Saturday, April 01, 2023  |


Mayweather and the mystique of the undefeated record

Fighters Network

When Floyd Mayweather Jr. signed to fight Shane Mosley almost three months ago, the matchup was thought to be so competitive and intriguing that it took most of the sting out of the promised superfight that fell apart over egos and drug-testing protocol.

Mayweather vs. Mosley was good enough to make many fans forget about Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao.

However, as the biggest event of the year nears, one is hard pressed to find a member of the sports media or a boxing insider who is picking Mosley to win Saturday’s welterweight fight.

A recent article in THE RING magazine asked 20 boxing experts who would win the May 1 showdown. Only two picked Mosley. One, Pacquiao, called it an even fight and left it at that. The rest picked Mayweather.

As of Wednesday, not a single boxing writer in Las Vegas to cover the fight, which takes place at the MGM Grand, predicted a Mosley victory.

Mayweather (40-0, 25 knockouts) is a 4-to-1 favorite according to most sportsbooks, which begs the question: If this is such a good matchup, why is a Mosley upset so hard to conceive?

Most fans will answer that question by pointing to Mosley’s decision losses to Vernon Forrest, Winky Wright and Miguel Cotto. Proof, they believe, that the 38-year-old veteran cannot beat or make adjustments against a world-class boxer. And boxing just happens to be the forte of Mosley’s younger, fresher and more-technically sound opponent on Saturday.

It seems harsh to hold those losses against Mosley. It’s not like the trio who beat him were average talents when Mosley (46-5, 39 KOs) faced them. Indeed, all three are borderline hall of famers.

But losses, now more than ever, count against a fighter’s credibility — at least in the opinion of most fans, media and, sadly, network executives. The flipside to that mentality is to build a mystique around an undefeated fighter.

And Mayweather, who refers to his record and uses it to promote himself more than any other active fighter, has as much mystique as he does money.

“If Mayweather is a 4-to-1 favorite to beat Mosley, you have to say that some part of that perception has to do with his unbeaten record,” HBO’s boxing analyst Larry Merchant told “In a way, it makes sense that odds heavily favor him. If you’re a gambler looking at that record, you probably think to yourself ‘If I had bet on Mayweather 40 times, I would have won 40 times.'”

Of course, it’s not just the glossy record that makes it hard to bet against Mayweather. It’s also the fact that he usually wins in dominating fashion.

“We’ve only seen Mayweather struggle once, against Jose Luis Castillo in their first fight,” said young historian Cliff Rold, who writes for “We’ve only seen him hurt once, against DeMarcus Corley. He’s never lost, and he’s never really looked that vulnerable, so it’s hard to pick against him.”

But how impressive is Mayweather’s record? He has defeated 14 former beltholders and won titles in five weight classes, certainly more than enough to merit first-ballot hall of fame induction.

However, some say Mayweather is an all-time great, a belief that often sparks fierce debates between his fans and history-minded followers of the sport.

Mayweather’s supporters, as one might guess, point to his record as an indication of his greatness or his ability to compete with the best of all time. It’s not a bad argument. Mayweather has defeated some tough hombres in his 13¾-year career. But ask yourself this? If Mosley fought the same 39 opponents that Mayeather (who fought Castillo twice) faced, would any of those fighters be a sure bet to beat him?

Could Castillo beat Mosley at lightweight? Could Zab Judah, Ricky Hatton or Carlos Baldomir get the better of Mosley at welterweight?

“It’s an interesting question,” said Merchant, who will be part of the live HBO Pay-Per-View broadcast of the fight on Saturday. “You could also ask ‘Would Mayweather be undefeated if he fought Vernon Forrest or Winky Wright?'”

Merchant, who has followed the sport since the 1940s, says there is little doubt that unbeaten records mean more to fans now than in decades past.

“In the old days, if a fighter was unbeaten the response from fans was ‘Who has he fought?’ and ‘Is he being protected?'” Merchant said. “Fighters were not judged by their records. They were judged on who they fought and how they fought them. In the modern era, records are used as a marketing tool or as a means of attracting the attention of casual fans who may not follow the sport very closely.

“There’s a young fighter from Mexico, Saul Alvarez, on the undercard of Saturday’s fight. He’s 19 years old and 31-0. The record makes you curious. Fans see that record and wonder how good he really is. That’s a natural thing.”

If Alvarez continues his winning ways, don’t be surprised if fan curiosity gives way to blind adulation and the young welterweight starts drawing comparisons to Mexican greats of the past.

Undefeated fighters gaining premature greatness has almost become a tradition in recent decades.

Mike Tyson, the sport’s biggest star when he was its undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champ, was put in the company of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali before Buster Douglas shocked him and the rest of the world.

Boxing’s next star, Oscar De La Hoya, was compared to Sugar Ray Leonard until he lost his “O” to Felix Trinidad.

Between his decapitation of William Joppy and his humiliation at the hands of Bernard Hopkins, many fans wondered how Trinidad, 40-0 at the time, would have fared against the likes of Robinson and Carlos Monzon.

Marco Antonio Barrera was compared to Julio Cesar Chavez as he rolled to a magnificent 43-0 record. Then he rolled into the right hands of Junior Jones.

Many called Naseem Hamed, 35-0 with 31 knockouts going into his showdown with Barrera, the hardest punching featherweight in history before he was undressed by the Mexican boxer.

There are a dozen other examples but the story is the same. Undefeated fighters seem unbeatable and on par with the great ones of the sport, then they lose a fight and suddenly the all-time-great comparisons cease.

Why do fans and members of the media do it to themselves (and to the fighters, many of whom did not ask to be called great or to be compared to the legends of the sport)?

“It’s part of our society, beyond sports, this baby boomer, post-baby boomer need to see something special,” Rold said. “Today’s fans want to witness a part of history the way fans who were around for Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier were. Ali-Frazier was the stuff of legends. Two undefeated heavyweights in their primes, both with legitimate claims to the biggest prize in sports. But it was an organic, once-in-a-lifetime thing. ‘The Fight of the Century’ just happened, it wasn’t forced. A couple decades later we get big events that are forced like De La Hoya vs. Trinidad, ‘The fight of the Millennium.’ You had two undefeated titleholders but those zeros on their records didn’t have the same meaning as they did with Ali-Frazier.

“The hype of events like De La Hoya-Trinidad, which is often built on the undefeated records of the fighters, plays on the sentimentality of seeing something like Ali-Frazier.”

And as Merchant points out, Ali’s loss to Frazier in their first fight, and to Ken Norton two years later, and then to Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick late in his career, does not prevent many fans and historians from considering him to be the greatest heavyweight of all time.

“You’ll find that the true great ones lost to other greats, or in the twilight of their careers,” Merchant said.

The one exception being former heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano, who retired with a 49-0 mark, the most mystical of all boxing records.

“The 49-0 has kept the Marciano name and brand out there because every now and then someone comes around who gets close to equaling it and they fail,” Merchant said. “But nobody ranks Rocky as the best heavyweight ever because of the undefeated record.

“Marciano retired just as he turned 32. I met him several times and he’d be the first to tell you that had he fought on a few more years someone would have beat him.”

It’s doubtful that Mayweather, who just turned 33, would say anything like that if he were to retire for good with his unbeaten record intact.

It’s no secret that doing so is his ultimate goal in the sport.

“With Mayweather there’s almost an obsession with his record,” Merchant said. “And in that sense maybe it helps him work hard and stay focused because he wants to maintain it. Now whether or not that obsession helps him out in the ring against Mosley remains to be seen. I think Mosley will look across the ring at Mayweather and think to himself ‘I fought Vernon Forrest, Winky Wright and Miguel Cotto. Nobody he’s fought was as good as they were.’

“I don’t think Mosley cares at all about Mayweather’s record. He’s been around so long we forget that he was 32-0 with 30 knockouts as a lightweight. We forget that he was 38-0 with 35 knockouts before he lost for the first time.”

Merchant is right. Mosley doesn’t think much of undefeated records. Or at least he doesn’t equate them with greatness.

“When I was coming up, I told writers that I probably wouldn’t retire (until) somebody beats (me). If I never lose, I don’t think that it’s right (to retire),” Mosley said. “You have to lose once. All the great fighters lost once, twice, three times.

“What makes you great is when you come back from defeat and become a champion again, to continue to beat these top fighters.”