As the dust settles in the Nevada desert on Mayweather v Pacquiao it becomes clear through the barometer that is social media, many people were aggrieved by the nature of Mayweather’s win. Amongst those cursing the pay per view charges, the vows never to stay up late again and the complaints about the poor undercard, it was clear that the thing that annoyed people most was Mayweather’s reluctance to stand and trade blows with the renowned puncher Manny Pacquiao.
The collective annoyance being expressed has been exacerbated by articles and opinions circulating in the media. The general line being taken is that Mayweather cannot be regarded as one of the greatest ever; that he has effectively risk managed his career, selecting opponents when they are past their prime, that his fighting style is not bombastic enough to be considered exciting and that he is an unpopular individual.
Let’s set the record straight. Mayweather is without a doubt one of the greatest fighters to ever grace the square circle. His personal life aside, Mayweather’s boxing acumen and achievements as a world champion are as legitimate as any fighter in the boxing hall of fame.
Mayweather is a modern artist in what Norman Mailer would describe as, ‘a barbaric art,’ and like so many artists, Mayweather is not fully appreciated in his own time.
As Mayweather improves his record to 48-0, it seems absurd that there would be such widespread condemnation of the most successful fighter of his era. The fight against Pacquiao should be celebrated as an example of the ‘sweet science,’ that boxing can be, where the seemingly invincible opponent can be defeated through technique, speed, and guile.
Mayweather elevates boxing to a level beyond blood-sport; he creates pugilistic masterpieces. Let’s not forget the true art of boxing is to ‘hit and not be hit.’ This has been the mantra of the sport ever since ‘Gentleman,’ Jim Corbett defeated John L. Sullivan in 1892 using his tactics of side-stepping and feinting. Corbett helped boxing evolve, even though, like Mayweather, he was labelled a ‘sprinter,’ in his defining fight with Sullivan.
Mayweather fought a smart fight, anyone who expected him to come and trade punches for twelve rounds has either a) never seen Mayweather’s previous fights or b) been watching too many Rocky movies. As the paying public we do not have the right to see a man kill himself every week for our entertainment, that sort of thinking went out with the Romans.
Yet, self-preservation is not an admirable trait in the eyes of fight fans who have made more than a habit of demonising defensive wizards such as Mayweather. Heavyweight champ Gene Tunney, whose precise punching and fleetness of foot defeated the popular Jack Dempsey twice in the 1920s is one such example.
Writer Paul Gallico sums up the public view of Tunney adeptly, “When we should have been cheering him to the echo for the perfection of his profession, we hated him instead for practicing his deceitful arts upon that hero image of ourselves, caveman Dempsey.”
The primal urge to fight remains in each of us and it drives our desires as sports fans, we crave the excitement of bone crunching hooks and battering ram jabs even though there are serious consequences to this all. Tommy Hearns the fighter defined by his wars with Sugar Ray Leonard and ‘Marvellous,’ Marvin Hagler is a prime example of someone who has paid the price for over extending himself in bids for glory.
The one-time millionaire is now bankrupt and showing signs of dementia pugilistica. Could you blame Mayweather for adopting a defensive style?
To say that Mayweather is not an all-time great or that he has not fought the best is fundamentally untrue. Mayweather was born into a boxing dynasty started by his father Floyd Sr. and uncles Roger and Jeff Mayweather.
Groomed for stardom from a young age, as a teenager Floyd sparred with world champions Frankie Randall and Pernell Whittaker, even as an amateur he had an established profile in the boxing community. If Mayweather’s career seems stage managed then it only seems that way because he has the talent to make it look easy. He was born to be a champion.
Those who accuse him of not extending himself forget that Mayweather has won world titles in five weight divisions beating dangerous fighters like Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo, Juan Manuel Márquez to name but a few.
The idea that Mayweather has avoided other fighters is ludicrous, in any era, any fighter can be accused of this, Sugar Ray Leonard never fought the dangerous Aaron Pryor in the 1980s and in the 1990s Steve Collins retired before facing Joe Calzaghe.
As much as boxing is about, ‘hitting and not getting hit,’ it is also about timing, managers and matchmakers build fighters records carefully, they have to calculate the risk of losing each time a fight is made. Elite fighters as they grow older tend to be more careful about when and who they fight; Sugar Ray Leonard’s professional record being a classic example of this. Mayweather has perfected the technique for picking fights, it may annoy some fans but let’s get it straight; Mayweather is just playing the game as previous fighters have done.
The debate of who will go down in history as the best of all time is a subjective test at best. As fight fans, we have developed a general criteria for what we believe are the attributes of a great fighter. We lament when current fighters do not measure up to the standards of previous generations.
In many ways we have already set Mayweather up to fail. He is a modern fighter fighting in the modern era. Modern fighters do not fight as regular as fighters in the 1930s and 1940s did, but rest assured if Sugar Ray Robinson had been fighting today he would probably have had a career similar to Mayweather’s. It is about opportunity, Mayweather has made the most of the opportunities presented to him and he has carved out an impressive career. As boxing fans we should not deny him the opportunity at the very least to be considered an all-time great in any era.