improve his overall position rather than wasting time in the defending and reacting to single blows, Pacquiao's modus operandi wouldn't cut it.
Against Mayweather, every time Pacquiao stepped in to the left side along the ropes, to set up his right hand, Mayweather would just pivot out. Pacquiao would end up swinging wide with a straight armed right hook to catch up, but it was completely ineffectual.
Mayweather would use a quick left hook, some call it a 'check hook', combined with a pivot to move out of the corner every single time. His textbook raising of the lead shoulder as he did so protected him completely from Pacquiao's wild right hooks. The only times Mayweather really got hit clean where when Pacquiao stepped in on the ordinary southpaw angle, lead foot outside the opponent's, and landed a thudding left straight to the body or sternum.
When those connected, Pacquiao would often have chance to land a second shot to the head as Mayweather recovered his composure and tried to duck out.
Mayweather, meanwhile, had success with his right straight on the outside, and did much good work with his jab, which is always surprising against a southpaw. Using his height and reach advantages expertly, Mayweather pot-shotted at distance and remained in his usual bladed stance—limiting Pacquiao's targets.
The few hurting shots Mayweather took were off of the basic lead hand parry, rear hand straight counter that all southpaws learn on day one.
And that really summarized the fight; the problems which Mayweather experienced in the bout—the left straight to the body, the counter left straight down the pipe—were standard southpaw stuff, done by a truly top-level southpaw. The unusual stuff which Pacquiao has added on and fallen in love with—the right hook, the steps to the inside angle—were the things which proved largely ineffectual.
Mayweather, for his part, looked beautiful in escaping corners. So many fighters get to the ropes, start trying to work their way out, and as soon as they are hit they cover up. Mayweather would get to the ropes, start looking to angle out, and even if he was hit, he would keep angling out and the following punches would miss.
The State of the Clinch in Boxing
A note here must be made about the tie up. Mayweather is a sharp shooter, excelling with long right hand leads and lead left hooks from the outside, and—as many have noted—turns active combination punchers into low output fighters. He does this by limiting the number of exchanges. Much of that is through footwork, a lot of that is also through tying up any time it looks like he might be forced to exchange. A Mayweather opponent must weather right hand leads, body jabs, left hooks and the threat of a tie up on the way to the corner, then as soon as he starts punching, Mayweather will probably duck in on his hips.
The tie up in boxing is a beautiful thing and an appreciable art. It was noticeable that when Mayweather dived in on Pacquiao's hips, the latter was simply tied up. When Pacquiao dived in on Mayweather's hips, Mayweather brought his weight down on the bent over Pacquiao—an image that has caused much joking about Mayweather attempting guillotine chokes in the combat sports community. But tha is the difference between someone who clinches when they have to and someone who wants to clinch—the ability to make the opponent exert himself and carry both participants' weight.
The problem is that, as the rules are currently being enforced, the punch-and-clutcher is heavily favored. If you crack down on the clinch as soon as it happens, no action is missed and you're right back into the fight—especially if you are actually going to penalize 'excessive holding' which is, and always has been, a foul.
If you allow the fighters to work properly from the clinch, as in the days of Rocky Marciano and Henry Armstrong, the fighter who has been tied up can jimmy his head in, free his arms, and start fighting from the clinch with one arm free. Rocky Marciano defeated the brilliant defensive boxer, Ezzard Charles, precisely because Charles would tie Marciano up, but Marciano would be allowed the time to free an arm and start hitting.
Notice how Marciano uses his head to hold Charles away while he snakes his arms free. A beautiful, technical movement that is completely irrelevant today. Also note the downward chop to the back of the head which Marciano sneaks in, disgusting but effective.
I adore the infight and the old fashioned attitude of officials towards the clinch. Watching those Henry Armstrong and Marciano bouts makes me wonder what boxing would be like today if fighters had to learn to infight or “fight out of it”, rather than simply dive for the hips and tie up, or get tied up and then wait for the break. It used to be that diving into a clinch was to take the fight into a different, more grueling dynamic. Now it is simply a way out of actually fighting.
Mayweather's intention with the clinch is to avoid an exchange, get off the ropes, and burn time in a round where he has landed a few blows and his opponent has landed less. If a referee allows the clinch for a few seconds, calls a break, and spends a few more seconds warning the clincher without ever actually taking a point, he is giving the man who clinches every advantage.
This is what Kenny Bayless did. Warning after warning was issued, burning time and accomplishing nothing, and yet Bayless never took a point from either man for anything. Bayless even went to the Mayweather corner in between rounds and asked Mayweather to please stop driving his elbow down on the back of Pacquiao's head in clinches, and was pretty much ignored.
Accusations against Bayless in the aftermath of the bout aren't helped by Bayless' complete inconsistency on tie ups through Pacquiao and Mayweather's matches. When Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto easily tied Pacquiao up after getting rocked with punches, Bayless immediately broke them. When Mayweather was rocked by the same Shane Mosley, Bayless allowed extensive clinching until Mayweather had recovered. And the less said about the holding clinic which Mayweather – Maidana II turned into under Bayless supervision, the better for him.
The disappointment which viewers felt with Bayless can be summed up in exchanges like this one. Mayweather ties up, though Pacquiao still has a hand free to work, Bayless moves in, and while his intervention is almost immediate, it somehow takes the best part of ten seconds as he throws out another meaningless warning. For those who like to throw out stats—and that was every single broadcast team on Saturday—that's six percent of a round lost in that one clinch.
It was a close bout, no one was shown up, and that perhaps disappointed the many fans who had so fervently believed that one fighter or the other was going to get destroyed. But then, neither fighter has mustered a knockout in years, so it seemed unlikely it would happen now.
Pacquiao's continued attempts to swarm on Mayweather did him no favours. On the occasions he caught Mayweather along the ropes before the latter could pivot off, Pacquiao would throw wild hooks and look to flurry.
Were Pacquiao to focus, instead, on the type of work he had done with his left straight against Oscar De La Hoya, and particularly the left straight to the body and that venomous double rear straight which is so effective in southpaw vs orthodox engagements, he probably could have worn Mayweather down or outpointed him.
Certainly, at no point did Mayweather show a zeal for countering that left straight to the body. But then, Mayweather's great skill is in convincing his opponents to swing at his head, to rush, and to miss, making them look clumsy and a step behind him—and he did that against Pacquiao superbly.
Yet with a guaranteed three hundred million dollars each for Pacquiao and Mayweather off of this bout, and casual fans being drawn in easily by name power, I suspect we will see a rematch. No other fight is going to be nearly as profitable now. Pacquiao's excuses about an injured shoulder have already started boxing fans on a Groundhog Day spiral into Manny versus Floyd II hypotheticals.
All I will say is that I am glad I got to watch WBO champion Vasyl Lomachenko put on a clinic of truly exciting, technical southpaw boxing earlier in the night as my reward for staying up. The Ukrainian's movement was superb as he repeatedly spun out to his opponent's left side (classic southpaw strategy) and landed a left uppercut into a winging right hook over the back of the head as his man pivoted.
This time with that left straight to the body. Such an under-rated punch.
Certainly, Lomachenko can go the rest of his life claiming that he had the best fight on the night of the 'Fight of the Century'.
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