by Cliff Rold
The mind wanders…
After his latest display of fistic supremacy, after adding another alphabet title and fourth lineal title to his ever lengthening list of accomplishments, reigning Welterweight and Jr. Middleweight king Floyd Mayweather Jr. (44-0, 26 KO) is where he’s always been.
Looking for what’s next.
Sometimes, it’s fun to imagine a boxing world unencumbered by network and promotional issue, to dream of a more perfect world. The wake of Mayweather-Alvarez is one of those times.
A select list of names is being thrown around as possible future foes for Mayweather. Amir Khan and Danny Garcia are the most prominent. To be sure, those are both fine enough names in a world that is just good enough.
In a more perfect world, an unencumbered world, there is one name that should stand out above all others. There is one achievement sitting nakedly out in the open waiting to be seized.
The achievement is the Middleweight Championship of the World. The still reigning lineal, legitimate Middleweight Champion is Argentina’s Sergio Martinez.
Mayweather vs. Martinez.
That should be the event.
Put aside that there may be issues in making such a fight because of the ongoing melodrama between HBO and Showtime. Just think about the fight itself.
Mayweather has won titles in five weight divisions. He’s been the lineal champion in four of them: Jr. Lightweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, and now Jr. Middleweight. It’s a tremendous accomplishment. Only one other fighter, Manny Pacquiao, has ever done the same winning four lineal crowns among eight divisional titles.
It took over a hundred years under Marquis of Queensbury rules for one fighter to get to four lineal crowns. Mayweather has matched that in just a few. It may be a lifetime before someone is in position to go for an unprecedented five again.
Lineage doesn’t always have a belt to go with it, though Martinez does hold a WBC strap. Lineage is about history in a sport rich with it. Martinez’s reign, begun with his defeat of Kelly Pavlik and directly traceable to Bernard Hopkins’ unification of the 160 lb. class, is history’s reign. He is the rightful successor like Fitzsimmons, Greb, Walker, Flowers, Robinson, Monzon, and Hagler. He might not be their better, but he is their titular heir.
Martinez is aging and looks vulnerable. His final round escape against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and his mighty struggle with a game Martin Murray, a night that saw him off the floor to hold onto his title by the teeth, indicates Martinez may be ready to be taken.
Gennady Golovkin appears the most formidable foe in Martinez’s division and may already be the best Middleweight in the world inside the ring. But he hasn’t beaten Martinez. Not yet. Martinez continues on in a reign that has been fairly strong with wins over quality contenders like Murray, Matthew Macklin, Darren Barker (now a beltholder in class), and most famously Paul Williams.
Mayweather would provide more than enough stage, and financial incentive, to keep Golovkin on the backburner.
There is never going to be a better time, or better target, for Mayweather to attempt a genuinely historic feat.
Few former champions, lineal or otherwise, at Jr. Lightweight or Lightweight have ever moved to Middleweight, much less challenged for its true crown. Oscar De La Hoya and Roberto Duran both won belts in the division, but they fell short against the legitimate kings they challenged.
De La Hoya won a disputed decision over Felix Sturm for a WBO belt on the eve of challenging Bernard Hopkins in 2004. A Hopkins body shot countered his hollow accomplishment against Sturm. History was denied.
Duran bested Iran Barkley for a WBC belt in 1989 though Barkley’s claim to the real crown was specious, despite a title win against Tommy Hearns, having already lost a decision for the WBA belt to Sumbu Kalambay. It was still a hefty feat for Duran. He was competitive in trying for an even mightier feat some six years earlier.
In 1983, Duran moved up from his position then as a Jr. Middleweight titlist and challenged Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the undisputed Middleweight title. Playing the boxer early, he built an early lead only for Hagler to come on as the fight progressed. Duran lost by a single point on two cards, two on another, after fifteen rounds.
Most thought Hagler had won by a safer margin. The scoring reality was Duran was possibly only a few flurries away.
History tells us the great Henry Armstrong came the closest. Armstrong, famed for holding the Featherweight, Lightweight, and Welterweight titles simultaneously, moved up in 1940 to challenge Ceferino Garcia for his version of the Middleweight title. While there was still some dispute to the Middleweight title at that time, Garcia was the strongest claimant following a win over the excellent Fred Apostoli.
Over ten rounds, Armstrong appeared to outwork Garcia only to be held to a still-disputed draw. It was the sort of romantic moral victory that endures long after arena lights are dimmed. Like Pernell Whitaker-Julio Cesar Chavez, the winner has always been known, the official verdict forever held in disdain.
Moral victory was not the same as “Henry Armstrong: Middleweight Champion of the World.”
The cases of both Duran and Armstrong speak highly of the strong chance Mayweather would have to defeat Martinez.
Duran, at 5’7, only gave up a couple inches to the 5’9 Hagler. His hand speed and guile allowed him to stay in the fight with the naturally larger man and he could take Hagler’s punches when Marvelous Marvin unloaded.
Armstrong, at 5’5, only gave up an inch to Garcia and already knew he could beat him because he had. Prior to challenging Garcia for the Middleweight title, Garcia had unsuccessfully challenged Armstrong for the Welterweight title in 138. Armstrong held off Garcia for a competitive but clear fifteen round decision.
Armstrong didn’t move up to fight a big Middleweight like a Monzon or Hopkins. Garcia was the right opponent, with the right frame, to make the smaller man a viable threat.
Mayweather is 5’8. Martinez is 5’10. Martinez began his career at Welterweight and has always claimed he could still fight at Jr. Middleweight. Even in a more perfect world, a reasonable catchweight of would probably be required for a Mayweather fight and could likely be met. The size gap is manageable.
If size is manageable, then so is the fight itself but without any guarantee of victory. Martinez is a proud champion and a good one. But if age is catching up to his legs, Mayweather can exploit that. Mayweather wouldn’t have to beat a big Middleweight to win the Middleweight title for the moment. He would have to beat Martinez.
Do so, and he would have a record fifth lineal crown and the opportunity to equal another historic feat.
Mayweather remains the lineal champion at both Welterweight and Jr. Middleweight. Unless he declares that he is no longer the champion of either class, he would take both designations into a Martinez fight. Defeat Martinez, and he could lay claim to being only the third man in history to claim the titles of three weight classes at the same time.
Armstrong is noted. Often forgotten, Barney Ross held claim to the Jr. Welterweight crown at the same time that he was Lightweight and Welterweight king. Since that era, fighters have been forced by sanctioning bodies to choose between weight classes when they hold titles in more than one.
History doesn’t belong to any sanctioning body.
And did anyone say “Money?”
After Alvarez, there is already wonder about who Mayweather can fight to generate another economic bonanza. Who wouldn’t pay to see if he could move up and conquer the Middleweight throne? Certainly Martinez has shown he can play the potent B-side, making a strong pay-per-view showing with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in 2012. While he may be aging, he’s still athletic and proven in his class and would be given as good a chance as anyone alive to take the famed Mayweather “0.”
It’s a fight, a genuine contest, where fans would have reason to believe either man could win and for loudly promotable stakes. Martinez isn’t slated to return until at least the spring of 2014. Neither is Mayweather. Oh look, in a more perfect world, the timing is right too.
It might not do the numbers Mayweather did with De La Hoya or Canelo. It surely would top Guerrero.
So, okay, we don’t live in a more perfect world. That doesn’t mean we can’t always dream for more. Floyd Mayweather has taken to wearing a log that reads “TBE.”
The Best Ever.
It doesn’t matter who, or how many, agree with the declaration. In Martinez, more than any other possible foe, Mayweather can accomplish something that punctuates his hard earned audacity.
Do what Armstrong was denied.
Do what Duran and De La Hoya simply couldn’t.
Floyd Mayweather: Middleweight Champion of the World?
Put aside the business and just think about the fight.
The mind wanders…
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Tags: Floyd Mayweather Jr.