Saturday, December 16

Should Mayweather be Number One?

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A number of respected sportswriters and boxing journalists have bestowed the pound-for-pound top spot to Floyd Mayweather Junior (41-0, 25 KO’s) following his thorough domination of “Sugar” Shane Mosley last May 1, 2010.

Floyd was already the pound-for-pound king just before going into semi-retirement in June 2008, a somewhat inopportune decision given the brewing conditions of the welterweight mix at that point.

There have been a lot of speculations regarding his so-called retirement but there were several noteworthy developments surrounding this temporary hiatus.  One is that both his and Oscar dela Hoya’s camps were on the verge of sealing a rematch of their record-breaking fight in terms of pay-per-view buy rate.  Floyd apparently was seeking an improvement in his revenue split with Oscar compared to their previous arrangement applied on the massive 2.4 million household buys their first fight engendered.  When Oscar didn’t budge Floyd chose to walk away from the sport rather than acquiesce and take the short end of the straw again.

Thus his teary-eyed retirement announcement that was received by the general boxing public with mixed reactions.   Most observers at the time felt Floyd’s career, while showing signs of greatness early on, still lacked in its latter half the calibre of opposition worthy of all-time great enshrinement.

It must be noted that during these times Floyd Mayweather Jr. was widely considered the pound-for-pound number one boxer, but there were already loud dissenting opinions.  He ascended the throne when middleweight tyrant Bernard Hopkins lost his hold on the top spot via a controversial split decision loss to HBO creation Jermain Taylor.  An argument can be made that Floyd was elevated to the top spot because the erstwhile number one lost, and in the absence of another worthier contender, the number two pound-for-pound should be crowned.

His strength of opposition since his coronation in 2005 until the temporary retirement when considered on its own merits does not realistically merit pound-for-pound acclaim.  Consider his last fight before Hopkins actually lost the mythical throne, a ruthless massacre of fan-favorite Arturo Gatti for one of the junior welterweight belts.  While this performance was indeed dominating, on its own it should not catapult one to the pound-for-pound top spot.  Rather, Floyd got the top spot on the strength of his past performances at the lower weights.

It is quite ironic that during the time of his pound-for-pound reign, his schedule of opposition became more of a brilliant matchmaking exercise than actual great pound-for-pound performance.  Floyd fought at welterweight the underwhelming Sharmba Mitchell, Zab “Super” Judah who just lost to Carlos Baldomir via shocking upset, and Baldomir the overachieving Cinderella man himself.  Then he went up to light middleweight to challenge Golden Boy Oscar dela Hoya, and came back down to welterweight for a bout with junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton before announcing his retirement.

Meanwhile, the real top welterweight contenders were fighting each other.  Miguel Cotto faced Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito in the approximate period, while the “Tijuana Tornado” Margarito himself would face Joshua Clottey, Paul Williams, Kermit Cintron and Shane Mosley.

Floyd came out of his self-imposed exile not to fight one of these welterweight hombres, but to face a career featherweight in Juan Manuel Marquez whose number two pound-for-pound ranking meant virtually nothing in a welterweight fight where he was outgunned, outmatched and literally outweighed at the weigh-in scales.  A lot of people mistakenly assumed that just because another featherweight who Marquez had two close fights with achieved great success at these higher weights namely the firebreathing Filipino Manny Pacquiao, it would translate to Marquez doing well himself climbing up.

As it turned out, this assumption could not have been further from the truth.  The brave Mexican faced an uphill task with huge disadvantages in size, reach, quickness, strength and punching power and the only things that made him finish the twelve rounds on his feet were his admirable heart, considerable technical proficiency and Floyd’s own unwillingness to take risks to get the knockout.

Marquez’ standing at the time as the pound-for-pound number two boxer was played up by fight promoter Golden Boy Promotions and Floyd himself, but in an embarassingly candid moment in one of Floyd’s interviews before the fight he took a dig at his opponent by saying that no small man could ever defeat him, thus inadvertently admitting Marquez’ rating was figuratively fool’s gold when seen in the context of fighting two weight divisions higher than the previous maximum weight he had ever competed effectively at.

This tiny little detail was all swept to the side by the massive hype generated by Floyd Mayweather Jr’s dominant shutout of the then second-best pound-for-pound Marquez, who had under his belt scintillating knockout victories over the “Baby Bull” Juan Diaz and the difficult Cuban Joel “El Cepillo” Casamayor.  These two victories indeed were the reason Marquez was an atteractive option for Mayweather’s thinktank in the first place.  Coming off a highly competitive split decision loss at junior lightweight to his nemesis Manny Pacquiao, Marquez climbed 5lbs and staked his claim at the lightweight division with the aforementioned knockout wins.  Marquez was highly-regarded but realistically an unproven commodity in weights beyond 135lbs.

Indeed Marquez was on shaky legs early against Diaz and his battle against Casamayor was more nip-and-tuck than a dominant showing, and the stoppages were more a testament of his resilience than anything else.  In his two forays at lightweight, there were signs he had plateau’d at his maximum effective weight class.  His movement was less effective, and the punches that he took with more frequency had him wobbling far worse than usual.

Perhaps nobody else would know him better than the man who trained him from his childhood days, Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain.  Nacho, in retrospect, would state that his ward was out of his depth at welterweight and when offered a fight with junior welterweight beltholder British star Amir Khan, still vehemently rejected it and claimed Marquez did not deserve to be treated as a mere stepping stone for anyone.  Quite a curious statement at the time, considering Khan has a reputation for a not-so-sturdy chin and the proposed match was at an even lower weight than the Mayweather fight.

After pound-for-pound rival Pacquiao surpassed expectations once again with a surprising stoppage win against top welterweight Miguel Cotto and a shutout of Ghanaian Joshua Clottey, the public demanded a more credible opponent for Mayweather’s next fight.  It is widely known that the unfortunate tragedy in Haiti had cancelled Shane Mosley’s January bout with Andre Berto, and Floyd promptly stepped up to the plate and accepted Mosley’s challenge issued in the ring during the postfight interview of Mayweather-Marquez.

Finally, after years of fighting mostly subpar welterweights Floyd took a legitimate risk and got in the ring with a dangerous welterweight.  Although most had Floyd as the favorite, no one was discounting Mosley’s ability to end matters at anytime with his vaunted punching power.  It was also considered that the two protagonists were almost co-equals in speed, stamina and boxing skills.

The actual fight last May 1, 2010 was a shocking performance comparable to Manny Pacquiao’s recent ring dominance.  After getting nearly knocked out twice in the second round, Floyd utilized his unparalleled reflexes and surprising punching power to walk down Mosley and deter his offensive game.  By the middle rounds Shane looked so out of the fight that it was hard to believe he had Floyd hurt in the second round.  The domination was so thorough and surprising that the question in people’s minds was whether Mosley would survive the whole twelve rounds, and not if he could win any of the remaining rounds.

The repercussions of this pound-for-pound exploit were like a tsunami washing over the whole boxing world.  Not only did Floyd survive the nuclear right hand of Mosley, he became the aggressor in the fight.  He proved to be at least as strong as Shane, evident in their clinches and when he bullied him backwards.  Nobody would have been surprised with a Floyd shutout win considering the odds for the fight, but with the manner in which he walked down and put fear in the eyes of Shane everybody was flabbergasted.

Floyd was widely acknowledged to have had big power at junior lightweight, but not at welterweight.  To have deterred the aggression of Mosley, walked him down and taken his best bombs showed previously undiscovered facets to Floyd’s master game.  Floyd’s chin can in fact withstand the occasional big bombs from heavy-handed punchers at welterweight, and his power is severely underrated.

For Floyd Mayweather to be then re-installed to his former throne is just the logical conclusion for the boxing media movers and shakers who have him as the current pound-for-pound king.

Or is it?

It should be pointed out that what Floyd achieved in his last fight, is what Pacquiao has been doing the last couple of years.  It seems the public has been spoiled by what appears to be earthshaking performances by Pacquiao on a regular basis that maybe, even the most astute observer has taken Pacquiao’s feats for granted.

What can be considered as great deeds for any other fighter are now just standard fare for the Filipino phenom, and yet a single great performance by Floyd is already enough to leapfrog the PacMan for the pound-for-pound throne?

It is a widely accepted reality in boxing that great wins are regarded with over-the-top exaggeration in its immediate aftermath, and these recent widespread revisions of various pound-for-pound lists can be explained as just such an expression of this fleeting euphoria.

What would be a terrible injustice is when the euphoria has subsided but the lists still have Manny Pacquiao supplanted by the solitary win of Floyd Mayweather against the only legitimate welterweight challenge he has faced in three long years.

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