Unless you've been living under a rock, you are probably aware that the highest paid athlete on the planet, Floyd Mayweather, will be defending his 147lb title against little known Mexican American boxer Robert Guerrero this weekend. Casual observers of the sport are mostly writing it off as a mismatch - Mayweather is the best, and anyone not named Manny Pacquiao doesn't have much of a chance to dethrone the pound for pound king.
But those casual observers probably haven't looked to closely at Guerrero, and if they do, they might just think again.
Guerrero, a product of a third generation working class Mexican family from California is about as tough as they come. He is no Mayweather when it comes to finesse, but the 29 year old is an excellent boxer who has won six world titles in four different weight classes. One of the most fearsome competitors in the sport today, Guerrero is not coming for a paycheck this Saturday, and genuinely believes he can take it to the 36 year old champion, who now fights an average of once a year.
“My belief is that I’m going to go in there and beat him down on May 4th," said Guerrero at a recent press conference. "He should just worry about getting ready for the rematch at this point. Be ready to be shocked.”
Fighting words from a man who genuinely does know how to fight.
Guerrero has remained largely under the radar given his humble personality, but he has stormed through the weight divisions with chilling relentlessness. He jumped two weight divisions from 135lbs to 147lbs in 2012 to face off against Selcuk Aydin, one of the hardest punchers in the division, giving the Turkish fighter a sound boxing lesson. Four months later, he gave the much larger and lightning quick power puncher Andre Berto the beating of a lifetime that removed any doubt as to his efficacy at welterweight.
Guerrero is a southpaw, who is at heart a classic boxer. He has a fast, accurate jab and a thudding left that has real knockout power when timed right, particularly when using it as an uppercut. Guerrero likes to box from the outside and get into rhythm, but he also has no problem brawling on the inside to change the dynamic of a fight. Guerrero and his father (also his trainer) devised a game plan to fight Berto on the inside, neutralizing his opponent's hand speed and forcing him to fight on the back foot. It was a messy, brutal fight, but Guerrero pulled out the victory, dropping Berto twice and leaving him looking like he had been run over by a car. And while Guerrero was pretty banged up, he was never in any serious trouble. "He didn't hurt me at all," said Guerrero after the fight. "Strong guy, punched hard, so I was able to take the shots." After that, every welterweight in the division took note.
Guerrero isn't blessed with the same athleticism as Mayweather, but he is a highly intelligent operator who can make adjustments throughout a fight and neutralize an opponent's strengths extremely effectively.
But let's not forget that Floyd Mayweather is regarded as the best fighter in boxing today for good reason. The Grand Rapids native is a once in a generation superstar with phenomenal speed, athletic attributes and one of the highest boxing IQs in the history of the sport. Mayweather's defensive skills and ability to decipher styles within minutes has resulted in one sided mismatches against other world champions. Many barely land a punch over the course of the fight, let alone win a meaningful number of rounds. His destruction of fighters like Diego Corrales, Arturo Gatti and Victor Ortiz have also shown a brutal side to his game, making him a literal Rubik's cube in the ring.
"Like I always say for every fight, everybody had a game plan," said Mayweather at a media workout in Vegas. "All 43 of my opponents had a game plan and all 43 opponents came up short. So, I could care less what my opponent has to say. There isn't a blueprint on how to beat me. No one has found a way to break the Mayweather code."
Mayweather is a strong favorite going into the fight because it is widely perceived that his skill level is simply to high for Guerrero.
So is it possible Guerrero can pull off the upset? Yes, and here's why.
Firstly, Mayweather is on the wrong side of 30. Having boxed since he could walk, Mayweather has had many years of wear and tear on his body. In a fighter, this nearly always shows up in your legs and your ability to move around the ring. While Mayweather still has astonishing hand speed, his legs have noticeably slowed down. This means he stays in front of opponents longer and relies on upper body movement to avoid punches. It's a riskier style for Mayweather because he has to be more aggressive to keep opponents off him, and that plays right into Guerrero's hands.
Secondly, Guerrero is a southpaw. Left handers have historically troubled Mayweather. He was hurt by Zab Judah and Demarcus Corley, and avoided Manny Pacquiao like the plague when the Filipino southpaw was in his prime. Guerrero isn't quite as fast as the fighters mentioned, but he is fast enough and he has a much better chin. That means Guerrero has a very good chance of landing his shots given he doesn't mind taking one to give one.
Thirdly, Guerrero knows how to make adjustments during a fight, and will be able to make Floyd fight in places where he's not necessarily comfortable. "You've got to be ready to do everything," said Guerrero about fighting Mayweather. "People say you need to have an A, B and C game plan, but with Floyd, you need an A to Z game plan. You've got to be ready for whatever because Floyd is the type of guy that makes adjustments here and there and he makes it tough for fighters to get in there with him. You've got to be ready to make those adjustments; we've been practicing a lot of stuff. Our game plan is to go out there and be 100 percent ready and be able to make those adjustments."
Finally, Guerrero's immense mental strength could also be a defining factor that allows him to push through when the going gets tough. Guerrero, whose wife was diagnosed with leukemia some years ago, believes that fighting in a ring isn't particularly difficult when compared to what his family has been through.
"My wife's battle with cancer really made me grow as a man," said Guerrero. "It makes you mentally strong. She is fighting for her life. Being a caretaker makes you a mentally strong person. That is why I laugh when you say this is just a fight compared to that because it is. It's just a fight. That is one of the things that I learned from her whole fight with cancer. Being mentally strong, being able to hold it together and pushing through is what counts."
On Saturday, Guerrero will be fighting one of the best boxers in the history of the sport. He is not expected to win, but that's exactly the way he likes it.