If this was Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s final fight, and he said it was, then the five-time world champion exited the squared circle with a bang on Saturday before 14,623 fans at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
One of the most polarizing athletes ever, Mayweather capped his storied boxing career 50-0 and reaffirmed what the Grand Rapids, Michigan native is fond of saying and that is, “I’m the greatest of all-time,” which may or may not be the case.
Mayweather started slowly but eventually took command, forging his iron will on UFC champion Conor McGregor, the first mixed martial artist to hold belts in two weight classes simultaneously. The 29-year-old McGregor, who owns a 21-3 record with 18 knockouts in MMA, tired and saw Robert Byrd, the referee, call an end to the proceedings after a Mayweather barrage, one minute and five seconds into the 10th round.
“We know in MMA he fights for 25 minutes,” said Mayweather. “After 25 minutes, he started to slow down.” Said McGregor: “I thought I took the early rounds pretty handily. He had to change his style and he adjusted.”
The last time Mayweather had a fight stopped by knockout or technical knockout came against Victor Ortiz, who was caught with a “sucker punch,” in the fourth round in September 2011 as “Money” captured the World Boxing Council welterweight title.
England’s Ricky Hatton was knocked out in the 10th round in December 2007 when Mayweather retained the same belt.
“I guaranteed everybody this fight wouldn’t go the distance,” said Mayweather. “Boxing’s reputation was on the line. Boxing’s a hell of a sport.”
Spanning what is a 21-year Hall of Fame career that began in 1996 after winning a bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics as a featherweight, Mayweather has been brilliant inside the ring, but sometimes less than stellar outside it, having had a number of run-ins with the law.
Still there is no denying the 40-year-old Mayweather’s place in the pantheon of boxing’s short list of all-time best that includes Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Henry Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Carlos Monzon.
The greatest ever? Well, time and some serious and careful reflection will be the ultimate judge, but for now, Mayweather, who hadn’t fought in nearly two years after beating Andre Berto in a unanimous decision in September 2015 with the WBC and World Boxing Association welterweight belts on the table, will have to settle for the best pound-for-pound of this generation and a defensive wizard.
A number of years ago I covered a Mayweather bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and also attended the lead-up press conference in which Mayweather reiterated he was the greatest of all-time.
It just so happened that Leonard and Thomas Hearns were both at the presser and afterward I was able to ask Leonard what he thought of Mayweather’s claim.
“He’s great, there’s no doubt, and he’s entitled to his opinion, but I would never put it that way,” said Leonard, a world champion in five weight divisions and the one-time undisputed welterweight king.
In the presser on Wednesday for Saturday’s 154-pound clash, Mayweather had the final say at the podium. “This is what it’s about, the best fighting the best,” he said. “ He’s the best at what he does and I’m the best at what I do.”
Mayweather, who came in with 26 knockouts, went on: “One thing you should know about boxing: If you give it, you must be able to take it. I’ve been here many times. Guys say they’re going to hit me in the body, with the right hand, with the left hook. After 21 years, I’ve been hit with everything, and I’m still here.”
Mayweather added: “It’s called smarts. It’s called having an IQ. And from Day 1, everything that my dad taught me, I still remember. And everything that can be done in boxing, I’ve done it.”
McGregor was first to speak and recalled something that happened two years ago.
“What woke me up was listening to him talk down about the sport I was dedicating my life to and I realized we were at a similar weight, so I said, ‘I will get that fight with him,” said McGregor. “I rose up to become a multiple-weight champion and then he came to me. It worked out perfect.”
One measure of greatness is quality of opponent. In that regard, it’s clear that Mayweather has fought some of the best including Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who entered their September 2013 fight with only a draw.
But Alvarez was ultimately outclassed, absorbing a majority decision setback as Mayweather kept the WBA “super” world super welterweight belt and won the WBC super welterweight crown.
In May 2012, Mayweather earned a unanimous decision victory over Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto and then won the WBA super welterweight title in September 2009 after out-pointing Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez over 12 rounds.
More evidence for Mayweather’s brilliance is a majority decision and a unanimous decision victory over Marcos Maidana in 2014, with two belts on the line, and of course his May 2007 split decision triumph over Oscar De La Hoya, the “Golden Boy.”
In that mega-bout in which Mayweather took the WBC super welterweight title, De La Hoya was the aggressor across the first six rounds, but inexplicably failed to employ the jab during the final six rounds.
It was at this juncture in Mayweather’s career that his persona and nickname changed from “Pretty Boy” to “Money,” which saw him flaunt his riches and fame, tossing hundred dollar bills into the air, showing off his expensive cars, world class jewelry and multi-million dollar mansions with the assistance of Leonard Ellerbe, Chief Executive Officer of Mayweather Promotions, and Al Haymon, his Harvard-educated business manager.
While many were taken aback by this, it all seemed to work out in Mayweather’s favor as he became the most famous face in boxing and best paid, owning some of the biggest pay-per-view bouts, including the May 2015 fight against Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao.
Mayweather has been accused by his critics of hand-picking his opponents like Shane Mosley and Pacquiao, who were past their prime.
When Mosley, a four-time world champion in three weight classes, duked it out with Mayweather in May 2010, he was dangerous, buckling Mayweather’s legs in the second round, but also failing to follow up and lost a unanimous decision.
Pacquiao, an eight-division world champ, claimed perhaps two or three rounds against Mayweather and lost via unanimous decision as “Money” kept the WBA super welterweight and WBC welterweight belts and scooped up the WBO welterweight championship.
While these two were likely to lose, Mayweather, a three-time Golden Gloves champion, also took on undefeated Diego Corrales in January 2001, knocking him down five times and stopping him in the 10th as he retained his WBC super featherweight belt.
In April 2002, Mayweather defeated Jose Luis Castillo via unanimous decision and won the WBC lightweight title and eight months later retained the same belt via another unanimous decision.
Other fights that Mayweather went in tough were against Genaro Hernandez in October 1998 when he won the WBC super featherweight belt by a technical knockout in the eighth.
Another came against Arturo Gatti in June 2005 when he took the WBC super lightweight crown with a TKO in the sixth round, Zab Judah in April 2006 when he earned a unanimous decision win and the International Boxing Federation belt, and Carlos Baldomir, seven months later via a unanimous decision as he grabbed the WBC welterweight strap.
Max Kellerman, on ESPN’s First Take, said McGregor wouldn’t be much of a fight.
“I think he’ll carry McGregor and then take him out,” he said. “But if McGregor’s aggressive, it may force Floyd to take him out earlier.”
Kellerman added that Mayweather is also very smart. “He’s going to want to put on a good show. He wants to leave people happy in case there’s another big payday in the future.”
After Saturday’s match with McGregor, Mayweather said this once in a lifetime match won’t happen a second time.
In a sense that’s good, because boxing fans and purists were witness to one of the greatest of all-time. Maybe the greatest.
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