The Conundrum That Is Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

floyd mayweather jr.28.05.07 - By Taj Eubanks: Prodigy. Savant. Genius. Many an accolade has been bestowed upon arguably the most gifted fighter of the last twenty years, “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (38-0, 24 ko’s). Much has been written about the 30 year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan who over the span of nearly eleven years has forged an absolutely brilliant career.

His oft-discussed spider-like reflexes, old-school defensive genius, legendary work ethic (bordering on the sadistic), complete arsenal of offensive weapons, and unrivaled ring intelligence are beyond reproach. In fact, no one in recent times except the great Roy Jones, Jr. has even come close in terms of natural ability. Floyd is as comfortable in the ring as a fish in water or a bird in the sky, the product of one of boxing’s most celebrated pugilistic families.

Father Floyd Joy Mayweather, Sr., a former welterweight contender (29-6-1, 19 ko’s) placed boxing gloves on Little Floyd’s tiny hands as an infant. Floyd Jr. literally grew up boxing and thus has spent three decades honing his craft under the watchful eye of his family, boxing more years than many trainers have been training fighters. His artistry took him from the fertile breeding grounds of Michigan amateur boxing to several national titles and finally to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta in which he won a bronze medal. He exploded onto the boxing scene by winning the WBC super featherweight title from Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez at the tender age of twenty-one.

After defending the strap eight times, Floyd continued an upward march through the higher weight classes, winning at least one strap in each division along the way, culminating in his split decision win recently over Oscar De La Hoya for the WBC junior middleweight belt. His most distinguished accomplishment (which he often cites) is winning five titles in as many weight classes in under nine years. An outstanding achievement to be sure, one that has already ensured his eventual immortalization in Canastota. Along the way Floyd has earned riches beyond compare while treating boxing fans to virtuoso performance after virtuoso performance.

Despite these admirable feats, the boxing community has been sharply divided not only over Floyd’s place in history, but also over the merits of his current accomplishments. Whereas Floyd constantly tells all who will listen that he is the greatest of all time (anathema to anyone familiar with the great Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Willie Pep, to name a few), the grumblings have grown louder and louder from discontent boxing fans who scream that “Fraud” Mayweather (as he has been christened by a writer from another site) is the most cherry-picking,

tough fight-avoiding, over hyped fighter in the game today. The charges are simple, namely that Floyd has never unified any division in which he has campaigned, leaving many lingering questions and much unfinished business in his wake as he rocketed toward glory. Such is the conundrum that is Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and closer examination reveals that the Greek chorus of disenchantment is not without merit.

No one disputes Floyd’s skill. Even the most vicious anti-Floyd fan must begrudgingly admit that he is supremely gifted. From the super featherweight ranks where he thoroughly outclassed and outgunned the late, great Diego “Chico” Corrales, to the lightweight division in which he met arguably his toughest challenge to date, Jose Luis Castillo, Floyd has found a way to win. Many feel that he actually lost his first contest with Castillo, after which Floyd (to his credit) pushed for a rematch to dispel all doubt, which he did convincingly with a superb boxing display. However, the heart of the argument from the anti-Floyd contingent is that Floyd hasn’t faced a tough challenge since his 2002 bouts with Castillo.

Therefore, in the interest of getting down to brass tacks, one need only examine Floyd’s competition since 2002 and put them in perspective to get an idea of whether Floyd deserves such derision. To his credit, Floyd defended the WBC lightweight strap three times after his first win against Castillo, the victims being Jose Luis Castillo in their second matchup, Victoriano Sosa, and Phillip N’dou. The latter was actually picked by many to hand the Pretty Boy his first loss, though Floyd put on a masterclass in that bout as well. There would be no unification of the division as Floyd then set his sights on the junior welterweight division starting with a WBC junior welterweight elimination bout with the well-traveled southpaw Demarcus “Chop Chop” Corley (31-6-1, 17 ko’s).

This fight was notable for two reasons. First, this bout marked the first time in which Floyd had been seen hurt and which, to his credit, he recovered from well to later punish Corley en route to a wide-margin unanimous decision. The second and more dubious distinction is the fact that this fight marked the first fight of a disturbing trend in which Floyd would either fight guys coming off of a loss (in fact, Corley’s previous match was a 2003 unanimous decision loss to none other than Zab “Super” Judah), fighters past their prime, guys who were never elite fighters to begin with, or various combinations of all of these.

Fast-forward to Floyd’s January 2005 sparring session against Puerto Rico’s Henry Bruseles (25-3-1, 14 ko’s). To be fair, this match was also a necessary junior welterweight elimination bout, yet the fact does not change that Bruseles falls squarely in my category of fighters who were never elite fighters from the outset. Going into his bout with Mayweather, Bruseles had lost two of his last eight bouts, the bout immediately before Mayweather having been ruled a draw.

To add even more perspective, Bruseles is not even currently ranked in Ring Magazine’s top ten junior welterweights. Floyd infamously responded to a Jim Lampley question from the ring as he drubbed the outgunned no-hoper en route to an (big surprise) eight round tko. The outcome was never in question if one was familiar with the records of the combatants.

Next up was Floyd’s decimation of the esteemed (but horribly overrated) Arturo “Thunder” Gatti (40-8-0, 32 ko’s). Gatti falls into the category of a fighter who was both past his prime and not an elite fighter. Gatti ( age 33 at the time) had recently defended his WBC junior welterweight title against the esteemed but geriatric Jesse James Leija. Gatti has never beaten an elite fighter (being destroyed, ironically, by both Oscar De La Hoya and Mayweather) and had even lost to several B-class fighters (Ivan Robinson [twice] and Mickey Ward).

Gatti’s allure lies in his lion’s heart and exciting, fan-friendly style. Floyd, in the pre-fight buildup, mercilessly taunted Gatti, calling him a “paper champion” (a reference to the fact that Gatti did not win the WBC strap from the recognized champion, the unjustly-stripped Kostya Tsyzu) who won his belt in a vacant title bout against journeyman Gianluca Branco.

The schizophrenic irony of the whole affair is that while Floyd displayed little regard for the “paper title,” he most certainly doesn’t mind listing the acquisition of said strap as one of his vaunted five titles in as many weight classes, despite the fact that he himself never beat the true 140–lb champ, Kostya Tsyzu. This proclivity to bend logic to suit his own purpose would surface repeatedly as his career progressed. Fans recognized this and clamored for unification bouts versus the other 140-lb champions, Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto (29-0, 24 ko’s) and England’s Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton (42-0, 30 ko’s). In fairness, Bob Arum had no intention of putting Cotto in with Floyd at the time and Hatton’s people clearly turned down (or priced themselves out of, depending on who you believe) a showdown with Floyd. Regardless, fans found it difficult to crown Floyd as the division’s best when he had not even faced his fellow champions.

Floyd made his big splash in the 147-lb division against the over-the-hill Sharmba “Little Big Man” Mitchell, a 35 year-old former junior welterweight titlist who had not only seen better days but who also had won only one of his last two fights going into the Mayweather bout. Of course, Mayweather won the fight in convincing fashion, stopping the aged Mitchell in six rounds with a body shot that left the loser writhing in pain on the canvas. It was clear to anyone with a pair of eyes that Mitchell had lost a step. And everyone with any knowledge of the game knew it. Floyd, of course, saw things a totally different and trumpeted the victory as a valid win over a former world champ.

His next bout with Zab “Super” Judah (34-4-0, 35 ko’s) was met with both intrigue and antipathy because Judah, while being possibly the first man since Castillo to have a shot of beating Mayweather, was coming off a loss (in keeping with Floyd’s recent trend) to Carlos Baldomir, the new linear welterweight champ. The fact that Top Rank, Don King, and HBO even touted this tomfoolery as a championship fight was a disgrace, and the fans knew it, as the IBF strap rightfully belonged to Baldomir but remained with Judah because Baldomir hadn’t paid the IBF sanctioning fees.

Not only was the matchup a bogus title fight, but also the fact the Judah was coming off of a loss made the perceived competitiveness of the matchup laughable. Of course, Judah went on to lose but Floyd would count it as yet another fine victory over a man who had experienced more meltdowns than Chernobyl.

Argentina’s Carlos Baldomir (43-10-6, 13 ko’s) was the next victim, and while Mayweather gained respect from some for beating the then 35 year-old linear welterweight champ (who himself was little more than a journeyman with great heart who capitalized on one of Zab Judah’s infamous meltdowns and won the championship), he lost more respect for his seeming avoidance of Mexico’s Antonio “The Tijuana Tornado” Margarito. The 29 year-old 5’11” pressure-fighting Margarito (34-4-0) holds the WBO welterweight strap and hadn’t lost a match since 2004.

Floyd while snidely dismissed Margarito as “easy work,” chose not to face the WBO titlist, despite being offered a then career-high payday of eight million dollars by Top Rank. Boxing fans went berserk, feeling that this development confirmed not only that Floyd was scared of Margarito, but also that Floyd seemed content to only face fighters past their prime. A sentiment that seemed to be confirmed by his next choice of opponent, the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya.

Facing Oscar De La Hoya (38-5-0, 30 ko’s) not only represented the best possible business decision (Floyd reportedly earned in the neighborhood of thirty million dollars for the match) but, if one looks closer, the safest available fight. While legendary De La Hoya was clearly the best and most decorated fighter that Floyd had ever face, having fought the best fighters of his era (Fernando “El Feroz” Vargas, Ike Quartey, and future Hall-of-Famers Felix “Tito” Trinidad, “Sugar” Shane Mosley, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker), his recent record was also suspect.

In fact, not only was the 35 year-old Oscar clearly past his prime but had lost two of his last four fights coming into the Mayweather fight, his two wins being a beatdown of Nicaraguan wildman Ricardo Mayorga and a gift decision over Germany’s Felix Sturm. Oscar, while balancing his new career as promoter, had only fought twice in the last two years and had lost one of those (by knockout to Bernard Hopkins). So it stands that Floyd beat De La Hoya, if not narrowly, in the defense-first style that he has come to adopt in recent years. Anyone with any knowledge of boxing and Oscar’s recent spotty history saw this result as a forgone conclusion ong before it came to pass.

The Pretty Boy now claims that he is retired (an assertion he began before the De La Hoya fight) because he has nothing left to accomplish in the sport of boxing. Boxing fans, however, beg to differ. The smokescreen that is Mayweather logic contends that Oscar had a chance to win, that he simply lost to the better man. Yet how can fight fans buy into this logic when it is clear to all with a brain that not only is Oscar not the same fighter from years past due to age, inactivity, and lack of desire, but that De La Hoya was not even the best available opponent! Of the fighters campaigning in and around the welterweight/ jr. welterweight division, three of the top fighters are under age 30 (Cotto, Margarito and Hatton).

Shane Mosley (who besides Judah is the only fighter that rivals Floyd’s speed) is now said to be interested in a Mayweather fight, only for the prospective bout to be arrogantly dismissed by the Mayweather camp. And finally, there is Corey “The Next Generation” Spinks (36-4-0, 11 ko’s), while stylistically difficult to watch, would be more than happy to match fistic wits with Floyd (in fact, the two were in serious negotiations to fight last year until Floyd abruptly broke off negotiations).

In closing, the lack of universal respect for Floyd has roots within himself and the choices that he has made where his competition is concerned. He claims that he is the greatest ever, yet he has not faced the best of his weight classes in recent years. He would like to ride off into the sunset with a win over 35 year-old semi-retired Oscar De La Hoya as his crowning achievement, yet the boxing public sees through this foolishness and knows that this fight was more about establishing a secure financial future than anything else. There is a whole host of prime fighters against whom to test his resolve and until he does, he will never be considered the greatest of all time, because the greatest fighters took on all comers. Such is the conundrum of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., a fistic Michelangelo who seems destined to fall short of the greatness of the legends of our beloved sport.

Article posted on 28.05.2007

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