Floyd Mayweather Jr. has never lost. We know that because he’s reminded everyone for years now. Forty-seven professional fights. Forty-seven victories. All from the boxer who rarely ventures into public without a hat that announces his take on his place in boxing history, with three letters (TBE, or The Best Ever) capitalized and splashed over his forehead. Subtle, he is not.
In recent years, though, as Mayweather’s age climbed to 37 and his career entered its final stage, he also couldn’t win. He fought young boxers and veterans, southpaws and right-handers, big names like Shane Mosley, presumed successors like Canelo Alvarez, and tough guys like Marcos Maidana (twice). And yet, the boxing public nitpicked each lopsided victory. The opponents were always wrong: too young, too old, too slow, too soft; they didn’t punch hard enough; they didn’t counter well; they kissed Mayweather on the cheek (yeah, that happened); and, above all else, none of them were Manny Pacquiao, the other generational talent in the welterweight division.
That became Mayweather’s curse and Mayweather’s contradiction. Mayweather never lost. And Mayweather could not win.
On Friday, Mayweather and Pacquiao announced perhaps the most-anticipated bout in their sport’s history. The statement, expected for weeks, all-but-certain for days, almost broke the Internet. The two are scheduled to meet May 2 in Las Vegas, six years after their first round of negotiations fell apart at the last minute over drug testing.
Make no mistake: Mayweather’s legacy is the single biggest reason the fight (finally) came to fruition. It’s the scab Pacquiao picked at in recent months. It’s why Mayweather came around. Because how he will be remembered matters to Mayweather more than any athlete I’ve ever covered. They all care, on some level. But Mayweather is obsessed. His clothes even make his case.
“He can see the end,” Stephen Espinoza, Showtime’s boxing czar, told SI.com in a quiet moment amid the chaos of Friday evening. “That may have forced him to consider what it would be like to end his career without fighting the one guy that everyone wants to see him fight. That caused him to redouble his efforts.”
It’s strange sometimes how we look at Mayweather’s career. Unfair, too. Forget, for a moment, about the legal troubles, the domestic violence charges, the run-ins with police. Just focus, for a moment, on the boxing.
Mayweather captured his first world title in 1998. He’s been a world champion for 18 years, or basically half his life. He beat 20 other title holders. He should already be considered among the greatest talents to ever step inside a ring. But people, even boxing insiders, doubt him in ways they don’t doubt boxers with inferior talent.
Mayweather brought much of that on himself. He made the decision mid-career to transform from Pretty Boy Floyd into one of boxing’s all-time villains, Money Mayweather, the heel who flashes cash and talks trash and generally lobbies for another title to add to his belt collection -- the least likeable star athlete in sports. He did that on purpose, inspiring much of the hatred lobbed in his direction in the name of profit. And boy, did he.
His in-ring style doesn’t help, either, outside of the aficionados who can appreciate the tactical brilliance of a boxer like Mayweather. He was never a knockout artist, never a big-puncher. He overwhelmed opponents with speed of all kinds: foot speed and counter speed and an innate ability to process how opponents planned to stop him and adjust mid-fight, or even mid-round. He’s the best defensive fighter in recent memory, by a landslide.
But where Pacquiao rose to boxing prominence with knockouts and faces bloodied and rearranged, Mayweather made elite fighters look ordinary by comparison. There’s an art to that, and it’s the one thing about Mayweather that’s subtle. He made Alvarez in particular look slow, vulnerable, green. Consensus afterward centered on Alvarez not being ready for that type of mega-fight. He was too young. So he took the loss and went back to knocking out opponents, and in each subsequent Alvarez victory, Mayweather won again. Because Alvarez is that good. And Mayweather made him look that bad.
“He’s a victim, in some ways, of his own performance,” Espinoza told SI.com. “It’s a little strange to even be talking about this but that’s the kind of doubt Floyd Mayweather encounters. This fight provides him an opportunity to silence everyone and remove any doubt about where he ranks in the history of the sport.”
There will be people who argue that that Mayweather-Pacquiao will take place too late, after both fighters are past their respective primes. There’s an element of truth in that, but only an element. This is still a transformational event that will shatter Pay-Per-View and revenue records and attract a mainstream audience, many of whom will watch only to see if Pacquiao can knock Mayweather out, or hand Mayweather his first defeat. It’s still must-see sports, the biggest bout in years, maybe the biggest fight of all time.
That’s why Mayweather won on Friday without stepping foot inside a ring. He won because he put his legacy in real danger – although he’s still the favorite – in order to solidify his place among the greats. Maybe he shouldn’t have to. But he did. Late, too late, way too late – who cares? It’s done.
The argument for Mayweather as TBE will be, if not proven, then bolstered, should he manage to beat Pacquiao. This fight (or fights) will define Mayweather’s legacy.
Just ask him.
Floyd Mayweather's Greatest Hits
With the long-anticipated fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally agreed to, SI.com takes a look at Mayweather's career milestones. After going 84-6 as an amateur with a national Golden Gloves title, Floyd Mayweather won bronze at the Atlanta Olympics thanks to a controversial loss in the semifinals by decision to Bulgaria's Serafim Todorov.
Mayweather earned his first world championship with an eighth-round stoppage of Genaro Hernandez for the WBC junior lightweight title.
Neither Mayweather nor Corrales had suffered a knockdown as a professional entering their 130-pound title fight. But the precocious "Pretty Boy" sent "Chico" to the canvas no fewer than five times in an emphatic victory.
Jose Luis Castillo I & II
After moving up to 135 pounds, Mayweather captured and retained the WBC and Ring lightweight titles with two unanimous decisions over Castillo.
Mayweather won a world title in a third different weight class -- this time at 140 pounds -- with an obliteration of Gatti in six rounds in Atlantic City, N.J.
Mayweather survived a spirited challenge from Zab Judah -- along with some low-handed tactics in the 10th round -- on his way to another unanimous-decision victory and the world welterweight championship.
Oscar De La Hoya
Mayweather moved all the way up to 154 pounds for the long-anticipated superfight with De La Hoya. Billed by Sports Illustrated as "The Fight To Save Boxing," Mayweather won a semi-controversial split decision. Both fighters were winners, however, at the bank: The fight shattered the record for pay-per-view buys with 2.7 million purchases (or nearly $120 million in revenue).
<i>Dancing With The Stars</i>
Shortly after the De La Hoya fight, Mayweather joined the cast for the fifth season of ABC's hit show Dancing With The Stars . He and partner Karina Smirnoff were the fourth couple voted off the show, but the appearance helped Mayweather achieve crossover stardom.
Mayweather defended his WBC welterweight title against Hatton, the lineal junior welterweight champion who moved up in weight for the fight. After retaining the championship with a 10th-round knockout, Mayweather went into semi-retirement for the next 21 months.
Juan Manuel Marquez
Mayweather showed little ring rust in a "comeback" fight against Marquez, the lightweight champion and the No. 2-ranked pound-for-pound fighter according to most experts. The fight proved one-sided from start to finish, as Mayweather's preternatural defensive skills confounded Marquez, who connected on just 12 percent of his punches in a unanimous-decision loss.
Mayweather, nearly a 5-to-1 favorite against the veteran Mosley, was rocked with a pair of right hands early in the second round. But Sugar Shane wouldn't (or couldn't) finish the job as Mayweather coasted to a lopsided points victory.
Mayweather drew boos at catcalls with his perhaps unsportsmanlike (but definitely legal) knockout of the 24-year-old Ortiz to win the WBC welterweight title. After Ortiz was warned for head-butting Mayweather, they touched gloves, and Ortiz looked for referee Joe Cortez to signal a restart (Cortez said he did, but Ortiz said he didn't hear it) while Mayweather pounced on his unsuspecting opponent with a left-right combination in the fourth round.
Miguel Cotto lasted all 12 rounds and gave Floyd Mayweather a really good fight. In the end, though, Mayweather won a unanimous decision and was given the WBA and WBC. super welterweight belts. Handed the third loss of his career, Cotto could at least take solace from the fact that Mayweather said Cotto was the "toughest guy I ever fought."
Floyd Mayweather defended his welterweight title with an easy victory over Robert Guerrero at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in May 2013.
Mayweather walked away with a majority decision against Saul Alvarez as he unified the junior middleweight world titles.
Floyd Mayweather ran his record to 47-0 with a tougher-than-expected fight against Marcos Maidana. Two ringside judges scored it 116-111 for Mayweather, while the third had it 115-112.
The champ kept his welterweight and junior middleweight belts with a unanimous decision in his rematch with Maidana. The judges scored 116-111, 116-111 and 115-112.