In professional sports legends are created and destroyed in a matter of seconds, and professional boxing is no different. Think of how drastically different the NFL’s Buffalo Bills would be viewed today had place kicker Scott Norwood hit a 47 yard field goal (that missed by less than a yard to the right) at the end of Super Bowl XXV versus the New York Giants? Today they’d be remembered as Super Bowl champions and Bill Parcells wouldn’t be considered quite the legend he is.
Had “Smokin” Joe Frazier lost a unanimous decision to Muhammad Ali in The “Fight Of The Century” instead of winning it, today Joe would be an asterisk in heavyweight history and viewed by many as the caretaker of Ali’s title while he was exiled for over three years.
What if George Foreman knocked Ali out in the eighth round of the “Rumble In The Jungle” instead of the opposite? Most likely George, not Ali, would be considered the greatest heavyweight of all-time. Forty plus years later Frazier is remembered for winning the biggest and most celebrated boxing match in history, and Ali wasn’t thought of as being the greatest until after he beat Foreman.
Legacies among great fighters can often ride on the outcome of one particular fight, depending on the fighter. When Floyd Mayweather 47-0 (26) takes on Manny Pacquiao 57-5-2 (38) this weekend, I can’t think of a single fighter who entered such a big fight with so little to gain and so much to lose regarding his all-time historical stature. Love him or loathe him, there’s just no getting around the fact that Mayweather is thought of as being a fighter who chose his opponents too judiciously throughout his career and especially during his tenure fighting as a welterweight. Denying that certifies you as a lifetime member of the flat-earth society. If you think about it, it’s really difficult coming up with Floyd’s signature win after 19 years as a professional fighter.
Mayweather fought Oscar De La Hoya when he was an empty package and 2-2 in his last four bouts heading into their fight. Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins and Manny Pacquiao all beat Oscar far more conclusively than the split decision verdict Floyd edged him out by. Juan Manuel Marquez was no doubt a great fighter but not as welterweight and Floyd was two divisions bigger than him when they fought. When Mayweather finally fought Shane Mosley in 2010, it was seven years too late. Floyd controlled the fight against the almost 39 year old Mosley, who nearly put him to sleep with one right hand in the second round. I doubt anyone would argue that Mayweather fought a vintage Mosley. Floyd’s overwhelming victory against Miguel Cotto is legit and probably the closest he has to being a signature win. But let us not forget Pacquiao obliterated Miguel three years prior, and after fighting Mayweather, Cotto was defeated even more decidedly seven months later in his next bout versus Austin Trout.
And then there’s Antonio Margarito and Paul Williams, who Mayweather purposely avoided by fighting undefeated IBF junior welterweight title holder Ricky Hatton and then retiring…. Only to come back 21 months later to fight Juan Manuel Marquez.
Most boxing pundits and fans conveniently forget how Margarito was a physical beast who had the style, chin and strength to suffocate Mayweather…and Williams had the reach, style, speed, boxing ability and power to beat Floyd fighting any style he chose. Think of how much stronger Mayweather’s 47-0 resume would be if you omitted Hatton and Marquez and replaced them with Williams and Margarito?!
Floyd Mayweather turned pro in 1996 and it took him 11 years to partake in a fight that boxing fans wanted to see, and that was against the much eroded Oscar De La Hoya, who was the A-side of the bout. And it certainly wasn’t Floyd’s finest hour. Even his father Floyd Sr. said that he felt his son lost. Since 2007 there’s been an angle tilting the outcome in Mayweather’s favor in every fight. Ricky Hatton, Marquez and Robert Guerrero were too small. De La Hoya and Mosley were fighting on their last legs, to put it nicely. Victor Ortiz and Marcos Maidana are nothing close to being world beaters; Canelo Alvarez was too green and inexperienced fighting at the highest level in professional boxing and still hasn’t yet proven he’s all that special. That leaves Cotto as being Mayweather’s most noteworthy win, and it’s a good one, but it’s still only one.
On May 2nd Mayweather will fight Manny Pacquiao in what will be the highest grossing fight in boxing history, not to be wrongly confused with being the biggest fight in boxing history. Pacquiao turned pro in 1995 as a flyweight. He’s lost twice in his last five bouts and in one of them he was knocked out face first on the canvas for well over a minute. In his last three bouts he’s defeated Timothy Bradley (after losing to him) Brandon Rios and Chris Algieri, all of whom went the distance with him.
However, because Mayweather is undefeated and this being by far the highest profile bout of his career, this is the fight he’ll be remembered by. That’s one of the problems he’s confronted with due to his lack of signature opponents. If he retired before fighting Pacquiao, he’d be remembered as a terrific defensive fighter who over-managed his career and avoided fighting the sternest opposition when it truly meant something to beat them. And as much as his fans want to deny it, that also pertains to the upcoming bout with Pacquiao to a large degree. Beating Manny after he lost to Bradley and Marquez hardly builds his case as “TBE.” If that were so, why aren’t Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez considered “TBE” since they will have defeated Pacquiao when he was younger and greater than when he fought Mayweather?
If you’re “Smokin” Joe Frazier and the first to clip the wings of the undefeated “butterfly” Muhammad Ali, you’re special. If you’re George Foreman and the first to put out the undefeated Smoke, you’re special. If you’re Muhammad Ali at age 32 and the first to beat the big bad undefeated monster named Foreman 40- (37) when he’s 25, you’re special. If you’re Roberto Duran, and the first to beat Sugar Ray Leonard at his optimal weight when he was undefeated and in his prime, you’re special. If you’re Sugar Ray Leonard and the first to beat undefeated Thomas Hearns 32-0 (30), you’re special. However, if you’re Floyd Mayweather and you beat Manny Pacquiao on May 2nd 2015, you will become one of six to have turned the trick. In other words Rustico Torrecampo, Megdeon Singsurat, Erik Morales, Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez already have defeated Pacquiao. For Mayweather, beating Pacquiao at this stage, if you’re bigger and less shopworn than he is, doesn’t make you so special.
Of course a win over Pacquiao is a feather in Mayweather’s cap, but it shouldn’t catapult him up the all-time great list. Beating a fighter he should’ve beaten who is smaller than he is and has already lost five times before wouldn’t propel any other fighter to legendary status, and it shouldn’t Mayweather. But losing to Pacquiao, if he does, is the single most thing Floyd Mayweather will be remembered for. The 47 victories before that will not shield a loss in his only true career defining fight. What will stand the test of time is – the fact that the first time Mayweather was confronted by a fighter who was thought to be a legitimate threat to his perfect record, he lost.
Much of Mayweather’s ring legacy is riding on the outcome against Pacquiao. If he wins, as he is favored to do, he continues to tread water among some of the all-time greats because he benefits from so many writers and fans not fully understanding how to interpret the record of great fighters. If he loses, he’ll lose much of the cachet he’s built up throughout his career for good, so much so that victory in a rematch will not redeem him. Because he shouldn’t have to fight Pacquiao twice to beat him once….Mayweather should beat Pacquiao 7-days a week, 52 weeks a year, every year.
Floyd Mayweather must beat Manny Pacquiao this weekend because if he went ahead and retired without ever fighting him, that’s all anyone would talk about for years down the road whenever his name was mentioned. Now that he’s fighting Pacquiao he must win because if he loses, after all that he’s accomplished, that is the single most thing he would be remembered for. And to be considered the best fighter of his era, he cannot be 0-1 in the only signature fight of his career versus his only true rival.
Photo Credit : Chris Farina – Top Rank
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com