In the age of social media there’s nothing more common on boxing threads than “What If” polls and discussions pitting great fighters from different eras. One of the more common ones thrown out for banter is pitting prime Sugar Ray Leonard at 147 against Floyd Mayweather on his best night as a welterweight. It always draws a ton of attention and comments.
The most recent Leonard vs. Mayweather sample I reviewed and tabulated was overwhelmingly in favor of Sugar Ray Leonard who received more than 95 percent of the vote, which makes me think that most of those who responded were probably over 45. My rationalization is that fans are probably around 15 years old when they are influenced by certain fighters. Leonard did his best work between 1978-87, meaning guys who were 15 back then were born between 1965 and 1970, or thereabouts. Mayweather’s fans, using the same age of 15 when they were influenced by the best of their era, were probably born between 1985 and 1990.
When Sugar Ray Leonard was in his prime as I fighter I was in my twenties through early thirties. As great as I thought he was, I never thought for one second he would’ve beat Sugar Ray Robinson, nor did I even consider he was close to being Robinson’s equal….and that opinion hasn’t changed in all the years that have passed.
I’ve had numerous e-mail exchanges and minor disagreements with Mayweather fans who think he was greater than Leonard. When I detail why him being undefeated isn’t the be-all, end-all, they depart, saying I am too uninformed to appreciate his greatness and how him being undefeated settles the issue. My response is that Leonard would’ve defeated every fighter Mayweather fought between 147 and 154 easier and most likely by stoppage. Conversely, Leonard beat one fighter who I’m 50-50 on who’d win if he fought Mayweather, namely Wilfred Benitez, and two other fighters who would’ve taken Mayweather apart in Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, not that Floyd would’ve fought them. And I don’t need to include Marvin Hagler among Leonard’s wins. Having seen the entire careers of the fighters in question, I’m extremely confident in my assessment but no one can ever say for sure.
As we close the book on 2017 boxing is surging and 2018 looks to be just as terrific. Moreover, there are two fighters most agree rank at the top among the pound-for-pound best in the sport and have a chance to be remembered as an all-time great. They are WBO junior lightweight title holder Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford who just vacated the junior welterweight division as the undisputed unified champ to campaign as a welterweight.
What’s interesting regarding the Lomachenko/Crawford dynamic is they campaign between 130-140 and soon to be 147, which happens to be the weights at which Mayweather excelled. It’s been nearly 20 years since Mayweather won his first title at 130 and now he’s viewed almost as an old school fighter. Now many of his supporters are in the same situation as many who lived during the Duran/Leonard/Hearns era and refute Mayweather being on their level.
Lomachenko and Crawford are modern fighters and the thought of Lomachenko bettering Mayweather at 130 or Crawford besting him at 140 is gaining steam every time they fight, and it’s not sitting well with Floyd’s faction of fans. It says something about Lomachenko 10-1 (8) that after only 11 pro fights and not even being undefeated, that there’s a plethora of fans who are split as to who would’ve won had they fought. Crawford is no doubt the greatest and most complete fighter to win the title at 140 since Mayweather.
It’s been something to watch Mayweather fans go at it with the fans of Lomachenko who are every bit as over the top as they are, with adherents on both sides failing to mention how Mayweather was careful in picking his opponents.Aside from Diego Corrales, Floyd never beat another outstanding fighter who was in his prime and also undefeated. As for Lomachenko’s fans, I think they confuse impressive and unique with greatness and there’s a difference. Crawford has the smallest following among the three. Outside of the ring he isn’t the personality Mayweather was and inside the ring isn’t as flashy as Lomachenko.
The generational bias is impossible to miss. Making it worse is we’re so absolute in believing we are right regarding who wins between fighters from different eras. And you better believe if Lomachenko beats Mikey Garcia and one day wins a title at 140, or Crawford cleans out the welterweight division beating Keith Thurman or Errol Spence, or both, the Mayweather faction will not be loving that.
Every generation of fight fans, when they’re still young, lack a complete sense of history, so they tend to over-value their own stars. As they get a little perspective, they are more able to see arguments for the all-timers they may have been less familiar with. That’s always been the case. Today most historians consider Muhammad Ali as having met and defeated the greatest opposition of fighters among the greatest heavyweight champions in history. However, when I was a young fan I remember reading Nat Fleischer and Bill Gallo saying Louis was greater than Ali because he fought and defeated better fighters. Today nobody would say that, even in jest.
My take on the Lomachenko/Crawford vs. Mayweather at 130 and 140:
At 130 I think Mayweather-Lomachenko could go either way. Today I think some forget how complete and good Mayweather was as a junior lightweight, and we may not have seen Lomachenko’s best yet. In a head-to-head matchup, Lomachenko wouldn’t be as successful trying to crowd Floyd with the intent of making him open up and miss so he can counter him from unorthodox positions. Most of his opponents get so frustrated from missing they pack it in. For me to accept he could do that to Mayweather, first I’d have to see it.
On the other hand, Mayweather never saw a fighter who could manipulate him into punching and head hunting at something that is mirage-like with footwork and positioning to attack and defend at the same time. It’s too early to give Lomachenko the benefit of the doubt over Mayweather at 130, but I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time Vasyl retires he may get the benefit of the doubt as the greater fighter at 130.
At 140 I would take Crawford to beat Mayweather. Until I saw Crawford take apart Viktor Postol and obliterate Julius Indongo, both of whom would beat anybody Floyd faced at 140, I always thought Aaron Pryor was the best fighter of my lifetime at junior welterweight. I’m no longer sure of that. I wouldn’t yet rank Crawford over Pryor, but wouldn’t be surprised if Crawford is viewed as the greater fighter when his career is over.
Crawford, unlike Lomachenko who fights one style, forces his opponents to adapt to him. Crawford surveys his opponents and once he has a read on them, picks them apart piece by piece. And when they try to adjust to what he’s doing he changes up again with two trap doors behind that. He can also be just as dominant from a southpaw stance, creating problems for natural southpaws. Crawford is ferocious fighting as the attacker and bringing the fight to his opponent with a very imaginative offense at his disposal, and equally ferocious as he stuns and blunts his opponent with outside shots as he’s steering them into his counter hooks and uppercuts because taking the fight to Crawford while trying to muscle him is suicide. On top of that, he’s mean and shows no mercy. I think he’d beat Mayweather at every turn. Crawford is stronger and punches harder than Floyd at 140. And stylistically he can adjust to whatever Mayweather would attempt, via lead right hands and body jabs or his countering, and like Sugar Ray Leonard, Crawford lets no punches go unanswered.
Boxing is in great shape and in 20 years Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford will be old school fighters and there’ll be a few new guys on the scene with the potential to be greater than either of them in the eyes of the fans.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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