Fight Review: Mayweather's key bouts

Let's face it: There is no blueprint for beating Floyd Mayweather Jr. The undefeated Mayweather isn't just arguably the most physically skilled fighter of his time. He also has a brilliant boxing mind, the product of a ring education that began when his father and uncles fitted him with gloves as a toddler. For any opponent he can't outclass immediately, Mayweather adapts, outwits and overcomes. Can Victor Ortiz crack the code? Some past Mayweather bouts may offer clues:

1. Jose Luis Castillo
When and where:
April 20, 2002, Las Vegas
Result: Mayweather by decision in 12
What it means: Since Castillo almost beat Mayweather in their first meeting in 2002, eager Mayweather hunters have looked to this fight as a prototype for flushing out and bagging the elusive Floyd. Victor Ortiz, with his come-forward aggression and precise power punching, has an opportunity to replicate what Castillo -- and to a lesser extent Mayweather opponents Oscar De la Hoya, Jesus Chavez and Gregorio Vargas -- did, driving Mayweather to the ropes and threading shots through his normally airtight defense. But it won't be easy. Pressure fighters Ricky Hatton and Arturo Gatti failed, very painfully.

Castillo bulled in with body shots, moving well and trying to push the action to the ring's edges. Mayweather jabbed and slipped and squirmed, even switched to southpaw for a while, to keep Castillo from pinning him back, to escape to the middle of the ring. Still, Castillo had Mayweather backed to the ropes, flopping to dodge combinations on multiple occasions. By the end, Castillo landed 107 more power punches than Mayweather. But Mayweather, with his rolling left shoulder and right glove held tight to his own face, was able to avoid damage from the incoming fire, and he landed enough counter shots throughout the fight to eke out a decision.

2. Arturo Gatti
June 25, 2005, Atlantic City
Result: Mayweather by TKO in 6
What it means: Here's what happens to a pressure fight gone wrong against Mayweather, when a tough opponent is too slow to keep pace and too reckless to keep himself safe from Mayweather's brutal return fire. Mayweather threw a near-perfect game in this one, pounding Gatti, an all-action fighter, into mush. If Mayweather is on his game and Ortiz gets reckless, it's possible to envision Ortiz-Mayweather going just this way.

The fight may have ended badly for Gatti anyway, even if the referee's early error hadn't taken Gatti out of his game. Gatti's game plan was to box -- jabbing and feinting from distance. But near the end of Round 1, with the fighters in a clinch, Earl Morton yelled "Stop punching!" As Gatti stepped back, Mayweather clocked him in the cheek with a left hook. Then Gatti turned to the referee to complain, and Mayweather cracked a sucker-punch left hook to Gatti's temple that put him down.

After that, Gatti dropped his plan and began slugging, abandoning his defense. Mayweather's tenacious combinations grew increasingly gruesome. In one brutal sequence, Mayweather landed a straight right, left hook, straight right, left hook and straight right -- all before Gatti moved his head out of the way. After Round 6, with Gatti's eyes swollen to slits, Gatti's trainer, Buddy McGirt, stopped the slaughter. The fighter had landed just 17 percent of his punches compared to 57 for Mayweather. And by outclassing TV favorite Gatti, "Money" Mayweather got a bonus that you know he had to love; this was when he became a legitimate pay-per-view attraction.

3. Oscar De La Hoya
May 5, 2007, Las Vegas
Result: Mayweather by split decision in 12
What it means: Recently, De La Hoya said that his career was "done" by the time he faced Mayweather in 2007. That's probably true, though De La Hoya said it while trying to build the confidence of his young protégé Victor Ortiz, suggesting that Mayweather's competition in recent years has been undersized or over the hill. If De La Hoya was done in 2007, his ability to earn this split decision was an accomplishment, and his performance offered at least a glimpse of how to succeed against Mayweather. A fighter with more determination to follow through and fewer miles on the odometer might implement the strategy more effectively.

De La Hoya came on first, backing Mayweather to the ropes when he could, working behind his jab and frantic -- though not especially hard -- combinations. Floyd's defense did seem crackable. But Mayweather is a ring genius who has adapted to everything thrown at him, and he surged in his usual way: starting slowly, eventually outboxing his opponent and doing enough to win the decision. He began to elude De La Hoya's outbursts and land his own combinations. In Rounds 9 and 10, Mayweather scored with one-shot lefts and rights. He nailed De La Hoya with a hard right to end the 10th and in the 12th backed up De La Hoya with hard shots twice. It ended with a toe-to-toe skirmish that was too short -- just 10 seconds or so to climax the so-called "fight the world awaited" -- after both fighters knew they were safe. If Ortiz can find a way to play it less safe without getting reckless, his result could be better.

4. Shane Mosley
May 1, 2010, Las Vegas
Result: Mayweather by unanimous decision in 12
What it means: Mayweather fights so rarely these days that it's hard to know whether his most recent fight is indicative of how he'll perform next. His last fight, this one against Mosley, was more than 16 months ago. Mayweather also gets hurt so rarely that the few times in his career it has happened stand out as landmark events. Mayweather did get hurt -- once -- against Mosley. Sugar Shane, still an aggressive boxer-puncher at age 38, rocked Mayweather with a powerful right in Round 2. Mayweather wobbled a little, grabbed Mosley and hung on. It looked as though it would be a tough, interesting night for Mayweather and a thrilling fight for fans. But then Mayweather did what Mayweather does. He survived, recovered and recalibrated. He adapted, then surged.

While fans waited and waited for Mosley to do it again, Mayweather was making it impossible. He outboxed Mosley -- moved and clinched and slipped counterpunches -- peppering Mosley's face with jabs and hard rights. It seemed that Mosley had quit rounds before the final bell rang. If this fight's result is any indication of how Mayweather will perform now, at age 34, he remains near the top of his game and will be a mountainous challenge for Ortiz.

Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.