In a recent interview with ESPN Deportes Floyd Mayweather Jr (48-0, 26 KO’s) rated himself above iconic fighters like ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson (173-19-6, 108 KO’s), ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard (36-3-1, 25 KO’s), Roberto Duran (103-16, 70 KO’s), Joe Louis (66-3, 52 KO’s) and even the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest’ Muhammad Ali (56-5, 37 KO’s).
Although his comments were sure to provoke outrage from boxing aficionados the world over, he raised some interesting points that are worth considering.
“Record-breaking numbers all around the board. Pay-per-view, live gate, landed punches on a higher percentage and took less punishment. Done it in 19 years, been world champion for 18 years, done it in five different weight classes.”
While Floyd is definitely the biggest attraction in the sport today, the numbers in viewership, attendance, and earnings he has produced are aided by the consistent devaluation of the dollar and an exponential growth in technology. The PPV model is a relatively modern implementation and so is a useless tool for comparison against the greats of days past, so we shall ignore it’s presence from now on. I doubt ringside seats for Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling were selling for tens of thousands of dollars each.
That aside, let us examine his other perimeters.
‘Landed punches on a higher percentage.’
The advent of Compubox came in 1985 for Livingstone Bramble vs Ray Mancini II and has been used on most major broadcasts since. The system measures -by two operators focusing on one fighter apiece- success by collating punches thrown, landed and missed, the totals of which are processed to produce the punch stats you will see constantly flashing up during and between rounds on a telecast.
The numbers are meant to more thoroughly interpret who is winning the fight and provide empirical evidence, though there is room for human error to upset their validity.
Fighters like Robinson, Ali and Louis predated the system by decades and even Leonard and Duran’s prime years came before it’s implementation, so it is impossible to give a fair comparison. Nonetheless, you have to feel with his accuracy and economic output, Floyd’s success ratio would be a match for anyone’s.
’Took less punishment.’
This is a point of pride for the ‘Money’ man and should be, as it goes a long way to ensuring a healthier existence in later life. Fewer have been able to avoid or soften heavy blows than he, though I wonder how relevant this is to his legacy.
‘To hit and not get hit’ is constantly repeated as a fundamental principle of the sport but in truth, it is a philosophical preference. How many fighters are celebrated for their willingness to charge through the fire? When you think of Ali you acknowledge his iron jaw and will as much as his dazzling feet and illusiveness.
Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jake Lamotta, Carl Froch (yes he’s in there) were all idolised because they could take serious punishment and keep pushing forward to victory. Would Arturo Gatti be as adored if he didn’t get hit as much?
Floyd has a decent chin himself. In the few instances we’ve seen him caught clean, like against Shane Mosley or Marcos Maidana, he shakes off the effects instantly and continues about his business. Yes, his boxing skills have kept him out of danger for the most part and he should be applauded for it, but we have never seen him fight his heart out, blinded by blood and swollen up. Rightly or wrongly, that detracts from his legacy.
“World champion for 18 years, done it in five different weight classes.’
This is Floyd’s strongest accomplishment, his consistency. If there is another fighter who has fought top-level opposition on a more regular basis, I have yet to see him.
Since winning his first world title against Genaro Hernandez in 1998 Floyd has gone on to accumulate 25 championship wins almost in succession. As a whole the calibre of his opponents has been very high and regardless of how names like Phillip Ndou and Carlos Baldomir look in retrospect, they had very good records and reputations before he schooled them. His next and supposedly final fight against Andre Berto seems to be an anomaly.
Aside from a ten-rounder against the late Emanuel Augustus in 2000, the only time he didn’t fight for a belt after he entered the championship realm was when he was either moving up in weight or directly after a two-year absence between 2007 and 2009.
His eleven titles in five weight classes just about trumps Robinson’s six-in-two, Leonard’s seven-in-five and Duran’s five-in-four.
Let’s just give him his credit; he may not be ‘The Best Ever’ but he’s up there no question. Who one considers to be at the top of the heap is as much a conclusion drawn from personal preference as it is from cold, hard data. He’s not my favourite -in fact he dominated my favourite this past May- but I would back him to win against most.