Mayweather deserves all-timer label

Monday September 16th, 2013

Floyd Mayweather Jr. improved his record to 45-0 with his victory over Canelo Alvarez on Saturday.
Eric Jamison/AP

His nickname, of course, is Money. Self-chosen, he brashly admits, in a calculated bid to retool his persona into a more provocative, and thus more lucrative, one. He had been Pretty Boy Floyd -- quaint, really, endearing in its wholesome braggadocio; perfect for embroidered script on the back of an Everlast robe and maybe a cover line in Ring magazine. Now "Money" -- and its branded extension, The Money Team, or TMT -- is a mass-marketed phenomenon, a Swoosh for the sweet science, worn not just by the fighter and his entourage, but also by thousands of fans plunking down good, well, money for the privilege.

Make no mistake: Professional boxing has always been about the money. That's why they call it prizefighting. (Cue Garry Marshall in Lost in America: "That's why they call it gambling. Las Vegas gambling!") And the most successful fighters have always done everything they could to raise the stakes, just as the media has always been happy to glorify the numbers -- from the rapturous headlines that greeted the sport's first million-dollar gate (for the wildly-hyped Jack Dempsey-Georges Carpentier mismatch in 1921), to SI posing the young Muhammad Ali in a bank vault piled with cash, to pretty much any mainstream coverage of boxing today.

With Mayweather, though, the money aspect has reached a kind of besotted apotheosis. Story after story lauds the fighter's marketing genius and proclaims his complete upending of the sport's financial paradigm. Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes promotional docs from first HBO and now Showtime celebrate his Croesus-like lifestyle. (He's got color-coded fleets of supercars! Rolexes by the bushel box! He tears up losing sports betting slips for more than Dempsey and Carpentier made combined without a second thought!) It's all working to do exactly what Mayweather and his team intended when he took on the mercenary persona: Make Money more money.

Mayweather's victory over Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez on Saturday night in Las Vegas earned him a minimum of $42 million, a figure which, given the promotion's astonishing success (no numbers are in yet, but indications are that the fight did extremely well), could balloon to far beyond that. He has four more fights on his Showtime contract, and each will no doubt produce equally dizzying numbers.

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Still, sitting in the post-fight press conference at the MGM Grand late on Saturday night, with the ca-ching of the cash registers still ringing louder than the casino's slot machines, Justin Bieber seated like another of Mayweather's children at the dais in a TMT cap and Mayweather praising the Money Team from the podium, it felt like another number should get a little more focus, namely 45, as in Mayweather's career victories, against no defeats. Just where does that number, and all that went into it, place Floyd Mayweather, Jr.--stripped of any distracting nicknames -- as a fighter?

Here's a brief rundown of his record:

• Debuting as a super featherweight in 1996, Mayweather ripped through 17 straight wins before facing his first "challenge" -- in which he tore apart Genaro Hernandez in eight rounds to take his first world title.

• He defended the 130-pound title eight times, outclassing the likes of Angel Manfredy and Diego Corrales.

• Probably the only blemish on Mayweather's record came with his first step into the 135-pound class, a possibly generous decision over Jose Luis Castillo. He beat Castillo in the rematch and moved on from there.

• Apr. 8, 2006: Zab Judah gets off to a fast start against Mayweather. Could this be the time someone matches him in speed and ability? Uh, no. Despite an in-ring melee involving both entourages, Mayweather cruises to an easy victory.

• Oscar De La Hoya likes to say that he "provided the blueprint" for how to beat Mayweather. The only hitch is that he didn't beat him. Yes, De La Hoya's jabbing, pressuring approach in the opening rounds gave Floyd something to deal with, but Mayweather solved the problem and pulled away from perhaps his most accomplished opponent with seeming ease.

• After Oscar came a parade of hyped-up opponents -- Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, Miguel Cotto and Roberto Guerrero -- whom Mayweather handled with dispiriting nonchalance, often seemingly without giving all that much effort in the process. It was a rainy parade that left everyone hoping that this time would be different.

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Against Alvarez, he was as good as I've ever seen him. (Along with virtually everyone else on press row, I had Mayweather winning in a shutout; the majority decision was a travesty and an occurrence worthy of further examination and discussion at another time.) Though Mayweather himself downplayed his performance afterward, saying he could have started faster and that he might have been, in his father's words, "a little tight," he was -- against a lively and dangerous opponent -- basically flawless, and more complete than usual. Not simply relying on his great speed and always astonishing judgment of ring space to potshot Canelo and then tie him up (his often exasperating-if-effective M.O. against so many past opponents), Mayweather showed a superb jab, with which he stung Alvarez and constantly kept him from getting set. He ripped Alvarez with combinations to both the head and body; and he showed not only his trademark defensive wizardry, but also some toughness, as Alvarez landed a few blows -- particularly, as Mayweather noted with a grimace in the post-fight press conference, to the body.

So, yes, yet another one-sided win. But one that, for me, elevated Mayweather even further. At 36, he appears to be in a sort of late-career surge. Certainly it's clear that there's no one in boxing today who stands a chance against Mayweather (unless he steps way up in weight to face, say, Gennady Golovkin). But, honestly, after Saturday night, I'm willing to give the whole "all-time great" notion serious consideration.

The problem with comparing today's fighters to the best of earlier generations is today's talent pool. It's a koi pond compared to the reservoir of the sport's golden era -- or eras. There are simply far fewer fighters today, which means that even the best are exposed to exponentially less elite-level competition. Consider this list of the all-timers the great Henry Armstrong faced: Sammy Angot, Beau Jack, Lew Jenkins, Jackie Burke, Fritzie Zivic and Sugar Ray Robinson. And that was just in two years of his 14-year, 181-bout career. Mayweather's honor roll over 17 years, as noted above, pales by comparison.

Of course, that's not Floyd's fault. Somehow, growing up in the unique hothouse (hot-gym?) of the Mayweather family, he managed to build himself into a fighter fit for any age. And, indeed, about the only thing lacking from his résumé are the truly worthy opponents, rivals who could have pushed him out of his comfort zone and revealed not only the true depths of his talent, but also his resilience and his heart, even as he did the same for them. Manny Pacquiao might have proved to be one, but that opportunity appears lost.

Nope, after watching Mayweather on Saturday night (something, by the way, C.J. "114-114" Ross evidently didn't do), I'm willing to commit boxing-purist heresy and say that Floyd Mayweather Jr. would have found his only worthy tests among the likes of Leonard and Hearns, Chavez and Whitaker, Griffith and Napoles, Basilio and Gavilan, Walker and Ross, and even Armstrong and Robinson. I'm not saying he would have won against all, or even any, of them. But I am saying he's fit to step into the ring with that company. He would have acquitted himself honorably.

You can bet Money on it.

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