FLOYD MAYWEATHER gave a demonstration of speed and skill surpassed only by the bravery and unwavering commitment of his challenger, the Puerto Rican Carlos Gerena, who retired after seven one-sided rounds on the advice of ringside doctor Flip Homansky.
Gerena was offered this fight in May, when Gregorio Vargas (at ringside) pulled out and was replaced by Ugandan Justin Juuko, but refused the opportunity on the grounds he had been in training for a 10-rounder and felt unprepared.
All the time in the world would not have improved his chances.
The Puerto Rican (9st 4lbs) withstood a beating the manner of which compelled Homansky to advise referee Richard Steele to end Floyd’s fourth defence of the WBC super-featherweight title at the Mandalay Bay Convention Area.
But that only 2,072 fans attended the match (the bill started at 5pm) shows also that while Maywather is fast becoming one of the best fighters in the world at any weight, he has some way to go before matching promotional stablemate Oscar De La Hoya as an attraction.
Homansky’s decision, given that Mayweather (9st 4lbs) had won every round and was ahead 70-61 on the scorecards of judges Daniel Talon (France), Ken Morita (Japan) and Chuck Giampa (USA), was perfectly justified. The spectacle was rapidly becoming a massacre.
Gerena couldn’t find any route to victory and was fortunate – but for the bell to signal the end of the round – to survive the first, when he was floored twice.
Yet just when it appeared Gerena would be swept aside impressively, the Puerto Rican found the resources not only to fight back on occasion, but also endure almost everything thrown at him.
Gifted as Mayweather is, the way Gerena stood up to the champion’s punches from round two through seven makes me wonder if Floyd quite has strength to go with his speed and timing.
Perhaps with maturity, Floyd, 22, will become a more complete fighter, as frightening a thought as that may be to his rivals.
Yet one could not help but notice how difficult Mayweather, 22-0 (17), found it to force Gerena back until the seventh, when it seemed the challenger’s legs started to give out on him even if, in his mind, Carlos was perfectly willing to carry on.
The final exchange of the contest was a verbal one. As the bell went to signal the end of the seventh, Gerena looked at Floyd – who over the last minute had been throwing fewer punches – held out his arms and said, “You know boxing?”
In other words, he was asking Mayweather why the champion had suddenly stopped bombarding him, and when Floyd was asked about the Puerto Rican’s taunting and bravado, the American replied: “It didn’t bother me.
“My sparring partners trash-talk me all of the time in training. That’s part of the preparation.”
It was not Mayweather at his finest, but Floyd has the flair and expertise to outclass the bulk of opposition in the division when he is functioning at 65 per cent.
Even more compelling were the punch stats, not always a reliable indicator of how a match has gone, though in this case it showed Mayweather landed 69 per cent of power punches, 51 per cent jabs and 64 per cent of the 346 punches he threw. By contrast, Gerena, 34-3 (28), connected with a total of 99 blows and landed only 19 jabs. “This will be the greatest boxer in the world,” said the enthusing promoter Bob Arum. “He may not be now, but will be in years to come. He’ll become a legend.”
Certainly, in the first round Mayweather, in turquoise shorts, looked the part, smashing Gerena to the canvas twice.
The first knockdown followed a short right uppercut by the ropes – which Gerena didn’t see coming and had him in trouble. Carlos wobbled and Mayweather pounced, blasting the Puerto Rican with a right which sent him down.
Gerena, making his second bid for the title after losing on points to Genaro Hernandez in May 1998, picked himself up, walked to a neutral corner and took a count of eight.
Then, as Mayweather came in firing looking to put the lid on the match, Carlos squared up to him and began tapping his chest, showing the champion in no uncertain terms he had the heart for the job.
Mayweather, so incredibly fast at times that it was impossible to keep track of his punches, pounded away before, finally, a left right sent Gerena down again near the ropes, this time for four. Carlos took the mandatory eight and the bell went before Mayweather had a chance to end it.
All three judges scored the round 10-7 and, when Mayweather started the second with a quick two-shot combination of left hook to the head and body, the end seemed nigh. But Gerena stood firm, flicked out his jab and Mayweather moved around him, pumping out more punches which, when connecting, made a sound resembling that of a shot-gun with a silencer.
Soon enough, Gerena was over the initial shock and Mayweather, tiring from throwing his dazzling combinations, positioned himself smartly on the ropes and, with an air of arrogance, invited Gerena to try his luck.
Some of Mayweather’s best attacks were at close range, where Gerena could not possibly know what to expect, and a right rattled the challenger’s jaw seconds before the bell.
More lightning fast hooks and jabs nailed Gerena in the third, but the Puerto Rican, tightening his defence, edged his way forwards and at one point dropped his hands and smiled before throwing a combination. Essentially, Gerena was treating Mayweather with no respect and Floyd, starting to realise his opponent might be there for the full 12 rounds, began to place his punches more carefully.
The shots still kept coming and so did Gerena, but Mayweather also appeared distracted at times, glancing towards a neutral corner, or possibly even at Roy Jones Jnr (commentating from ringside for HBO), as though he was trying to impress and looking for acknowledgement.
Whatever his reasons, against a better grade of opponent Mayweather might have paid for this. The fourth started much like any other round, Mayweather throwing delightful combinations. A left hook to the head was blocked, but the hook to the chin that followed got through.
Gerena took it – he didn’t flinch – then lengthened his stride as he advanced on the champion, who backed up continually.
But when Floyd planted his feet, the difference in his shots was noticeable. Gerena staggered slightly, then patted his chest again to show he could take it. Mayweather, not to be outdone, did the same. Even a perfectly-placed left hook to the ribs near the end of the round could not knock Gerena out of his stride.
So when the bell went for the fifth, Mayweather dashed out of his corner and tried to take Gerena by surprise with a lead right. Within seconds, Floyd was back on the ropes, Gerena leaning on him, trying to find a way through.
Going to the body more, Mayweather kept switching his attacks but now had a bloody lower lip. It didn’t trouble him.
The round ended with a sensational right over the top followed immediately by a right uppercut and Gerena, defiant to the end, shook his head. Some of the crowd were beginning to become unsettled – they had expected a knockout and Mayweather’s expression at times registered the dissatisfaction the fans were feeling.
Like a lumberjack hacking at a tree and waiting for it to topple, Floyd kept delivering quality shots, however. In the sixth, he fired a booming right, then several more followed, but the Puerto Rican would not wobble, never mind collapse.
Mayweather’s work still had to be admired. He puts punches together like few fighters can in the sport today and throws them from incredible angles.
At the end of the session, after absorbing several more power shots, Gerena, whose face was marking up, walked towards the champion smiling. Gerena rallied briefly in the seventh, but there was nothing behind his punches and the American dismissed them as though his challenger were hitting him with party balloons.
Clearly the Carlos had nothing with which to hurt Mayweather, and therefore no way of winning legitimately. Nose bleeding, Gerena found his legs starting to wilt and the time seemed right to close the show.
Mayweather set his feet again, threw a few hard hooks, then eased off again when Gerena didn’t go down.
It was then that the challenger called out to Mayweather and gave the crowd the impression he had plenty of fight left in him when all Gerena had was blind courage.
Carlos admitted almost immediately: “Mayweather’s the best, he was beautiful out there.” Miguel Diaz, in Mayweather’s corner, said: “Floyd was having a good time, wanted some rounds.”
But it was obvious to me Floyd wanted rid of his challenger as quickly as possible.
He said, “Gerena really surprised me when he got up from the second knockdown. That was a good shot. He threw me out of my game plan. Remember I’ve only been a pro for two and a half years.”
Homansky explained his decision to have the bout stopped, saying: “In the seventh, Gerena took the first blow and his head spun around. He was taking too many head blows and I wasn’t going to let his bravery get him hurt. Gerena was comfortable with my decision.”
It seems Mayweather will face the winner of next month’s IBF title fight between Roberto Garcia and unbeaten Diego Corrales. But Floyd, who can make 9st 4lbs without difficulty, explained it is his intention to unify the division before stepping up to lightweight.
This effectively ruled out a more immediate match with Sheffield’s Naseem Hamed. “I can’t make 126 (9st),” said Floyd. “I’ll fight whoever. Anything is possible, but I could maybe fight Naseem at 128.”
The more plausible targets, after Garcia, are WBA champion Lavka Sim of Mongolia and hot Brazilian puncher Acelino Freitas, the WBO title-holder, a fabulous match.
It will be far easier to tempt Sim to America than Freitas, over whom exists a struggle for promotional rights. That said, the Freitas bout is a potential money-spinner and HBO’s Lou DiBella, for one, recognises the need to build the Brazilian into a marketable force.
“My goal is to unify the title,” added Floyd Mayweather. “I love boxing. I do the right things. I couldn’t be the champion without the people who are around me. It’s been a hard but short road. The fighting’s the easy part.
“Some days I don’t want to run, but I know I want to keep winning and that’s what drives me.”