Well. It turns out Floyd Mayweather has not lost a step after all. I was under the mistaken impression that Floyd Mayweather had lost a step—a tiny step, at least. After extensive review, however, we can now say that, as of the early morning hours of this past Sunday, Floyd Mayweather has not lost much of anything.
Floyd Mayweather, the world's best boxer, last fought a year ago, against Miguel Cotto, who hit him. The fact that Mayweather was hit by someone, in a 12-round boxing match, was big news, because Floyd Mayweather makes a handsome living by not getting hit cleanly by anyone as a matter of principle. In that fight, Mayweather seemed a bit flat-footed; he stood around in the corners and let Cotto swing away at him, and came away with a bloody nose like a normal human in a boxing match, rather than like the untouchable Money Mayweather Supreme. (He also won that fight.) To my eye, his hand speed and foot speed were a tad slower than usual, marking what I thought was the beginning of his inevitable decline as he moved into his late 30s. From this apparent evidence, I extrapolated the idea that Mayweather would have a tough time in his fight against Robert Guerrero on Saturday night, because Guerrero is younger and stronger and determined and, while not Mayweather's equal in boxing skill or speed, was the type of seasoned but hungry younger fighter who could make Floyd uncomfortable by muscling him and crowding him and pushing him onto the ropes and then pounding on him with that downward slashing left hand, as Guerrero did in his last fight against Andre Berto, who ended the night resembling a hungover raccoon. You do not expect Floyd Mayweather to lose, of course, but it seemed as though the combination of his decline in speed and Guerrero's ability to both box and bully could produce at least a mild amount of swelling on Floyd's famously unblemished face.
That is not what happened, though. What happened was that Mayweather absolutely goddamn dominated Robert Guerrero in every facet of the boxing match. Exactly, it should be said, as Mayweather would've been expected to do a few years ago, before the "he's lost a step" whispers began. The idea that Floyd could possibly lose this fight to the cocky young guy gunning to hand him his first defeat is the promotional theme for every single one of Mayweather's fights, because it's hard to sell people on a $70 pay-per-view that promises to be nothing more than an uncompetitive and systematic dismantling with no knockout, which is Mayweather's specialty. I recognize this as hype, because I am a savvy observer of fights, and would never buy into the farcical idea that Floyd could lose to one of his own hand-picked plausible but inferior opponents. Except for this fight, when I did believe that.
Wrongly! Robert Guerrero actually looked like shit against Floyd Mayweather. Which is not a knock on Robert Guerrero. Everyone looks like shit against Floyd Mayweather. Why? Because in order to have a competitive boxing match, each fighter must possess the upper hand in at least some aspect; the competition comes from seeing which set of upper hands will win. The strong guy or the fast guy? The elusive guy or the brawler? The smart veteran or the cockstrong kid? You get the idea. In Mayweather's case, though, he is better in every single aspect of boxing than virtually all of his opponents. On Saturday, Floyd Mayweather proved that he has better hand speed, and better foot speed, and better accuracy, and better defense, and better movement, and better game planning, and better strategy, and better power than Robert Guerrero. Guerrero had better nothing.
Which is not a knock on Robert Guerrero.
The fight proceeded exactly according to the Floyd Mayweather Fight Script: The first couple of rounds looked somewhat competitive. This is because Mayweather uses the first couple of rounds to figure his opponent out. He is like a deadly virus that mutates constantly to overcome all attempted remedies. By the third or fourth round, Mayweather starts landing his straight right hand, a video of which should be posted in a science museum as a testament to the possibility of perfecting human movement. Mayweather is so fast that he can throw his right—his back hand, his power hand—straight into his opponent's face, snapping his head back, before his opponent can even react to the punch, and then swing his back foot around and square up and bend low at the waist and roll under and off to the side, so that any punch in response hits mere air, because Mayweather is gone before it comes. It is impossible to overstate how frustrating, enraging, and shocking it must be to eat this punch over and over and over again, as Guerrero did all night. It means getting hit with a punch you don't see that is, paradoxically, coming from right in front of your face. And having no one to punish for it. Guerrero would get his head snapped back from this shot, and by the time he regained his vision and turned his shoulders to find where Floyd had disappeared to, Floyd would hit him with it again. This process builds into utter discombobulation for all Mayweather opponents. They can't stop getting hit in the fucking face, and they can't hit the asshole back who's hitting them. Mayweather is, like Bruce Lee, a patternless fighter, so it is impossible to time him. He may hit you fast three times in a row, then lay back for half a round; he may hit you steadily every two seconds; as soon as you adjust to one thing he does, he does something else. He is smart. Incredibly smart. To witness him fight is to witness a master strategist out-thinking a competitor by a laughably wide margin. Not to sound overly dramatic. That's just what it is.
After several rounds of this, Guerrero did what every Mayweather opponent eventually does: He punched less, and less, and less, as he tried to figure out how to defend himself, and also how to he might be able to land a punch, some time. He did more and more figuring and less and less punching, which only made Mayweather's work easier. It is a process that builds on itself and proceeds towards doom. The ultimate testament to Mayweather's skill is that halfway through his fights, he can stand in front of his opponents with his hands down for 10 seconds straight and his opponent will not throw a punch. Because they're trying to figure out what to do. And indeed, you can watch the fight and see Guerrero—the rough, violent young puncher—doing exactly that.
Trying to call the exact beginning of a boxer's decline is like trying to time the stock market. It can't be done. Correct guesses are mostly due to luck. Bernard Hopkins is 48 years old and still a world champion. Floyd Mayweather is 36. The only fighters in the world who are remotely close to his talent are several weight classes away on either side of him, meaning that unless that decline sets in immediately, he will not face any real competition in his next several fights, at least. After which he will retire. And humanity's collective urge to punch that guy in the face, it seems, will go unfulfilled.