“Pacquiao. Is going. To get. A good. Ass. Whoopin’” part 2

-Roger Mayweather, the world’s most accidentally hilarious   trainer in the history of the sport.

 

 

Pt. 2 of 5: Ascension and Aspiration – Mayweather vs. De La Hoya

 

After the second Marquez fight, Pacquiao had virtually exhausted the Super Featherweight division of anything but a third fight with Marquez. On paper, this made the most sense. Both fights were good, filled with back and forth action, a great style matchup, and for all intents and purposes, still at a stalemate. A third fight would certainly have meant a sizeable paycheck for both fighters, but Team Pacquiao had other plans in mind.

Instead of the trilogy, Pacquiao decided to move up to Lightweight (135) and challenge David Diaz for a version of the Lightweight title. However, this move was far from exploratory. In May of 2007, a fighter with whom Pacquiao would become inextricably linked had catapulted himself into the very upper stratosphere of boxing superstardom. On Cinco de Mayo 2007, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya squared off at Junior Middleweight (154), in what would prove to be the most lucrative fight in the history of boxing, as well as obliterating the previous pay-per-view buy record. Not only that, but it represented a definitive passing of the torch from one generation’s greatest fighter to the next. Never mind that De La Hoya wasn’t exactly the best of his era, but he was the Golden Boy and that was enough. The fact that, despite being half Hispanic, he was accepted by white America as a white fighter certainly didn’t hurt. Sorry, boxing is what it will always be: a sport of nation vs. nation and race vs. race.

It is of no small note that De La Hoya had a new trainer in his corner for the fight. His career had had a bit of a resurgence in recent years, and it was largely due to his association with a new trainer. Floyd Mayweather Sr. had helped De La Hoya tremendously with his defense and skill set, and the result was that he had become a major player and pay-per-view attraction in the boxing world again. It’s not so much that he wasn’t before, but he was perceived as over the hill following several tough losses.

When the Mayweather Jr. fight was made, Mayweather Sr. naturally wanted no part of it, so De La Hoya hired a new trainer. This would be Freddie Roach’s first shot at the champion. Mayweather Jr. was largely considered unbeatable but for a single bout against Jose Luis Castillo in which Castillo’s constant pressure and brawling tactics had forced Mayweather into a very close decision win. A rematch rectified it, but the going theory was that a fighter who could apply enough pressure, with the right alchemical concoction of punches, might be able to eke out a decision.

A master tactician and strategist was needed, and Roach fit the bill. In essence, the plan was simple: De La Hoya would begin jabbing away, and Mayweather would defend before he would counter the shot. After the first barrier was overcome, it was a simple question of bullying Mayweather back to the ropes and unloading. When you add in the fact that Mayweather is a naturally smaller man who fights at Welterweight (147), it would seem even more sound. As he had shown in previous fights, when on the ropes, Mayweather used his shoulder roll to avoid punches until he could get back to the center of the ring. In theory, if you could keep him there often enough, you could reduce his punch output to a level where you could steal rounds. As with Pacquiao and Marquez, all things being equal, the person throwing exciting wild shots tends to get the nod. Roach was so convinced the strategy was a sound one that he figured De La Hoya couldn’t possibly lose unless Oscar’s conditioning failed him.

Unfortunately, it did, or at least it appeared that way.

The fight resulted in a split decision win for Mayweather, but it really wasn’t that close. Another quirk of judges is, when it’s close, they score for the person they’re more interested in watching. In this case, everyone wanted De La Hoya to win – not just because they wanted Floyd to lose, but because everyone loves a swan song.

Now this is where it gets weird. While De La Hoya most certainly tired in the last few rounds, nobody gives Mayweather any credit for the things he did that assisted the process. First of all, there was a sense that Oscar had lost the fight, not been beaten by the better man. In several rounds, Oscar was able to use his jab and execute the game plan, but as the fight progressed, he largely stopped throwing it. As the rounds went by, press row and Oscar’s corner moved from frustration to borderline incredulousness at Oscar’s lack of commitment to a punch that, early in the fight, was quite clearly producing the carefully calculated results of Roach’s plan.

Many point to Oscar’s previous fights and cite a trend of flagging late in fights, a lack of discipline at critical moments, and even a lack of will. However, all of this really doesn’t match the facts.

The answer to the question of why Oscar abandoned his jab is actually quite simple: Mayweather realized what was going on by about round three, and by the middle of the fight he figured out how to counter it. He started throwing his jab before De La Hoya did, and if he didn’t get off first, countering De La Hoya over the top. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it before, but it is, in fact, quite difficult to throw jabs at someone up when they’re punching you in the face. The results of this unfortunate situation tend towards the following:

 

  1. Your jab isn’t doing anything anymore because you aren’t able to throw it.
  2. I the jab comes at odd times, from odd angles, at high speed, and may or may not be followed up by any of a dozen other punches from the same odd angles and speeds, it’s very difficult to carry out “the plan”. Mayweather is a master of all of those things.
  3. You begin thinking about how to solve the problem. This takes time, and just when you’re about to have a good idea another jab smacks the thought back out of your noggin.
  4. You become increasingly concerned about the situation, particularly as rounds are slipping by. And your face and body start to hurt a lot. This also causes you to forget what you were thinking about.
  5. When you go back to your corner, your asshole trainer keeps yelling at you to keep throwing the jab that isn’t working any more rather than attempting to come up with the solution you can’t seem to find.
  6. Oh yeah, that jab was kind of the key to the whole thing, wasn’t it…

 

That wasn’t even the worst of it though. When De La Hoya actually did manage to get inside, he discovered another unpleasant part of Mayweather’s skillset that often goes unnoticed by many people because of the speed at which it happens. When a fighter gets Mayweather on the ropes and begins firing away, Mayweather defends by rolling his shoulders from side to side so the punches slip off of him. It’s called the Philly Shell, and it’s very old school stuff. Since most fighters will throw left-right-left-right etc., there’s a rhythm to this motion that Mayweather uses extremely effectively.

So Oscar is wailing away like crazy and missing just about every shot he throws. But in the middle of all this, often times one of those shoulder rolls going to the other side had a short punch coming along with it that snapped Oscar’s skull around his neck like Wheel of Fortune.

I could go on like this for pages as these are two small examples of Mayweather’s adaptability in the ring, but I think the point is made. The difference between Mayweather and everyone else is that, although I’m sure his corner has been training him with a few things in mind, Mayweather is never fighting a video. He’s fighting the guy in front of him, and that’s why he always wins. He knows more about boxing and has a vastly superior skill set than anyone else on the planet, and he knows that the right fight plan is the one you tailor to the fighter in front of you, because if everyone is coming in with a plan, nobody will ever look like they do on tape.

So Floyd wins, and simultaneously becomes the richest cash cow in boxing by a wide margin. Later that year, he set up a megafight against an undefeated Ricky Hatton who, although coming up from Jr. Welterweight (140) to challenge Floyd at his natural division of Welterweight (147), was widely considered the most dangerous challenger of his career. Hatton was a tremendous pressure fighter who turned every fight into a wrestling, brawling, grudge match, and that style appeared a perfect matchup for the defensively oriented Mayweather.

Impressively, Mayweather knocked Hatton out, and subsequently retired from the sport in early 2008 as one of the richest athletes of all time.

This brings us back to the initial question of Pacquiao’s decision to move up in weight following the second Marquez fight in 2008.

It was widely assumed that Mayweather would be returning to the sport, as there was too much money and he was too young to stay away for long. At the same time, it had become clear to both Roach and Pacquiao that there was no more money to be made at Super Featherweight, and if they could get to Welterweight, there was a possibility that they could ride their momentum into a huge payday fight with De La Hoya. Having trained him, Roach was absolutely confident they could beat him.

There was one glaring problem, however. Pacquiao had already reached his natural peak weight at 130. In order to even consider a De La Hoya fight, he would have to make it to a minimum of Welterweight, and to win he would have to somehow retain his speed, stamina, movement, and improve his power. Also, as De La Hoya only had another fight or two left in him, this jump would have to be accomplished in a year, maybe two at the outside.

This would require a specialist of a very specific nature. In 2008, Alex Ariza joined Team Pacquiao to supervise the evolution.

Ben Tomkins
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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