Did Mayweather take a risk?

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Did Floyd Mayweather Jr. take a risk in picking Robert Guerrero for Saturday's welterweight title defense?

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RISKY
NO SWEAT

Mayweather gambling on Guerrero

Rafael By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com
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As pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. loves to remind us every 30 seconds, 43 have tried and 43 have failed, hence his precious 43-0 record.

And although Mayweather has faced plenty of great and accomplished name opponents, they weren't in their primes -- Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto, to name three.

He also faced fighters with great names who were smaller: Ricky Hatton and Juan Manuel Marquez.

The one in-his-prime guy Mayweather faced in recent years was Victor Ortiz, but he was coming off a win in a life-or-death fight in which he was dropped twice, and Mayweather had to resort to what amounted to a legal sucker punch to knock him out.

Robert Guerrero is a different ballgame. Keep in mind that I'm picking Mayweather to win a decision. Not with ultra-strong conviction, but I pick him to win nonetheless.

However -- and this is a big however -- this is a tough fight. I was really close to picking Guerrero. This is a dangerous fight for Floyd. Guerrero isn't a shot Mosley, a slow Hatton or an at-the-end De La Hoya (who still gave Mayweather problems).

Guerrero is in his prime. He has a nasty streak in him too. Guerrero isn't going to back down from anything Mayweather throws at him. He has an excellent chin. He has good experience. He has an unbridled will to win.

He is also just 30, while Mayweather is 36 -- an age at which fighters who rely on speed and reflexes, as Mayweather does, start to lose a little bit -- and coming off a yearlong layoff that included two months in jail.

Anyone who watched Mayweather's fight in May 2012 saw Cotto hit him more than he has probably ever been hit. Mayweather said he wanted to give fans excitement. Yeah, right.

Mayweather has always preached "hit and don't get hit." The fact is that he got hit by Cotto because, as great as Mayweather is, his legs simply are not the same as they once were. He has lost at least a half-step, and at the top of the sport, that makes a difference.

Mayweather is taking a gamble against Guerrero, who isn't afraid to fight along the gray line of the rules. He'll hit you low, use an elbow here and there, whatever he can get away with. He is tenacious and hungry for this fight, which he has been focused on making for more than a year. When he first started calling Mayweather out, he had never fought above 138 pounds and was coming off shoulder surgery.

People laughed when he called Mayweather's name, but nobody is laughing anymore. Guerrero proved he belonged in the ring with a top welterweight.

He has good power, and although he has moved up the weight classes in recent years -- he's a former featherweight and junior lightweight titleholder and former interim lightweight titlist -- he has looked great since arriving at welterweight in July, when he outpointed Selcuk Aydin to win an interim welterweight belt. Then Guerrero really opened eyes when he took apart former two-time titleholder Andre Berto in November.

The other thing that gives Guerrero a good shot is the fact that he is a southpaw. Mayweather can handle anyone, but among those times that he has had slight trouble, it was often against a lefty. Just go back and look at DeMarcus Corley rocking him or the first four rounds of the fight with Zab Judah.

I expect Guerrero to give a good account of himself, and a win won't shock me. That said, I'm still picking Mayweather. He's an all-time great and the pound-for-pound king. He gets it done fight in and fight out -- 43 have tried and 43 have failed.

On Saturday night, No. 44 will make it a real fight, but when it's all done, he, too, will have tried and failed.

Nah, Floyd's got this

Mulvaney By Kieran Mulvaney
ESPN.com
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Don't get me wrong: Robert Guerrero is a heckuva fighter, and he deserves his opportunity against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Everyone laughed when, as a lightweight, Guerrero began barking for a Mayweather fight a couple of years ago. Well, who's laughing now? He proved by manhandling Andre Berto that he belongs at welterweight -- and that he's actually kind of a badass in the ring when he wants to be. He may well be one of the top 20 professional boxers in the world, pound-for-pound.

But he's no match for the self-described "Money May."

Guerrero is just about as deserving of a shot against Mayweather as anyone else, but we said much the same about Victor Ortiz 18 months or so ago and look how that turned out. "If Ortiz could land one of those big left hands of his," we said in advance. "If he could get Floyd against the ropes and use his strength to outmuscle and outhustle him ..."

But I'm not sure how much any of us really believed it then, and even as we say the same things about Guerrero -- "He could really bang away to Floyd's body" and "He could make this a rough and unpleasant night for Mayweather and do what Jose Luis Castillo did to him" -- I'm not sure how much of it rings true now either.

The thing of it is this (as Mayweather himself likes to say): Mayweather isn't just a tremendous talent in the ring, possessing extraordinary physical gifts honed by relentless hard work. He is also an exceptionally astute student of the fight game. He has the ability to dissect an opponent's strengths and weaknesses to an exceptionally fine degree, to nullify the former and exploit the latter. He knows full well the scale of the challenge he faces each time he steps into the ring.

In the buildup to his record-breaking megafight against Oscar De La Hoya, he was tetchy and nervous. Prior to facing Miguel Cotto, he was reserved and respectful. He knew both of those battles had the potential to be difficult and dangerous, and they were. But before taking on Ricky Hatton, he was expansive and voluble. Prior to meeting Ortiz, he was almost contemptuous of his opponent. He is similarly dismissive of Guerrero's chances, dissing his career-defining win over Berto by belittling Berto's abilities.

It isn't fair to say, as some critics do, that Mayweather handpicks opponents who are no threat to him. Although Shane Mosley would have been a more dangerous test several years earlier, when Mayweather fought him he was coming off a demolition of Antonio Margarito and seemed a legitimate danger. And Cotto, although not the force he was before Margarito and Manny Pacquiao got to him, was still very much a live opponent and the main man at junior middleweight -- and Mayweather moved up a division to fight him.

But Floyd is very good at taking on opponents at juuuust the right time: when their Q rating is high, when they are coming off big wins, but also when they are ready to be taken -- not by any fighter, but by one with the skills of Mayweather. Guerrero is the latest example.

Guerrero will fight hard Saturday night. He will give his all in the ring. He will do what he can to rough up Mayweather. He may well leave the pound-for-pound king aching for a few days afterward. But he won't beat him. He isn't in Mayweather's league.

And Mayweather knows it.