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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for 2013's Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 16. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by former Sportsman recipient Sugar Ray Leonard.

Achievement in boxing has always been built on a combination of hard work, belief in oneself, intestinal fortitude and that special something that's very hard to describe in just one word.

Very few athletes are able to reach a level of unprecedented and sustained success. But excelling in a sport (competing in must-see events, breaking records, remaining undefeated) can sometimes promote a less enthusiastic approach to the day-to-day maintenance. Athletes may rest on their laurels and find it hard to stay focused and, as a result, even that "Eye of the Tiger" drive becomes difficult to maintain. But there is one fighter, one champion, who has shown the world that he is something different, something special, something great in that roped square. Who comes to mind when pondering which athlete should be this year's Sportsman of the Year? None other than Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

There was a long period during which any talk about boxing always focused on the heavyweight champions, great big men like Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. In time, though, the baton was passed to Sugar Ray Robinson, then to yours truly, to Oscar De La Hoya and now to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. When I think of Sports Illustrated I always think of something special, the wow factor. That's precisely what Mayweather, Jr. has.

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He is the rare fighter who makes non-boxing fans watch boxing. An athlete so special that it's completely in the realm of possibility that there is a downtick in crime during his events because lawbreakers don't want to miss the fight. I've heard people say about Mayweather things like, "he doesn't like to get hit." But I have to take issue with that statement. The sweet science of boxing is all about the most effective and economical means of defeating your opponent both physically and mentally. Boxing is one of the most, if not, the most challenging sport in the world because at your bleakest moment you ask yourself, can I go on -- can I go any further? Ask yourself that question when one of your eyes is swollen, your hand is injured, and you've been knocked down for the first time. Boxing is one of the most primal sports, calling upon not only your physical strength but also your mental fortitude. People are amazed by boxers' ability to somehow go beyond what they see as possible when it comes to the body, mind and spirit. That's what sets boxing apart and, what in turn, sets Mayweather, Jr. apart.

I first met Mayweather, Jr. when he was not yet ranked in the Top 10, but even then I saw and heard something very rare in a young fighter: that X-factor that separates good fighters from great fighters. The way he expressed himself was totally confident, even borderline arrogant, but I can't throw stones because it takes that level of self-assuredness, and the ability to back up those words, to be a champion.

His 45-0 record speaks loud and proud. You can love him or hate him (and by the way, he truly doesn't care), but he is hands down a phenomenal boxer. For years I have observed his uncanny ability to miraculously slip bombs thrown by the likes of Oscar De La Hoya and I saw him find a way to continue the round despite being visibly hurt by Sugar Shane Mosley. Mayweather Jr. has displayed that rare ability to reach down to that hidden reservoir of strength that only the special ones, such as Ali, Robinson, and myself, have exhibited. I'm a little biased, but just having that ability, period, warrants Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Jr.'s having his face prominently displayed on that Sportsman of the Year 2013 cover.

Mayweather, Jr. by all accounts was born to be a "star" in the ring, and if he desires, outside of it too. He is one of those special people who has so much influence on the millions of kids who just want to be like "Money." He may not realize that their inspiration is his responsibility, but it is, because Mayweather, Jr. can have an even greater impact with our kids outside the ring by doing the same impeccable work he's done inside those ropes for so many years.

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