Floyd Mayweather and the Greatest of All Time Debate

Posted: May 26, 2015 in Boxing
Tags: , , , , , ,

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I read an interesting article today on the International Business Times website about one Mr. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his place in discussions about the greatest boxer of all time. Like it or not, Mayweather is firmly entrenched in these discussions and it is a detriment to his achievements in the sport that he is often so flippantly written off – not that the author of this particular article did such a thing.

Mayweather’s achievements in boxing have surpassed many who have ever stepped foot in the ring. He’s won world titles in five different weight classes, with his first coming within two years of his professional debut at just 21 years of age. Across those five weight classes, Mayweather has won 11 world titles. Having never lost in a professional fight, the only loss of title has come from Mayweather moving up in weight class and the short-lived retirement he went into after beating Ricky Hatton in 2007.

Staying with title talk, there’s also one method of world title that some boxing fans hold in higher esteem than others, that’s the “lineal” championship. Going back to the days of each weight having just one belt, analysts have traced that belts journey through history. Of the five weight classes Mayweather has possessed a title within, he has been the lineal champion in 4 of those weight classes.

When you look at achievements like these then Mayweather seems to be in good standing to at least be entered in to discussions for the greatest fighter of all time. Yet for some reason he is discounted time and time again. Could it be the level of opposition he has faced? Lets take a look.

Mayweather won his first world title in 1998 in his 18th professional bout. In the 30 bouts since that initial title victory only six of his fights have not been either in defense of a title or challenging for a new one. So in 17 years and 30 bouts Mayweather has been involved in a title bout every year except for 2004 and 2008, and during the 2008 year without a title bout Mayweather was technically retired.

So, during that incredible run of title bouts, did Mayweather have a “bum of the month club” of the likes of Joe Louis, a fighter who DOES get traction in discussions of being the best of all time? No. In that time, Mayweather fought a string of existing champions, top contenders and recently deposed champion, not to mention a number of future hall of fame boxers – many likely to be first ballot hall of fame fighters.

Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Castillo, Gatti, Judah, Baldomir – all highly capable, respected and quality fighters who themselves have competed against some of the very best of the modern era. Hatton was an undefeated champion, De La Hoya a multi-weight champion (and a guy Mayweather stepped up in weight to face), Marquez and Mosley legends of the sport. Ortiz, Guerrero and Maidana were young, hungry recent or current champions upon stepping in the ring with Mayweather. Cotto was a rejuvenated champion Mayweather stepped up in weight once more to face. Alvarez is seen by many as the future of the sport, and a man naturally much larger than Mayweather. Most recently is another living legend of the sport in Manny Pacquiao.

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In spite of such a glittering resume, and a level of dominance displayed over such high-caliber fighters in one of the deepest talent pools in the boxing weight spectrum, Mayweather is still pushed out of discussions about who is the greatest ever.

For me this instant dismissal of Mayweather is baffling. He has the record in terms of the quality of opponents he’s faced, the stacked competition level he’s dominated, the undefeated record in spite of 17 consecutive years at the top, the defensive excellence he’s displayed. He has titles in multiple weight classes, including the aforementioned lineal title in all but one of the divisions he’s won a strap in.

I think the problem lay in nostalgia. Given that the majority of fighters spoken of in regards to the greatest ever come from a bygone era, and nobody is thrown into the hat as a possible from anything resembling the modern era (save for the fact Ali fought too long and had a couple of bouts in a more modern time) nostalgia for the greatest of all time could go a long way toward providing an explanation.

Muhammad Ali

Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis are three fighters constantly looked upon as the greatest ever. Ali declared himself as the greatest, but over the years he visibly struggled at times against middle-of-the-road fighters. Was he unable to motivate himself to the necessary degree when not facing a high-caliber opponent? If so, why is he still considered the greatest when Mayweather retained focus and dedication even when facing the likes of Victor Ortiz or Robert Guerrero, both of whom are regarded as weaker opponents in spite of coming into the bout as young, hungry fighters who had both achieved world titles.

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Joe Louis, often spoken about as the greatest of all time, held the heavyweight world title for 140 consecutive months (or a little over 11 and a half years) and competed in 26 consecutive title fights. An incredible achievement, however during that reign was the infamous “Bum of the Month Club.” A somewhat derogatory title given to a spell of about two and a half years in which Lous defended his title on 13 occasions. Given the frequency of the fights, and the relative ease with which Louis went through his opponents, the general belief was that he was fighting lesser opponents to pad his resume. Right or wrong, it is a tag that has stuck for all these years, but a tag that has never been placed upon the caliber of opponents Mayweather has faced.

Sugar Ray Robinson Punching Bag at Training

On to Sugar Ray Robinson. Other than a loss to Jake Lamotta in Robinson’s 41st professional fight, Sugar Ray went close to 90 more fights without suffering defeat, including winning 5 bouts out of 6 against Lamotta. Sugar Ray, like Mayweather, faced all styles in the ring and found a way to overcome every one. During a career spanning 200 professional fights there were definitely bouts against poor opponents as well as bouts long after the inevitable decline had set in, but based on the sheer body of work, Robinson does at least stack up better against Mayweather’s record than the two men above him.

This is where the problems lie. These three fighters are seen as so good that all who came after them are automatically discounted as not being as good. This logic, however, is flawed for a very simple reason. Boxing, like all sports, relies upon studying mistakes in technique made by other fighters and finding ways to correct those errors. Be that a different style of fighting, be that adapting on the fly to counter any particular style. Be it learning to create angles to increase the accuracy of your punches while avoiding others the fact of the matter is the same. Modern fighters study those from the past and try to include the good they see with eliminating the bad.

When you put it in such a way, then by default you also have to say that a modern fighter, right, wrong or indifferent, has to essentially be better than a fighter from a bygone era because they’ve learned from their mistakes. I mean, do we not get smarter as we age and encounter a slew of problems to adapt to through the years? Do any of us feel that we get dumber as we age?

To counter that line of thinking, writers love to conjure up theoretical fights pitting one fighters skill sets against common beliefs about how the older fighter would fare with the same knowledge and new training. In that matter we simply don’t know and thus any hypothetical fights are immediately incorrect. We can base assumptions that talented fighters from decades ago could apply their skills, athleticism and understanding of the sport to adapt their style any way required. But we don’t know for sure.

I think I’ve rambled enough, so to pull it all together and bring back around the original point that Mayweather deserves to be considered for the greatest fighter ever I think I’ve drawn my line in the sand. He has the achievements and titles, he has the resume of defeated fighters, he has the longevity at the top, he has a level of dominance over a talented division and stacked era of great fighters. He deserves to at least be in consideration for the discussion rather than discounted simply because there’s no way a modern-day fighter could possibly be as good as those who competed against one another in a different era.

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Do I have a personal opinion? I actually have two. One I mentioned earlier. We age, we learn, we adapt and we develop new methods for stopping things repeating themselves. Therefore our future selves are better than our past selves. With that line of thinking, Mayweather by default is the greatest fighter of all time. However, things are not always as black and white, so I go this way. All the fighters mentioned have merits and demerits for contention, but two stand above all others. Based on the sheer volume of work and the ability to take on all styles and find a way to not only win, but dominate, I have a tie between Robinson and Mayweather – although that’s just when evaluating his place against the 3 fighters mentioned in this dialogue!

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