Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. (right) won easily over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez last weekend. (Getty Images photo)
The nuances of the “Philly Shell” are succinct yet extremely effective.
A slight external rotation of the torso to the power hand side, in reaction to a lunging opponent, can lead to landing damaging uppercut.
Raising the shoulder of the low-defending lead arm (normally a violation of the old boxing adage “keep your hands up”) an inch higher, while tucking the chin behind it, can turn the most violent power punches into an ineffective grazing shot that harmless bounces off the top of the head — hence the alternate name of the Philly Shell known as the “shoulder roll.”
It takes a supremely athletic fighter with the capabilities of lightning quick reaction time, excellent head movement, and fast hands to utilize this style to great effect.
All-time greats like Pernell Whitaker and James Toney were some fighters to effectively use the Philly Shell during their careers, slipping and ducking their respective ways into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
With a defensive genius like Floyd Joy Mayweather, Jr., the Philly Shell can seem downright impossible to penetrate which, in turn, makes “Money” (his self-given, yet fitting, moniker) appear simply unbeatable.
As evidenced in this past weekend’s super fight, with Mayweather’s systematic dismantling of junior middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, this might very well be the case.
For all the hype that was leading towards the fight, Canelo Alvarez was just not ready for a showdown of this magnitude, especially when your opponent is the premier fighter of the current boxing era.
Prior to the fight, not by any fault of his own, Canelo was simply a coddled star waiting-in-the-wing as the next great Mexican fighter.
Golden Boy Promotions, his promoter, is responsible for that.
Carefully bringing up a fighter is not a unique process to Golden Boy, all promoters do the same when they believe they have a future star in their stable.
However, they seem hell-bent on finding that next great Mexican fighter much in the mold of their president (and source of their namesake), Oscar De La Hoya.
They tried, and failed, with victim No. 42 of Mayweather’s reign, Mexican-American Victor Ortiz.
The story was there (abandoned by his parents before adolescence, raised by his sister in a rough Kansas neighborhood) as was the talent (classic boxer-puncher with great power and good technique), but things came crashing down when he quit on his stool in his 2009 barnburner with Marcos Maidana and his bizarre knockout loss against Mayweather, when he illegally headbutted him and was KO’d in the process of apologizing.
However, with Canelo Alvarez, Golden Boy finally felt they had a candidate with the talent and mental fortitude to fill in the legacy De La Hoya left behind.
But Mayweather, fresh on the heels of his dominance of Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (an unknown and hopelessly inferior fighter to Mayweather’s level), needed a big money name like Canelo to furnish his financial reputation.
The Guerrero fight’s PPV numbers were never really finalized, but they were undoubtedly disappointing, thus thrusting the very young and, in some ways, still raw Alvarez in to the spotlight when Mayweather chose him for his next fight.
Golden Boy, even with their insistence on bringing up Canelo slowly, couldn’t refuse a huge payday and he wouldn’t have let them anyway.
In boxing, money talks, period.
Through the media, Alvarez has presented a stoic, if not aloof, personality to the public, something that is generally accepted as a genuine portrayal of his private self.
He is described as serious, quiet, and sometimes intense, which can also describe his boxing style.
As with Ortiz, he is a classic boxer-puncher with above-average power who punches through his targets.
Unlike Ortiz, he is patient, intelligent, mentally strong, and has surprisingly good defense for a man of his relatively large size and slow footwork.
Prior to his last two fights with an overmatched Josesito Lopez (who knocked out Ortiz in a major upset) and Austin Trout, in a closer than what was scored fight, I would have told you Canelo was on his way to being a possible upset match for Mayweather.
In those two aforementioned fights however, he was way too patient, taking too long in between moments of his effective, yet sparse, flurries — basically trying to be too perfect in fights that called for him to be aggressive against inferior opponents.
The fight against Trout revealed that Canelo’s best punch, the straight right hand, can be nullified by creating distance with a long, deterring jab and head movement (although he did knock down Trout during the fight).
These discrepancies in Alvarez’s style showed up in Saturday night’s fight.
Here are a few keys to Mayweather’s victory against Alvarez:
• Mayweather, who normally eschews combinations in favor of throwing jabs and flashy counter-punches one at a time, was effective when throwing multiple punches in succession, especially when he doubled up his jab along with his jab-straight and lead hook-straight combos.
He was able to place his punches in the cracks of Canelo’s defense posture.
• Canelo’s best punch, the right straight, was relegated to nothing more than an ineffective punch which only landed regularly on Mayweather’s lead arm and lower torso.
When fighting righties like Canelo, Mayweather’s shoulder roll moves effectively in the direction of his power hand (far) side, in which he usually creates distance and leans back to dodge or slip power punches from the right hand while squarely blocking punches from the left hand (when fighting lefties, this is reversed, although he is not as efficient, which is the source of his slight troubles with unorthodox fighters).
When Canelo landed these right straights, they were either grazing head shots or landed just short of effective body shot locations.
• Throughout the fight, he was able to beat Canelo to the punch.
As I described earlier, Canelo was trying to out-box the best pure boxer on the planet.
Too often, he was waiting too long for the mirage that is the perfect punch against Mayweather (only Zab Judah, Sugar Shane Mosley and DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley were able to land these punches in the midst of trying to out-box Floyd, only for Money to adjust and dominate those fights).
Canelo was routinely peppered by jabs and counter-power punches when waiting too long and whiffed on his punches when he finally decided to throw.
Mayweather was able to slowly turn Canelo’s patient boxing style in to pure and simple indecisiveness, which he exposed more frequently as the fight progressed.
There are positives for Canelo to take away from this fight.
First of all, he displayed good defense through the opening rounds.
He dodged the majority of Mayweather’s lead hooks and showed faster than expected foot movement when distancing himself from opposing punches and strafed around and away from Floyd’s power hand.
Most importantly, he did not lose his cool or focus as some previous opponents of Mayweather were guilty of doing.
The moment did not seem too big for him, as many claimed that could be the case.
He didn’t play into Mayweather’s antics, often employing roughhouse tactics in clinches as to say “you will not intimidate me.”
This was apparent when Canelo retaliated with a hip punch to a cuffing of his eye by Mayweather.
He also smartly ignored Floyd’s insistence of tapping gloves after infractions, a boxing gesture of sportsmanship.
I guess Canelo learned from a lot from the Mayweather-Ortiz fight.
The main issue for Canelo was that he simply could not land cleanly or often and was out-boxed with a flawed game plan.
When fighting Floyd Joy Mayweather, Jr., there are two things you must do in order to be successful.
Alvarez excelled in one and not the other.
First, you cannot succumb to his antics in the ring.
Much like the ageless, all-time great in Bernard Hopkins, Floyd is a grandmaster of mental chess, often employing mind games before and during fight night to seek even the slightest advantage come the time when the bell rings.
Canelo was successful in this.
Second, is to have the right game plan.
As I previously mentioned, he tried to out-box the greatest pure boxer of this era.
That’s like trying to out-run the Miami Heat in a game of fast-paced transition ball with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the floor while Ray Allen is trailing to the 3-point line.
You may think you have a chance in the beginning of the game, but once the turnovers and full-court breaks add up, you’re down 25 with a minute to go in the 4th quarter.
The right game plan includes the following: you have to jab your way in on Mayweather, close off the ring, not be afraid to get hit, and unload in those few spots where he stays stationary once you get inside.
You cannot be deterred when Floyd lands; you have to walk through his best punches, stay disciplined to an aggressive and strict fight plan, and throw punches in bunches even if he blocks or slips them, without getting too off-balance and open.
Sounds simple, but Mayweather makes it the single most difficult task in boxing.
This is because you’re trying to perfectly balance fighting intelligently and timing with intense aggressiveness; fighting Mayweather means you have to fight perfectly.
There are only a few boxers who successfully pulled this off in sustained action over the course of multiple rounds.
The most recent example is Miguel Cotto, who balanced a strong jab and his trademark timing with aggressive combinations.
He looked like he was winning after the first 7 rounds until his well-known fragile chin betrayed him and he ran out of gas.
Mayweather thoroughly out-boxed him in the last 5 rounds.
Oscar De La Hoya was another fighter who successfully jabbed his way inside where he was able to score with his effective aggressiveness.
This lasted until his gas also ran out in the second half of the fight and ultimately lost a close split-decision.
The last and most effective boxer to fight Mayweather with this game plan successfully is the now-retired Jose Luis Castillo in their much-discussed first fight which took place over a decade ago.
Castillo, then the WBC lightweight champion of the world, successfully roughed up the challenger in Mayweather over 12 rounds.
Although his jab wasn’t utilized as much as Cotto and De La Hoya used theirs, Castillo was able to routinely close off the ring and out-punch Floyd on the inside.
Mayweather out-boxed him plenty at intermediate distance, but once Castillo got through the fire, he successfully roughed up Mayweather with his great in-fighting, throwing multiple power punches wherever he could on Mayweather.
Many still think Castillo won that fight to this day.
I believe he did as well, but all that is moot now, since he did lose that disputed decision and the subsequent rematch.
I also believe Mayweather is a better fighter today at 36 then he was at 24 in that first Castillo fight.
Whether you love him or hate him, he is a boxing savant of the highest order; a boxer whose style will be appreciated long after his career ends.
Undoubtedly, there are questions to his legacy.
He is known to pick the best money fights rather the best legacy fights, and unfortunately for us, those lined up together few and far in between when you look at his record.
Most damning to his legacy and most disappointing to boxing history and boxing’s audience is the unrealized fight of the century with Manny Pacquiao.
The failure of not getting this fight made is damaging to both careers.
So rare it is for boxing’s two best pound-for-pound fighters to not only be in the same weight class and have equal ability but to simultaneously be the two most bankable stars of the PPV era.
It is unfathomable for a fight of this importance and financial magnitude to not come into fruition.
In my opinion, Mayweather has been more at fault for the failure of this fight, a fight that would have been three years old had Mayweather not create the speculation of performance enhancing drug use on Manny’s part.
However, the fault ultimately lies on the both of them.
Like the Philly Shell defense, both camps of Floyd Joy Mayweather, Jr. and Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao have been able to slip, duck, dodge and counter all rationale in regards to making the fight.
But in the middle of all the disappointment, we cannot undervalue the importance of Floyd Mayweather, along with his amazing Philly Shell defense, to boxing.
After Saturday night’s fight, I’m sure that Canelo Alvarez, the PPV star of the future, doesn’t either.