Monday, December 05, 2022  |

News

Aficianado

Is Mayweather giving up greatness for ‘perfection’?

14
Sep

Floyd Mayweather was overcome with emotion after defeating Carlos Baldomir for the welterweight title in 2006. Mayweather claimed he had accomplished all of his goals in boxing at the post-fight press conference but his one-sided victory over the overmatched Argentine did little to help him realize his potential for greatness. It would be a crying shame if Mayweather, who ended a short retirement to engage lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez in a welterweight bout this Saturday, ended his hall-of-fame career without facing the best fighters in his division. Photo / Chris Cozzone-FightWireImages.com

Floyd Mayweather did not pick a chump for his comeback fight after his one-year “retirement.”

Allow me to acknowledge that up front.

We all know Juan Manuel Marquez’s credentials. I don’t need to list them for readers of RingTV.com.



However, the hardcore boxing audience that visits this Web site also knows that Marquez has little-to-no shot at beating Mayweather on Saturday.

There are enough X-factors in Saturday’s fight (Mayweather’s layoff and rib injury; Marquez’s style and recent momentum) to make it an interesting matchup but not one that truly ignites fans.

There's not enough tension between fans because so few believe Marquez can win. Those who pick Mayweather know he will win. Those who pick Marquez hope he will win and pray he won't get embarrassed.

By accepting the challenge of the pound-for-pound-rated lightweight champ to fight him in a welterweight bout, Mayweather chose an opponent credible enough to build into an event but not dangerous enough to seriously threaten his perfect record.

In other words, Mayweather is doing what I think he has done for the past six years — he’s playing it safe.

And to be honest, it’s hard to argue with his system. He has compiled a 39-0 record, earned a small fortune and gained a degree of crossover fame doing things his way.

And although I think he’s cheating himself out of a legacy that he and generations of boxing fans to come can be proud of, there are plenty of other boxing writers who consider him to be the decade’s finest boxer and the pound-for-pound best right now, despite the fact that he hasn’t fought since stopping Ricky Hatton in December of 2007.

Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports recently wrote that Manny Pacquaio, the current consensus choice for the pound-for-pound top spot, is “just keeping the (No. 1) seat warm for Mayweather.”

And more than a few fight fans believe Mayweather is an “all-time great,” as comedian/actor Eddie Murphy illustrated on the last episode of HBO’s 24/7.

As long as some fans and members of the media are willing to argue that he’s the best now, and one of the best of all time, I think Mayweather is more than content to continue fighting boxers he knows he can beat while avoiding those he believes might give him a serious challenge.

The magic of a perfect record is that the unbeaten fighter, or his fans, can always argue that he would find a way to defeat the most formidable challengers because he’s never lost. Few understand this fact more than Mayweather.

However, I wonder whether Mayweather realizes that while perfect records attract attention and distinction they don’t necessarily earn a fighter a loyal fan following.

I also wonder whether Mayweather and his supporters understand that question is not meant to insult him?

My belief is that Mayweather had (and still has) the potential to be great (and I don’t throw that word around, folks). By the end of 2001, I honestly thought that he was on his way to that rare status. At that time, he had defeated Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales and Jesus Chavez in impressive fashion. However, in 2002, he twice faced a worthy adversary in the form of rugged lightweight titleholder Jose Luis Castillo and barely escaped with his precious undefeated record intact.

From that point on, it seemed as if Mayweather didn’t want any more worthy adversaries.

I’m not saying he faced chumps post-Castillo (well, Henry Bruseles was a chump). Mayweather won titles at junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight but the fighters he beat to win those belts, the late Arturo Gatti, Carlos Baldomir and the 34-year-old version of Oscar De La Hoya, simply weren’t in his class.

I am saying that there were more-difficult fights available to him.

My theory is that had Mayweather fought at least two (but preferably three or four) of the following fighters from 2003 to 2006 — Joel Casamayor, Acelino Freitas, Paul Spadafora and Leo Dorin at lightweight, Kostya Tszyu at junior welterweight, and Antonio Margarito at welterweight — he could have put to rest the debate about his “greatness.”

Let me state for the record that I can envision Mayweather finding a way to defeat all six of the fighters I listed, but I think one or two of them would have caught him on a bad night and beat him.

Now I know that the thought of Mayweather with a 38-1 or 37-2 record is horrific for his small-but-obnoxiously vocal group of hardcore fans, but I think Mayweather would have a much bigger following today if had engaged in a few more difficult outings on his way to stardom.

(Can you imagine that? The sport’s pound-for-pound best fighter with a legion of loyal fans? Oh wait, we have that right now. His name is Manny Pacquiao. Sorry, Pretty Boys, I couldn’t resist.)

RISKY BUSINESS

I’m supposedly one Mayweather’s biggest “haters” — if not numero uno, to borrow from the title of Saturday’s event — but believe it or not, I understand his dilemma.

I think Mayweather would love to have universal respect as well as a dedicated fan base (what fighter doesn’t?). However, he’s sacrificed his entire life and dedicated the past 13 years to compiling his 39-0 record. To say he’s attached to that zero is a gross understatement.

And to say that a loss doesn’t matter or won’t effect his current standing is a gross inaccuracy. Losses matter in boxing, even to fighters who have already established hall-of-fame credentials. Recent history proves this.

The prime version of Wilfred Benitez was every bit as gifted and defensively adept as Mayweather. Like Mayweather now, the Puerto Rican wunderkind reached a point in his career at which he was unbeaten in 39 pro outings (38-0-1), and he did it in less than 5¾ years. In that time, Benitez beat two future hall of famers, Antonio Cervantes and Carlos Palomino, for world titles at 140 pounds and welterweight. Then, in November of 1979, he fought another future-hall-of-famer, Sugar Ray Leonard, and lost for the first time.

Prior to his 15-round TKO to Leonard, Benitez, who beat Cervantes when he was 17, was talked about as arguably the most naturally talented boxer of all time. After that loss, Benitez basically became the fifth member of boxing’s version of The Beatles (Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns).

Benitez’s days as an elite fighter didn’t end the night he lost to Leonard. He jumped to junior middleweight and won his next six bouts, including a decision over tough contender Peter Ranzany, a chilling knockout of solid 154-pound titleholder Maurice Hope and a unanimous-decision title defense against Duran that was perhaps the most satisfying victory of his career.

Benitez lost his title in his next fight, a majority decision to Hearns, and went downhill from that point, going 9-6 in his last 15 bouts.

There’s no way Mayweather will allow himself to go out like that, and good for him for having that degree of self respect. However, that same pride might keep him from fighting the winner of Miguel Cotto-Pacquiao or Shane Mosley.

I don’t think there’s any shame in losing competitive bouts to a prime Leonard and Hearns, as Benitez did. But Mayweather’s ego won’t allow him to be considered an also-ran to the top fighters of his time, as the Puerto Rican stylist is viewed today.

That’s my major problem with Mayweather. He wants to be considered “the man” without taking any risks.

Mayweather knows he won’t get as much credit for beating Marquez as he would from a victory over Pacquiao, Cotto or Mosley, but he can live with it because his record will be extended to 40-0.

It’s all about perception.

Felix Trinidad was 40-0 at one point in his career, right after he nearly decapitated middleweight beltholder William Joppy to become a three-division titleholder in May of 2001.

At the time, I received numerous emails from fans — and not just Puerto Ricans — asking who I thought would win in a mythical middleweight matchup between Trinidad and Sugar Ray Robinson.

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up. That’s the perception Trinidad had picked up with an impressive post-De La Hoya run that included brutal victories over U.S. Olympians David Reid and Fernando Vargas, and don’t think for one second that his unblemished record had nothing to do with it.

Four months after Trinidad destroyed Joppy, he challenged Bernard Hopkins and was soundly “exposed,” to use a popular message board buzz word, by the 3-to-1 underdog.

You can bet that e-mail queries of how Trinidad would have fared against Robinson ceased after Tito’s 12th-round TKO to Hopkins.

The Puerto Rican icon retired twice after that fight and went 2-2 in his last four bouts, dropping one-sided decisions to Winky Wright and Roy Jones Jr., forever losing his all-time great comparisons.

And although many American boxing writers dismiss him as one-dimensional and even overrated these days, Tito gets respect from this fight scribe because at least he dared to be great.

Trinidad’s fans get it, and they did not abandon him once the perception of his invincibility was stripped from him. They packed Madison Square Garden for his 2004 comeback fight with Ricardo Mayorga. They helped his showdown with Jones sell 500,000 pay-per-view buys.

However, Mayweather has repeatedly claimed, most recently on his Twitter page, that the rules are different for Latino fighters. He says they can lose and still have their fans, but that’s not so for American fighters.

Mayweather is right to an extent.

Erik Morales was 41-0 at one point in his career, just before his rematch with Marco Antonio Barrera. Morales had defeated the likes of Daniel Zaragoza, Junior Jones, Kevin Kelley, Wayne McCullough and of course Barrera in their classic first fight. However, the Tijuana tough guy’s reputation did not grow to legendary status until AFTER the rematch loss to his Mexican rival.

Morales couldn’t sell out venues like the MGM Grand Garden Arena or the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas while he was undefeated. His trilogies with both Barrera and Pacquiao are what propelled him to one of Mexcio’s most-beloved fighters. It didn’t matter to El Terrible’s fans that he went 1-2 in both three-fight series, or that he lost to Zahir Raheem and David Diaz while going 1-5 in his last six bouts.

Mayweather would tell you that there’s a double standard in boxing, that he would lose all credibility if he ever lost to fighters of Diaz and Raheem’s caliber, and he’s probably right.

However, I don’t think he would lose his current status if he lost to Pacquiao, Cotto or Mosley, especially if he did so in a competitive and compelling manner.

I know Mayweather doesn’t believe that. He thinks I’d rip him. He’s wrong. And even if I did, I don’t believe the fans would abandon him.

Once more, I look to the members of boxing’s Fab Four for examples of how “great” fighters are supposed to behave. Leonard didn’t lose any popularity after his loss to Duran. Hearns didn’t lose any fans after he was stopped by Leonard and Hagler. They survived losing and became better fighters for it.

I think Mayweather would, too, but maybe he’s not cut from their mold. Then again, maybe he is.

It’s a shame we might never find out.

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]

close

SIGN UP TO GET RING NEWS ALERTS