Floyd Mayweather will always have critics but he leaves boxing as its grandmaster
Last week, the man who calls himself “TBE” (The Best Ever) equalled Rocky Marciano’s long-standing boxing record of 49 victories and zero defeats.
Oscar De La Hoya called his career “the worst era in boxing history”.
Muhammad Ali is widely recognised as boxing’s greatest because he transcended the sport by not only winning in the ring but addressing social issues, as well. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Robinson remain popular because they fought the world’s best any day, any time.
Floyd Mayweather is not as beloved despite winning 11 championship belts, in five weight classes, and avoiding defeat through a 19-year career. As per CompuBox (computerised punches scoring system) numbers, he landed the highest percentage of punches and got hit with the lowest percentage of punches of any fighter in boxing’s electronic age.
He faced and defeated more current or former world champions and earned more money than anyone in the sport.
So why is Floyd Mayweather’s era called, by another former champion, “the worst in history”? Why is public praise so stinting for his extraordinary achievements in and out of the ring?
Perhaps because he fights for himself first, rather than the fans?
It is his life he risks every time he enters the ring.
Or because he declares himself “best ever”?
If a boxer doesn’t think he is the best, he is in the wrong sport.
Or perhaps because he portrayed himself as an over-the-top, ostentatious character who knew no bounds.
He changed his nickname from “Pretty Boy” Floyd to “Money May” and he boasted incessantly about his wealth and what it did for him.
It earned him critics but it was a clever way to attract mainstream attention and expand his “brand” beyond the comparatively small boxing audience.
The sport of boxing is referred to as the “sweet science”. The right recipe of weight, height, reach, quickness, speed, stamina, timing and power makes a fighter unique and perhaps great. There is an art and science to it.
Boxing is not about two fighters swinging at each other for 12 rounds: the sweet science is the art of hitting without being hit, a formula embraced and mastered by Mayweather to such a level that perhaps it might never again be matched.
Mayweather, presumably retired, was an artist in the ring. His boxing IQ was unmatched. He was 10 steps ahead of his opponents. He took away whatever they did best and made them resort to doing something they did not want to do.
Those speedy manoeuvres and lightning-quick reflexes, the way he set traps by stepping back, leant forward and waited for his opponent’s jab … he made them miss with a quick backwards reflex and struck with his lead right.
All in a fraction of a second. Mesmerising to witness.
Nearly every opponent he faced said they would push Floyd and give him his first defeat, but they all fell into his traps. Mayweather made them miss and made them pay. No one has the blueprint to solve the “Mayvinci Code”.
Boxing is a brutal sport, physically and mentally. Many fighters have been the victims of a style that the fans love, the “going to war” approach. Muhammad Ali and Freddie Roach were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Floyd’s father and uncle, Floyd Sr. and Roger, were diagnosed with speech and memory loss, respectively.
Three of Floyd Mayweather’s defining fights came against men who have since died. His first world title came against Genaro Hernandez. His first big showdown with a fellow unbeaten was against Diego Corrales. His first pay-per-view was against Arturo Gatti. All three had styles that left them receiving too much punishment and too many blows to the head.
“I am leaving the sport with all my faculties. I’ve accomplished everything in this sport; there’s nothing else to accomplish,” Mayweather said after his “last” fight, against Andre Berto on Saturday.
Mayweather managed to reinvent boxing, become obscenely rich and wrote his own ending. I don’t know if Mayweather is the best ever, but he is unambiguously one of the greatest athletes of his generation.
For the first time in the history of boxing, someone made the art of defence relevant. Like him or not, in Floyd Mayweather’s own words: “Boxing — it’s chess, not checkers.”
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