It was Floyd Mayweather Jr. who coined the phrase, “There is no blueprint on how to beat me.” The line, which has become one of the primary weapons in his pre-fight mind games, summarizes the feelings of futility that some must feel as the days tick down towards a showdown with “Money.”
On Saturday night, Mayweather (44-0, 26 knockouts) won’t be the only man to enter the ring at MGM Grand with an undefeated record. THE RING’s junior middleweight champion, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs), also hasn’t been beaten, and, aside for a draw he sustained a month before his sixteenth birthday, hasn’t encountered much adversity in the ring.
Barring a draw, one man will walk out with the first loss on his ledger, while the other emerges with one of the most prized scalps in the sport today. This isn’t the first time either has looked across the ring at another ‘0,’ however.
During Floyd Mayweather’s 17-year long career, he has faced two opponents with unbeaten records: Diego Corrales and Ricky Hatton. Alvarez, though far less experienced in terms of big fights, has actually faced three undefeated fighters: Gabriel Martinez, Euri Gonzalez and Austin Trout.
Here is a look back at the performances of both fighters when facing other opponents for whom no blueprint on how to defeat them existed.
Though in hindsight it’s easy to see why Corrales was tailor-made for the quicker Mayweather, many felt that this matchup was a pick ’em fight that could go either way. Corrales, with his lanky frame and frightening knockout power, had drawn comparisons to Thomas Hearns. Some figured that Corrales’ power would overwhelm Mayweather and leave him looking not so “pretty.”
Corrales had made three defenses of the IBF junior lightweight title prior to dropping the belt with plans to move up in weight, but found the opportunity to face Mayweather – the reigning WBC titleholder – too tempting to resist.
Corrales had plenty on his mind heading into the bout, with domestic violence charges that would later send him to prison hanging over his head, while Mayweather had enjoyed utopian prosperity in his five defenses as champion.
From the opening bell, it was no contest. As Corrales walked in sans jab looking to land a big shot, Mayweather would dance around him and land right-hand leads and left hooks at will.
Mayweather scored the first knockdown of the fight in Round 7 on a pair of left hooks. Mayweather would drop Corrales twice more in the round, with the second coming off a lunging left hook, and the third after Mayweather pounded him along the ropes just before the bell. Corrales would survive the round, despite being outlanded 39 to 3 by CompuBox’s tally.
In the tenth round, Mayweather dropped Corrales again with a sharp left hook, sending Corrales to his knees. Corrales hit the deck for a fifth time after a series of right hands.
Corrales’ stepfather and trainer, Ray Woods, who had first introduced Corrales to the sport, decided his fighter had had enough. An irate Corrales walked towards Woods and asked, “What are you doing?” in objection. Legend has it that Corrales never spoke to Woods again after stopping the fight.
After emerging from prison in 2003, Corrales would go on to win two more world titles and engage in one of the greatest fights in boxing history against Jose Luis Castillo before dying in a motorcycle accident in 2007.
Having beaten Oscar De La Hoya earlier in the year, Mayweather was enjoying his first taste of crossover fame. The British fan-favorite Hatton had won the junior welterweight title when he ended the career of the legendary Kostya Tszyu in 2005, but his life-and-death struggle with Luis Collazo for the WBA welterweight title the following year raised some doubts about whether or not he had already peaked.
Hatton had allayed some of those doubts when he knocked out a faded Jose Luis Castillo with a body shot, and then proceeded to call out Mayweather in his post-fight interview. That was all the impetus Mayweather would need to make the fight.
Mayweather may have been the favorite to win, but the crowd was decidedly partisan in favor of the underdog as they filled the air with chants of “There’s only one Ricky Hatton…”
In Round 1, a Hatton left hook knocked Mayweather off balance and he reeled across the ring to regain his balance. Still, it was Mayweather landing the cleaner shots, particularly with lead right hands.
The eighth round was the most one-sided round of the bout, when a series of body shots opened Hatton up for a right-hand lead that forced him into a corner. Mayweather continued to target pinpoint shots to Hatton’s head and body that rocked the Manchester native with about 20 unanswered blows.
The bout’s finish in Round 10 would enter the term “check hook” into the boxing lexicon forever. As Hatton walked in to what looked like yet another death trap, Mayweather cracked Hatton with a short left hook as he spun out of a corner, sending Hatton face-first into the turnbuckle. Hatton rose up at the count of eight but another left hook sent him reeling back to the floor, where the referee waved off the bout.
Detractors would argue that referee Joe Cortez, who had broken them up every time they embraced for a moment, had unfairly affected the texture of the bout. But the only way Hatton would’ve won that night is if he had picked a different opponent.
Hatton would win twice more before being knocked unconscious by Manny Pacquiao in two rounds, effectively ending his career.
For the 17-year-old Alvarez, Martinez presented the first test of the young fan-favorite’s career. Martinez, 19, of Empalme, Mexico, had already beaten one-time prospect Nurhan Suleymanoglu and knocked out 9-1 James Villastrigo in one round, and looked to be a decent test for Alvarez.
Early on, Alvarez’s inexperience showed as he missed a lot of punches while struggling to cut off the ring against the mobile Martinez.
Alvarez still landed the harder shots, but tasted Martinez’s power near the end of the second round when a right hand crashed into his face as he evaded shots along the ropes.
Alvarez’s steady pressure and commitment to the body attack began to take effect as early as the third round, and his superior strength and confidence wore on Martinez, who was eating flush right crosses whenever Alvarez served them up.
In the opening moments of Round 11, just as it looked like the referee should be stepping in to stop the fight, Martinez unloaded his best punch of the night, buckling Alvarez’s legs with an overhand right that sent him back to the ropes. Alvarez recovered quickly, and that shot would be the final hurrah for Martinez.
Alvarez unleashed a sustained beating for the remainder of the round, badly damaging his opponent’s left eye. Martinez’s father and trainer, Gabriel Sr., waved the bout off before the beginning of the twelfth round.
Though Martinez would go unbeaten over his next 11 fights and win the Mexican welterweight title, he’d never again regain the promise he enjoyed prior to the Alvarez fight. Currently he is on a five-bouts losing streak.
By this point, the 18-year-old Alvarez was already beginning to make noise north of the Rio Grande, having won a pair of fights in the States the previous year as the knockout machine continued to roll on.
Euri Gonzalez of the Dominican Republic looked to be another step-up in Alvarez’s progression towards legitimate contention. Gonzalez had already beaten Raul Pinzon, who had a record of 14-0 at the time. Throughout the bout, Gonzalez applied pressure to Alvarez to test his unknown durability and had a modicum of success with right hands whenever Alvarez would rest on the ropes.
With the crowd chanting “Ca-ne-lo!” Alvarez’s right hand began to find Gonzalez’s chin with more frequency, and after stunning him into the ropes and landing a barrage, the referee stopped the fight in the eleventh round.
Gonzalez rebounded to beat former title challenger Cosme Rivera later that year but lost his last two bouts and has been inactive for over a year.
Though Alvarez had been the WBC junior middleweight champion for two years by this point, there were still some who viewed him as a “champion in training.” To that point, Alvarez hadn’t faced a prime, championship-caliber opponent who could test his mettle as a fighter.
More than a few pundits were surprised when Alvarez agreed to face WBA titleholder Austin Trout, a tough lefty who had just beaten Miguel Cotto in what was the most impressive victory he’d registered to that point.
In front of a reported 39,472 fans, Alvarez took on the division’s boogeyman, whom many felt he would be best to circumvent. Early on, Trout’s mobility and right jab gave Alvarez headaches as he struggled to find opportunities to counter.
Alvarez finally found the shot he had been looking for in Round 7 when a straight right lead down the middle landed flush on Trout’s jaw, sending him lock-kneed to the canvas. Trout rose up and Alvarez looked to finish, but Trout’s awkward movement once again made matters difficult. Alvarez’s left hook was all but nullified, and he would have to rely on his right crosses and uppercuts for the rest of the night.
Both men raised their games that night, but it was Alvarez who punched his ticket to major fights with the unanimous decision victory. One judge turned in an absurd tally of 119-108, but the other two saw the fight more in line with reality at 115-112 and 116-111.
Photos by Naoki Fukuda (1 & 5); John Gurzinski-AFP/Gettyimages (2); Gabriel Buoys-AFP/Gettyimages (3); Jed Jacobsohn-Gettyimages (4)
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.