By Jack Sumner @Jack_Sumner_
On Saturday night Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather returns to his playground, the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, where he defends his WBC welterweight title against his mandatory challenger Robert ‘The Ghost’ Guerrero. There’s much more at stake than a championship however with Guerrero eyeing super-stardom and believing he’s on a mission from God. For Mayweather, his long unbeaten record is on the line, as well as the promise of zenith-reaching millions in the near future.
That’s because the highest paid athlete on the planet last year signed an estimated $250 million deal with Showtime in February, contractually obliging him to fight on the US television network six times over the next 30 months. Given that Floyd has fought four times in five years it’s a dramatic change in activity for the consensus pound-for-pound number one and a loss to Guerrero could potentially jeopardise the retirement fund, derailing the six-fight money train.
Mayweather (43-0, 26 KO’s) has been out of action since last May’s victory over Miguel Cotto, where the eight-time, five-weight world champion won decisively on the scorecards but was given a bloody nose and a handful of tough rounds by the Puerto Rican. Floyd was caught more often than usual and appeared to have diminished somewhat in leg-speed, allowing Cotto to close the gap and land more easily than recent Mayweather foes. It’s this, as well as the spells of inactivity and the fact that Floyd is now 36, that fuels Guerrero’s belief that he can triumph where ‘fourty-three fell short’.
Fourty-two in fact as Floyd fought Jose Luis Castillo twice, the rematch coming eight months after the Mexican gave him the toughest night of his career to date. During their first meeting in April 2002, Castillo bombarded Mayweather with constant pressure and had plenty of success in landing powerful body shots, during sustained attacks when El Terrible had Floyd with his back against the ropes. A high-pressure style with a focus on attacking the body is something that Guerrero has successfully employed in the past, notably in his last outing against Andre Berto.
Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KO’s) is coming off last November’s career-best victory over Berto in only his second fight at 147lbs, where he scored two early knockdowns en route to a unanimous decision over the former welterweight champion. Guerrero was suprisingly able to outmuscle Berto and hit him with just about every shot in the book, in using his roughhouse tactics closing both Berto’s eyes but shipping plenty of punishment himself in a physically brutal encounter. In July, Guerrero had jumped two weight divisions from lightweight to outpoint then unbeaten Selcuk Aydin in another gruelling war, a win that landed the 29-year-old the WBC interim title.
Guerrero claims to be a six-time, four-weight world champion, though he’s only legitimately a three-time champion in two weight classes, but that’s not to say that his interim titles wins over Aydin and Michael Katsidis were not impressive feats. Given that his 2006 points loss to Orlando Salido was later ruled a no-contest – after a post-fight drug test found Salido testing positive for steroids – the Ghost is unbeaten in his last seventeen bouts since a split-decision loss to Gamaliel Diaz. Guerrero avenged that loss in a rematch three months later, knocking Diaz out in the eighth round.
That stellar run is all the more impressive considering the backdrop of much more troublesome obstacles outside of the ring. Guerrero has watched his wife Casey battle leukaemia for several years, an ordeal that put his career on hold in 2010 when Casey required a bone marrow transplant. In 2011 he tore a rotator cuff in his left shoulder that kept him sidelined for 15 months, missing out on a light welterweight title bout with Marcos Maidana. It’s these tests however that have strengthened the resolve of the deeply religious Guerrero, who believes that God has put him in a position to humble Mayweather on May 4th.
Ever since he made his welterweight debut Guerrero has been calling out Mayweather. Having finally got his wish, is the Gilroy, California native catching Floyd at the right time?
Fighting less than once a year isn’t ideal for any fighter let alone a veteran in their mid-thirties and for three months of last year Floyd was in jail, unable to train and not consuming his regular diet, no doubt resulting in a loss of conditioning. Then again, Mayweather has looked impressive returning from longer layoffs than this in the past. He was out for 21 months before his walk in the park against Juan Manuel Marquez, where in total control he triumphed with a landslide unanimous decision. He took 16 months off before his fourth round knockout of Victor Ortiz. Sandwiched between those victories was his dismantling of ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley, coming after a mere eight-month hiatus but having only had twelve rounds in the previous two-and-a-half years, the twelve in which he hardly broke a sweat against Marquez.
Floyd’s style of boxing allows longevity, his impeccable defensive skills avoiding punishing wars over the years that might have aged him. Just look at Bernard Hopkins, another defensively proficient master, who’s old enough to be the father of some of the guys he’s beating.
Robert Guerrero provides enough reasons to be considered a live underdog in this fight. He’s tough, has a great chin, is in his prime and in bringing a high-pressure style from a southpaw stance he ticks two of the boxes that have given Mayweather trouble in the past. Left-handers Zab Judah and Demarcus Corley did have their moments early on against Floyd. Ultimately though, they too fell short and once Floyd had adjusted were both beaten quite handily.
36 or not, Mayweather is the more accurate puncher, still has his trademark elusiveness and even as father time slows him down he has the experience and smarts to adapt to whatever Guerrero brings to the table. As the man himself will tell you, “there’s no blueprint on how to beat Floyd Mayweather”. A couple of rounds in, Guerrero might just find that he’s here to merely become victim number fourty-four.