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What 49-0 really means for Floyd Mayweather

Archie Moore avoided a roundhouse right and countered with a sweet right of his own that landed smack-dab on Rocky Marciano's jaw. In the blink of an eyelid, the heavyweight champion was on his hands and knees and most of the 61,574 fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium were on their feet -- a jolt of adrenaline blazing through their bodies like a prairie fire.

Dazed and temporarily unable to see out of his left eye, Marciano, his thinning hair askew, scrambled up by the count of four. He was leaking blood from his nose and in danger of losing both the heavyweight title and his undefeated record.

But Rocky was just getting started. He would eat many more right hands before the struggle was over, but Marciano would not be denied. Slowly but surely, he bludgeoned the fight out of the 42-year-old Moore, who went down for the count in the ninth round.

It was Marciano's sixth and final title defense. He retired the following year without fighting again, his legacy secure and a Hall of Fame birth assured.

Marciano-Moore took place on Sept. 21, 1955, almost 60 years before Saturday's sparring match disguised as a prizefight between Floyd Mayweather and Andre Berto on Showtime pay-per-view. Despite the decades between them, the two fights share some interesting similarities and more than a few meaningful differences.

Light heavyweight champion Moore mounted a massive public relations campaign to get a shot at Marciano. With the backing of a group of investors, headed by Toledo car dealer Bob Reese, Archie bombarded the press, sending three letters or press releases per week to every newspaper in cities with more than 50,000 residents.

Moore, a sophisticated wit and born raconteur, wrote most of the copy himself. One can only imagine what fun Archie would have had trading barbs with Mayweather on social media.

Mayweather, whose sense of entitlement is monumental, simply picked a guy who was 3-3 in his six previous fights to be the patsy and advertised the fight as his swan song. The result was yet another humdrum affair and an unusual number of empty seats at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

If it was indeed his last professional boxing match, the man who calls himself "Money" didn't exactly go out of his way to leave us begging for more.

Not only was the buzz that normally accompanies a Mayweather fight missing, but true boxing fans seemed a minority. According to ESPN's Brian Campbell, the blasé crowd, "dressed as if they were going to the MTV Video Music Awards instead of a major fight," didn't even appreciate the spine-tingling Orlando Salido-Roman Martinez slugfest on the undercard.

"This great fight was breaking out, and no one was cheering -- no one at all," said Campbell. "The place was dead."

The closest thing to excitement during the main event came in the final round, when Mayweather teasingly threatening to stop his outclassed opponent. He unleashed a pinpoint flurry, and Berto suddenly looked more vulnerable than he had throughout the bout. But by the time the crowd stirred from its apathetic stupor, the moment had passed.

The man of the hour chose to take his foot off the gas and spent what could be his final minute inside a boxing ring flitting around, seemingly eager to begin his victory lap well before the final bell.

The sole reason Mayweather and Marciano have been linked together so frequently of late is a 49-0 mark that they now share in common. What the number represents and what it means for the fighters' legacies are nowhere near as straightforward as some would have you believe. To start with, it's not actually a record at all, not really, regardless of how you slice it.

Forty-nine is not the highest number of wins without a loss at the end of a championship career. Mexico's magnificent strawweight Ricardo Lopez retired in 2001 with a record of 51-0-1 and 38 KOs. His feat did not garner anywhere near as much attention as Mayweather's, but that was because "Finito" fought most of his career in boxing's smallest weight class and mostly outside the United States.

Even so, among Mexican fans and other discerning followers of the sweet science, Lopez is revered as one of the finest practitioners to ever grace the ring -- a pure boxer with beautiful moves and a lights-out punch to match.

Lopez, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007, is not the only champion to retired undefeated with more wins than Mayweather.

Bantamweight champion Jimmy Barry, who boxed from 1891 to 1899, retired with a record of 59-0-9, with 39 KOs and two no-contests. Don't let the nine draws mislead you. It's no coincidence that seven of those draws came in his last seven bouts.

"The Little Tiger" was not the same fighter after his knockout of British champ Walter Croot in 1897. Croot died as a result of the beating he absorbed, and from then on Barry pulled his punches, doing barely enough to keep the title.

Mayweather also ranks way down the list of fighters who compiled lengthy streaks of consecutive bouts without a loss, even though they suffered defeat later in their careers.

Turn-of-the century lightweight Packey McFarland tops that roster with 97, almost twice as many as Floyd. For those unfamiliar with McFarland, here are a handful of names you will recognize: Sugar Ray Robinson (91), Julio Cesar Chavez (90), Jimmy Wilde (83), Carlos Monzon (82), Willie Pep (62) and Ruben Olivares (60). And that's only a partial list.

In all fairness, although Mayweather has always bragged about his undefeated record and used it as a marketing tool, he was not the one responsible for making Marciano's record the focal point of the promotion. It was the media and public relations hacks (desperate for a new storyline) who tried to sell the notion that equaling Rocky's 49-0 record was an event of earth-shaking significance.

The truth is that nobody really cared that much. The glitterati who came to be seen on Saturday got to strut their stuff, and those who came to worship the marvel that is Mayweather saw him breeze to another nondescript victory. The rest of us just hoped that it wouldn't be as bad as anticipated.

When it turned out to be every bit the stinker we thought it would be, the fact that Mayweather now has the same won-loss record as Marciano was no compensation. The stat race was just a sideshow.

Sabermetrics guru Bill James would never get very far in boxing. Unlike baseball, it's simply not a statistic-based sport, and trying to use won-loss records to evaluate fighters is intrinsically flawed.

This essential truth is echoed repeatedly in one of boxing's most time-honored clichés: It's who you fight that really counts.

Mayweather has done very well in both the numbers and name games. You can't blame him for not fighting anywhere near as frequently as boxers from the past. That's just the way the business is today, and by any standard, 49-0 is pretty damn impressive.

Still, there are questions.

How much credit (or lack thereof) does Mayweather deserve for facing many of his most famous opponents -- Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Manny Pacquiao -- when they were past their best? How big of a detriment was Mayweather's unwillingness to go for the knockout against inferior opposition? Was he as guilty of cherry-picking as frequently as critics claimed? Did he maximize his potential?

The inquiry differs from boxer to boxer, but probing questions are an essential part of the process. All the crucial components (including the numbers) have to be factored in when assessing a boxer's legacy. And even then, subjectivity is always in play.

In the end, it's a disservice to Mayweather to place such an inordinate amount of importance on 49-0, regardless of Marciano or anybody else's stats. It is, after all, just a number.

Mayweather has had an extraordinary career and it should be judged on its own merits. The glossy stats are just window dressing; the true value lies in the fights fought and the men who fought them.

Whether Floyd has boxed his final round doesn't matter that much. Providing he doesn't lose, a few more bouts won't change his legacy much one way or another.

What could change, however, is his bank account, which as far as Mayweather is concerned is the most important number of all -- and the reason why I think there's a good chance he'll fight again.

If I'm correct and we haven't seen the last of Mayweather between the ropes, beating Marciano's record would probably become a major selling point for his return. But don't buy the hype. The quality of the fight is by far the most important thing; it's the stuff from which a legacy is built.

Numbers are just a way of keeping count.