By Cliff Rold
Lineal World Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather (41-0, 25 KO) still can’t count.
How else to take a statement released in the wake of his announced September return against WBC Welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KO)? The statement read that Mayweather commended Ortiz “for accepting the fight, but on September 17, Ortiz is just going to be another casualty, the 42nd one who tried and failed. Trust me, I will be ready."
Mayweather and his team have made similar statements in the past. Indeed, Mayweather has 41 wins and, should he win in September, Ortiz will be the 42nd victory. However, in those initial 41, he picked up two wins over Jose Luis Castillo. Considering how much trouble Castillo gave him, it makes sense he’d count him twice but he is still only one man.
…that’s about it.
That’s all there is to criticize in regards to one Floyd Mayweather today.
After a year off and change from the ring, and rumors about all sorts of laughable potential foes from Matthew Hatton to Paul Spadafora swirling throughout, Mayweather’s return comes against the sort of fighter most assumed the 34-year old Floyd wouldn’t face.
Heavier handed, with explosiveness.
Mayweather will be favored. Mayweather will probably win. That’s not a negative. He’s Floyd. That’s what he does. It’s what he’s expected to do against almost anyone.
What matters here is the choice.
Mayweather has reached a stage in his career few ever do. He can pick his spots, just like Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya before him, just like contemporary and rival Manny Pacquiao can in parallel. With that stage comes a certain responsibility. Increased activity is requested. Real fights are required.
Ray Leonard proved the inactivity can be overcome. De La Hoya, as he aged, sort of did the same. Mayweather didn’t advance to mega-stardom until a much later stage of his career than those men so he never quite had the mid-20s run they did. That he takes inordinate breaks between fights since besting Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton in 2007 (including a phony retirement) is unfortunate.
However, in his last two fights, he’s met the burden of the real fights.
Mayweather competes at Welterweight. The best fight at Welterweight for Mayweather is Manny Pacquiao. That it happens to be the biggest fight in the solar system is worth noting.
That fight has, of course, not yet materialized. Some of the blame goes to Mayweather. Some goes to Pacquiao, no matter how much that has been lost in the ether (or should we all forget that the negotiations in the first part of 2010 reportedly fell apart over a reasonable 14-day Olympic style drug testing cutoff that, allegedly, Mayweather agreed to and Team Pacquiao walked away from).
In the absence of Pacquiao and vice versa, the most that can be asked of either man is to fight the perceived next best available man at 147 lbs. For years, Mayweather failed tests like this. His run from 2003-05, including a ridiculous mismatch against Henry Bruseles, got him labeled as more manager than manimal. Fighting Zab Judah and Carlos Baldomir in the wrong order in 2006 didn’t help.
Times change. For his second fight in a row, Floyd Mayweather is facing who he should be in the absence of the fight we can’t have right now. It can be argued that Pacquiao has yet to meet that obligation since making Welterweight his permanent home.
Following his victory over Ricky Hatton for the lineal Jr. Welterweight crown in 2009, Pacquiao looked for a crown in the Welterweight class. Hot off of his defeat of Antonio Margarito in January of the year, “Sugar” Shane Mosley was seen by almost all as the top dog at 147 lbs.
Miguel Cotto, who had narrowly defeated Mosley in 2007, was not too far behind Mosley then in perception, but was showing some wear from a vicious stoppage loss to Margarito in 2008 and a debatable, bloody decision win over Joshua Clottey. Mosley pleaded his case, seemingly ready to acquiesce to multiple quoted catchweight demands suggested by Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach. There was never a serious impression Mosley had a chance.
Partly due to promotional differences with Mosley, and a shared promoter with the alternative, Cotto got the call.
Around the same time Pacquiao-Cotto was coming to fruition, so too was Mayweaather’s ring return against reigning Lightweight Champion Juan Manuel Marquez. Mayweather won in a rout, blowing off an agreed upon catchweight and reigniting the ire he instills in many a fight fan. A couple months later, Pacquiao drubbed Cotto and the path seemed cleared.
The negotiations of late 2010 and early 2011 muddied the hell out of the path. Lawsuits were filed. Allegations of cheating were made and, from Mayweather, remain. Pacquiao signed to fight Clottey, a decent pick. Mosley, who was scheduled to fight Andre Berto in early 2011, became available when the ethnic Haitian Berto withdrew in the wake of the tragic Haitian earthquake.
And Mayweather chose Mosley straight away. Outside of a few anxious moments in round two, Mayweather beat Mosley and snared the right to reclaim the lineal throne he had preciously vacated.
Another long layoff ensued, this time with Mayweather largely painted as the culprit in the failure of a Pacquiao fight to take place. In the vacuum, did Pacquiao sign to fight young, undefeated tigers like Andre Berto or Jr. Welterweight Timothy Bradley?
He emulated his rival, going Money Pacquiao for fights with a hopeless Antonio Margarito and then a Mosley who, after the bad beating from Mayweather, looked worse drawing against Sergio Mora later in 2010. Margarito at least made for an entertaining night, and the event wasn’t technically a Welterweight fight at all. Manny weighed in there. Margarito had to meet a catchweight for what was officially a Jr. Middleweight bout (complete with hollow alphabet belt neither had any business fighting for in a division neither had any credentials in).
The Mosley fight was a mediocrity, Mosley unable to pull the trigger and Manny too merciful, agreeing to all Mosley’s handshake’s and glove touches where Mayweather had responded to the same with jarring, impolite shots to the mush a year before.
Now Pacquiao has signed for a third fight with a by then 38-year old Marquez who will have been laid off a year. Marquez has never won a fight at Welterweight, even if he was a great rival to Pacquiao in a previous draw and narrow loss in 2004 and 2008 at 126 and 130 lbs. respectively.
Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, couches these opponent choices in language about what is promotable. Never mind that a great draw can make anyone promotable. De La Hoya once moved units with a ghostly Yori Boy Campas.
Pacquiao cashed in with the anonymous Clottey, selling mad seats at Cowboys Stadium to boot.
Mayweather’s banking he can make Ortiz promotable.
Ortiz’s last trip to the ring helps. Labeled a quitter after a war with Marcos Maidana in 2009, Ortiz slowly rebuilt and then gambled against the undefeated Berto in April of this year. His professional back to the wall, Ortiz and Berto traded knockdowns in a classic. Ortiz dug deep for the win, pushing past old demons and completing his rehabilitation. With the win, he emerged as a new, immediate factor at 147 lbs.
The Welterweight ratings, from ESPN to Ring to right here at this site all read the same way. Based on his win over Berto, Ortiz is the next best man to be found at Welterweight. Just as was case when Mosley became available in 2010, it is Mayweather who has stepped up to face the man in that position.
It cannot be lost.
Manny Pacquiao will have spent his 2011 campaign in the ring with a pair of men pushing forty that, combined, probably lost 23 of 24 rounds to Mayweather.
Mayweather just chose to stare across the ring at a 24-year old stud flush with the confidence of the biggest win of his life.
And, in the fall, only one of the world’s two best Welterweights will be fighting another Welterweight.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]