Part One of this article explored a “fantasy” tournament contested among eight great welterweights of the past seventy years. Twenty-eight experts predicted the outcome of fights between Roberto Duran, Emile Griffith, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Aaron Pryor, and Sugar Ray Robinson.
The final rankings were:
Sugar Ray Robinson 189.5 points
Sugar Ray Leonard 156.0
Thomas Hearns 112.5
Roberto Duran 93.5
Floyd Mayweather 79.0
Emile Griffith 60.5
Aaron Pryor 59.5
Manny Pacquiao 33.5
This installment of “Mayweather and Pacquiao Against the Greats” explores the underlying data and puts the tournament in context.
Shortly before his death, Emanuel Steward opined, “The elite fighters today are better athletes than fighters used to be, but they aren’t as well-schooled in how to fight. To emphasize his point, Steward added, “Tommy Hearns would have destroyed Floyd Mayweather. Floyd would have given Tommy that shoulder roll, and Tommy would have broken his shoulder. And after he broke Floyd’s shoulder, he would have hit him on the jaw and knocked him out.”
Emanuel, of course, had a bias. He was Hearns’s trainer. But 22 of 28 experts polled earlier this month said they thought that Hearns would have beaten Mayweather at 147 pounds.
The names of the panelists and rankings methodology were outlined previously in Part One
Chart #1 (link) and Chart #2 (link) contain underlying statistical data from the tournament and are posted here for the first time.
Chart #1 shows that, by and large, the matchmakers, trainers, media representatives, and historians who were polled saw things similarly. Sugar Ray Robinson was ranked first within each group and Sugar Ray Leonard second. The greatest discrepancy was for Aaron Pryor, who ranked third among trainers but sixth, seventh, and eighth among the other panelist groups.
Chart #2 shows how the panelists thought each fighter would fare against the other seven.
Sugar Ray Robinson was regarded as the cream of the crop. All 28 panelists said that Robinson would have beaten Duran, Griffith, Hearns, Pacquiao and Pryor. Twenty-seven of the 28 panelists thought that Robinson would have beaten Mayweather. Where Robinson-Leonard is concerned, nineteen panelists picked Robinson, two picked Leonard, and seven said the fight was too close to call. That adds up to a record of 186 wins, 3 losses, and 7 draws.
Sugar Ray Leonard was the clear #2 choice. His projected tournament record was 146 wins, 30 losses, and 20 draws. Throw out his 28 fights against the original Sugar Ray, and Leonard comes in at 144 wins, 11 losses, and 13 draws.
Leonard and Hearns at their best were close to equal in the ring. But none of the electors picked Hearns over Leonard. Twenty-four picked Ray. The other four called the fight too close to call.
Hearns finished third and was a clear favorite over the five fighters who finished behind him. Here it should be noted that previous fights between the participants were relevant in the minds of the panelists but not necessarily dispositive. For example, Hearns blasted out Roberto Duran in two rounds. But Hearns and Duran fought at 154 pounds, not 147. And Roberto, who was 33 years old at the time, was at the end of a slide that saw him lose five of ten fights. Thus, while 22 panelists picked Hearns over Duran, five picked Roberto and one had the bout too close to call.
Floyd Mayweather finished fifth in the rankings with a composite record of 75 wins, 113 losses, and 8 draws. Some of the panelists were influenced by the belief that, unlike the other fighters listed, Floyd hasn’t tested himself against the toughest possible inquisitors.
“I don’t see Floyd signing up for this tournament,” one panelist noted.
That said, one panelist (a trainer) voiced the view that Mayweather would have beaten Sugar Ray Robinson.
“Styles make fights,” the panelist explained. “Floyd might have stunk out the joint. The crowd would be booing. But I think he’d win the fight.”
Twenty-six panelists thought that Sugar Ray Leonard would have beaten Mayweather. The other two called the bout too close to call.
Twenty panelists favored Mayweather over Pacquiao with the fighters at their respective peaks. Five picked Pacquiao. Three called it too close to call.
Except for Emile Griffith (60.5 points) and Aaron Pryor (59.5), there was clear separation in the rankings between each of the fighters.
Manny Pacquiao finished eighth and showed best against Griffith (11 wins, 16 losses, 1 draw) and Pryor (10 wins, 16 losses, 2 draws).
Each of the fighters in the tournament deserves to be called great. But keep in mind; there have been other fighters in other weight classes during the past half-century who are equally deserving of praise. Think, for example, of Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler, and Carlos Monzon.
So let’s not get carried away by a wave of hyperbole when the big fights come along later this year.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Sports: Remembering the Journey) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.