Teddy Atlas on Mayweather vs. Guerrero
“What happens when that split-millisecond isn’t there anymore? It’s gone. It’s just faded away into the night, gone into the air. Was once, isn’t anymore…”
On Saturday, May 4 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, WBC welterweight champion Floyd “Money” Mayweather (42-0, 26 KOs) defends his title against former IBF featherweight and super featherweight champion Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KOs).
There are some who believe this fight might be Mayweather’s Waterloo. At age 36, he’s no spring chicken and his performance against a past-his-prime Cotto in his last fight, while ultimately successful, left something to be desired.
Others, however, think the 30-year-old Guerrero hasn’t a ghost of a chance. He made his bones at a lighter weight, and while he looked impressive turning Andre Berto into a gargoyle, Berto is no Mayweather. But no one disputes that this is an opportunity of a lifetime for Guerrero and one that he will not, and should not, take lightly.
Wanting to get an expert take on Mayweather-Guerrero, I contacted ESPN’s Teddy Atlas. He was as obliging as usual, and his remarks were as thorough as they were surprising.
“Everything you said is correct. This is the biggest moment of his lifetime from a professional standpoint.” Teddy said. “It’s a chance to put himself in a position that very few people ever get a chance to put themselves into, and a win here would put himself in a position of making more money than he’s ever made before, a lot more. But he didn’t start off good, coming into New York, of all places, with a gun. I don’t know if that’s a foreshadowing of things, but I don’t think that’s a great way to go into camp mentally. I’m not being facetious. I’m being very serious. To go into camp with that over your head—I mean there’s a chance that he could go to jail. That’s a legitimate concern. After this fight, he’s got that fight on his hands. He could wind up facing prison, especially in today’s climate. Not too many years ago an athlete went to jail for carrying a gun around in New York City, that athlete being Plaxico Burress, at the time playing for the Giants. So that’s a concern I would think, and I would think it has to impact him on some kind of level mentally, emotionally, going into his preparation for this fight. I think that’s one of the intangibles right there. We’ll see how that plays out. It’s probably already played out. We don’t know how it’s affected him in camp and his concentration for this fight.”
I’d almost forgotten the Guerrero gun business. Ours is a world where what’s happening tomorrow is all that matters. What happened yesterday, let alone a few weeks ago, is an afterthought. Admittedly, there’s never a dull moment in boxing (although an occasional dull moment would be welcome). But as things stand, newsworthy items come and go, just as fights come and go, with the frequency of prospects with promising futures.
“But I give Guerrero a chance to be competitive in this fight,” continued Atlas. “I like Mayweather to win the fight, but I give him a much better chance than I see a lot of people giving him. I look at the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, the things they do well and the things that they sometimes don’t do as well, and then I try to figure out from there. I look at Guerrero and I see a guy who’s probably too small. He might be a little light in the ass going into this fight. This guy did most of his best work at featherweight. And I know Mayweather started at a lower weight, junior lightweight, lightweight, but he’s been at this higher weight and grown into it pretty comfortably. And I wonder if Guerrero’s had a chance to get comfortable at that weight yet. But if he fights the way he did in the Berto fight, I think it will be easier for Mayweather. I thought he fought in a much too open way, much too available way, much too reckless way. But he did show some of his better attributes. He’s a game guy. He’s a gritty guy. He can be a grinder, he grinded out that win. That showed the attributes of a champion that go beyond just his physical talents. It showed the desire, the determination, the will to win—and he’s always shown that in his career.
“But in the Berto fight, and I don’t think I’m alone, sometimes I was surprised how available he was, how crude he was in certain places in that fight. I think there’s an explanation for it, and part of the explanation might be physical. He went up in weight and maybe that affected him. He wasn’t as constant and clever as he’s been at a lighter weight. And maybe it was a lack of respect. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I’m just talking about it in a professional way. That’s how I talk. That’s what I’m dealing with. He might not have had that respect for Berto in certain areas. He might have seen Berto as I see him, as a game guy, as a guy with speed, but also as a guy who from a technical standpoint has not developed and is very one-dimensional and doesn’t know how to fight on the inside and only fights in spurts. Maybe Guerrero thought he could exploit those shortcomings by engaging him the way he engaged him. I don’t expect him to, but if he engages Mayweather the same way I think it will be a much easier fight for Mayweather than it has to be.”
Some get a kick from criticizing Atlas. That’s their prerogative. Whatever rocks your boat. I respect his intelligence, his disinclination to reduce prognostications to bite-sized twitterisms which, limited by characters and character, often read as nothing more than yes/no, good/bad, like/dislike, grunt/countergrunt.
“I think the best qualities of Guerrero are he’s a reliable guy, he’s a steady guy, he’s a pro. What’s a pro to me? Cus D’Amato always told me that a pro is a guy who’s dependable, and those guys can usually fit in with most people and most situations. He’s also a guy who up until the Berto fight was pretty good technically, pretty contained. He can be patient when he has to be patient. There’s a confidence to him. He can be aggressive. But he’s more of an overall boxer. He does a good job with the counters, puts his punches together pretty well, goes to the body pretty well, he feints you, he won’t always come to you the same way. His attitude is to control you, to be the boss. He’s got that attitude, which is a good one, but he will also do it with a thought of diversity, with a thought of what makes sense. And being able adjust on the fly—that’s sort of being smart, throwing different wrinkles at you, countering sometimes, looking to draw you in sometimes, and he knows how to win. And all these things serve him for it to be a competitive fight. I’m not looking for it to be a blowout.”
That was good to hear. There’s nothing I like less than a blowout. There’s nothing I like less that watching one man beat up another, no matter the circumstances.
Teddy cleared his throat and resumed speaking.
“I look at the strengths of Mayweather, but I also look at the things where he can come up short. We know Mayweather is a very talented fighter. He’s going to be quicker than Guerrero; he’s quicker than most people he fights. He’s going to be bigger. I think he’s going to be stronger. He’s a very good defensive fighter. We know that. He can use defense to create offense. He can turn your offense into good offense for himself, good opportunities for himself. It’s like spitting in the wind with him if you come in reckless ‘cause he’ll make you miss and make you pay. But what Mayweather has to deal with is the southpaw style. I think that will serve Guerrero. Just as Mayweather is always the faster guy in the ring, Guerrero is always the southpaw. That might serve him early in the fight, to get the lead, which when you’re the underdog, it’s ALWAYS IMPORTANT to get the lead. You don’t want to get into a fight as an underdog and be behind. You want to have something to build on—and fall back onto. Being a lefty will give him that chance to get out of the chute quickly and maybe have Mayweather figure out the southpaw stance for the first couple rounds. If Guerrero can grab the lead and have a few good moments to build on, it will give him confidence. But strength, size, speed, overall good instincts, timing, reflexes—all that goes to Mayweather. Plus the ultimate one: he hasn’t learned to lose yet, and that’s a powerful thing, you don’t want to give that up.”
By Teddy’s calculus, it sounds as if Mayweather vs. Guerrero, while it might be competitive, is almost a done deal. But boxing is not only a sport of inches. It’s also a sport of fractions. Plus it’s the only sport where one plus one has been known to equal three.
“Mayweather has shortcomings,” Teddy said, “everyone has shortcomings, but he’s not the busiest guy in the world. Look at his fights. When was the last time you saw him put a five-punch combination together? When’s the last time you saw him finish a guy? I’m not knocking him, because I happen to be kind of a fan of his. I like him. But my job is to point out all aspects, all dimensions of this and, you know, he lobs a lot of single shots at you at times. Very accurate, very concise, but still, they’re one or two shots. He doesn’t always put them together. He’s not the kind of temperament to go seek and destroy. Sugar Ray Leonard was that way. I think it’s fair to couple him with Sugar Ray Leonard. The guy now is Mayweather. The guy before him was Sugar Ray Leonard, as far as talent and his prowess in the ring. It was hard to outhustle Leonard. It was hard to outwork him. It really was. Mayweather will give you opportunities to outwork him, to outhustle him in spots. But he looks for the moment. He looks to trap you. He looks to counterpunch. He’ll beat you to the punch if you wait on him, but it’s in spurts and it’s in a very calculated and controlled way.”
The comparison with Leonard was intriguing and I wanted to hear more.
“There was a certain charisma, a certain attraction Leonard brought when he got in the ring. They’re both very capable, very talented, very big winners in big moments. Mayweather knows how to handle the big moments very well. But the one difference is that Leonard on the whole was more aggressive. When he hurt you he got rid of you. He was a better finisher. The temperament of Mayweather is more to outthink you, to outsmart you, to just win by whatever margin he needs to win by. Leonard was greedier—and I say that in a good way, in a complimentary way. He was greedier—he wanted to win in a BIG WAY. And that separates the two. Mayweather’s a very controlled, very exact guy, where he doesn’t take as many chances. And sometimes by having that temperament, his fire isn’t as high, his motor doesn’t run as fast.
“But when you do engage Mayweather, when you do get him in a difficult moment, or when you get his back against the wall and threaten his existence, threaten his supremacy or force him to show you what’s inside him—he will show that. Sometimes, I actually think that’s when he’s at his best. And it’s the Mayweather I’d like to see all the time because he will react like a fierce competitor, a fighter, a champion at those moments and he will come out of any shell that he might have been in or in any place that he might have been trying to do trickery and set up traps by being the lion tamer and will certainly become the lion and go after you and just react and react in a way that you’re not going to take something from him, or you’re not going to get the better of him, or back him down. He shows that part of him, which Leonard always had too. Leonard was a pit bull when you got past the great smile and great PR shots. When you engaged him he was a son of a bitch.”
That’s the truth. Leonard used to rub me the wrong way outside the ring, but inside the ring was another story.
“I think one of the positives for the backers of Guerrero is you look at the Cotto fight and you see some slippage. And you know what? I’m not going to argue with you. You might see some slippage. We’re going to find out. Was that just that night, or are we actually seeing slippage? He’s getting older and he’s not staying real active. He fights what? Once a year? Twice a year? Once every ten months? Whatever it is, his calendar’s not very cramped up. We saw something that night. We saw an experienced Cotto, but we also saw a Cotto who’s been in a lot of wars. We saw him have some moments. There’s no doubt who won that fight. There’s no doubt who’s the better guy. It was Mayweather. But we did see Cotto have some moments, and I think it’s in the mind of some people—and it’s in my mind a little bit—were we watching some regression or dissipation in the talent and career of Mayweather? Were we seeing something coming off the fastball? Or was he just disinterested?
“I think he loses interest sometimes because of his temperament, because of his abilities, because of his style, because of his approach. If you don’t force him to be reacting and thinking and just doing and doing what he does well, I think he gets a little disinterested. Was it that and he got caught during those moments and paid the price in the fight, where he had control and suddenly gave back that control? Is that what we were seeing? Or were we seeing what we were seeing with Roy Jones, when we didn’t know we were seeing it? A guy who had tremendous speed, tremendous reflexes, tremendous skills, tremendous timing, and with age it started to erode. And then all of a sudden—bang!—there was more slippage…and then a fall off the cliff. He was getting caught with shots that he used to make miss.”
Roy Jones is another one, a compelling presence inside the squared circle, but somewhat less so in a shirt and tie
“I think it’s fair to say there are some similarities between these two guys,” continued Teddy. “They both look to counter. They both look for timing opportunities. They both use their reflexes to beat you to the moment—just a fraction of a second before you get off. And that’s a game of chicken there, a dangerous game. But when you know you’ve got the abilities, the skills, the goods to do it, you do it and you get away with it. You’re the gunslinger. You pull the gun out of your holster a split-second before the other guy—and he’s dead and you’re not. Fighters in those positions put themselves in the line of fire. But what happens on that day when your reflexes have just gone, and you don’t know they’re gone, and they’ve gone just a little south and you just don’t get the gun out of the holster quick enough? That’s what happened to Roy Jones. And Mayweather puts himself in those positions where he’s just waiting for you and BANG he beats you, BANG he beats you, and he reacts just a split-millisecond ahead of you. What happens when that split-millisecond isn’t there anymore? It’s gone. It’s just faded away into the night, gone into the air. Was once, isn’t anymore. It’s not there forever. But the big difference between Roy Jones and Mayweather is Mayweather’s much better technically. He might be better mentally too; I think there’s a lot to Mayweather we don’t see. And because of that, when that millisecond is gone, when that millisecond is lost, he can still back it up with good technique by having his hands up instead of down, so he doesn’t pay the ultimate price, the good technique of moving his head instead of pulling his head back. It’s a high wire act and those things are the safety net. When he falls off the high wire, instead of hitting the ground—and Jones obviously hit the ground—when he falls off the high wire there’s a safety net.
“So there are a lot of interesting ways to look at this fight and I think at the end of the day, until I do see him fall off that high wire, I’m going to go with Mr. Mayweather.”