Is Maidana any match for Mayweather?

It wasn’t Moses descending from Mount Sinai with stone tablets in hand, but on Monday boxing fans received some big news: For his next opponent, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has chosen Marcos Maidana over Amir Khan.

The fight is scheduled for May 3, and odds are that it’ll go down in Las Vegas, but that’s about all we know at the moment. It’s plenty. More information/speculation on purse splits, PPV numbers and the like will get kicked around in the coming days and weeks, but I strongly suspect that a large percentage of fight aficionados — and, perhaps more importantly, a huge number of would-be boxing fans — don’t care about these things. It’s all noise that distracts from the fights and fighters. (More on this in a future post.)

Instead, I’m far more interested in how Mayweather and Maidana match up. At first blush, it’s a no-brainer: Floyd dances, shoulder-rolls and counterpunches his way to a wide decision against a frustrated and too-slow Maidana. But I’m not completely convinced. Here’s why:

Mayweather is nothing if not calculating in choosing his opponents. Whether past their prime, inexperienced, undersized or lacking power, speed or poise — or some combination of all of the above — Floyd’s foes, for years, have been a series of lambs led to slaughter. When it comes to matchmaking his own fights, Mayweather only bets on sure things.

Then again, two of his most recent bouts seemed to undermine that theory, although for different reasons. Miguel Cotto seemed a classic Mayweather mark: a former champ and a huge draw who, nevertheless, had seemingly faded and posed little threat. But Floyd bit off almost more than he could chew against Cotto, who exhibited his old resolve and a sound fight plan to amplify his size and power advantages. Cotto forced Mayweather to earn every bit of his decision win and invited questions about the then-35-year-old’s previously otherworldly reflexes and quickness.

But then Mayweather appeared as finely tuned as ever while boxing circles around Robert Guerrero and, rather than settle on another payday against an overmatched victim, accepted what seemed to be one of the most daunting challenges of his career: a matchup with Canelo Alvarez. Cerebral, exceptionally well built and at least moderately powerful, Canelo — then an undefeated junior middleweight champ — was 13 years Mayweather’s junior and a naturally bigger fighter. Some, including me, saw a reasonable approximation of a younger Cotto.

In hindsight, that comp seems patently ridiculous. Mayweather went on to give the Guerrero treatment to Alvarez, outclassing him in every way — including effortlessly darting out of harm’s way and beating the kid to the punch round after round. But did we so grossly overestimate Canelo, or was Floyd simply that much better? Ultimately, your opinion of Mayweather’s current form likely hinges on whether you believe Alvarez was a too-hyped media creation or a gifted but still-growing fighter who wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

The irony is that Maidana will almost certainly be a bigger underdog than Alvarez was, but he will have a better chance to replicate Cotto’s effectiveness against Mayweather.

Canelo’s greatest sin against Floyd was a lack of commitment. More than hand speed or footwork, the fight was dictated by his merely half-hearted attempts to engage. Alvarez wouldn’t have been the first opponent to find himself exasperated and out of options only a handful of rounds into a Mayweather fight. But more accurately, it seemed for all the world that his plan throughout was to be patient and, somehow, try to outbox the world’s greatest boxer.

Maidana, you can be sure, won’t make the same mistake. He’s a brawler at heart, and trainer Robert Garcia’s initial efforts to transform him into some sort of Argentine Paulie Malignaggi seemed to fall a bit flat. Still, in his most recent bout, a challenge of then-welterweight titlist Adrien Broner, something clicked. Against Broner, “El Chino” struck upon the perfect alchemy of boxing and bloodlust. Maidana aggressively stalked Broner, attacking in waves of combinations to prevent him from getting off — but he did so in a relatively measured, methodical manner. Rather than needlessly trading or punching himself out, as he occasionally had in other big fights, Maidana  consistently stayed just busy enough to keep Broner off balance and at bay.

Will a similar approach work against Mayweather? Actually, it might be Maidana’s only chance. Box with Floyd, and it’s death by 1,000 cuts. Try to take his head off, and Mayweather calmly steps aside and counters. Rough him up along the ropes or in the corner? Sure, if you can keep him there long enough. (Note: You can’t.)

Still, Maidana isn’t without hope. He was effective in cutting off the ring against Broner, and his power is no joke — even at welterweight (a division at which he he has fought only five times). If he makes it his mission to track and repeatedly hem in Mayweather, even if it means wading into some leather, Maidana could begin to smother his opponent’s offense and wear him down just enough by the middle rounds to land a dizzying blow that turns the fight his way. Fool-proof? Uh-uh, but it’s the only plan that makes sense.

So what’s the final verdict? Um … Floyd dances, shoulder-rolls and counterpunches his way to a wide decision against a frustrated and too-slow Maidana.

Hey, the man knows how to pick ’em.

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