Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the best in the business today. He is a singular talent, a star shinier than any other when it comes to doing business in the squared circle.
Now, he'll sometimes tell you that he is the best in the business across the ages, the most talented person to ever lace on a pair. I won't go that far; I don't think he's pursued all foes with reckless abandon, I don't believe he has searched far and wide for challengers who can aid him in sending a clear and potent message that, as far as practitioners of the sweet science go, none is better. But he is a superior talent, a master craftsman, to be sure.
It is with that in mind that I ponder Mayweather's legacy, and how he will stack up when the historians mull the question of an all-time top 20, or top 10, or top 5, or No. 1 in 10, 20, 50 years from now.
If Floyd wants to be regarded as the best and the brightest, bar none, it would be helpful if his accomplishments compare and contrast favorably with the man regarded by a lion's share of experts as the second-best boxer for the ages, Henry Armstrong. "Hammerin' Hank" did his thing as a pro from 1931-1945, and finished his Hall of Fame career with a final mark of 150-21-10, with 101 KOs. He still holds the distinction of being the only fighter to simultaneously hold titles in three separate weight classes -- featherweight (126), lightweight (135) and welterweight (147) -- and this during a time when there were only eight weight classes in total.
In October of 1937, weighing 124 pounds, Armstrong beat Pete Sarron to claim the world featherweight crown. In May of 1938, Armstrong challenged and beat welterweight champ Barney Ross. The winner weighed 133½ pounds, to 142 for Ross. Armstrong gave up 9½ pounds and still scored a UD15 win at Madison Square Garden. But Armstrong wasn't done. He knew Lou Ambers was holding the welterweight crown, so in his very next bout, in August of '38, he met Ambers at MSG. Armstrong was 134, and Ambers a half-pound heavier. At the end of the night, Armstrong had his hand raised, a winner by split decision.
To boil this down, Armstrong hunted high and low for challenges. He looked left, right, up and down for people to beat to prove his mettle. One solid example of a modern-day warrior doing the same comes to mind, when Roy Jones Jr. jumped from light heavyweight to heavyweight to take on John Ruiz. Jones was 174¾ when he beat Clinton Woods in September of 2002, and weighed 193 when he fought and beat Ruiz, then the WBA champion, via UD12. Ruiz was 226 pounds at the weigh-in, so he enjoyed roughly a 33-pound edge on fight night.
I happen to think Mayweather stacks up quite nicely among the all-time greats. His genes contain matter that make him a superior fighter, DNA that the rest of the world doesn't have. His defensive adeptness may not be equaled, and although he doesn't possess the sort of power to score highlight-reel one-punch KOs, he does have enough pop to bother anybody on a given night. So what if Mayweather, for his next fight, truly put his money where his mouth is and challenged 168-pound champion Andre Ward to a scrap?
OK, OK, I'm hearing ya: Mayweather has never weighed more than 150 pounds at a weigh-in, while Ward campaigns at 18 pounds heavier. That's a huge weight differential. But recall that Jones, who was then regarded as the pound-for-pound ace, and who certainly is in the conversation of active fighters who might one day be considered for an all-time top 10 (or better), gave up nearly twice that poundage to Ruiz.
Relax, relax -- I hear ya, again. John Ruiz is John Ruiz. Point taken, all due respect to Jawny. Andre Ward might well be the second-best boxer in the world today. His ring generalship is in the neighborhood of Mayweathers', and he too possesses some genes that the rest of the planet doesn't. He's a pugilist, as is Mayweather, and Ruiz was a boxer, one who accomplished more on grit and stubbornness than he had any right to.
But if you want to be viewed as the best and brightest -- better than the Sugars, better than Ali -- shouldn't you seek out challenges that others might dismiss as bridges too far? Shouldn't you have a Knievel-esque drive to jump more buses -- waaay more buses -- than the hoi polloi thinks possible?
Readers, would the 25-0 Ward be too tall an order for "Money?" The Oakland native doesn't own one-punch power; he has 13 KOs to date, so there wouldn't be as much concern about Floyd getting battered by a bigger man. Both are cerebral battlers, so this fantasy matchup wouldn't look like a Ward-Gatti style dustup.
I have Ward ranked No. 2 on my personal pound-for-pound list. Wouldn't it be something to see these two ace pugilists, both of them truly scientists of their craft, go at it? I think it would; I think so highly of Mayweather that I give him a shot to give Ward a helluva hard time. But maybe you don't. Maybe you think Floyd should stick to the 147-pound region, or thereabouts. That he should perhaps, as rumored, give Mexican phenom "Canelo" Alvarez (39-0; age 21) a rumble? Me, I think the 5-foot-8 Mayweather would be, yes, an underdog against the six-footer Ward, but I'd love to see him travel far out of his comfort zone. It would be a treat to see him as the underdog, and see how he reacts to that.
I suspect I will be dismissed as a loon, as being too-brave-by-proxy here. Anyone think Mayweather could give Ward trouble? Leave a comment!