by David P. Greisman
There are fans of boxers, and then there are fans of boxing. These are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless:
Fans of Floyd Mayweather will cite these numbers as signs of his superiority in the ring and his significance to the sport’s business: 44 wins and zero losses; world titles in five divisions and lineal championships in three weight classes; victories over 18 men who held world titles at the time or had once been titleholders or would later go on to win belts of their own; a minimum payday of $32 million for his last appearance; pay-per-view buy rates coming in at more than 1 million per broadcast; ticket sales that near and often surpass $10 million for a single night.
Those who are not necessarily fans of the fighter but follow him because of his skills and his status will acknowledge all of the above, yet expect even more.
They will point to the odds that showed Mayweather as the clear favorite to vanquish his most recent opponent, Robert Guerrero. They will look at the rankings in the welterweight and junior welterweight divisions, at the potential challengers he could face, and they will write these men off as being unlikely or unable to beat the best boxer in the sport.
This isn’t Mayweather’s fault, this gap created by him being great and them often merely being very good. Yet when Mayweather and his fans declare his greatness, there are others who will argue about what they feel he could have accomplished in the past, but didn’t — and what they believe he should seek to achieve in the future, but probably won’t.
The door has closed in regard to opponents he could have fought in the past. In terms of how Mayweather compares to other great boxers, he might be judged on some of those foes not faced, though not all of them. His legacy, as it is now, has been secured: He will be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and will be recalled for his speed and his intelligence, for how capably he dissected fighters with his offense and dissuaded them with his defense.
It is truly impressive that Mayweather — now 36 years old, with more than 16 years in the sport as a pro, and with an even greater portion of his life spent with gloves on his fists — still can clearly outclass everyone else in his division.
There are those who believe his legacy could have been elevated even further, beyond being one of the best of this generation and closer to being one of the best of all time. To them, it is not merely about having unparalleled skills and an undefeated record. Rather, they want to see skills tested and records risked.
They want to see him in fights that they are not sure he will win. They want him to meet the best boxers at junior middleweight or even middleweight, to leap divisions once again as Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson did. They don’t just want him to face Canelo Alvarez, but to continue on to others who will pose difficulties because of their styles or size.
This is an understandable desire. We are already impressed by Mayweather. We want to be amazed.
We don’t just want to see him face those who seem ready-made for him, like Alvarez appears to be, but to then take on the rest of the best, like Erislandy Lara, or possibly to go up to middleweight to challenge Sergio Martinez and that division’s other reigning titleholders and rising stars.
That would also be holding Mayweather to a higher standard than we have for other champions.
Martinez, after all, tends to be smaller than his middleweight challengers, and so boxing fans are divided as to whether he should make a move up to super middleweight. Mayweather walks around close to the welterweight limit and is not believed be much more than that on fight night. His potential opponents at junior middleweight might be only a few pounds more than him on the scales but would conceivably be nearly 20 pounds heavier just 30 hours later.
That’s a lot to ask of a boxer approaching the sunset of his career.
That would be compelling viewing, however.
We enjoyed watching Roy Jones move up from light heavyweight to heavyweight, out-boxing and out-pointing John Ruiz. We wondered if he could do the same against other top titleholders, though.
Mayweather doesn’t see a need to do anything like that for our sake, nor does he see himself as needing to do anything like that for the sake of his legacy. He can point to numbers and names, to going undefeated against many of the best in his divisions when he was younger and remaining unbeaten against some of the best in this division now that he is older.
His fans will be content no matter whom he performs against for the remainder of his career, whether he continues for all five fights left in his six-fight deal with Showtime. There can be a joy in watching the manner in which your hero takes out a rotating cast of foils. Wladimir Klitschko still attracts tens of thousands in person to see predictably one-sided action. Bernard Hopkins earns admiration for what he can still accomplish as he fights into his late 40s.
It is not Mayweather’s fault, this gap that still exists between the best and the rest. It is to his credit that he remains so much better, and this gap does not stop him from being able to earn the biggest paychecks, from being able to get at least a million pay-per-view buyers and to draw well at the box office no matter whom he faces.
All of that won’t stop boxing fans from debating whether his legacy is one that could reach the realm of legendary.
He could have stifled that debate in the past with bouts against certain opponents at certain times, bouts that did not happen back then for a variety of reasons, bouts that were eventually rendered moot when those opponents lost to someone else.
Legends aren’t made on paper. Boxing fans don’t want just to be left to wonder what Floyd Mayweather could have done. We would rather be made to ask ourselves: “Is there anything Floyd Mayweather can’t do?”
The 10 Count will return next week.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]