Is this Mayweather's greatest challenge to date?

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Is the Sept. 14 showdown with Canelo Alvarez Floyd Mayweather's greatest challenge to date?

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Mayweather's most dangerous foe

Campbell By Brian Campbell
ESPN.com
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Throughout his eight-year run as a pay-per-view headliner, pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been part of a number of marquee fights that have scored well at the box office.

But there haven't been many where you could have made a legitimate case entering the fights for his opponents' chances at victory -- something credited equally to Mayweather's sublime talent and his ability as a matchmaker.

Most of his opponents offered a specific characteristic used in the marketing of the fight to play up their chances. There was the hand speed of Zab Judah, the size and jab of Oscar De La Hoya, the experience of Miguel Cotto and the power of Victor Ortiz. Some even went so far as to play up the fact that Robert Guerrero was a southpaw heading into Mayweather's last bout, reminding everyone of the minor troubles he endured years earlier against lefties Judah and DeMarcus Corley.

Without question, there was a time when Mayweather took on immensely daring fights in his days below 140 pounds, most notably against Diego Corrales (whom many thought would defeat Mayweather entering the bout) and Jose Luis Castillo (whom an equal number felt actually had defeated him exiting the fight).

But when you take into account the full spectrum of what's at stake entering Saturday's junior middleweight title unification bout with Canelo Alvarez, you could make a strong case that Mayweather is entering his most difficult challenge in over a full decade, if not his entire career.

I know, that's crazy talk, right? Well, think again.

I'm certainly not here to attempt to persuade you of Alvarez's chances to outbox Mayweather en route to a victory on the scorecards (in fact, like most, I predict the opposite). And one could argue both Judah and De La Hoya had better perceived chances of defeating Mayweather since he made the leap to welterweight.

But Alvarez offers something Mayweather hasn't seen in a long time: real danger. The 23-year-old, at the tipping point of his absolute prime, brings a combination of size, youth, power, hunger and adaptability that Mayweather simply hasn't seen in years.

Alvarez is also peaking at the perfect time, entering the bout one fight removed from his breakthrough April victory over Austin Trout, where the Mexican star stretched the preconceived stereotypes labeling him one-dimensional and raw by focusing on defense and heavy counter shots.

Saturday's fight takes place in a division -- junior middleweight -- where Mayweather has looked his most vulnerable in recent memory, winning competitive fights against blown up welterweights De La Hoya and Cotto.

Despite Saturday's 152-pound catch weight, Mayweather will find himself standing across the ring from a rehydrated Alvarez who could hold as much as a 15-pound weight advantage. While size alone doesn't cancel out Mayweather's clear advantages in speed, defense and experience, it also can't be ignored, specifically in regards to Alvarez's power.

Should Alvarez catch Mayweather with a clean and damaging blow the same way Shane Mosley did in their 2009 bout, the results could be devastating, with Alvarez in a much more prime position than the 39-year-old Mosley was to capitalize on a similar chance.

The exact scenario above is what sells this fight and makes Alvarez such a formidable and unique opponent compared to Mayweather's recent run. Is Alvarez still plenty green, having fought just once before against a top-end opponent? Sure. But he's clearly much more savvy and versatile than modern Mayweather victims Guerrero, Ortiz and Carlos Baldomir.

If you don't believe me, take a look at the Las Vegas betting lines, which provide the best value a wager for Mayweather has seen in many years.

The scenario of Mayweather waking up old on Saturday and feeling all of his 36 years is probably unlikely, especially considering how youthful he looked in his May dismantling of Guerrero. But the five-month turnaround between fights is his quickest in over a decade, which is significant for a fighter like Mayweather who not only has brittle hands (which he injured against Guerrero), but also typically takes at least a year off between fights, if not more.

A Mayweather victory on the scorecards remains Saturday's most logical outcome. But all things considered, Alvarez provides the most dangerous obstacle in Mayweather's potential run to perfection.

Alvarez is good; Mayweather is great

Rafael By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com
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Floyd Mayweather Jr., winner of world titles in five weight classes and the clear pound-for-pound king, is 44-0, as you might have heard him say once, twice or 1,500 times.

His fights are the biggest in boxing and have been so for the past several years, and every time he gets set for another one, we have heard this refrain: "So and so is going to be the toughest fight of Mayweather's career."

And then Mayweather goes out there and takes the guy to school, and so much for that theory.

Certainly some of the bluster about the difficult nature of an opponent comes from the fighters and promoters trying to hype the event. Some comes from excited media members.

Maybe the reason an opponent was supposed to be Mayweather's toughest was because "Money" was coming off a long layoff, or had recently come out of jail or was moving up in weight or was facing a younger man or ... you get the point. There are always supposed reasons.

And that brings us to one Canelo Alvarez, whom Mayweather meets in a junior middleweight unification fight on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It is, very obviously, the biggest fight of the year and the biggest fight in boxing since Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya set numerous revenue and pay-per-view records for their 2007 showdown.

While Alvarez is a lot younger (23 to 36), naturally bigger and stronger and deserves the fight as much as anyone -- not to mention he brings huge economic muscle to the promotion as the hero of Mexico -- that does not mean he is the toughest opponent of Mayweather's career, no matter what anyone else tries to sell you.

Is Alvarez equally as dangerous as other opponents Mayweather has faced? Sure. But I do not view him as this bogeyman who poses that serious of a threat to Mayweather's P4P throne.

Sorry.

As much respect as I have for Alvarez -- and I named him 2010 ESPN.com prospect of the year -- his resume is limited other than his excellent -- but very close -- win against Austin Trout in April and his style somewhat one-dimensional. I have seen him badly hurt by the smaller journeyman Jose Cotto and confused and troubled against the average Alfonso Gomez.

Alvarez is a good fighter, but Mayweather is a great one. In my view, Alvarez is made to order for Mayweather, who is the much faster, much more experienced and massively better defender.

On the topic of toughest opponents, take a good look at Mayweather's resume and you will find others considered at the time of the fight to be a more difficult opponent than Alvarez.

Most people viewed Genaro Hernandez as a huge test for Mayweather, thinking it was way too soon for him to face such a respected champion. But Mayweather wound up beating him for his first world title at 130 pounds -- where Hernandez had never lost before -- in 1998.

The last time I picked against Mayweather was in 2001, when he faced the late Diego Corrales, who was much bigger, also undefeated and experienced and a massive puncher. Mayweather dropped him five times and stopped him in the 10th round.

When Mayweather jumped up to lightweight, he faced the No. 1 guy right off the bat in Jose Luis Castillo, who was a very experienced and dangerous opponent on a good run, and he proved it by giving Mayweather arguably his toughest fight. In fact, many think he beat Mayweather in their first fight in 2002.

Since Mayweather became a pay-per-view star with the 2007 De La Hoya blockbuster, Alvarez may indeed be his toughest opponent. But you cannot ignore who Mayweather faced, and when he faced them, in the first 11 years of his career.

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