By Iron Mike Gallego
If boxing's welterweight kingpin and reigning pound-for-pound champion, Floyd Mayweather, were a baseball player, he'd be Greg Maddux. Lacking a single overpowering weapon, Mayweather and Maddux became the dominant players in their respective sports by utilizing surgical precision, pinpoint accuracy, deceptive movement and, most importantly, an unmatched understanding of what their opponents are thinking. They thrived not by overwhelming their opponents, but by making their opponents miss.
Both Mayweather and Maddux were standouts from families that exceled at their respective sports, both Mayweather and Maddux were perfectionists who never took shortcuts when it came to preparation, and both Mayweather and Maddux thrived in eras when others in their sports were accused of juicing their way to glory. Both occasionally put off casual fans; the same people who only watch baseball for the homers or watch boxing for the KOs -- and Mayweather and Maddux reached their pinnacles by preventing those exciting moments from taking place. But, ultimately, both men matured into superstars, surefire Hall of Famers, and rightful occupants of their sports' Greatest Ever list.
If Floyd Mayweather is Greg Maddux, then his opponent Saturday night, the Argentine Marcos "El Chino" Maidana, is Dave Kingman: a wild swinger with a devil-may-care attitude. Maidana throws punches like a schoolyard bully: uncontrolled, stiff-armed haymakers designed to separate a man from his senses in a single moment. They can look amateurish, even bordering on comical, and yet when they land, Maidana's opponents never laugh. And no one knows this better than part-time boxer, part-time dancing star, full-time "FaceLube" pitchman, Victor Ortiz.
In 2009, Ortiz was the hottest prospect in the sport. His promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, even suggested that Ortiz might be the rightful heir to De La Hoya's celebrated "Golden Boy" moniker. In an effort to showcase Ortiz to a national audience, his team arranged for his first headline appearance to take place at De La Hoya's old stomping grounds, The Staples Center in Los Angeles. They even picked the perfect foil for their good-looking hero: a rugged, ugly foreign fighter with just enough wins to make for a fearsome villain, but with a surplus of flaws to ensure that Ortiz would be able to slay him with ease. Or so they thought.
Ortiz entered the ring bobbing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," as the HBO crew gushed about his talent and the possibility that the "too good to be true" Ortiz could "fill the void" as boxing searched for its next great American superstar. Six rounds later, he left the ring a bloody mess, with all those sky-high hopes and dreams as shattered as the cartilage surrounded his swollen-shut eyes. And from the ashes of Ortiz's coronation as the sport's next matinee idol came boxing's newest scariest man alive -- Ortiz's conqueror, Marcos Maidana.
But as we've said, Maidana is an "all or nothing" proposition. For as good as Maidana looked against Ortiz, that's how bad he looked against Devon Alexander. Moving up to the 147-pound welterwight limit, Maidana looked flat, slow and lost against Alexander, a soft-punching but slick southpaw. Of the 30 possible rounds on the judges scorecards that night, Alexander won 29, a virtual shutout. Afterwards, Maidana seemed discouraged and frustrated by his opponent's elusiveness. "I was slower," Maidana told reporters. "He was very fast and complicated." Maidana blamed the poor performance on the move up in weight and promised to go back to 140 lbs. It looked as if the heavy-hitter had finally reached his ceiling.
But, again, Maidana defied expectations. He stayed at 147 lbs and won his next three fights by knockout, earning a shot at undefeated division champion (and all purpose sociopath), Adrien Broner. Like Ortiz in 2009, Broner was the sport's hottest rising star in 2013. Broner's combination of speed and a shell defense drew frequent comparisons to his idol, Floyd Mayweather, while Broner possessed one crowd-pleasing element that Floyd had never featured: one-punch knockout power. And, like Ortiz before him, Maidana was supposed to be just another scalp on Broner's path to superstardom. Once more, however, Maidana didn't play along.
Unlike his bloody brawl with Ortiz, Maidana showed something resembling actual boxing skill against Broner. Fighting behind a high guard, Maidana flicked jabs that he interspersed with crushing lead rights. When Broner backed away, Maidana chased him and unloaded with heavy shots. At the beginning of the second round, was knocked down for the first time in his career, leaving him on wobbly legs. Maidana added a second knockdown in the eighth round, en route to a wide unanimous decision. Marcos Maidana had done it again.
While it's tempting to give Maidana a shot against Mayweather based upon his giant-slaying performance against Broner, some caution is advisable. While Broner's speed and defensive style have drawn many comparisons to Mayweather, there is at least one key difference between the two men: dedication. Mayweather is widely known for his unmatched monk-like training regimen, while Broner spent the run up to the fight engaging in stupidity on the Internet and dealing with a leaked sex tape. Broner had looked flat before, against veteran Daniel Ponce De Leon (who likely deserved the decision against Broner) and against feather-fisted Paulie Malignaggi, against whom Broner eked out a narrow split decision. In both those fights, Broner looked almost disinterested at times.
By contrast, Mayweather has never taken off so much as a second in the ring. Moreover, two of Broner's least impressive fights (Maidana and Malignaggi) came at 147 pounds, 12 pounds higher than Broner's natural weight. It's possible that Broner simply is not a true welterweight, whereas Mayweather has dominated the division for years. At least in the eyes of most boxing fans, the win over Broner says little about how Maidana is likely to fare against Mayweather.
Which brings us back to those baseball comparisons. As mentioned before, Marcos Maidana has the style of a Dave Kingman -- but, considering his background, maybe a player like Scott Hatteberg is a more apt comparison. Virtually every adjective that Michael Lewis used to describe Hatteberg could just as easily be used for Maidana. They're both guys who the talent scouts ignored. Neither man looks like a world-class athlete. Neither possesses the physical skills of their peers. And, yet, through a mix of hard work, grit, and fearlessness, both men proved able to perform at a high level on their sports' biggest stages.
So should you bother to even tune in on Saturday night? It's easy to say no. Mayweather is rightfully the overwhelming favorite. Maidana's wild style, a liability against any opponent, is even more so against a defensive wunderkind. The most likely outcome is surely a virtuoso Mayweather performance: another shutout with nary a moment of drama. Floyd might not even break a sweat. Do you really want to shell out $69.99 to watch a villain duck, dip and dodge for 36 minutes?
It all comes back to whether you would pay to watch Greg Maddux pitch to Scott Hatteberg. I would. It's thrilling to see an all-time great make tiny adjustments. To To take advantage of his finesse against a more gutsy gamer.
Besides, in boxing as in baseball, you just never know. After all, one of Hatteberg's three hits against Maddux was a home run.
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Iron Mike Gallego is the online identity of a passionate boxing fan. IMG is an occasional contributor toDeadspin, where he has written about topics ranging from boxing to champagne, and can regularly be found on twitter @ironmikegallego.