As he faced the media for one of the final times before his welterweight showdown with Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday, Floyd Mayweather kept his rhetoric the same. He respected Marquez, but he was going to crush him. He respected Manny Pacquiao, but Pacman is not boxing's No. 1 fighter. And when Marquez falls, it will be further proof that Mayweather is one of boxing's all-time great fighters.
But his last argument is dubious. Whenever Mayweather retires -- for good, not that 21-month hiatus he took after defeating Ricky Hatton in 2007 -- history will make his legacy. He will be remembered as an Olympic bronze medalist and a six-time world champion in five different weight classes. He'll be remembered as a slick fighter with impenetrable defense, lightning fast hands and sneaky power. And he'll also be remembered as a flamboyant character whose ability to play the role of the villain boosted the popularity of boxing when the sports landscape was ripe with competitors.
History will not remember him as an all-time great. It won't put him on the pedestal with Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Julio Cesar Chavez. Because to be great, you have to fight the great, and for most of his career Mayweather has staunchly refused to do that.
Mayweather likes to argue that his remarkable skills have created the illusion that he is facing inferior competition. "People say 'how do you feel about not having the Sugar Ray Leonard [type of] opponents?'" said Mayweather. "I do have those types. I just dominate so spectacularly, it doesn't look like it."
But Leonard has wins over Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran. Mayweather's biggest victories have come against an aging Oscar De La Hoya and an undersized Hatton.
Certainly, a lack of quality opponents is a factor. But while there are no Haglers, Hearns or Durans for Mayweather to challenge, there are several solid opponents he has avoided. There was Antonio Margarito, who Mayweather turned down $8 million to fight in 2006. There was Shane Mosley, who has been actively seeking a fight with Mayweather for years. And there is Pacquiao, who has not specifically asked for a fight with Mayweather but does not appear to be someone Mayweather is interested in facing. When asked about Pacquiao on Wednesday, Mayweather once again brought up Pacquiao's 2005 loss to Erik Morales, as if trying to discredit Pacquiao with his past.
Even Marquez, who Mayweather (39-0) will face Saturday at the MGM Grand (HBO PPV, 9 p.m.), is a cop-out. The reigning lightweight champion, Marquez (50-4-1) is rated by most boxing publications among the top three (and in many, the top two) pound-for-pound fighters in the world. With gritty wins over JuanDiaz, Joel Casamayor and Marco Antonio Barrera -- not to mention a controversial loss to Pacquiao -- it's a status Marquez has earned. But Marquez, 36, is adding nine pounds to his 5-foot-7 frame to reach the 144-pound weight limit to fight Mayweather, who is still expected to be the bigger, faster and stronger man.
Talk of Mayweather's future opponents is even more maddening. On Wednesday Mayweather, 32, was non-committal about potential matchups with Pacquiao, Mosley or Miguel Cotto. He told a small group of reporters that he didn't care about who the fans or the press wanted him to fight, that he would choose his own opponent. Judging by his words, that opponent is De La Hoya. During Wednesday's press conference, Mayweather told De La Hoya he would "tap both him and Marquez on the same night" and grinned widely when Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer joked about the retired De La Hoya making a comeback.
"He wants to fight me again, I know he does," said Mayweather. "From the bottom of my heart, I just don't like him."
Facing De La Hoya, who struggled against Steve Forbes before being wiped out by Pacquiao last year, would do little for Mayweather's legacy. But it would do a lot for his bank account. And maybe that's how Mayweather should be remembered: smart, savvy, a man who, when presented with big opportunities, has jumped on them.
And a fighter who, when presented with tough fights, ducked.
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