Blueprint of a boxing icon
MAHOGANY SUN - Ricardo J. Cueto Jr. () - November 20, 2010 - 12:00am

Antonio Margarito entered the ring at Cowboys Stadium in Texas on November 14 standing five-foot eleven and anywhere around 165 pounds. He limped back to the lockers several minutes later a battered man. His head appeared badly disfigured looking like one that shifted radians from its original axis; face so bloated and tender as over-steamed chicken you could take soft tissues from everywhere and perform a biopsy.

Maybe he rammed into a building. Maybe he was run over by a bullet train. We, Mexicans, fight to the end, he asserted. What courage. Not so many men on this planet would engage Manny Pacquiao for 12 savage rounds and choose possible death in a vertical position over the comfort of surrender lying down beaten on a square canvas and wake up the morning after next to a beautiful wife and a loving kid on a hospital bed.  

Manny is anything but ordinary. They said it is probably his speed, but I’d rather explore further to assert it is his velocity. Many wondered how reach and height disadvantages of six and five inches, respectively, could have been overcome in a way that seemed so easy. How could a little man seem stronger than a strong big man like Margarito — with plaster of Paris in hand wraps underneath the gloves or without it.

Let’s take a closer look at Manny’s speed first hand. If two objects were to beat each other to the same target first and one of them is nearer by six inches, the whole thing does not change the ultimate objective which is to beat each other to the target. If the farther object could accelerate enough and take it to the target ahead of the other, the ultimate objective of the speed test is simply attained.

To get more real, consider Margarito and Manny standing in front of each other at a distance closer than the latter’s arm-length and they both release a straight left aimed to each other’s chin at the same time. Assuming they have an arms-length difference of two inches in Margarito’s favor, Manny’s objective now boils down to this: make his fist travel more than two inches farther than Margarito’s for the same time duration. Manny is fast enough to do that so, under the hypothetical premise of stationary targets, he gets to land his bomb first into dry land.

Computer graphics by IGAN D’BAYAN

However, certain targets like Margarito may be relatively slow but they are never stationary. Gloved hands and arms are continuously protecting targets and herein comes the factor of velocity which, to physics laymen like us, is simply speed and direction. Manny maintains lateral motion to find an angle (read: direction) from which he can unleash his bomb in blinding speed. Because he does not stop moving, there are always moments when he sets his compass right, uses the crosshairs of his telescopic vision, finds small gaps between guards — and boom. This objective is something velocity, not speed alone, can accomplish. 

Manny’s lethal strength, for his size, is a natural wonder that takes only kindergarten physics and elementary structural engineering to dissect.

Margarito is basically strong because of his size and mass, assuming that he and Manny have very similar overall body density — which is not a bad supposition to make. But the equation of force (read: strength) is given by kindergarten physics in the simplest of closed-form equations as the product of mass and acceleration. This means that Margarito’s strength, derived primarily from his sheer size and body weight (assuming he could use it well to power a punch), could be negated if Manny is to drive his fists to a level of acceleration magnitude that has linearly greater effect than Margarito’s advantage in mass. This goes with velocity and momentum as well.

On this, Manny’s blinding speed — perhaps next to no one I have seen since the late great Bruce Lee — comes to fore. I feel he could stand side by side with as many contemporary boxers on a speed test, to find out whose fist accelerates the most starting from zero velocity, and win the contest. I thought strength conditioning expert Alex Ariza’s plyometrics was intended to put in additional mass on Manny’s body to take his strength equation to an even higher level. This would have been effective on the premise that increased body mass and density would not result to deterioration in speed and acceleration.  

Keen observers were first to notice early on how a relative midget like Manny had the legs of a middleweight. So what? Without performing calculations or creating analytical models to dissect Manny’s structure in a computer, anyone could figure that he derived part of his punching power from them. How does this relate to structural engineering, if at all?

In structures lingo, there has to have a continuous load path along which externally applied forces are transmitted from any point of a structure to such part which, for the purpose of this article, we can call ‘base’. In buildings, such “base” could be the foundation; in cars, the tires that hug the road. In humans without artificial legs, either or both feet transmit body weight and all externally applied forces and reactions down to the shoes’ outsoles and heels which transmit loads to floorings, platforms or directly to the ground.

Clearly, Manny was made to realize that fistic power alone without mobilizing enough body weight to power a release lacks a “punch.” On this singular assessment, the middleweight legs of Manny had to come into the equation, serving as vital link in a load path that originates from his fists whenever he throws a bomb and terminates at either or both feet and into the outsoles and heels of his shoes supported by a “base.”

Certain boxers his size could have potentially more powerful punch than Manny if fistic power is taken alone, but this cannot be the case. The size and perceived strength of Manny’s legs — correctly angled at every hit to resist multi-directional force components – are necessary links along which forces thrown by his straights, hooks and uppercuts, transmitted from the fists to the biceps down to body muscles through a system of load paths that can go nowhere except the “base.”

Manny owes his stability, in large part, to his body’s apparent low center of mass. His upper body — specifically the chest — is not extraordinarily bulky and, unless he possessed the oversized head of aliens normally portrayed in the silver screen, there is little else above his waist to raise the elevation of his center of mass. To the contrary, a pair of dense legs — massive for his size and build — drags Manny’s center of mass lower, which contributes to his stability in a remarkable way. 

More or less, such is the make and model of the machine that ran into Margarito Saturday in Texas. Or, maybe, it was a building he rammed into. Or, it could be any bullet that typically defies the size of a target and relies on pure speed and acceleration, not mass, to take it down. Or you could call it a guided missile with such velocity and precision the target cannot hide behind his daddy’s trousers.

Little Floyd Mayweather knows this all too well and, before he makes a decision to answer a phone call from ageless Bob Arum, he better make sure his team has run a mathematical model of himself and check all available load paths inside his body altogether to find out if they are in place — if at all possible.

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