Monday December 10th, 2007

In the sport of boxing, Floyd Mayweather is without peer. He is an unparalleled champion, a fighter with multiple talents to go along with his multiple personalities. On Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Mayweather (39-0) put on a boxing clinic against welterweight pretender, er, contender Ricky Hatton, out-boxing the former junior welterweight champion before flattening Hatton with a series of combinations that left the former undefeated Brit wondering why he even bothered stepping into the ring in the first place. After the fight ended, Mayweather embraced his challenger as a friend and praised him for his efforts, calling Hatton "the best I have ever fought."

His post-fight platitudes were in stark contrast to what has become Mayweather's usual pre-fight blather, when he referred to Hatton as (among other things) "Vicky Fatton" and suggested Hatton seek a career in professional wrestling. The animosity that poured out of him in the days and weeks before the fight had evaporated, replaced by a genial attitude and a 1,000-watt smile. Then, Floyd Mayweather retired. Should we believe him? Should we believe this was the last time we will see Mayweather lace up his gloves? History says no. It says Mayweather has done this before. After taking Carlos Baldomir's welterweight title 13 months ago, Mayweather retired.

After battering Oscar de la Hoya last May, Mayweather retired. It's what he does. As skilled as Mayweather is in the ring, he has become equally talented in the boardroom. For the 29 minutes he battled with Hatton, Mayweather banked nearly $11 million, putting him at around $40 million for in-ring earnings in 2007, a number that does not include the considerable compensation Mayweather received for the two HBO reality shows he appeared in or his stint on Dancing with the Stars. By "retiring," Mayweather only drives up the price for him to fight again. Come March, Mayweather will have a change of heart and decide that the appeal of facing a potential challenger was too much to pass up and he will return, once again, to show the world that he is the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing. Who that challenger will be? ... is the question.

There are no shortage of candidates, as stepping into the ring with Mayweather is the equivalent of scratching the winning lottery ticket. But finding what Mayweather would find enticing is another story altogether. Let's break down the list:

Age: 34

Record: 38-5

Credentials: A world champion in six weight classes who lost a split decision to Mayweather last May.

Why it should happen: There is no bigger payday available for Mayweather than a rematch with De la Hoya, who announced last month that he intends to return to the ring next May. Mayweather-De la Hoya I broke every box office record and while failing to live up to the considerable hype, it was competitive. De la Hoya no longer possesses the same stamina he had a decade ago, but his potent left hook makes him a threat to end Mayweather's 11-year winning streak.

Why it shouldn't happen: A stunning knockout aside, Mayweather would be a clear favorite against De la Hoya, who proved in the first fight that he cannot sustain a prolonged attack against the elusive Mayweather. Moreover, De la Hoya has been reticent about fighting Mayweather again, saying he would prefer his next opponent be someone willing to stand in front of him and trade punches.

Mayweather Appeal-o-Meter (on a scale of 1-10): 7.5

Age: 27

Record: 31-0

Credentials: WBA welterweight champion retired Shane Mosley in November.

Why it should happen: While Mayweather has enjoyed unprecedented success at five different weight classes, he has never been a unified champion. Cotto represents the class of a stacked welterweight division. At 27, Cotto is the young lion fans and pundits alike would clamor for -- yet, at times he has looked flawed; Cotto has been battered by inferior fighters while appearing to tire against Mosley, a man nearly a decade his senior. Lest we forget, fatigue is a fighter's worst enemy against Mayweather. While not possessing the box office appeal of De la Hoya, a fight against Cotto in Puerto Rico would turn the island upside down and could be just the type of hostile environment Mayweather has sought to further cement his legacy.

Why it shouldn't happen: Cotto is relatively untested, and it is entirely possible he could step into the ring with Mayweather and be completely outclassed in the same manner as Carlos Baldomir. There are also strong rumors that De la Hoya is angling to make Cotto his next opponent, leaving little time for Mayweather to negotiate a summertime fight.

Mayweather Appeal-o-Meter: 7.2

Age: 26

Record: 31-0

Credentials: Stripped the highly touted Antonio Margarito in July of his WBO welterweight title.

Why it should happen: Similar to the appeal of Cotto with one caveat: At 6-1, Williams would be the tallest fighter Mayweather has ever faced (I can hear the snide comments already) and arguably the most active. Williams kept Margarito at bay with a steady dose of jabs that he was able to sustain throughout the course of the fight. If the De la Hoya fight taught us anything, it's that an effective jab is the key to unlocking the Mayweather's vaunted defense. Williams has got one.

Why it shouldn't happen: Williams is also untested and has occasionally looked unimpressive. The Georgia native also doesn't have much of a fan base, making any expansive promotion (i.e. reality show, international press tour) an uphill climb. A convincing win over Carlos Quintana in February (or right about the time Mayweather will be making his decision on who to fight next) could impress Mayweather enough to take on the rangy Williams.

Mayweather Appeal-o-Meter: 5.5

Age: 28

Record: 45-3-2

Credentials: Considered by some to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing.

Why it should happen: Pacquiao does not hold a title (though that could change when he challenges Juan Manuel Marquez for the WBC super featherweight crown in March); but that doesn't matter. Pacquiao is regarded as the most explosive fighter in the sport with frightening power at 122 pounds. Mayweather hasn't been a super featherweight since 2001, but it is possible a compromise weight could be agreed upon and a belt mysteriously vacated to make the fight more enticing. Pacquiao has long been a strong box-office draw and has been actively seeking bigger paydays. It would be interesting to see how Pacquiao's power holds up against a physically superior fighter ... and if Mayweather's trademark quickness is enough to match the speed of Pacquiao.

Why it shouldn't happen: Even if the fight is somehow billed as a title fight (coming soon, Pacquiao vs. Mayweather for the WWFIBO Filipino Title!) it wouldn't establish either fighter as the best in the weight class, as both would likely return to a more comfortable weight following the fight. Mayweather should be more interested in establishing himself as the unified champ in one weight class or taking on a fight that could be historic.

Mayweather Appeal-o-Meter: 6.2

Age: 31

Record: 49-3

Credentials: The IBF/IBO champ is regarded as the top heavyweight in boxing

Why it should happen: Umm, because it would be awesome? Sure, it has been done before, most recently by light heavyweight Roy Jones, who danced circles around John Ruiz in winning the WBA heavyweight crown in 2003. But a Mayweather-Klitschko fight would be epic and have broad-based appeal. Think of the marketing possibilities: David vs. Goliath, the educated Klitschko against the outspoken Mayweather. Jones made history when he took the belt from Ruiz, but you would be hard-pressed to find many people who were stunned by the outcome. Klitschko is both a tactician and a knockout artist who has matured into a premier heavyweight, under the guidance of Emmanuel Steward. Klitschko will get his long-sought unification fight in February against Sultan Ibragimov; a history-making fight immediately afterward could be appealing.

Why it shouldn't happen: While Jones only added about 15 pounds to make the heavyweight's 191-pound minimum, Mayweather would have to put on more than 40 to reach that mark. The added bulk would eliminate some of Mayweather's speed, making him a ripe target for one of Klitschko's devastating right hands. Overall, not a realistic possibility. But man, wouldn't it be fun.

Mayweather Appeal-o-Meter: 4.1

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