Floyd Mayweather’s defensive wizardry

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LAS VEGAS – MAY 01: (R-L) Shane Mosley throws a right to the head of Floyd Mayweather Jr. as Mayweather Jr. dodges it during the welterweight fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Floyd Mayweather is the greatest defensive boxer of his generation. Join us as we examine the system that has made him near untouchable against boxing greats.

Floyd Mayweather will face Conor McGregor in the latter’s first professional boxing match on Aug. 26.  While McGregor demonstrated impressive business savvy in convincing Mayweather to take the fight, he is woefully unprepared to deal with what will happen as soon as the bell rings and the two step out to meet one another in the ring.

Mayweather is a technical marvel in many areas, but the one that stands out from the others is his unparalleled defensive prowess.  He’s faced some of the greatest boxers and punchers of his generation, and each of them has found him incredibly difficult to hit clean, and flat out impossible to do so enough to win rounds consistently.

Despite McGregor’s intense self-belief, dedication, and elite skill as a martial artist, he has never come close to facing an opponent with such a complex, meticulously developed defensive system, perfectly tailored to the context of boxing.  Mayweather also has the benefit of learning from a lineage of successful boxers who are now passing on their systems to the next generation, something that is less available in a developing sport like MMA.

The first thing to note about Mayweather as a boxer is that he plays the percentages masterfully. Every action Mayweather takes is designed to bolster his position and broaden his lead on the scorecards while exposing him to as little risk as possible. If a boxing match is a negotiation between two men, Floyd is a master negotiator, seizing leverage over his opponent early and exploiting it for everything it’s worth.

Mayweather accomplishes this by ensuring that every exchange he permits is uneven. If his opponent attacks him on the outside, Mayweather will force him to cover just enough distance to expose himself to a counter as Mayweather pulls his head out of the way. When they try to crowd him, he’ll control their head, posture, and arms to make sure they can’t land their intended weapons. If Mayweather’s opponent steps into the pocket, Mayweather will retreat or smother their distance unless he has a dominant angle, which gives him a built-in advantage in the exchange.

If you ask fans why they love boxing, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who responds that they enjoy seeing fighters limiting exchanges and nullifying their opponents. This is the reason many consider Mayweather’s style to be unfriendly to viewers. As boxing fans – hardcore and casual alike – we lust for those moments that drill beneath our immediate senses and connect to us on a primal level. Emotive scenes such as gruelling battles, trying displays of heart and grit, or triumph over adversity. But the thing about these moments is that they contain elements of unpredictability, chaos, and maybe even a little randomness.

Floyd Mayweather has little tolerance for unpredictability, chaos, or randomness. Instead, he seeks to accurately predict everything his opponent is doing and manipulate the pace and position of the fight, forcing his opponents to choose from a small array of options, all of which end badly for them.

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