Back To The Future
To Unseat Mayweather, Marquez Looks To Own Past


By Nat Gottlieb Courtesy of HBO.com

There have been all kinds of theories on how to defeat Floyd Mayweather, but so far none have proven successful.


After 13 years as a pro, Mayweather is still unbeaten (39-0), and trainers continue to pore over his past fights for any sign of weakness.

The latest is Nacho Beristain, the trainer for Floyd's next opponent, Juan Manuel Marquez. Beristain, as so many other trainers have said before, feels sure he has found the way to break down Mayweather's defenses. But he didn't get his strategy from watching tape of Mayweather. Instead, he looked 14 years into the past for the plan he'd used to defeat another elusive boxer who had a significant height and reach advantage over Marquez.

"We are working on the same game plan for Mayweather that we used against Julian Wheeler, one of Juan Manuel's first fights in the United States," Beristain said through an interpreter. In 1995, Marquez took on Wheeler at the Great Western Forum, and scored a TKO in the tenth and final round. A former U.S. Olympian and U.S. National champion, Wheeler was listed as 5'8" ½, but when he stepped into the ring, TV announcer Tom Kelly said, "Marquez is decidedly shorter, and in fact listed as 5'7". I would think Wheeler would be closer to 5'10" from the look of him as they stand out there." Wheeler also had a freakish 74-inch reach—almost unheard of for a featherweight—which is two inches longer than Mayweather's.

So how did Beristain neutralize Wheeler's size advantage? He devised a strategy in which Marquez would tire out Wheeler and then batter him in the final rounds. He had Marquez stay in the middle of the ring and not move around except to pivot. This forced Wheeler to constantly expend energy while trying to square off with Marquez and kept him dancing on his toes all night.

The strategy paid off in the closing rounds when the wheels started to come off for Wheeler. In the final round, Wheeler's legs looked leaden and his gloves seemed to be moving in slow motion. Marquez pounced, landing virtually everything he let fly. In the final minute of the fight Marquez tattooed Wheeler with a four-punch combo that wobbled the bigger man's knees. Wheeler, who had been described by Kelly earlier as "a magnificent boxer," was reduced to looking like a punch-drunk wrestler. With five seconds left, and Wheeler still grabbing the referee—somewhat controversially—stepped in and stopped the fight.

It was an impressive victory for the young Mexican. The 22-year-old Marquez had the poise of a seasoned veteran, never straying far from Beristain's game plan. With the exception of round seven and a brief moment in 10, Marquez's back never touched the ropes. He fought the entire time in the middle of the ring.

Longtime Providence-based promoter Jimmy Burchfield had Wheeler in his stable in 1995, and was ringside for the fight. When asked 14 years later if Marquez's strategy against Wheeler had been designed to gas his fighter, Burchfield said: "I think that is exactly what Marquez was trying to do. Julian was tiring out towards the end. Marquez went into that fight as a young 22-year-old and after that fight he gained a lot of respect and became a man in the boxing business."

While it certainly worked at the time, does it make sense to use a 14-year-old strategy that felled a featherweight to beat one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world? It just might. Mayweather's template is to hang back or lie on the ropes and make his opponents chase him so he can sting them with counterpunches. Ricky Hatton did just that and ran smack into a left hook that ended the fight. Don't expect Marquez, a highly-disciplined fighter, to fall into the same trap.

If Marquez doesn't deviate, then Mayweather will almost certainly be forced into the role of aggressor, in no small part because of the lingering shadow of Manny Pacquiao. Mayweather may also subscribe to the notion that if he wants to gain financial leverage at the negotiating table for a possible fight with Pacquiao, he must look more impressive in beating Marquez than Pacquiao was in his razor-thin split decision last year—and when the two fought to a draw in 2004 Should Mayweather win by split decision, or a unanimous one in which the scorecards are very close, count on Pacquiao—the reigning pound-for-pound king—to reject a purse split close to parity and demand the lion's share, as he did against Ricky Hatton and will get for his announced bout with Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14.

In any case, the fight has already heated up outside the ring, but the talk has only made it less clear what approach Beristain plans to deploy on fight night. In an interview on Aug.4 with the Mexican newspaper ESTO, Marquez mentioned this conflicting strategy: "This week we began to work on speed and that is what I need to beat Mayweather. Also I am training to strike the body. It's rare that anyone hit him to the body. Zab Judah did it, and I am also going to do it." Marquez also told ESTO that he would specifically target the rib injury Mayweather suffered in training, which caused the scheduled July 18 fight to be postponed.

Marquez's declaration of war on Mayweather's ribs did not go unnoticed. The next day, Mayweather posted on his Twitter account, MAYWEATHERMANIA: "Marquez says hes goin after my ribs but there's no weakness in MONEY MAY. Only ribs he'll b diggin n2 will b at Outback after I take him down."

So which is it? Is Marquez planning to come out gunning for Mayweather's body? Or will he hold court in the center of the ring and make Mayweather bring the fight to him? Beristain might be sending mixed signals on purpose. "I can't tell you what we are going to do because that is between me and my fighter," he said, right before proceeding to do just that. Come fight night, we'll know what strategy Marquez's camp has settled on, and whether to add it to the heap of failed bids to take down Floyd Mayweather, or if it stands as a plan worth looking back on, 14 years from now.



 

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