If you’ve only seen Floyd Mayweaher’s last five bouts, all of them exhibitions, then you won’t truly understand. Even if you watched his last professional bout in the career, a win over UFC star Conor McGregor, you won’t be able to truly comprehend his talent. While Mayweather is the ultimate have-gloves-will-travel sideshow these days, he was once the greatest fighter on the planet. His ‘TBE’ boast, standing for The Best Ever, is a fanciful one. But if you examine his peak years, you realise it is only a tiny bit embellished.
Internet comment sections have away of reducing reality to received wisdom. Even as his in-ring days drew to a close, before the carousel of influencers lightly-sparred to fluff his bank balance, you would hear the same complaints. Floyd was derided as a “runner” by boxing dunces who could not comprehend his defensive skills. ‘Pretty Boy’ was mocked for lacking power, with no thought given to the fact he ended his career six weight divisions higher than the super featherweight class in which he started.
Society has always taken more lustily to tearing down its heroes than deifying them. Not that Floyd Mayweather the man deserves such canonisation. Domestic violence and battery convictions have seen to it that the 46-year-old will never be a warmly received figure, even if he were more humble than he is.
That arrogance has driven a wedge between Floyd and his public, too. This seems to be a matter of proximity more than anything. They used to bristle at the cocky proclamations of Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Jr, Chris Eubank and Naseem Hamed. Now these men are icons so treasured specifically because they said they could kick the world’s ass then went and did it. Mayweather will likely move into this category along with them. When the seemingly endless well of YouTuber-adjacent cash dries up, Floyd can finally be absent long enough for our hearts to grow fonder.
But dip into the fighter’s past and there is more than enough cause for fondness. The late-period Floyd was graceful and elusive. The earlier version was a little more vulnerable and a lot more vicious. Of his early-2000s opponents, Jose Luis Castillo made him look the most human, coming within a whisker of beating him over 24 shared rounds. Castillo’s great rival, Diego Corrales, made him look the most supernatural. The late ‘Chico’ hit the mat five times on the way to a tenth-round stoppage loss.
The explosive first period of Mayweather’s career ended against the era’s greatest warrior: Arturo Gatti. ‘Pretty Boy’ was punch-perfect in quieting the ‘Thunder’ in six brutal rounds back in 2005 to win the WBC super lightweight belt. It was the last time he would mix comprehensive dominance with a predatory finishing streak. As his opponents became bigger, Mayweather would realise discretion was the better part of valour.
This mid-career reinvention elevated a world class fighter into an all-time great one. Occasionally, someone would make Floyd feel their power. Shane Mosley rocked him in the opening round before losing a unanimous decision. Marcos Maidana did well enough in defeat to earn a rematch, before being soundly beaten in the return.
Mayweather racked up distance wins over a who’s who of the sport. Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, Zab Judah, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao are just some of the sure-fire Hall of Famers who fell at his educated fists. Occasionally, the mean old Floyd would rear his head. Ricky Hatton was stopped in ten rounds after being ricocheted off a turnbuckle pad. Victor Ortiz was knocked out after trying to hug Mayweather in the heat of battle.
But for the most part, Mayweather glided past opponents rather than trying to go through them. It drew him criticism at times, as if his slick skills were somehow less valid than his rivals. The “running” taunts never made sense, considering Floyd’s special move was standing in front of an opponent and making them miss with shoulder-rolls. Mayweather didn’t dance. He made you miss from within touching distance.
The prestige of the fighters missing him has plummeted in recent years. That’s fair enough, considering he’s 46 years old and retired. If people are willing to pay good ‘Money’ to see the ageing star batter undersized kickboxers and underschooled influencers, why should he refuse the windfall? But when he steps through the ropes to move around with Geordie Shore star Aaron Chalmers on Saturday night, remember that this man once quite rightly counted himself among the best fighters that ever lived.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change