FRESNO, California- Now you see him, now you don't.
Judging by his performance against Victoriano Sosa Saturday at Selland Arena, WBC lightweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. could change his nickname from "Pretty Boy" to "The Master of Illusion."
Mayweather, who defended his title for the second time by taking a 12-round unanimous decision over the tough Dominican, resembled Houdini, seemingly disappearing into thin air as Sosa tried in vain to connect with a solid punch.
As with all magic shows, Mayweather's sleight-of-hand is most appreciated in person and as close as one can get, as his subtle tricks and defensive wizardry often leave some distant members of the audience disbelieving when the scores are read.
Such was the case Saturday, as the Fresno crowd erupted into a sea of boos and profanity when ringside judges Chuck Hasset, Lou Filippo and Jack Woodburn's scores were read. Hasset and Woodburn had it 118-110, while Filippo saw it 119-109, all in favor of Mayweather. This reporter concurred, scoring it 118-111.
It's easy to understand why the majority of the crowd seemingly had it for Sosa. If one was sitting anywhere from the back row in the ringside seats up to the nosebleed section of the bleachers, it had to appear that the busier Sosa was landing the majority of his punches. CompuBox statistics bore out Sosa's more voluminous punching, as he threw 565 punches to Mayweather's 448.
However, it's more important to look at total punches connected if one is to get a truer sense of a Mayweather defensive masterpiece. Sosa landed only 79 punches, a relatively impotent 14-percent of his output. Mayweather, on the other hand, connected with 248 punches for a 55-percent connect rate, including 147-of-246 jabs (60-percent).
More than having a computer to determine the outcome of the fight, it was necessary to have a seat close enough to the ring in order to appreciate fully what was taking place between the ropes. It is a seemingly frustrating dynamic (for the fans) that appears to be the norm, rather than the exception, for nearly all Mayweather fights.
Put simply, Mayweather is a defensive genius. Mayweather gave Sosa's right hand nearly no target to hit, as "Pretty Boy's" left arm and shoulder looked like a protective, backwards L to Sosa, with the shoulder shielding Mayweather's jaw, the biceps area protecting effectively his ribs and his forearm and glove blocking the lower torso.
Mayweather's right arm was an equally effective bastion. With the glove positioned near his chin, the right arm was close to the body, with the forearm, biceps and elbow all guarding the ribs and liver against a left hook, while the right glove protected his jaw, flicking down to protect against an uppercut.
Combined with head movement resembling that of a cobra, Mayweather's slick footwork allowed him to simultaneously dodge most of the unblocked punches, as well as positioning him to land his own quick, accurate left jab and occasional right hand. While not overly powerful, Mayweather's punches were scored nonetheless, which is the name of the game: hit and not get hit.
Mayweather, now 30-0, with 20 knockouts, has had tremendous success with this formula, winning the WBC super featherweight crown in 1998 and defending it eight times, before capturing the WBC lightweight crown in perhaps his only controversial victory last April against Jose Luis Castillo. Many ringside observers thought Castillo won the bout, and CompuBox scores seemed to buttress their argument, but Mayweather removed all doubts in an October rematch, handing Castillo an emphatic points loss.
Mayweather's style may be effective in the ring, but it has not yet captured the adulation of the paying public, as Mayweather has never fought on a Pay-Per-View card. Rightfully or not, it is this fact that has kept Mayweather from joining the elite company of such box-office superstars as Roy Jones, Lennox Lewis, Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson. It is apparent that the majority of fans like more action, preferring offensive fireworks over the artistry Mayweather provides.
What's next in Mayweather's bag of tricks? Pre-fight talk centered around Mayweather gaining 19 pounds, skipping two weight divisions and stepping up against WBA-WBC junior middleweight king De La Hoya. But after the Sosa fight Mayweather said he would likely defend against WBC mandatory challenger Juan "The Hispanic Causing Panic" Lazcano, which would likely be followed by a matchup with the winner of the May 17 IBF-WBA lightweight title unification bout between Paul Spadafora and Leonard Dorin.
A fight with De La Hoya would certainly break Mayweather's Pay-Per-View drought and pad his bank account, but, at 5-foot-8 and with his hands once again giving him problems (Mayweather's left hand was swollen following the Sosa victory), his best route would seem to be against other lightweights. Only 26, Mayweather has plenty of time to establish his legend.
The aggressive, hard-punching Lazcano could present Mayweather with problems, but the same was said about Diego Corrales, whom Mayweather destroyed in January 2001. When Mayweather has been presented with a challenge, he has been able to step it up. He looks to be able to dominate the lightweight ranks and will undoubtedly step up and meet undisputed junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu.
Whether or not Mayweather can attract the paying public at 140 pounds -- boxing's deepest division -- is still a dicey proposition. But as with Jones, who captivated boxing fans when he moved from light heavyweight to heavyweight, perhaps Mayweather's talents will be more appreciated at a higher weight division. And if he's lucky he may not even have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to do it.