There's nothing in sports like the few seconds before and after a boxing match's opening bell, HBO's Max Kellerman once said. It's the culmination of months of anticipation, months of each fighter explaining why his fighting style is ideal for clobbering his opponent, months of 24/7 all-access shows building narratives and personalities. It's the anticipation of knowing that, in less than an hour, one of these men you're looking at might be an unconscious bloody mess. Knowing that something primal, brutal, and elegant is about to take place. Knowing that at this exact moment, two men are literally putting their lives on the line for our entertainment (and a multi-million dollar purse).
Saturday's mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Robert Guerrero, of course, was not on HBO. Because Mayweather Jr. had signed a potentially power-shifting contract with Showtime, formerly the second tier boxing platform. But not even Showtime Boxing could dilute the anticipation.
There was Mayweather, undefeated and seemingly unbeatable, and there was Guerrero, possibly tougher and with heavier hands than any man the pound-for-pound champion had ever faced.
That opening bell anticipation crescendoed by the end of the second round, as Guerrero strolled back to his corner with the kind of swagger that infects a man who has just done something nobody believes is possible. And certainly nobody believed that Mayweather, even after two weeks in a Las Vegas jail and year removed from his last bout, could possibly look slow. But for two rounds, Guerrero stalked him and landed clean shots, controlling the tempo with clean jabs and hooks to the body. For two rounds, Guerrero was counter-punching the counter-punching master. Perhaps this fight would turn into the toe-to-toe slugfest that the man from Gilroy needed.
But if Mayweather and his team were nervous and scrambling for adjustments after the second round, the home viewers would never know. Nor would we know whether his trainer/father Floyd Sr. offered any sort of profound wisdom. Unlike HBO's usual practice of showing each corner's between-rounds strategic discussion, Showtime spent the minute break giving us slow-mo replays, plus approximately three seconds in Guerrero's corner.
All we would know is that Mayweather began the third round a different fighter. Or, more accurately, the same fighter he'd been for the greater part of 43 victories. Most likely, for the two rounds Guerrero was giving his fans hope for a spectacular upset, Mayweather was measuring his opponent, internalizing his rhythms and timing and power. Because for the next ten rounds, Mayweather made boxing look easy, as he tends to do. He danced around the ring, popping his jab, unleashing three and four punch combinations, and moving away before Guerrero could match the damage. His straight right was fast and powerful and made Guerrero's face bleed. His shoulder rolls and head bobs confounded Guerrero's persistent attacks. Mayweather landed on more than 60 percent of his power punches, while Guerrero connected on less than one out of every five attempts.
By the time the final bell sounded, the status quo had won out. Guerrero (31-2-1) had proven to be as tough and relentless as advertised. Mayweather (44-0), with a decisive unanimous decision, had proven to be as untouchable as he likes to reminds us he is. The fighters embraced in the ring and praised God and thanked supporters in the interview. There would be no surprises on this night.