Nine-and-a-half years have transpired since Floyd Mayweather Jr. turned pro in October of 1996.
In that time, Mayweather -- who is widely recognized as the best boxer on the planet -- garnered Ring magazine's "Fighter of the Year" award in 1998, and won world titles in four divisions, defeating 10 current, former or future world title holders along the way.
There are fans and members of the media who believe that Mayweather is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport based on his obvious superlative abilities in the ring and his impressive body of work thus far.
There are also those who believe that while the Grand Rapids, Mich., native is exceptionally skilled, much of his career above 130 pounds has been a farce. (I'm not one of them.) They'll tell you Mayweather did not deserve the nod over Jose Luis Castillo in their first fight, which gave him the WBC's 135-pound title, and that he barely gained recognition as "the man" at lightweight by narrowly outpointing the Mexican in the rematch. They'll tell you that he's merely a paper-title holder at 140 and 147 pounds. (I agree with that call.)
A third -- more moderate -- faction of fandom view Mayweather as a hall-of-fame lock who has the combination of talent and technique to have been competitive with past all-time greats in the 130- and 135-pound divisions. They acknowledge that he was very sharp and formidable at 140 pounds, and undersized but dangerous at 147 pounds, yet still largely unproven in the welterweight divisions. (Count me in with this bunch.)
This type of division in opinion is typical of boxing, a sport that combines subjectivity (in both bout scoring and fighter evaluation) with extreme passions and loyalty (often falling along cultural, ethnic, national and geographical lines, which can often lead to irrational points of view).
So who's right?
Mayweather's promoter, Bob Arum (who celebrates 40 years in the business this year), says the Pretty Boy is the most talented boxer he's seen since Muhammad Ali (the first fighter Arum promoted); better than Sugar Ray Leonard (whom he promoted in the '80s).
Arum doesn't even mention Thomas Hearns or Oscar De La Hoya (two multidivision champs he promoted to great success in the '80s and '90s), as though it's a given that Mayweather is the superior fighter. Is he? Perhaps in a pound-for-pound, head-to-head sense (which is as subjective as it gets, especially when comparing two fighters who occupied different weight classes at different time periods), but has Mayweather accomplished as much as the Hit Man and the Golden Boy did in their first 9½ years in the pro game?
Arum's a promoter and Mayweather is the star of his current stable, so we can forgive him for any hyperbole regarding the Pretty Boy, but should fans and the press be mentioning Mayweather's name with the all-time likes of Ali and Leonard?
Have Mayweather's accomplishments over the past 9½ years surpassed what other pound-for-pound kings of the past like Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins, Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, De La Hoya, Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez accomplished in the same number of years?
There's only one way to find out, so it's to the record books we go!
In this little comparison analysis of mine, I take a look at the top opposition that the participants -- recent pound-for-pound kings and all-time greats -- took on in the first 9½ years of their careers. The opposition is split between "the elite" -- fighters who are either already in the Boxing Hall of Fame or appear to be a lock to get into Canastota eventually -- and "the strong", fighters who were either title holders or perennial contenders. (The records in parentheses are the fighters' ledgers at the time my subjects fought them.) I'll also factor in accomplishments such as titles won in separate divisions, title unifications and number of defenses.
Let's start with:
The man of the hour
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Current Record: 36-0
The Elite: Genaro Hernandez (38-1-1), Diego Corrales (33-0), and Jose Luis Castillo (45-4-1)
The Strong: Zab Judah (34-3), Jesus Chavez (36-1), Arturo Gatti (39-6), Sharmba Mitchell (56-4), Carlos Hernandez (33-2-1), DeMarcus Corley (28-2-1), Goyo Vargas (41-5-1), and Angel Manfredy (25-2-1)
Analysis: Mayweather has earned a lot points for winning his first title (after only 17 pro bouts) vs. a respected champ such as Hernandez, whose only previous loss was to De La Hoya, and then defending the WBC 130-pound title eight times, which includes the likes of Manfredy and Vargas (both of whom were riding very good win streaks), "Famoso" Hernandez and Chavez (both of whom went on to win world titles) and Corrales. Mayweather absolutely dominated Hernandez (who had made 12 title defenses over two reigns) and Corrales (who had begun to crack some top 10 pound-for-pound lists when they fought). Castillo was not viewed as a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter when Mayweather fought him, but the Mexican national had gained respect as the best 135-pounder in the world by narrowly beating Steve Johnston for the WBC strap. Mayweather doesn't lose points for struggling with Castillo in their first fight (honestly, it should have been expected in only his second lightweight bout). Mayweather also gets points for dominating all of his "strong" opponents points, including Corley (there's a little extra credit for facing Chop Chop in his first bout at 140 pounds, but not as much as he would have earned had the former WBO belt holder not just come off a loss), Gatti and Judah (which earned him belts but not recognition as "the man" in either the 140- or 147-pound divisions). (More points are obviously given for Mayweather's "strong" opposition at 130 pounds than at 140 and 147, where he did what he should have done vs. aging and somewhat flawed opposition.)
Now let's look at some other fighters, starting with those whom Arum has compared to Mayweather in recent interviews:
Two great ones
Record after 9½ years: 29-0
The Elite: Sonny Liston (35-1), Floyd Patterson (43-4), and Archie Moore (185-22-11)
The Strong: Ernie Terrell (38-4), Zora Folley (74-7-4), Doug Jones (21-3-1), Karl Mildenberger (49-2-3), George Chuvalo (34-11-2), Brian London (35-13), Cleveland Williams (65-5-1), and Henry Cooper (27-8-1/33-11-1)
Analysis: Because of his three-year exile from the sport over his religious and political differences with U.S. government's draft, the G.O.A.T can be evaluated over only 7½ years, but the 1960 Olympic gold medalist accomplished a lot during that time period. Apart from a tough 10-rounder with Jones (selected as Ring's "Fight of the Year" for '63) and a few scary seconds at the end of the fourth round vs. Cooper, Ali generally dominated his "strong" opponents (most notable are Terrell and Folley). However, most of his points come from his two dominant victories over Liston, who almost all of the press and many fight fans believed was unbeatable and would go on to be the most dominant heavyweight champ since Joe Louis. Ali doesn't get any extra points for blasting out the truly ancient Moore (last bout for the Old Mongoose) or for torturing the undersized Patterson (although the former two-time champ was still dangerous when they fought), but he does get extra points for defending the title nine times in less than 3½ years.
Sugar Ray Leonard
Record after 9½ years: 33-1
The Elite: Roberto Duran (71-1), Wilfred Benitez (38-0-1) and Thomas Hearns (32-0)
The Strong: Ayub Kalule (36-0), Pete Ranzany (45-3-1), Randy Shields (31-4-1), Armando Muniz (4-13-1), Dave "Boy" Green (33-2), and Andy Price (27-5-3)
Analysis: Leonard did the bulk of his hall-of-fame work during a two-year stretch ('80 through '81) in only his fourth and fifth years as a pro. The '76 Olympic gold medalist gets major points for making Duran (regarded as the greatest lightweight ever, and a terror at 147 pounds) quit just months after losing a close 15-round decision to "Manos de Piedra", and for scoring late stoppages of defensive wizard Benitez and offensive nightmare Hearns. It really doesn't get any higher than those victories which solidified his claim as "the man" at 147 pounds, but Sugar Ray gets added points for winning a 154-pound title vs. the undefeated and difficult Kalule and for generally dominating everyone he fought up until he fought for his first title (Benitez).
Recent pound-for-pound kings
Record after 9½ years: 33-2-1
The Elite: Roy Jones (21-0)
The Strong: Glen Johnson (32-0), John David Jackson (35-2), Simon Brown (47-6), Lupe Aquino (46-6), and Segundo Mercado (18-2) and Joe Lipsey (25-0)
Analysis: Hard 'Nard gets points for defending his IBF middleweight title seven times, but he loses more for soundly losing to the only elite fighter he fought in the first 9½ years of his career (Jones) and for facing mainly mediocre opposition. Of the second-tier group that B-Hop has fought, Johnson and Lipsey were strong, young and undefeated but also unproven at the time. Brown and Aquino were naturally smaller fighters, plus aging and faded. Jackson was coming off a loss to a journeyman. Hopkins also loses points for struggling with Mercado in his first bout (in-which he was dropped twice by the limited Ecuadorian).
Roy Jones Jr.
Record after 9½ years: 38-1
The Elite: James Toney (44-0-2), Bernard Hopkins (22-1), Mike McCallum (49-3-1), and Virgil Hill (43-2)
The Strong: Montell Griffin (27-0), Lou Del Valle (27-1), Jorge Castro (70-3-2), Sugar Boy Malinga (35-8), Eric Lucas (19-2-2), and Thomas Tate (29-2)
Analysis: Jones gets major points for dominating an unbeaten and battle-tested Toney at a time when Lights Out was considered to be a top 5 pound-for-pound player (No. 2 by Ring); more points for winning world titles in three weight classes (160, 168 and 175 pounds), and extra credit for unifying two of the three major belts at light heavyweight (WBA and WBC). He also gets points for absolutely dominating all of the "strong" fighters he faced. However, he doesn't get much added credit for besting the untested Hopkins (still green in '93), a very old version of McCallum (who was fighting over his prime weights), or Hill, who was coming off a loss and inactivity. Jones does get some extra points for making five defenses of his IBF 168-pound title, but loses a few for losing his cool and getting himself DQ'd in the first Griffin bout.
Record after 9½ years: 35-0
The Elite: Pernell Whitaker (40-2-1), Oscar De La Hoya (31-0), and Hector Camacho (44-2)
The Strong: Yory Boy Campas (56-0), Oba Carr (32-0), Maurice Blocker (34-3) and Jake Rodriguez (16-1-2)
Analysis: Tito gets points for being the first fighter to win a clear decision over Whitaker even though Sweet Pea had been inactive going into that bout and was getting long in the tooth. Being the first to defeat De La Hoya gives him some added credit but not as much if he had won clearly and not looked so average. The win over Camacho wasn't that big of a deal, but the Macho Man was still a serviceable veteran in early '94. Tito's most impressive performances came versus "the strong", particularly young and then-undefeated guns likes Campas and Carr. He also gets extra points for defending his IBF 147-pound belt 15 times (over the longest uninterrupted welterweight title reign in history) and for partially unifying the welterweight title (WBC and IBF).
Record after 9½ years: 38-2
The Elite: Oscar De La Hoya (32-1)
The Strong: John-John Molina (45-4), Jesse James Leija (37-3-2), Vernon Forrest (33-0), Philip Holiday (31-0), Wilfredo Rivera (30-3-1) and Antonio Diaz (35-2)
Analysis: Mosley gets points for being the first man to decisively beat the Golden Boy, as well as for jumping from 135 pounds (where he defended his IBF lightweight title eight times -- all by KO) directly to the 147-pound division, but his standing is hurt by the fact that De La Hoya was the only elite fighter he faced in the first 9½ years of his career. Also, his record vs. "strong" fighters is somewhat spotty. Although he took care of business vs. still serviceable veterans such as Molina and Leija, he was dominated by Forrest in their first bout and he struggled with both Holiday and Rivera. His stoppage of Diaz in his first welterweight title defense was impressive but it's also what he should have done with the game-but-limited young slugger, so no extra points for that win.
Oscar De La Hoya
Record after 9½ years: 33-2
The Elite: Pernell Whitaker (40-1-1), Julio Cesar Chavez (97-1-1), Felix Trinidad (35-0), Hector Camacho (64-3-1), and Shane Mosley (34-0)
The Strong: Ike Quartey (34-0-1), James Leija (30-1-2), Genaro Hernandez (32-0-1), Miguel Angel Gonzalez (41-0), Rafael Ruelas (43-1), John-John Molina (36-3), Javier Castillejo (51-4), Oba Carr (48-2-1), and Jorge Paez (53-6-4)
Analysis: Goldie gets a lot of points for not only winning world titles in four weight classes (five if you count the WBO 130-pound strap he took from Jimmi Bredahl), but for partially unifying the lightweight division (the WBO and IBF) during his pit stop there in the mid-'90s. His welterweight title win over Whitaker was far from dominant (some believe it was controversial) but still impressive considering that Sweet Pea was the reigning champ and had been active (eight defenses) coming into the bout. The bloody beatdown of Chavez for the WBC 140-pound title was less special considering that the Mexican icon had begun to show signs of wearing down in his bouts leading into the big showdown; likewise for Camacho. His performances vs. Mosley and Trinidad are somewhat neutral -- he was bold but one-dimensional vs. Sugar Shane in an entertaining fight, versatile but overcautious vs. Tito in a major disappointment; still he held his own with the undefeated champs (both of whom were in their prime). Versus the second-tier champs and contenders, De La Hoya generally took care of business aside from his close points wins over Quartey and Molina (only his 17th pro bout). His blowouts of Leija and Ruelas at 135 pounds are especially impressive. The records of his many rivals and challengers when he fought them speak volumes.
Record after 9½ years: 32-1-1
The Elite: Julio Cesar Chavez (88-0), Azumah Nelson (32-1), and Jose Luis Ramirez (100-6)
The Strong: James McGirt (59-2-1), Roger Mayweather (26-4), Greg Haugen (23-1), Rafael Pineda (28-1), Jorge Paez (38-3-4), Juan Nazario (22-2), and Freddie Pendleton (24-16-3)
Analysis: Sweet Pea gets major points for winning three world titles in three divisions (135, 140 and 147 pounds), particularly for winning all three major belts at lightweight and for defending his WBC welterweight title eight times, which includes the pound-for-pound king at the time (Chavez). Whitaker dominated two fighters who will likely go down as all-time greats, Nelson (who's already in the hall of fame) and Chavez (who will be); pay no attention to the draw verdict vs. JC Superstar, Whitaker controlled the entire bout, as he did in both fights with underrated two-time titlists Ramirez and McGirt. He pretty much owned everyone he fought in the first 9½ years of his career, except when he got bored vs. the likes of Mayweather (who dropped him), Pendleton and Paez (both of whom managed to win a few rounds).
Julio Cesar Chavez
Record after 9½ years: 64-0
The Elite: Edwin Rosario (31-2) and Jose Luis Ramirez (101-6)
The Strong: Juan LaPorte (27-6), Rocky Lockridge (38-4), Roger Mayweather (21-2/34-5), Mario Martinez (33-1-2) and Ruben Castillo (63-4-2)
Analysis: Mexico's grand champ gets points for winning titles in three divisions, but even more so for the high caliber of his opposition. Although there are no all-time greats on his résumé all the top fighters he faced in this time period were at or just a little bit past their primes. Rosario is the only hall of famer (elected posthumously for this year's induction), but Ramirez eventually will get in, and there's a chance that two among his "strong" opponents -- LaPorte and Lockridge (both of whom gave him tough fights at 130 pounds) -- could one day make it to Canastota. Chavez's stoppages of Rosario, Mayweather (both at 130 and 140) and Martinez are especially impressive. He wins extra points for partially unifying 135-pounds belts (WBA and WBC) and his exceptional activity. Like his future rival Whitaker, there isn't a whole lot that can be detracted from Chavez at this point in his career.
So there you have it. I know it's a lot to digest in one reading but what the hell else do you have to do with your time? Work? Study? Volunteer your time for a worthy cause?
Ha! That can wait. Nothing is more important than boxing, or determining who's best (y'all know that!).
Looking at what Mayweather as done so far, I can say that his accomplishments are superior to those of both Hopkins and Mosley at the same point in their careers. The Pretty Boy beat more elite fighters and dominated all the "strong" title holders and contenders he fought.
I think he's on par with Trinidad. Both brutalized second-tier fighters and both bested three "elite" boxers. Tito's elite were more accomplished than Mayweather's elite but the Pretty Boy was more dominant vs. his top dogs. Mayweather won titles in four divisions but Trinidad made double-digit defenses of the welterweight belt, plus partially unified (something PBF has never done in any division).
I also think Mayweather is close to where Chavez was after JC Superstar was in the game for 9½ years. Both were respected 130-pound champs -- Mayweather was more dominant over his opposition, but Chavez's title defenses came vs. more accomplished fighters. Mayweather won a belt in a fourth division, which Chavez never accomplished (although, let's be real, if Chavez faced Judah at 147 instead of Sweet Pea, he would have been), but the Mexican icon partially unified at 135 vs. hall-of-fame caliber fighters and he won his 140-pound title from a much better fighter than Gatti (Floyd's uncle Roger).
I believe that Ali, Leonard, Whitaker, Jones, and De La Hoya were all more accomplished champs than Mayweather 9½ years into their careers. Ali's two stoppages of Liston give him the decided edge over PBF. Liston literally cleaned out the heavyweight division from 1958 (after he got out of the pen for assaulting a cop) through '60. Then he twice destroyed Patterson in one round to win and defend the title.
None of Mayweather's elite foes even came close to this kind of dominance in their respective divisions (honestly, I thought Castillo had to get a little bit lucky to get past Johnston in both of his bouts with "Little But Bad"). Jones' victory over Toney plus his partial title unification at 175 pounds puts him over Floyd. Mayweather has defeated two guys who are now in most pound-for-pound top 10 lists, but that wasn't so when he fought them (although Corrales was beginning to crack some lists).
Sugar Ray beat three of the all-time baddest; 'Nuff said! Sweet Pea unified the 135-pound division and dominated two all-time greats. The Golden Boy gets the better of Mayweather on the sheer number of both "elite" and "strong" opponents he fought in his first 9½ years.
However, Mayweather is not in bad company and he's not out of reach of the future hall of famers and all-time greats I just mentioned. He's only 29, so time is on his side. So is history.
The biggest fights that everyone I analyzed in this piece came after 9½ years in the game. Hopkins, the ultimate late bloomer, had his super bouts with Trinidad and De La Hoya. Mosley had his rematch with De La Hoya and recent victory over Fernando Vargas. Trinidad partially unified the 154-pound division vs. David Reid and Vargas, and won a middleweight belt vs. William Joppy before attempting to unify the 160-pound titles vs. Hopkins. Chavez had his showdowns with Meldrick Taylor (partially unifying the 140-pound title), Camacho, Whitaker and De La Hoya. Jones took on John Ruiz for a heavyweight belt. De La Hoya won his grudge match with Fernando Vargas (partially unifying the 154-pound title), had his rematch with Mosley and he challenged middleweight king Hopkins. Whitaker won a 154-pound title vs. Julio Cesar Vazquez, fought De La Hoya and challenged Tito.
Ali had his legendary rivalries vs. Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, plus his all-time great title-regaining victory over George Foreman. Leonard had his career-defining victory over Marvin Hagler and return matches with Hearns and Duran.
Mayweather's biggest challenges are ahead of him. De La Hoya, Mosley and -- we hope -- Antonio Margarito are fighters who could get in the ring with him this year. Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto are potential opponents for '07. His future -- as well as his legacy -- are in his hands.