Trading Shots: Raskin & Mulvaney Play the Percentages

By Eric Raskin

CompuBox has compiled an innovative new data set for HBO.com, ranking active fighters according to a “+/-” stat derived from their offensive and defensive connect percentages over their last five fights. HBO.com’s Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney stepped away from the free media buffet long enough to huddle up in the MGM Grand press room and dissect what the numbers mean and how they might impact several upcoming bouts:

Raskin: The first thing that jumps out at me, Kieran, is that Floyd Mayweather’s score of +30 is more than double the next closest figure. Does this surprise you? And does it make a case that he’s the best boxer in the business?

Mulvaney: What’s interesting to me is that he is number one in both columns. It isn’t a surprise that opponents have a lower connect percentage against him than against anyone, but it’s very interesting that his own connect percentage is so high. It shows how precise, how selective, and how smart he is with his punches.

Raskin: I notice you avoided my question about whether these numbers suggest he might be boxing’s best, and I’m not letting you duck that one. If there’s another surprise on here, it’s that Manny Pacquiao is only a +8. What do you make of that?

Mulvaney: I do think Mayweather is the bext boxer, if not necessarily the best fighter, of this generation. I’m not terribly surprised by Pacquiao’s numbers; he’s always taken one to land one, which is one reason why fans love him.

Raskin: Absolutely, and when Pacquiao lands, he generally does so to greater effect than Floyd does—underlining that these numbers are about quantity, not quality. Which brings us to Victor Ortiz’s numbers: 32% for, 25% against. Is it safe to say he needs to hurt Floyd to win on Saturday night?

Mulvaney: Oh yes, I think so. He isn’t going to outbox him. Nobody outboxes Floyd. He isn’t going to outthink him. Nobody outthinks Floyd—well, not in the ring, anyway. I think he has to jump on him, swarm him, hit him wherever he can, try to make him very uncomfortable, and look to hurt him. But Floyd’s figures just highlight the danger to Ortiz of leaving himself open to counterpunches.

Raskin: One of Saturday’s undercard fighters ranks very highly on this list: Canelo Alvarez, who’s tied for second place with a +14 rating. Is Canelo’s number more an indication of his skill or the quality of his opposition as a fighter still working his way up?

Mulvaney: His figures surprised me when I saw them. Few would suggest that he is especially hard to hit. I think the offensive numbers speak to the fact that he doesn’t waste a lot of shots. I do feel, though, that quality of opposition likely is a factor—which again really speaks to the extraordinary nature of Mayweather’s numbers.

Raskin: Let’s look ahead to a few upcoming fights. Sergio Martinez returns to the ring on October 1, and his recent opposition includes Sergey Dzinziruk, Paul Williams, Kelly Pavlik and Kermit Cintron. So is his +6 rating more impressive than it looks at first glance?

Mulvaney: Yes, if you have any kind of positive differential against that opposition, you’re doing well. I actually would have expected his differential to be a little higher, when you think about how dominant he was in his last two wins. It might have been higher if he had actually been given the win he deserved against Cintron instead of having to fight on another five rounds after knocking him out.

Raskin: Ah yes, Martinez-Cintron. The fight that Sergio won twice and somehow didn’t win. Plus, his left hand that knocked out Williams in their rematch should count as 50 punches. But let’s get back to real numbers instead of my personal creative math: It’s alarming how similar the stats for Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson are. They both landed 34%, and their defensive numbers are one percentage point apart. Any clue what’s going to happen when they fight on October 15?

Mulvaney: This is such an intriguing fight to me. In many ways, Dawson is absolutely the wrong style for Hopkins, who doesn’t do as well against slick boxers as he does against guys who come to him. But can he prevent Hopkins from making him fight the way the old man wants to fight? I’m not so sure.

Raskin: Ah, another tough question sidestepped by Mulvaney. Well played, sir. And I won’t try to answer it either, because I really can’t pick a winner in Hopkins-Dawson. Most people will have an easier time picking a winner on November 12, when Pacquiao meets Juan Manuel Marquez for a third time. I’m of the belief that Marquez has the style to give Pacquiao trouble at any size, whereas many experts see it as a blowout. Do you see a competitive fight? And tying it in with this weekend’s fight, which underdog is more live, Ortiz or Marquez?

Mulvaney: I’ve always said—not necessarily with a great deal of originality—that Marquez is Pacquiao’s Ken Norton: the one guy who comes closest to having his number. The only problem is, can he carry the extra weight? He couldn’t when he faced Mayweather. He looked heavy and soft. If I were Marquez, I would come in quite light. (Also, if I were Marquez I wouldn’t drink my own urine. But I digress.) I don’t think either underdog will win, but if I had to put money on one of them, it would be Marquez.

Raskin: Right – it must be that twice-consumed water weight that’s dulling his edge … Now, purposefully changing subjects, on December 3 we get the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch. Margarito ranks second to last on the CompuBox list at a dismal -9. Cotto is a +10. But when you have a grudge match like this, do you throw the numbers out?

Mulvaney: Margarito’s last two big fights were such horrendous blowouts, of course; he might have been +20 before Mosley and Pacquiao splattered him. I’m really intrigued by this rematch. Can Cotto make the necessary technical adjustments to avoid the Margarito uppercuts that caused him such grief last time? Will Margarito’s gloves be, ahem, lighter than they were last time, and will that make a difference? Or does Margarito have Cotto’s number? Is he in his head? Like you said, this fight is deeply personal. For this one, throw out the statistics and grab the popcorn.