Let me start off by saying that I am not a racist. In fact, if anything, I've probably been accused more of favoring Mexican fighters over African-American fighters, which a few people assumed after I ranked Julio Cesar Chavez and Roberto Duran higher than Meldrick Taylor and Sugar Ray Leonard on my article on the 100 Greatest Fighters of All Time.
But when trying to analyze the nuances of tonight's Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz megafight, my mind kept returning to similar fights in history, pitting slick, defensive African-American fighters against aggressive, forward-moving Mexican-style fighters.
Just looking at a list of classic fights that came to mind:
- Shane Mosley vs. Oscar De La Hoya (both fights)
- Meldrick Taylor vs. Julio Cesar Chavez
- Pernell Whitaker vs. Julio Cesar Chavez
- Bernard Hopkins vs. Oscar De La Hoya
- Bernard Hopkins vs. Felix Trinidad
- Roberto Duran (who was Panamanian, but with a style that resembled Mexican boxers far more than American or Argentinean) vs. Sugar Ray Leonard (2 of 3), Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and Thomas Hearns
Note, again, that I ranked Duran higher than any of these three opponents on my list, so it has nothing to do with a value judgment, but rather a stylistic one.
It struck me that in nearly all of these cases, the African-American fighter won, or there was a strong case to be made for them winning the fight. In Taylor vs. Chavez, Taylor was ahead on the scorecards with two seconds left, and it is perhaps the most controversial fight in the history of boxing. In Whitaker vs. Chavez, it was ruled a draw, but Sports Illustrated's next issue had a picture of Pernell Whitaker with the headline "Robbed!"
When Mayweather steps into the ring versus Ortiz tonight, most fans are expecting a similar result. The Mexican-style fighter (Ortiz, who is a U.S. native, but borrows from the proud and exciting Mexican tradition of power, aggressiveness and an action-packed fighting attitude) will come out swinging, but will be systematically deconstructed by the slick, defensive-minded counterpuncher, Mayweather.
Why does this happen? Well, perhaps the most overly-quoted boxing utterance of all time is "styles make fights," and an aggressive style doesn't do well against a slick, counterpunching approach. Aggression does well against stand-up, fundamental-style boxers and "swing for the fences" sluggers, who are thrown off by the constant forward movement and unrelenting persistence that the aggressive fighter offers.
But when it comes to counterpunchers, they thrive on throwing off the timing of their opponent and eluding their aggressive foe. A perfectly-placed jab, a well-executed parry, a plethora of bobs and weaves—this is the gift of a fighter like Mayweather.
It's not just confined to African-American fighters. Mexican star Marco Antonio Barrera had a knack for landing a perfectly-timed jab to throw off an opponent's rhythm. Salvador Sanchez was another exceptional example of defense and counterpunching from the Mexican style. Paulie Malignaggi and Joe Calzaghe also used slick defense and cat-like reflexes to accomplish some of their main goals in the sport.
However, even mixed-style stars like Barrera would lose to more pure defensive fighters like Junior Jones, and the reasons for it had nothing to do with ability—I consider Barrera a vastly superior fighter to Jones—but were purely stylistic. Part of what made Chavez legendary was his ability to win fights that seemed unwinnable—against Taylor, for example.
So keep this in mind when Ortiz steps into the ring with the heavily-favored Mayweather in a few hours. An Ortiz win is possible, but given the history and the caliber of the fighters, highly unlikely. Nonetheless, I think I speak for all of us when I say I'm looking forward to the fight.
Looking for more reasons I consider Mayweather an even greater favorite than the 7-1 or 8-1 odds? 12 Reasons Ortiz Can't Beat Money