With a victory on Sunday morning, Mayweather will improve to 46-0, the same mark held by Joe Calzaghe, who next month will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Americans love watching record chases. Even though Barry Bonds was a pariah and considered a cheater by most when he finally zeroed in on Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, the nation was glued to the chase.
Reporters followed Bonds from city to city, ready to chronicle the history-making blow.
It was the same when Cal Ripken surpassed Lou Gehrig’s mark for consecutive games played, as it was when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was going after Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA career record for points.
There is little such hubbub surrounding Floyd Mayweather’s perfect record, however, even though he’s in the stretch run of an epic career. Maybe it says something about boxing’s place in the American sporting landscape.
Maybe it’s that Mayweather isn’t really chasing a record and doesn’t have any shot whatsoever at getting one. Or maybe it’s that Mayweather is so good, so dominant, that it’s become boring. But one of the greatest fighters of all-time is 45-0 and facing what he says are the final four bouts of his career. On Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden, Mayweather will face Marcos Maidana in a WBA and WBC welterweight title match.
It’s a big match by virtue of Mayweather’s celebrity – a reporter from Entertainment Tonight was at his media day last week – but the anticipation for this fight is low when judged on the Mayweather scale.
The interest this time appears much more sedate, like it was for his bout with Robert Guerrero than it was for matches against the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Canelo Alvarez and Miguel Cotto, when there was legitimate excitement cascading across the sporting landscape.
Mayweather has shot up to as much as a minus-1200 favorite, which indicates that bettors believe Maidana has almost no chance.
And let’s be honest: He doesn’t. Maidana isn’t in Mayweather’s league, nor will he ever be.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for him to win. If Maidana has one forte, it is punching power, and though it has been virtually impossible for anyone to catch Mayweather cleanly with the kind of power shot it will take to put him out for the 10-count, Maidana hits hard enough to do it if he connects.
The likelihood of him connecting, though, is slim, and it seems everyone realizes it.
The record for longest perfect record from the start of a career in boxing is held by Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., who won his first 87 bouts. Chavez turned pro in 1980 and his record wasn’t marred until a draw (that should have been a loss) with Pernell Whitaker on Sept. 10, 1993.
Hall of Famer Jimmy Wilde drew in his third pro fight, but didn’t lose until his 95th match when he was beaten by Tancy Lee in 1915.
Wilde, though, never had a shot at the record because of that early draw.
With a victory on Saturday, Mayweather will improve to 46-0, the same mark held by Joe Calzaghe, who next month will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Calzaghe retired after going 46-0, though he gets little respect in the U.S. He fought most of his career away from the spotlight and didn’t have many defining fights.
His 2008 victory over Bernard Hopkins was dismissed by many at the time as meaningless, just a close win over a faded veteran, but Hopkins’ performance since that bout should force historians to consider the significance of Calzaghe’s win in a different light.
Former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano retired with a 49-0 record, and that mark is one that is revered within boxing. But it is revered only among the heavyweights, as there have been many men in other divisions who have won more than 50 consecutive fights to begin their careers.
Won-loss record in boxing, though, is kind of an empty stat, similar to ERA or batting average in baseball.
It doesn’t measure quality of opposition in any way, and so it doesn’t deliver a true definition of greatness.
Sven Ottke retired undefeated in 2004 with a 34-0 record and six knockouts. But he’s not in the Hall of Fame and likely won’t be, because he wasn’t regarded as one of the best fighters of his era and he failed to meet the best who were available at the time.
So, instead of looking at who began their careers better than 46-0, it might be more helpful to consider who did not.
Sugar Ray Robinson is considered by most boxing historians to be the greatest fighter who ever lived. Robinson started 40-0 and lost in his 41st fight to Hall of Famer Jake LaMotta in 1943. Now, a few things should be noted about that loss.
First, Robinson was fighting as a welterweight, weighing in at 144 ½, while LaMotta came in as a middleweight, at 160 ½. Second, Robinson beat LaMotta just three weeks later and, thirdly, didn’t lose again until he was beaten by Randy Turpin in 1951 when he was 128-1-2.
And, of course, Robinson knocked out Turpin in an immediate rematch two months later.
Still, Robinson did not do what Mayweather has done.
Nor did Muhammad Ali, who was beaten in his 32nd fight by Smokin’ Joe Frazier on March 8, 1971, in “The Fight of the Century.” Henry Armstrong, known as “Homicide Hank” and regarded by many as the No. 2 fighter ever, lost in his pro debut and dropped three of his first four. George Foreman began 40-0 before losing to Ali.
Frazier began 29-0 before losing to Foreman. The great Joe Louis was 24-0 when he was beaten by Max Schmeling. Sugar Ray Leonard started 27-0. Thomas Hearns was 32-0 and Roberto Duran was 31-0.
Even today, when promising young prospects are coddled and fed a stream of guaranteed victories, few have forged undefeated records.
The great Manny Pacquiao was 11-0 before losing.
Andre Ward is 27-0 and hasn’t lost since he was 13, but he’s only slightly more than halfway to where Mayweather is, and he doesn’t fight frequently enough. Ward has had two fights in the last 28 months, so it’s unlikely he’ll ever get close to Mayweather’s current mark, let alone Chavez’s 87-0.
The bottom line is that Mayweather’s streak isn’t a record or even threatening a record. Still, 45-0 is an amazing start and one that few of the finest fighters who ever lived could achieve.
Yes, Mayweather hasn’t fought some fighters, notably Pacquiao, who fans wanted to see him against. And yes, some of the fighters he met, such as Shane Mosley, were past their primes.
But at the end of the day, Mayweather has already beaten two men, De La Hoya and Arturo Gatti, who have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Several other of his victims have a better than average shot, including Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Cotto, Diego Corrales and Genaro Hernandez. And Alvarez is young enough that he could accomplish enough to make it.
Others would make a case for guys such as Ricky Hatton and Jose Luis Castillo as Hall of Famers, though the argument for their candidacies is much weaker.
So much is made about Mayweather’s vast wealth, crazy spending and his peculiar outside-the-ring habits that sometimes his ability in the ring is taken for granted.
That’s a shame, because while he’s not the greatest fighter who ever lived, there aren’t a lot who have ever been better.
Marvel, if you will, at his lavish lifestyle, but never forget that it was his ability inside the ring that made his “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” career possible.