There was a time when a fair observer could wonder if Floyd Mayweather was truly a great fighter. Although he had undeniable gifts, Mayweather went through a period in his career where his bouts were works of dubious matchmaking, and a justifiable claim could be made that “Pretty Boy” was ducking the best fighters available. No longer. In the last couple of years, Mayweather’s career arc turned back onto the proper track, and in doing so he finally and firmly established himself as the greatest fighter of his generation and the undisputed pound-for-pound king.
So admit it: Mayweather isn’t just great, he is an all-time great. Not the G.O.A.T., but certainly among the historic greats.
The Doubtful Period
Mayweather established his reputation as a world class champion at super featherweight and lightweight. After moving up to junior welterweight and welterweight, however, he spent years taking on opponents who, while ranked and earning him big paydays, weren’t the best out there at the time. As year after year stacked up, and Manny Pacquiao entered the scene, Mayweather increasingly looked like a fighter that could sustain his undefeated status at higher weights only with clever matchmaking.
Pretty Boy won his first 140 lbs title in 2005, by defeating Arturo Gatti. He then tested the waters at 147 lbs by facing Sharmba Mitchell. This short stint later became the starting point for the “he ducks everybody” criticism. While Gatti and Mitchell were top 10 material, neither were top 5 material in a division that was dominated by a then-prime Ricky Hatton and a rising Miguel Cotto.
Mayweather’s bout with Cotto was years away. As for Hatton, the consensus opinion is that Hatton’s bad habits had taken their toll on the British brawling king by the time Mayweather got to him two years later, although Mayweather would have doubtless beaten even a prime Hatton.
Then came the early and middle welterweight years. Starting with Zab Judah, who had only recently been defeated by Carlos Baldomir, Mayweather avoided the very top fighters in favor of easier, but still ranked pickings. Fair was fair, and his next scalp was Carlos Baldomir, but everyone said the Argentine was just a tough swarmer anyway. Instead of seeking out the freakishly busy and rangy Paul Williams, the menacingly tough Margacheato, or Miguel Cotto (who had followed Mayweather up to 147), he fought Oscar de la Hoya, Hatton, and an old Shane Mosley.
Of course, no one knew at the time that Margarito was really Margacheato, as that was exposed in the Mosley fight. Consequently, the knowledge that Margarito’s concrete fists were actually dipped in concrete devalued Mosley’s victory. People hoped against hope he would beat Mayweather, including me, but that was the hope of desperation. Old Sugar Shane had only a puncher’s chance that night.
Instead of fighting Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather chose Pacquiao’s arch-rival instead. Juan Manuel Marquez was clearly out-sized by Mayweather, a deficit made worse when Mayweather refused to make the agreed upon catch-weight for the fight. Still, it was Mayweather’s first fight after an extended, nearyl two-year layoff, and a dominant performance that looks even better as Marquez has established himself at welterweight.
Mayweather began turning things around slowly. Victor Ortiz was a solid, young puncher, and while much has been made of Mayweather’s “sucker punch,” all such talk is mere bloviating. The punch might not have been exactly clean, but it was lawful. More to the point, Ortiz was young and had a good record, including his previous Fight of the Year candidate victory over Andre Berto.
Next came Miguel Cotto (at last), Roberto Guerrero, and then Saul Alvarez. During the same period, Pacquiao’s stock fell after fights 3 and 4 with Juan Manuel Marquez. There are top 5 fighters at 147 and 154 that Mayweather hasn’t fought, but that isn’t the point. The point is that Cotto, Guerrero, and Alvarez were undeniably top 5 material when Mayweather fought them (indeed, Alvarez and Cotto still are), so how exactly would they qualify as hand-picks and duck-choices?
Moreover, who exactly could Mayweather fight that would tighten his grip to the P4P crown and his claim to historic greatness? All but the most rabid Pacfans now believes that Mayweather would box the ears off Pacquiao should the two ever meet, as well as everyone else at 147 or 154.
To those who say Mayweather is a fraud, that he still ducks the best, that he isn’t that great, I must ask this simple question: what else does the guy need to do to? At this point, anyone who denies the obvious truth about Mayweather ought to down the Kool-Aid, wrap their heads in tin foil, and go stand with the Tea Partiers in the Know-Nothing corner, because that is where they belong.