By Geoffrey Gray
The activity is standard in a fighter's training camp. There's the morning run, the morning meal and nap, some sparring in the gym, then exercises and weights and early dinner. And then, after all that, a boxer, his trainer and the rest of his entourage retire to watch video footage of their opponent. Boxing is the Sweet Science, after all -- a chess match of jabs and feints and hooks; an intellectual joust of styles, instincts, sweat and soul. One guy has to figure out the other guy, and watching videos in camp is how that prep is done.
Before he became lightweight champion, Robert Garcia watched tapes of his opponents. Now, as trainer for a stable of elite boxers from his hardscrabble camp in Oxnard, Calif., he watches videos with them most nights of the week. Together they look for weaknesses, bad habits. What happens when the opponent is moving back? Where he does he leave his hands after a punch? It's all part of the intelligence gathering required of a prizefighter.
For the upcoming welterweight title fight in Las Vegas on May 3, however, Garcia has insisted his fighter Marcos Maidana not watch any tape. His opponent, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is too good. "I want him to stay positive," Garcia tells me of Maidana. "It happens to all of [Mayweather's opponents]. They never do enough. Why would I want him to see that?
"I want him to watch tapes of guys who were underdogs and shocked the world," Garcia goes on. "I want him to watch Duran and Leonard, the first one. I want him to watch Frazier against Ali, the first one. I want him to see the upset is not impossible."
Maidana is an underdog in the fight for every reason. He's smaller. He's slower. His arms are shorter. He lacks experience and skill and pedigree. Unlike Mayweather, who was born into a legendary boxing family and taught to hook off the jab in the cradle, Maidana found boxing by fighting in the street. He was raised on a ranch in Argentina, working the land like a gaucho and raising cattle with his family. They rode horses, hunted ducks and cooked meat over campfire embers. He developed his predatory instincts in the natural world. Eventually, he went into a gym and learned that, instead of getting in trouble for fighting with other kids, he could make a living at it.
Trainers spotted the natural strength in Maidana's hands and his determination to knock out his opponents. He adopted a dangerous formula -- absorbing three punches to land one -- which ultimately failed him once he faced better opponents. Two years ago, he was schooled by the speedier Devon Alexander, who nearly stole every round from him, striking and slipping away. Maidana considered retirement, but then he found Garcia and moved to Oxnard.
Under Garcia's tutelage, Maidana has infused his street-fighter style with real boxing technique. He jabs more. He feints more. He controls space better, positioning himself to land haymakers. He knocked out the skilled Josesito Lopez. He knocked down the talented Adrien Broner twice. Now he's looking to carry that confidence to Mayweather, who cautiously picks his opponents and has never been beaten.
They know they don't need to watch videos to see how quick and talented Mayweather is. That's why they've been training for the later rounds. "Nobody has figured out the blueprint to beat Mayweather, but nobody fights the way Maidana fights," Garcia says. "Mentally, I've been preparing him. He could lose the first 10 rounds. That's OK, I tell him. He tells me, 'He's going to have to kill me to beat me.'"
Maidana shuns attention from the press, and the quotes he offers don't extend longer than a sentence or two. Even in training camp, he prefers the company of nobody. When he prepared for Lopez and Broner, Maidana went to Oxnard and slept in a hotel. But against Mayweather, in arguably the biggest fight of either of their careers, Garcia wanted to keep a close eye on Maidana. He insisted Maidana take a room in the same house where all his other fighters sleep.
Maidana barely left his room. Without any videos of Mayweather to study, Maidana sealed himself off from the world. Passing by the room, trainer Garcia would hear his quiet fighter through the door.
"He likes to sing and play the guitar," Garcia says. The songs were ballads. Country music. Love songs. Cowboy stuff. "He's not very good at it, but he does it for fun," Garcia said of Maidana's singing. The songs remind him of home, the horses and the cattle, the family waiting for him to return to his ranch, as the gaucho who made his impossible dream come true.
The bookmakers in Las Vegas don't give Maidana much of a chance, setting his at odds at 6-1 against.
* * *
Geoffrey Gray is a best-selling author and reporter based in New York. A contributing editor at New York Magazine, he has covered boxing, bullfighting, tennis, female arm wrestling, camel racing and high-end perfume.