By Ted Sares:
The latest is the greatest
He can have heart, he can hit harder and he can be stronger, but there’s no fighter smarter than me.
— Floyd Mayweather Jr.
I’m not religious, but I believe that what I have is a gift, and I respect it and live up to it.
—Sugar Ray Leonard
It’s time these two great met on a prime vs. prime basis at a weight of 146 pounds.
Leonard comes in at 31-1 while Mayweather is a perfect 41-0. Mayweather is 100% into his record while Leonard is 83% into his. Mayweather has a KO percentage of 61%; SRL’S is at 69%. SRL is coming off his great win over Thomas Hearns for the WBC and WBA welterweight titles in a 1981 Ring Magazine Fight of the Year followed by a brutal KO of Bruce Finch in 1982. PBF’s last fight was his superb domination of Sugar Shane Mosley in May 2010. Interestingly, both fighters have stoppage wins over a fighter nicknamed “The Hitman.” Oh yes, one has a pretty face and the other is nicknamed “Pretty Boy,” but behind those angelic exteriors, both are mean through and through.”
Both men have extremely high ring IQ’s and are 100% fit. They know their way around the ring as if they were born in it. Both have skill sets that include everything from great defense and body punching to crisp counterpunching and ring movement and stamina. Still, Leonard’s style is more ferocious than Mayweather’s in that he has always been willing to take more risks by initiating and/or engaging in furious exchanges. And no one can exploit an opponent’s weaknesses better that Ray, but Mayweather really doesn’t have any weaknesses to exploit. I’m not going to make detailed skills comparison here except to state below how I see a mythical fight between the two playing out at a particular point in time
This bout turns out to be a ebb and flow war as Leonard refuses to allow Mayweather to hit and run and continually catches him with sharp combinations that have PBF retreating in the early going. With 30 seconds to go in each round, Leonard steps up the pressure to impress both “Pretty Boy” and the Judges.
Going into the mid rounds, Mayweather changes his strategy by clinching and roughing up Leonard in close, but Ray responds with straight rights which shockingly land and neutralize Mayweather’s attack. A short right hurts and backs up PBF and Leonard raises his hand (as he did against Hearns and others when he sensed a ready prey). As he moves in for the kill, the crowd rise and roars with anticipation, but Mayweather is playing possum and meets him with a left hook from Hell which both surprises and hurts Sugar who now backs off as the bell rings. While that last surprise shot may have turned the fight, Mayweather seems behind in the bout. However, knowing that he can hurt Sugar Ray, a rejuvenated Mayweather becomes more aggressive and begins to dictate the action with more punch volume and savvy movement.
As the fight heads into the final rounds, both fighters engage in mid-round flurries that are incredible to witness. Then, the flurries become heavy exchanges and the punches do more damage. Both trade violently. While both are badly bruised around the eyes and cheeks, cuts are not a factor.
In the tenth (a round Leonard is winning), Mayweather lands a solid left and a second shorter one that appears to stun Leonard. In the ensuing clinch, Leonard seems to be holding on. As the bell rang, PBF connects with a wide left, a sharp right and a parting left that leaves SRL shaking his head as he goes back to his corner. No one has ever seen Mayweather fight the way he does in these late rounds and maybe it takes a SRL to bring such ferocity to the fore.
It is now crossroads time, but instead of both fighters letting it all hang out, Mayweather inexplicitly goes back to what he does best by attempting to land one lead shot after another and then moving out of Sugar’s range. This strategic adjustment backfires as Leonard, catching the judges riveting eyes, goes after him like a Jaguar after a Gazelle. The fight is up for grabs and both combatants know it, but SRL seems to know it just a bit better. And no one can impress the judges better late in a round than Sugar Ray Leonard.
When the bell rings ending the fight, the crowd stands as one and cheers for several minutes. Mayweather had fought in an atypically violent and risky manner in several rounds while an always aggressive Leonard answered each onslaught with a malefic one of his own. Still, Mayweather’s strange shift is strategy may well have been his downfall. The cards will soon tell the story.
After a lengthy delay and with crowd still buzzing, the scores are finally read to a hushed crowd and are as follows: 115-113, 115-113 and 113-115. It is a razor thin split decision win for Sugar Ray Leonard. When I keep “era or generational prejudice” out of the equation, that’s how I reasoned it would play out.
What do you think?