Fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. can be a frustrating experience. His opponents –- virtually all 38 of them -– will attest to that.
Little Floyd’s defensive skills and speed are legendary. Less celebrated might be his ring savvy and composure, two important ingredients in his remarkable success both as an amateur and a pro since 1996.
No one has been able to find a way to beat him, including some of the better fighters of his generation.
Three of them –- Genaro Hernandez, Carlos Hernandez and Jesus Chavez -– faced Mayweather when he was blossoming into a star and might’ve been at his physical peak, between 1998 and 2001.
Genaro Hernandez lost by an eighth-round technical knockout in 1998 in Las Vegas, his corner stopping the fight when it was clear that Mayweather could not be beaten. Carlos Hernandez couldn’t catch Mayweather to hit him and lost a one-sided decision in 2001 in the victor’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich. And Chavez lost by a ninth-round TKO in 2001 in San Francisco.
All three have lasting impressions of their opponent and what it was like to fight him. Here are their thoughts on Mayweather going into his comeback fight against Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“I thought of Mayweather as just another opponent,” said Hernandez, a possible future Hall of Famer who was making the fourth defense of his second junior lightweight title. “He was just another guy in there to take what I wanted to keep.”
Mayweather, just 21, wasn’t just another opponent, it turned out. He proved to be what so many of his opponents discover when they’re face to face –- extremely fast. And, perhaps to Hernandez’s surprise, he was also very clever and mature beyond his years.
“What made him so good?” Hernandez said. “I believe his poise. He doesn’t lose his composure. Even though it was a world title fight, he didn’t’ get all excited about it. He went in there and did his job I guess the way he had it planned. I never thought of him being a young fighter with no experience. Anybody who made it to the Olympics had to be boxing for years, had to spar with great fighters as well. I knew he had a lot of experience. He had a lot of fights as an amateur.
“Yes, there’s a transition to using smaller gloves and no head gear. He just did that very well. He made the changes others don’t usually make.”
There was the speed …
“Everybody thinks of Oscar (De La Hoya) as being fast and Shane Mosley as being fast. Mayweather is faster than Oscar. And, from my point of view, he’s right with Mosley,” Hernandez said.
However, he was just as impressed by Mayweather’s cleverness.
“He’s an intelligent person,” he said. “People think wrong about him because of the way he acts. He’s a very smart guy. He knows what he’s doing; he knows what he has to do to take advantage of the situation he’s in.”
Hernandez, a sublime boxer who was 12-2-1 in major title fights, believes he could’ve given Mayweather a better fight if a few things had been different.
“I fought the wrong style fight for him,” he said. “I made a mistake trying too hard to get inside with him. I tried to follow in the footsteps of Julio Cesar Chavez when he fought Roger Mayweather [Floyd’s uncle-trainer]. I shouldn’t have done that, I should’ve made it a boring fight and just waited for him to come in.
“He’s a great counterpuncher. That would’ve frustrated him more if I tried to outbox him.”
And there was another problem.
“I lost the fight because he was better than I was that night,” he said. “Simple as that. Without people knowing it, though, I couldn’t make 130 pounds any more. I had to go into the steam room the day of the weigh-in. I was five pounds overweight. I was eating once a day for three weeks and I was still five pounds over. I worked out wearing plastic and thermal and lost ¼ pound.
“So I went into the steam room and dehydrated myself. I made weight but I was dehydrated. That was a major downfall for me.”
Still, he gave it shot because of his pride.
“I didn’t have to fight Floyd,” he said. “I didn’t need him. I was the world champ. He needed me to take the next step in his pro career. Like Floyd said, I was the only one willing to fight him. That’s what a world champion does; he fights anyone.”
Hernandez never fought again.
Hernandez, a former 130-pound titleholder, was proud of himself after he fought Mayweather because of what he was up against.
“First, he was one of the best fighters pound for pound at the time and still is,” Hernandez said. “He was fighting in his hometown. His promoter was protecting him [meaning he would likely have an edge in scoring]. The odds were like 30- or 40-1. Everyone thought he was going to knock me out.
“In the end, I was the one who gave him his only official knock down. He went down on one knee because he hurt his hand but I actually did hit him.”
Also in the end, it was a tough night. Hernandez was as frustrated as anyone at the closing bell. He lost 119-109, 117-109 and 116-111.
“He was a tremendous athlete,” he said. “He ran around. He was a very sharp fighter, very elusive. And quick. Another person like that, but in a different way, is Shane Mosley. I’ve sparred with Mosley many times back when he was a lightweight. He’s a just a quick guy; I’d say the quickest, fastest puncher. And the threw a lot of shots.
“Mayweather was a fast mover; he gets away. And he blocks shots I think better than Mosley. Mayweather is a very, very good defensive fighter. He rolls with shots and then comes back with short uppercuts, straight right hands. I think Roger (Mayweather) has done a tremendous job with him.
“He’s my favorite fighter right now, him and Mosley.”
Hernandez echoed everyone else when he cited Mayweather’s speed as a decisive factor.
“He made me look slow,” he said. “I think I was at one of or at my best condition of my career. I felt like a monster. That speed, though. If you look at the fight, he started running after the sixth round, running and pitty-patting because he hurt his hand. He beat me on pitty-pats. I tried to fight him. It was just hard to get him into a corner. He was like an elusive cat or one of those rosters like Rocky was trying to catch at the beginning of Rocky I.
“If I could go back in time and fight him again, I’d try to stay on him a little more. It was just too hard. He’s a very athletic, skilled fighter.”
So what type of fighter could give Mayweather a challenge?
“Jose Luis Castillo came close,” Hernandez said. “In fact, he came to me and said that 'basically you wrote the blueprint on how to fight him.' I think pressure fighter who is really strong, and pretty fast, will beat beat Mayweather. No one is out there like that, though … except maybe Mosley.”
Chavez gave Mayweather a spirited fight for much of nine rounds by attacking him relentlessly before Mayweather began landing big shots in the eighth round and even more in the ninth, after which Ronnie Shields, Chavez’s trainer, stopped the fight.
“It was a tough break for me,” said Chavez, who was losing 89-82, 88-83, 87-84 when the fight was stopped.
Still, he came away very impressed with Mayweather.
“I remember his defense more so than anything,” said Chavez, who fights David Diaz on Sept. 26 in Chicago. “… It’s the way he stands, the way he rolls with punches. The way he rolls with his shoulders to divert punches. Also he stands in an awkward boxing stance. It makes it difficult for you to hit him where you’d normally hit a regular boxer.
“A regular boxer stands in front of you with both hands up, protecting himself. Mayweather protects himself with one hand down and the other on his chin, rolling with his shoulder.”
During the fight, TV commentator George Foreman said Chavez employed the formula to beat a quick, athletic fighter like Mayweather: constant pressure.
“I attacked to the body, then went upstairs to the head,” he said. “I was doing pretty good until the end of the ninth round. …. You have to bang him to the body to get him to fight back; you have to make Floyd fight to be able to hit him.
“You bang the arms, anywhere you can. He’s gonna have to let go and fight back. I was able to do that.”
And there was that speed.
“He’s fast – very fast,” Chavez said. “He gets the job done. He scores points, does what he has to do. When I fought him, I didn’t think much of his power, though.”
Maybe Mayweather has a flaw after all.
The Hernandezes both pick Mayweather to beat Marquez on Saturday.
“Marquez is a very good fighter, a great fighter,” Genaro Hernandez said. “He’s been getting hurt lately, though. I think Floyd will just be too much for him. Both are great guys, good friends. I hate to see either lose. The advantage has to go to Mayweather, though. He’s a little more fresh, not as beat up as Marquez. I think if he wants to get a knockout, he will get a knockout, but I’ll go with a decision.
“He’ll just be way too fast for Marquez.”
Said Carlos Hernandez: “The only chance Marquez has is his power. I know he’s a strong guy, very strong. Who knows if he can take a shot at that weight, though? He’s been down many times at lighter weights. He always comes back but this might be different. I think Mayweather might walk through him.
“… I think Marquez has guts, a lot of guts, the desire to win. That helps a fighter a lot. He went down three times against Pacquiao and got up. Something picked him up. That’s something he has and Mayweather might not. If Marquez stays on him … that’s his only chance.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at RingTVeditor@yahoo.com