The latest out of the Vegas-based Mayweather camp is a serious concern developing over brittle hands and loss of leg strength and endurance. While the media has covered the issue in snippets, there is a camp-wide attempt to cover the seriousness with which trainers and staff are taking the issue.
Money May has had knuckle and metacarpal problems for much of his career. His hands are relatively small, and with all the pounding they have taken over the years, they have become somewhat brittle and susceptible to injury. His problems are not unlike what the elderly deal with as a way of life. Their bones become mineral-depleted and brittle over time and are susceptible to breakage. Mayweather’s bones, while not brittle from mineral depletion, are structurally weak because of the constant pounding. Muhammad Ali himself had a similar problem and was forced to take pain-killing shots in his knuckles prior to many of his fights.
People who do not box for a living find it hard to imagine the problems long-tenured fighters develop with their hands. Bone integrity and structure degrades over time and the strength that fighters once derived from strong metacarpals, the long bones in the hand from the knuckles to the wrist, give way, and punching power starts to soften up. If fighters throw caution to the wind, and continue to punch with all their might during training, they risk micro- and full-fracture of the metacarpals.
As one peruses Mayweather training footage one will note how softly, in relative terms, Money May hits the heavy bag. Boxers with soft or brittle hands will go through training camps not punching with full power and intensity for fear of hurting their hands, and, in order to preserve them for all out use in the fight, they will fall into a pattern of light punching on mitts, bags and in sparring. Because the self-styled “best ever” is preparing for the formidable Pacman, he has been hitting the bag and sparring more vigorously of late, and, in so doing, has unduly softened up his hands and inadvertently hurt them.
Standard procedure after a training session is soaking injured hands in ice water in order to reduce inflammation and resolve the build-up of ischemic fluids that, if left untreated, compromise bone, muscle and joint integrity. Untreated hands and those not given enough time to heal become very painful to the touch. Mayweather’s camp recently conceded that Money May is fully conditioned for the fight and actually may have already peaked. He will be scaling down his workout to remain at peak condition without over-training. This is code for trainers pulling May away from constant knuckle-pounding activity.
In addition to the Mayweather camp’s serious concern over brittle hands and possible breakage is the realization that Money May has demonstrable loss of leg strength and endurance. While this would appear to be obvious given his age, the old maxim that a fighter suddenly gets old is ringing true as Money May has been pressed in sparring sessions and forced to move a lot more than he has in the past. It is now more fully dawning on Mayweather’s trainers that his legs are not able to carry him for a full twelve rounds without him having to take time off and refresh them. While Freddie Roach has been claiming that Mayweather’s legs have been shot for a while, it is just in this camp that Money May is discovering how true that is.
The timing of the hand and leg problems could not be worse for Mayweather as he is about to face an opponent who will, because of his aggression, force him to stand and fight or move and work off the jab. The problem becomes herculean in that, if Money stands and fights, he will fall into the Pacquiao game plan, falling prey to a left hand that has troubled him throughout his career. If Money May cannot move, then he needs to rely on his power to stop Pac in his tracks.
Because of the leg issues, this “power first” is a strategy that trainers have been emphasizing of late in sparring sessions. As a result, Money’s hand problems have exacerbated, leaving Mayweather stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. That is, his legs are declining, refusing him the ability to move a lot, and his hands are also failing him, thus refusing him the ability to stand and fight. The reactionary manner in which trainers have dealt with Mayweather’s physical problems and increasing limitations have created a spiraling effect where, as one problem is addressed, another emerges, and so on.
For all the world it looks like Mayweather would have been better off fighting Pacquiao those five years ago and in waiting so long, perhaps to soften Pac up, Money May has inadvertently softened himself up. As serious concern is developing in the Mayweather camp over brittle hands and loss of leg strength, and it is becoming clear that, curiously enough, it is in fact Mayweather who has softened up to the point where he may well be ripe for the taking. No wonder Roach has been smiling these past six weeks.
Commentary By Matthew R. Fellows