By Lee Groves
In his 13-year professional career, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been the picture of perfection. Forty times he has stepped inside the squared circle and 40 times he has left it a winner. Twenty-five of those outings failed to go the scheduled distance, mostly because of his blazing hand speed and underrated power.
Over the years “Money” has made much of his unblemished record, which will be put at risk when he faces WBA welterweight champion and fellow pound-for-pound entrant Shane Mosley Saturday night.
Either way, Mayweather will make history. If he wins, especially impressively, he will enhance his legacy and set up a possible showdown with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. If he loses, it will be a most unusual sight.
The last time Mayweather lost a fight – at least officially – was on August 2, 1996. The site was the Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta, Ga., and the situation was the semi-final of the Olympic featherweight tournament. The winner between Mayweather and Bulgaria’s Serafim Todorov would earn a berth in the gold-medal match against Thailand’s Somluck Kamsing, who defeated Argentina’s Julio Pablo Chacon 20-8 in the other semi.
At only 19, Mayweather had already accomplished much in his amateur career. In compiling a 84-5 record, Mayweather captured national Golden Gloves championships in three of the last four years and had already mastered many of the sophisticated defensive techniques taught to him by father Floyd Sr. and uncle Roger.
To this point in the tournament Mayweather had been dominant. On July 22, he led Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Tilegenov 10-1 before registering a second round RSC. Five days later Mayweather cruised to a 16-3 decision over Armenia’s Artur Grigorian, who would go on to an eight-year reign as WBO lightweight champion. In the quarters Mayweather survived a late charge by Cuba’s Lorenzo Aragon (who would win silver in 2004) before prevailing 12-11.
Standing in the opposite corner was Todorov, a 27-year-old veteran of three Olympics who had advanced farther in this tournament than he ever had before. As a flyweight in 1988, Todorov lost 4-1 in the quarters to eventual gold medalist Kim Kwang Sun of South Korea. In Barcelona four years later, Todorov, now a bantamweight, lost a heartbreaking 16-15 decision in the quarterfinal to North Korea’s Li Gwang Sik, who then lost to Wayne McCullough in the semis.
As a mature featherweight in Atlanta, Todorov enjoyed unqualified success. In the first round on July 22, Todorov decisioned Evgeniy Shestakov 11-4 while on July 27 he racked up a 20-8 nod over Australia’s Robbie Peden. Four days later Todorov finally got the quarterfinal monkey off his back with an 11-6 decision over Germany’s Falk Huste to set up his semi-final date with Mayweather.
The bout began with Mayweather on the move against the taller Todorov, who whiffed on a pair of overhand rights after the “Pretty Boy” deftly slipped his body to the side. Mayweather then leaped in behind a solid left hook to the face, a blow that somehow didn’t register with the oft-criticized computerized scoring system. Unfortunately for Mayweather – and occasionally Todorov – this would not be the first time this malady would arise.
A cuffing follow-through loosened Mayweather’s headgear to the point of distraction and to the Bulgarian’s credit he did not strike his rival when he turned away to alert Egyptian referee Hamadi Hafez Shouman.
“Settle down and relax,” the American coach told Mayweather as he adjusted the head guard. “Everything behind the jab.”
During a subsequent exchange, a Todorov right to the body apparently netted him the fight’s first point while a glancing Mayweather jab failed to gain sufficient notice. Mayweather swayed his body in the hope of drawing leads but the veteran Todorov refused to bite. His superior height and reach afforded him the luxury of pulling the trigger whenever he pleased while Mayweather was forced to create his own openings.
A swift overhand right to the temple earned Todorov a 2-0 lead, which prompted Mayweather to rush his rival and muscle him toward the ropes. When they ended up in an awkward tangle Shouman commanded the pair to break but before doing so Mayweather sneaked in a right uppercut and overhand right. An angry Todorov rushed at Mayweather but Shouman managed to stop his advance and deliver a lecture to both about honoring his commands.
Though each landed during subsequent skirmishes, nothing was judged worthy of points. The drought ended with 23 seconds remaining in the round when Mayweather connected with a whistling right to the face to narrow the gap to 2-1. Todorov tried to respond with two flailing blows, one of which drew a caution for failing to land with the knuckle portion of the glove. The brief respite stopped whatever momentum Mayweather’s scoring blow generated and the round ended without any more points awarded.
“You’re hitting him with the jab but you’re moving back too fast,” Mayweather was told between rounds. “You can’t do that. You’ve gotta stay on the inside when you do that. You’re down; you’ve gotta put pressure on him.”
The fighters began round two at long range with Todorov using foot feints to draw leads and Mayweather inching back and sizing up chances to counter. Mayweather leaped in behind a right to the temple that again failed to register a point and Todorov responded with a jab that fell just short of the target.
As the pair continued to probe for openings the crowd broke into a slow clap, then built to a faster tempo as Mayweather missed with an overhand right. Todorov pivoted and shoved the American off balance, a move that drew a caution from Shouman.
A three-punch Mayweather salvo highlighted by a straight right to the chin tied the score at 2 with 2:05 to go, triggering a small “USA” chant from the pro-Mayweather crowd. A sharp jab to the backpedaling Todorov’s face vaulted Mayweather into a 3-2 lead and a follow-up right increased the margin to 4-2.
Just when it appeared Mayweather had seized command, the flaws of the computerized scoring system surfaced again. Todorov managed to narrow the gap to 4-3 with a scoring blow only the judges could see. All three punches Todorov threw – a cuffing left, a whiffing right to the body and a slinging right toward the head – all missed the target but enough judges nevertheless saw fit to credit the Bulgarian.
With Mayweather’s corner telling him to throw the “straight right hand,” the fighter complied by landing one but Todorov managed to pull away just enough to avoid falling behind another point. A solid counter right by Mayweather appeared strong enough to net a point but the judges were unmoved.
A wildly thrown Mayweather right, however, was worthy of increasing the lead to 5-3 and a well-timed double right lead extended the margin to 6-3 with a minute remaining.
Mayweather appeared more relaxed and his blows delivered more smoothly. His flow between offense and defense was more fluid and with a three-point lead he seemed to have a working margin.
It wouldn’t last long.
An accurate Todorov jab with 51 seconds to go narrowed the lead to 6-4 and a right to the side of the head made it 6-5 Mayweather. At the moment Todorov scored, however, a pair of thumping Mayweather body shots escaped the judges’ notice. Mayweather continued to bang the body and one of them upped the lead to 7-5.
As Mayweather retreated toward the ropes, a cuffing overhand right by Todorov with 12 seconds remaining made the score 7-6, at which it remained when the round-ending bell sounded.
“Make him move, make him move,” Mayweather’s chief second implored. “Now, the right hand is the key. The right hand – straight! One other thing: When you’re in close, every once in a while a hard body shot, but make it hard. Then right back upstairs with the right hand.”
“When you’re inside you’ve got to hit that body,” the other corner man added. “Something’s wrong with this guy.”
He had reason to believe that, for Todorov appeared to be in some sort of distress. When he wasn’t gulping in air he was chattering to his corner with a degree of urgency.
Meanwhile, Mayweather’s corner put a premium on impact.
“Keep (the right hand) hard,” the chief second advised. “We don’t need no pot-shots. Keep it hard.”
Knowing a berth in the Olympic final was at shake – and that the finish line was in sight – each started the third energetically. Though they both threw plenty of punches, it wasn’t until a minute elapsed until a scoring blow was registered. Unfortunately for Mayweather, it was a Todorov left to the body that tied the score at 7. Another rippling left to the gut seconds later pushed Todorov to a 8-7 lead, after which he pushed Mayweather to the floor, a move that triggered a chorus of boos.
Now nursing a narrow lead, Todorov got on his bicycle while Mayweather was forced to move in. Todorov drew two quick cautions but no point penalties were ordered. As Todorov slapped on a clinch Mayweather ripped a hook to the ribs, a short right uppercut to the chin and a right to the face – none of which were worthy of points. A hair trigger-right to Todorov’s face also hit the mark, and again the scoring meter stayed where it was.
With 1:12 remaining the fight was stopped to tend to a fairly copious flow of blood from Mayweather’s nose. Mayweather then unleashed a three-punch salvo capped by a long left to the face that tied the score at 8 and brought a rapturous cheer from the pro-U.S. throng.
With the crowd robustly chanting and the two fighters grinding hard at close quarters, the judges again saw something – perhaps a nondescript hook – that moved them to give Todorov a 9-8 lead. With 35 seconds remaining Mayweather cranked a right to the body and another to the head but a jolting Todorov right to the face upped the lead to 10-8 – an almost unassailable lead given the time left. The margin could have been even greater had they counted a hard right to the ribs by Todorov.
Although time was running short, Mayweather refused to give up the dream. A reflexive chopping right to the face closed the gap to 10-9 and he churned out a series of follow-up punches in hopes of gaining a tie. But Todorov managed to break free, backpedal toward ring center and run out the clock.
Though the TV audience knew the score, no one inside the ring knew. Todorov raised both arms overhand as he walked toward his corner, then leaned his weary body forward to re-gather his wind. Mayweather, for his part, appeared fresh.
As the two men were brought to ring center Mayweather initiated a congratulatory hand slap, then held up his left arm and hoped the decision would go his way. The panel of five judges were a veteran crew: Stanislav Kirsanon of Russia, Osvaldo Bisbal of Argentina, Najah Moussa of Martinique, Dharmasiri Weerakoon of Sri Lanka and Allan Walker of New Zealand.
From most quarters the decision was beyond question. Even referee Shouman thought so, for he absent-mindedly raised Mayweather’s arm as the announcement of Todorov’s 10-9 win was being made.
The crowd, however, knew their countryman had lost and the boos echoed throughout the arena. Todorov, still not certain he had won, shrugged his shoulders in confusion as he approached the American corner. Only after Shouman raised his arm on the way back to his corner did Todorov realize he had won.
A disappointed Mayweather spread his arms wide as he walked toward his corner and hugged his seconds. The boos over the verdict grew in volume with each passing second but Mayweather graciously bowed toward all four corners and departed without any overt emotional displays.
The U.S. team protested the scoring but, predictably, the verdict stood. A CompuBox count conducted by the author revealed Mayweather out-landed Todorov in every round en route to a 47-26 connect advantage.
Two days later Todorov lost 8-5 to Kamsing in the Olympic final, after which he turned pro and amassed a modest 5-1 (1 KO) record before retiring in 2003. Mayweather, of course, went on to achieve fame, fortune and a sure-fire place in the Hall of Fame.
Despite all of his accomplishment, one has to wonder what would have happened had Mayweather advanced to the gold medal match against Kamsing. Because of faulty execution of a flawed scoring system, we will never know.
E-mail Lee Groves at [email protected]