Marcos Maidana gave Floyd Mayweather, Jr. a much tougher fight than anyone expected. A 12-to-1 underdog, Maidana nearly vaulted himself into boxing lore with one of the greatest upsets in recent history.
Maidana was able to maul Mayweather along the ropes for the majority of the fight, sustaining a relentless intensity. El Chino even cut the undefeated champion in the fourth round, a rarity that indicated Maidana had overcome all odds to give Mayweather a difficult fight. Admittedly, the cut came from a dubious headbutt, though Maidana's willingness to push the envelope was the primary catalyst in keeping him in the fight.
Despite the majority decision, it's an ambivalent win for Mayweather. Though most boxing experts scored the fight as a victory for Mayweather, some like Ring Magazine's David Greisman saw clear signs of decline in the 37-year-old:
I had it 115-113 for Mayweather, but there were several close rounds. I feel like Floyd's showing signs of aging.— David Greisman (@fightingwords2) May 4, 2014
The fight was likely Mayweather's most difficult since his memorable 2002 lightweight win over Jose Louis Castillo. Moreover, Maidana's indefatigable activity coupled with referee Tony Weeks' reluctance to step in allowed Chino to pummel Mayweather with a flurry of activity from close range. After the fight, Mayweather was explicitly critical of Weeks' handling of the fight:
Floyd says if there's a rematch he doesn't want Tony Weeks as ref. Complaining he let Maidana get away with too much. #MayweatherMaidana— Dan Rafael (@danrafaelespn) May 4, 2014
Other similarly aggressive styles such as that of Ricky Hatton have failed to dent Mayweather previously, largely because the referees have not let other fighters extend such muggings very far. Despite that history, however, ESPN.com's Brian Campbell opines that Maidana's straightforward style is the best blueprint to defeat Mayweather:
Maidana never buckled under the mental and physical fatigue that inevitably comes once Mayweather’s patented midfight adjustment opens the door for him to land a series of flush right hands to the face. The Argentine slugger was able to do that by maintaining a hellish pace and overwhelming Mayweather with volume, which never allowed him to properly set himself or get comfortable for a prolonged time.
Campbell also noted that Maidana landed the most punches of any Mayweather opponent since CompuBox has kept track of them over the latter's last 37 fights. Maidana landed 221 punches and threw 858—more than double the amount Mayweather ended up throwing over 12 rounds.
Nevertheless, Mayweather did win the fight and in doing so unified the welterweight and junior welterweight titles. That earns him the distinction of being the first boxer to ever simultaneously unify belts in two different weight classes, though he cannot technically hold belts in different classes.
And yet, Mayweather found himself defending the decision after the fight, with Maidana claiming that he should have won the fight, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. Mayweather claimed that his recent fights against Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto were tougher, though the empirical evidence would suggest otherwise:
Regardless, the tough bout at least provides some clarity for Mayweather moving forward. There was no clear September opponent as part of his six-fight contract with Showtime. With Maidana providing Mayweather arguably his toughest competition in over a decade, a rematch looks like a clear subsequent step.
Is Floyd Mayweather in decline?
Mayweather should not be criticized for winning in unexpectedly tight fashion. After all, at 46-0, he has earned the benefit of the doubt until he unequivocally proves that he has declined. Still, there were clear flaws against Maidana, leaving Mayweather something to prove for the first time in years.
A rematch would not only give Mayweather an opportunity to silence the doubters, but also provide one of the most genuinely compelling pre-fight storyline in years. Seeing that a potential Manny Pacquiao fight appears dead, a rematch with El Chino would be the next-best decision for boxing fans.