Monday April 14th, 2008

Four months. It took four whole months for me to break my first New Year's resolution, but I am about to do it. I'm going to write about Floyd Mayweather.

As one of the changes I made to better myself in the new year, I vowed to make Mayweather a taboo topic, with the lone caveat being he could become one if he, you know, actually did something worth talking about. Let's be clear: the criteria do not include playing in a celebrity basketball game at the NBA's All-Star weekend, toying with a jump to mixed martial arts or a 10-minute, waste-of-$55 appearance in a wrestling ring.

None of those things are relevant. Personally, I think Floyd's fight with Oscar De La Hoya isn't relevant either. Granted, I say that in hindsight, but watching Floyd dismantle an aging De La Hoya wasn't exactly a career-defining moment. Neither was beating a junior welterweight posing as a welterweight like Ricky Hatton.

What would be career defining would be beating Miguel Cotto.

On Saturday night in Atlantic City, Cotto clearly distinguished himself as the cream of the welterweight crop. His five-round dismantling of Alfonso Gomez amounted to little more than a well-publicized sparring session as he carved up Gomez's face with steady jabs and combinations while deflecting Gomez's feeble punches like a fly swatter.

Next up for Cotto will probably be Antonio Margarito, a fellow Top Rank fighter who became the top welterweight contender with his second-straight knockout of Kermit Cintron. While Cintron was billed as the bigger puncher, Margarito was the one forcing the action with his body shots, the last of which left Cintron crumpled on the canvas.

So for arguments sake, let's assume Cotto-Cintron happens this summer, probably in late July in New York. And let's assume Cotto, who has steadily improved since making the jump from junior welterweight in 2006, defeats Margarito. A megafight with Mayweather would seem to be the natural next step, right?

Only if you are thinking logically.

Mayweather's not interested in big fights. He is interested in big money, however, which his why his recent opponents include the popular De La Hoya and Hatton, two fighters who pose no discernable risk to Mayweather, but who bring with them a hefty payday. Mayweather is fond of saying he is going to retire from boxing before boxing retires him, but which of Mayweather's opponents has the potential to do that?

Is Floyd ducking the elite fighters? History would say yes. With six world championships in five weight classes, unmatched hand-and-foot speed at virtually any class, Mayweather, without question, is the sport's most gifted boxer. But he's never been tested. Zab Judah? Arturo Gatti? Carlos Baldomir? Save for perhaps Gatti, none of the aforementioned men are Hall of Fame-caliber fighters, and Mayweather caught Gatti on the downside of his career. Just as he has did De La Hoya.

Fighting Cotto would be different. Cotto brings power (26 of his 32 wins have come by KO), toughness and an undefeated record. Should the fight be held in a Puerto Rican stronghold like New York City, Cotto would also carry tremendous box office appeal.

But with Cotto comes risk. The risk that Mayweather could get knocked out. The risk that a decisive beating would blemish his reputation. The risk that after five years on top, Mayweather could be seen as being in decline.

Should he accept that risk and face Cotto, Mayweather will have convinced me he is truly the best of his era. But should he pass or find another 30-something to pound on, he becomes nothing more than a well-paid mercenary. Try living with that rep.

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