The Mayweather legacy

Callum Rudge
30/04/2015 10:18am

“No one can ever brainwash me to make me believe that Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali were better than me. No one could ever brainwash me and tell me that. But one thing I will do - I'm going to take my hat off to them and respect those guys because those are the guys who paved the way for me to be where I'm at today.” - Floyd Mayweather Jr.

These words caused uproar and consternation in the boxing world and I understand why they did. Muhammad Ali was more than a boxer; he was a social icon, a man who was almost bigger than boxing. Robinson was both majestic and brutal at the same time, immeasurable skills in the ring and a pioneer outside, but is Mayweather stating he’s had the greater career or made a bigger impact? Or is he just saying he thinks he’s the best boxer. ‘The Best Ever’, in fact. 

Mayweather is a fighter who has been a world champion in one form or another for 17 years, with an unblemished fight record filled with present and future Hall of Famers, and he’s achieved all of this whilst barely being tested. There are no toe-to-toe wars in his resumé , he doesn’t believe in them. There’s been a single cut and a single ‘knockdown’ (disputed against Carlos Hernandez) in a career where, if an opponent wins more than three rounds, there are immediate calls for a rematch. His style is one that has earned him both plaudits and criticism; detractors see him as a runner, someone not interested in a fight. Others perceive Mayweather as a defensive genius and master boxer of his generation.

The runner tag is simplistic; of course, his movement is important but he doesn’t simply skate around the ring - Floyd uses economic footwork, pulling away from the ropes or out of a corner yet keeping himself in an offensive position to attack, without unnecessarily tiring himself out. His performance against Canelo Alvarez was a perfect example; Mayweather was pitted against a 22-year-old who outweighed him by 15lbs on fight night and had won two ‘world’ titles by imposing his sheer will and brute strength to bully smaller opponents into submission.

He needed his legs that night more than most yet used them masterfully, turning Canelo from a potential bully to a weakened bull with Mayweather assuming the role of matador. A key facet to Mayweather’s defence is he stops his opponent being able to find a comfort zone or present even a hint of a target. This is important in those early stages when a fighter is at his most anxious and energetic. It’s no coincidence that Mayweather tends to dominate the middle rounds, by then his opponent is so consumed by frustration at not being able to land cleanly he stops throwing leather and starts eating lead right hands.

Floyd isn’t the hardest puncher, especially not at 147lbs and 154lbs, where he’s often the smaller man, but he punches with pinpoint accuracy and his blows sting fighters enough to keep them honest and scupper their gameplan. The key to Mayweather’s success has always been his ability to read a fight and make the necessary adjustments. He’s not always received the shrewdist advice in his corner; after being stunned by Shane Mosley, his uncle Roger simply told him to “box that ma’f*cka”, not a lot of tactical input there but Mayweather came out in the next round and dominated Mosley.  In the Zab Judah fight, he had trouble early but adjusted his feet and started pinging Judah with lead right hands and left hooks to the body, almost turning southpaw in a sense. He adjusts each and every time. But with every Mayweather win the excuses follow; “Corrales had trouble with the weight”, “Marquez was too small”, “Canelo was too young”. Even when he wins, he doesn’t really triumph.

Is Mayweather the nicest individual in the world? Absolutely not, but neither was Ali, or Carlos Monzon or Jake LaMotta, but he’s a brilliant boxer and he hasn’t had his career scrutinised through rose-tinted glasses for the last 50 years. He’s the premier fighter of his era and that’s the highest accolade one can give. He doesn’t have a ‘Murderers’ Row’ to contend with or the ‘Four Kings’, they had long since retired and never crossed paths. Yet his opponents haven’t exactly been tomato cans either and include most of this generation’s elite fighters.

Are there boxers he should have fought? Absolutely, but you can make the same remark about almost any fighter in boxing’s chequered history. Sugar Ray Robinson overlooked Charley Burley, Roy Jones missed Darius Michalczewski and Riddick Bowe openly ducked Lennox Lewis. Greats have avoided other greats and dangermen throughout the chronology of boxing; to suggest Mayweather is a greater culprit than others is selective judgment at best.

Maybe in 50 years, Floyd will receive greater acknowledgement for his considerable achievements, when enough time passes and a new star is promoting his own legacy. Only then will his detractors forget about the ostentatious Mayweather brand and remember him for being a great fighter, one of the best to ever lace up.