Saturday May 1st, 2010

LAS VEGAS -- It's hard not to like Floyd Mayweather. He's outgoing and outspoken, a reporter's dream. His bravado is public but his philanthropic work -- the life skills course he taught at the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, the visits he made to battered women and children shelters, the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has personally invested in his foundation -- are largely private.

It's hard to like Floyd Mayweather. His arrogance is occasionally unbearable, reaching a tipping point when he rattles off the names of past conquests like Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Juan Manuel Marquez like they were Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. Mayweather's record (40-0) is unblemished, but his reasoning that it somehow elevates him to G.O.A.T status borders on delusional.

"I think he's way off base," said boxing historian Bert Sugar. "Sometimes, I have to hold it in not to laugh at him. Everybody has a right to be proud of his accomplishments or achievements, but it's almost an obsession [he has] with his pristine and perfect record. It's his white whale. Ray Robinson lost. Ali lost. It's out of proportion. I do think he's one of the greatest defensive fighters I have ever seen. But he's not a complete fighter, by any means."

Love him or hate him -- and judging by the mixed reaction Mayweather received at Friday's weigh-in before his welterweight fight with Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV), there are droves of people on both sides of the aisle -- everyone does want to watch him. With 5.5 million pay-per-view buys, Mayweather is one of the most prolific pay-per-view fighters of all time, grossing $292 million in six PPV fights, the kind of numbers that serve to feed his ego.

"I got respect for Sugar Ray Robinson," said Mayweather. "I got respect for Muhammad Ali. But I'm a man, just like they are men. What makes them better than I am? Because they fought a thousand fights? In my era, it's totally different. It's pay per view now, so things change. It's out with the old and in with the new. Like I said, Ali is one hell of a fighter. But Floyd Mayweather is the best. Sugar Ray Robinson is one hell of a fighter. But Floyd Mayweather is the best."

These are curious boasts from a man who in recent years has been regarded as one of boxing's best duckers -- both in the ring and out of it. Inside the ropes, Mayweather's technique is flawless, a combination of superior foot and hand speed and an innate sense of seeing where a punch is coming from the moment an opponent begins to throw it. He lulls fighters into mistakes, and when they make them, he rarely misses an opportunity to take advantage.

Outside the ring, however, Mayweather is equally dodgy. Run down a list of the elite welterweights in the world. Manny Pacquiao. Miguel Cotto. Paul Williams. Antonio Margarito. Andre Berto. Now, peruse a list of Mayweather's opponents. No need to cross-reference those names; you won't find them anywhere. Instead, Mayweather inflated his record beating up on the likes of Phillip N'Dou, Henry Bruseles and Sharmba Mitchell and pushed himself toward stardom by outpointing a fading De La Hoya and picking on smaller fighters Hatton (a 140-pound junior welterweight) and Marquez (a 135-pound lightweight).

"Half of the guys [Mayweather] has fought aren't household names," said Sugar. "They aren't even household names in their own households."

Mayweather makes no apologies for his selection of opponents or the strategic decisions he's made in his career. He claims he is the best, but adds that he doesn't fight so much for legacy, but self-preservation.

"I don't even rate myself," said Mayweather. "All I do is go out there and do my job. I've been dominating since the '90's. When guys like this fight De La Hoya and then they say 'Oh [he's] unbelievable.' When I fight De La Hoya, they said 'De La Hoya's washed up.' See? Things like this, I don't like."

Whether he wanted it or not, Mayweather will have an opportunity to silence scores of his critics on Saturday night. Mosley (46-5, 39 KOs) represents the answer to virtually every question. He is natural 147-pound fighter who is ranked by multiple publications as the top welterweight in the sport. At 38, Mosley is on the back end of his career but his recent string of victories -- most notably a 2009 knockout win over Margarito -- prove he is still one of the best at his craft.

It's a fight that offers everything Mayweather could ask for. Money. Industry sources estimate Mayweather will earn between $15 and $20 million for this fight. Fame, or at least more of it. With HBO powering the publicity machine with it's Emmy-winning reality series, 24/7, the fight is expected to steam past 1 million pay-per-view buys and could come close to 2 million. And, most importantly, respect. Whether Mayweather chooses to admit it or not, his own words are laced with hints that he yearns for public validation. And he would get that validation and more with a win over Mosley.

"Part of a legacy is meeting and beating other greats," said Sugar. "That's one of the ways of judging a man's greatness. Robinson beat 23 past, present or future champions. I think [beating Mosley] would start to give Floyd a claim [as a great].

Even in victory, the public will still, assuredly, clamor for a showdown with Pacquiao. They will say Mayweather has to fight Pacquiao. But they won't say he has to fight Pacquiao 'because.'

• Official weights: Mayweather 146 pounds, Mosley 147.

• Those waiting for Hatton's comeback fight, keep waiting. Hatton appeared on stage at Friday's weigh-in looking more like a middle-aged vacationing office worker than a former 140-pound champion. "They changed his song," said an industry insider. "It used to be 'there's only one Ricky Hatton.' Now it's 'there's only 1-and-a-half Ricky Hatton's.'"

• Looks like Joe Calzaghe is getting ready for a comeback. Kelly Pavlik, anyone?

• Count Hearns and Leonard among those not bothered by Mayweather's boastfulness this week.

"Fighters have to believe they are bigger and better than anyone," said Leonard.

"The confidence thing is fine with me," said Hearns. "It is good for him to have a great deal of confidence. There shouldn't be anything Shane can do to bring him down."

• Golden Boy Promotions will hold a news conference on Saturday to officially announce the rematch between Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz. Their first fight, a ninth-round knockout by Marquez in 2009, was voted Fight of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.

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