“To be the best, you fight the best, you prove you’re the best by continuing to do what? By continuing to be the best in that division. This is something that I want to make boxing get back to.” – Bernard Hopkins
I can see where a 50 year old guy who is about to take on the biggest monster in the division might make that statement. Good for him.
Ask yourself something, when you read the statement, “To be the best, you fight the best, you prove you’re the best by continuing to do what? By continuing to be the best in that division.” Who is the fighter that immediately came to mind? I can only answer for myself and a few others that I’ve corresponded with….and we all agreed that Floyd Mayweather is the fighter we first thought of. In fact it’s not a reach to assume that Hopkins was taking a subtle shot at Mayweather with his pointed words.
And let’s face it, if there is one active fighter who is qualified and respected enough to take a shot at Mayweather, it’s Hopkins. In two months Hopkins 55-6-2 (32), who will be two months shy of his 50th birthday, will be swapping punches with the most dangerous fighter in the light heavyweight division, 31 year old Sergey Kovalev 25-0-1 (23), who just happens to be in his prime. And as Hopkins formulated his legacy fighting as a middleweight during his mid to late 30’s, everything he does as a light heavyweight is icing on the cake.
When Hopkins steps into the ring against Kovalev on November 8th, it has to be considered the biggest challenge that any fighter who’s closer to 50 than 40 has ever accepted. And it’s not like Hopkins has to do it to solidify his legacy as a great fighter – that was sealed a decade ago. But as Muhammad Ali used to say, great fighters “Dare-to-Dare.”
Hopkins has gone out of his way to fight every bad-arse around between middleweight and light heavyweight without any gimmicks attached. When Hopkins finally does retire, no one will ever say ‘he was great, but too bad he never fought so and so, that would’ve really erased all doubts about his true greatness as a fighter.’
On the other hand, there’s Mayweather. Floyd is no doubt a great fighter. He’s a terrifically versatile boxer with quick hands; he’s a great counter-puncher and is much tougher and physically stronger than most credit him for being. But if there’s one thing on the negative side that can be said about him, it’s did he ever really “Dare-to-Dare?” I believe that anyone who is intellectually honest has to say no. Undefeated records are great, but they are not the measuring stick of how great a fighter is. Fighters are measured by who they fought and beat.
Former super-middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe retired undefeated at 46-0 (32), but try and make the argument that he’s the greatest super-middleweight champ ever. Sure, he’s one of them. But his best opposition came against two past their prime greats named Roy Jones who was 37, and Bernard Hopkins who was 43 when they fought. And I had Hopkins beating Calzaghe by a point.
How about Rocky Marciano, who retired undefeated at 49-0 (43)? How many boxing observers whose last name doesn’t end in a vowel, or live outside of Boston, consider Marciano the greatest heavyweight ever because he never lost? Rocky is no doubt one of the greats, but the best fighters he beat, Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore were old and on the decline when he fought them. Marciano didn’t duck anyone but he didn’t fight during one of the better eras in heavyweight history.
What if Muhammad Ali never came back after knocking out Zora Folley in 1967? He would’ve retired with a career record of 29-0 (23). At that time Nat Fleischer, the founder of Ring Magazine, who I think was very biased towards old school fighters, didn’t even consider Ali among the top-10 greatest heavyweight champs in history. And as much as I have my differences with Fleischer, I’m not sure Ali’s victories over an old Sonny Liston, Ernie Terrell, George Chuvalo, Floyd Patterson and Cleveland Williams merit him getting the nod over Jim Jeffries, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey and Marciano.
What solidified Ali’s greatness was getting up out of his grave after being decked by Joe Frazier and losing, only to come back and beat him twice. He also stopped a 25 year old monster in his prime named George Foreman who entered their fight 40-0 (37). In the interim he beat fighters the likes of Jerry Quarry twice, Oscar Bonavena, Ken Norton twice, Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers among others. In addition to that, Muhammad Ali always sought out to fight the best fighters around when he had everything to lose and nothing to gain by beating them.
Since Ali, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis have the best resumes regarding quality of opposition. They both fought every name heavyweight who was around, including each other twice. No, neither of them retired undefeated, but we know exactly how great and tough they were. Lewis never met a fighter he couldn’t beat and the only fighter who ever beat Holyfield during his prime was Riddick Bowe, who was three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier the night he dealt Evander his first loss. And Holyfield did come back and beat Bowe a year later when they met a second time.
Which brings us back to Mayweather. As great as Floyd has been, regardless of what he does hence forward, he’ll be partly remembered as a fighter who was reluctant to fight the best and the baddest when it really meant something. He fought Shane Mosley when he was shot and could only fight a minute a round. When welterweight title holders Antonio Margarito and Paul Williams were challenging him after many of their bouts, Floyd fought junior welterweight Ricky Hatton and then retired. It would’ve really said something about Floyd’s greatness if he would’ve gone on to thwart Margarito’s strength, toughness and pressure. And what if he could’ve navigated the reach and high punch output of Paul Williams? At least he could’ve claimed that he did beat a poor man’s Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns – only we’ll never know.
And then there’s former lineal flyweight champ Manny Pacquiao, who Mayweather found every excuse in the world not to make the fight with. Personally, I believe Floyd will, and would’ve beat Pacquiao and it wouldn’t have been his toughest fight. However, I’ve been wrong before and Floyd has never “Dared-to-Dare!” And wrongly or rightly, many will remember that about him long after he’s retired.
Just because a fighter is undefeated doesn’t mean he is truly great until his greatness is tested. We can only guess how that fighter would fare without the competition to test him. What if Roy Jones retired after beating John Ruiz? He would be in the conversation with Sugar Ray Robinson as one of the greatest of the greats, only he’s not because we saw him against a better grade of opposition after fighting Ruiz.
Hopkins is spot on: “To be the best, you fight the best.”
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
Photo Credit: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions