When Floyd Mayweather gets out of bed on Sunday morning at his home in Las Vegas he will be richer, probably still unbeaten and sadly no closer to knowing where he really stands in the grand order of great fighters.
This Saturday night, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Mayweather will have his 23rd world-title fight, it is in his fifth weight class – welterweight – and he is unbeaten in 45 bouts since turning professional after the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. The 37-year-old has been clearing more than $50m (£30m) in recent contests and will do so again in the MGM’s ring against Marcos Maidana for the WBC and WBA titles.
Mayweather has never had the Joe Frazier that Muhammad Ali consumed or been a part of a lethal brotherhood of sluggers like Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, who needed each other to make the move from great fighters to boxing greats.
Frazier and Ali met at their peaks and continued trading sickening punches until they should both have been spared the agony of their conflict. The heavyweight icons fought each other because they operated at a time when boxing demanded that the best met the best. The quartet of welterweights and middleweights followed Ali’s time, and their epic combination of fights had as much to do with pride as financial necessity.
In many ways Mayweather is the perfect modern fighter; he controls his shows, his fights, his wealth and, ultimately, he has control of his legacy – and that is one area where he has so far failed the test. There is a case that Mayweather has too carefully selected his opponents during the last decade and overlooked some rivals at various times.
There is no suggestion that Mayweather is scared of any fighter but there is every reason to believe that boxers at certain weights and at certain times were ignored, made to wait or simply put on permanent hold. It has to be said that Mayweather had perfectly good reasons for fighting Miguel Cotto when he did, Juan Manuel Marquez at the weight he did, never fighting Antonio Margarito and ignoring Manny Pacquiao. He can also provide strong evidence against claims that he waited too long to fight Shane Mosley, that he simply refuses to gain six pounds for any catchweight fight and to show why he picked Maidana over Amir Khan.
Mayweather, I believe, is not a reluctant fighter, but he is a particularly cautious man on the inside of the ropes, someone who can shut tough fights down if they get hard and then win with a flawless defensive performance. He can also be equally brutal when he needs to be, as Ricky Hatton found out one night in the MGM ring in 2007. Mayweather is a boxing enigma and is as difficult to ignore as he often is to watch.
If he could travel back and compete with Duran at lightweight, Hearns and Leonard at welterweight, I think that he would be in the game. He would certainly not dominate any of them and the trio, part of the glorious “Four Kings” with Hagler, would not freeze and forget to fight on the night as many quality boxers have done against Mayweather. Old-time fight people I know well all tell me that Mayweather would have lost to a dozen or more of the best fighters at his weights in the Seventies and Eighties.
It is possible that my old pals could be right, but as I never saw Duran, Leonard or Hearns at their peak in the flesh I would only be adding to the lists of fantasy outcomes that exist if I declared Mayweather inferior to the trio. I certainly don’t think he is their master. Could Mayweather hurt Hearns at welterweight? Could he avoid Duran at lightweight? Could he really outbox Leonard for 15 rounds? Not a chance on any of the charges.
Mayweather is a beautiful technician, both clinical and physical when he needs to be, and he has a ruthless nature – and that in many ways is what can make him so frustrating to watch. Boxing is a basic business, a hurtful profession and I would like to see Mayweather inflict a bit more pain when his opponents have closed down and quit like they so often do.
Maidana will not quit, he will not stop trying and he can hit hard enough to catch and hurt an ageing Mayweather. However, Maidana is not Duran, Leonard or Hearns, but on Saturday night he just might be a big enough threat to make Mayweather fight and finish like an old-timer’s favourite. Mayweather could become a boxing great yet, and I hope he does.