Floyd Mayweather: TBE?
As Floyd Mayweather prepares to face Conor McGregor in one of the more surreal spectacles in boxing history, James McHugh ponders how history will judge the most talked about fighter of his generation...
When all is said and done, how will Floyd Mayweather Jr be remembered?
Where will he rank compared to all-time greats such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler?
Mayweather can make a good case for being regarded as the best all-round boxer since Leonard. Let’s face it, nobody can touch him – often literally – as he rolls that shoulder and coils up like a rattlesnake before striking.
He won his first world title in 1998 at super featherweight and has since picked up a range of belts in four further weight divisions.
But what is it that separates the great and the good?
A trait that great athletes often possess is audacious confidence. Most of us are relatively modest when speaking about our own accomplishments, even if we secretly believe ourselves to be superior to others, but great athletes don’t hold back and are more than happy to voice their lofty opinions of themselves.
This is a trait that Mayweather possesses in abundance, although it backfired on him when he stated in an interview with ESPN that he believed himself to be better than Muhammad Ali. Saying such a thing is considered taboo within boxing - it’s like a basketball player proclaiming to be better than Michael Jordan or a young English centre back saying he’s better than Bobby Moore. Even if it’s potentially true, it’s one of those things you just can’t say without gaining a ton of backlash.
Not that Mayweather seems to care, having declared: “He [Ali] called himself The Greatest and I call myself TBE [The Best Ever]. I’m pretty sure I’ll get criticised for what I said, but I couldn’t care less. I couldn’t care less about the backlash."
When the average person on the street hears Mayweather's name mentioned the first things that probably pop into their head are his ability to talk trash, the A-lister celebrities he surrounds himself with and his penchant for sharing details of his luxurious lifestyle on social media.
But these are only part of what Mayweather is about - far more important from a sporting perspective is his unblemished ring record of 49-0, and the fact he has beaten the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao to name but a few. Indeed, he boasts a boxing CV that is practically unrivalled in recent boxing history.
Mayweather has had his critics over the years - many fans claim that he has dodged opponents or only fought them once they were past their best. On the flipside, his many devoted admirers view him as the greatest fighter to ever lace up a pair of gloves, highlighting his perfect record of 49-0 and his unparalleled ring earnings.
The truth of the matter is somewhere between these two extremes. There’s no doubt that Mayweather is one of the best fighters who’s ever lived and placing him in the top 25 of all time isn’t a stretch. His 20-year professional career spans five weight divisions, beginning in 1996 at super feather before moving to lightweight, super lightweight, welterweight and finally super welter.
Among those who faced Mayweather in the ring was English icon Ricky Hatton, who once offered this assessment of 'Money's supreme skills:
"He knew how to pull out of range, he knew what distance the punch might come from and knew how low to duck. At times I thought he ducked too low below the waist and that he used his forearm to keep you at arm's distance.
"I was frustrated at the time [I fought him in 2007], but when I look at him now, I just think: what a clever smart arse in the way you do all that. He was so clever defensively and it would just be a little nudge or sway that made all the difference."
Mayweather’s record would look much better – or at least he’d take away a lot of his critics' ammunition - if he’d fought the likes of Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao a few years earlier than he did. But let’s not forget that Floyd has never been stopped or officially knocked down.
After being known as 'Pretty Boy' earlier in his career, Mayweather reivented himself as 'Money' Mayweather, and for good reason - he makes more of it than anyone in the history of boxing. Whether as a promoter, manager or fighter, Mayweather is a phenomenon, and - the mystery of his recent tax issues notwithstanding - there is a case to be made that he is an even better businessman than he is a boxer.
Whatever your views of Mayweather, it is undeniable that he is a defensive master who, through sheer weight of his personality, an admirable work ethic and stubborn perseverance, has presided over boxing for two decades.
Whether he is the greatest fighter who ever lived, regardless of weight, is something that will never be proven and is no more than a matter of opinion.
As an elite fighter who will justifiably be inducted into the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible, Mayweather will certainly never be forgotten, even if the debate about the extent of his greatness will never be definitively settled.