Boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr., is the best athlete ever. “Yeah, right,” the doubters will scoff. They will be quick to point out that Floyd is twenty-nine years old, in mid-career for all intents and purposes and has yet to build a legacy. And, indeed, when one makes such a bold assertion as Floyd Mayweather, Jr., being the best athlete ever, as I have made, it causes an immediate gut reaction in both rabid sports fans and boxing fanatics. As Oprah would say, it gives one a “whole lot of ‘splaining to do.”
First, there is the obvious objection as to why Floyd Mayweather, Jr., is not the best athlete ever, which would come from what I would call the “true sports fan.” This fan is the sort of person who subscribes to every cable sports program and goes into a euphoric ecstasy during that rare alignment of the planets when football season is in full blast, basketball season is in its ascendancy and hockey season is starting. This type of fan(atic) also watches every tennis match, possibly even the ESPN spelling bees and can tell you the starting lineup and complete statistics of the 1906 Philadelphia Athletics. Sometimes this fanatic is also a boxing fan. But usually the “true sports fan” will only watch the occasional big pay-per-view match with friends and eschews the humdrum matches offered for free, so to speak, on the major subscription channels HBO and Showtime. For this type of fan, boxing has become sort of a side dish to the main meal of football, basketball and baseball. Many boxing fans are great sports fans in general, but hardcore boxing fans are a special breed and they tend to stand apart from the average armchair quarterbacks that cheer on the Steelers sixteen (or in their case twenty) Sundays a year.
Any Joe or Joanna sports fan out there in mid-America, watching football, baseball, hockey, badminton and any other activity where men or women sweat, would of course voice the primary objection of where do I get off saying a boxer, of all athletes, is the best athlete ever? What makes a boxer so special? What makes Floyd Mayweather Jr., so special? I can visualize this being debated ad nauseam in sports bars from Pocatello to Bangor.
What makes the hundred and forty-four career knockouts of the “Old Mongoose” Archie Moore – a boxing record considered unassailable in these days where a champion fights twice a year – any better or more impressive than Ty Cobb’s lifetime .367 batting average (another record considered virtually unbeatable) or Wilt Chamberlain scoring a hundred points in a game or Michael Jordan leading the NBA in scoring ten times? And what of Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six game hitting streak? Put thirty sports fans in a well stocked bar and this debate over the best athlete ever could be televised and would fill up an entire year of round-the-clock ESPN programming – a fourth ESPN could be created just for this contretemps.
So it must first be argued that a boxer is a better all-around athlete than any other athlete, a point that would only go uncontested by ex-boxers and die-hard fans of the sweet science. Indeed one of the most argued questions among sports aficionados is whether a great athlete in one sport could be great in another? Obviously the answer is: sometimes. We all know the results of Michael Jordan’s ill-fated venture into professional baseball, or the misguided second career of football player turned boxer Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Jordan also loves golf, but he’ll never be the next Tiger Woods. So what makes a boxer and specifically Floyd Mayweather Jr. the best athlete ever?
More than any other sport, boxing requires a special combination of brains and athleticism. Like all other sports with the possible exception of bowling, the better athlete you are, the better boxer you will be. Some great boxers like Rocky Maricano were not natural athletes but rose above this, but the Rock was an exception to the rule. Most basketball fans know the sad tale of Michael Jordan failing to make the starting five at Wilmington’s (North Carolina) E. A. Laney High School in his sophomore year, and most know that Jordan worked his tail end off to improve. But God gifted him with remarkable athletic ability. Many another youth probably failed to make that Laney High School team and most of those youths are probably now pumping gas at the local BP; obviously they were not natural athletes like Jordan.
A great boxer is fast, both with his hands and on his feet; he is agile, able to move his body at will to avoid crushing punches; he is strong, able to absorb those same crushing punches and administer his own before the other guy does. He also has to have tremendous stamina; arguably more than any other athlete save for a triathlon competitor. If you don’t believe this, go to your bathroom mirror and just stand in place and just lift your hands and shadow box for thirty six minutes, giving yourself a one minute break after every three. See if you raise your arms the next day, or the day after that. If you really want a challenge, try running in place part of the time and moving from side to side part of the time, all the while keeping your hands up and throwing punches. If you’re not already a tri-athlete, I guarantee you’ll be in a lot of pain within the next few days if you dare to take on this challenge.
If you put speed, stamina, agility, movement, and power into a total package then you have Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is, by his own seemingly bold admission, the greatest fighter who ever laced on gloves. What makes Mayweather so special is his vastly superior ring intelligence. He is able to “read” an opponent and adjust his style to master the opponent. Not only is this style adjustment hard to make but it is a situation unique to the boxing world. Many times a boxer will train to fight one opponent, and bring in sparring partners that will mimic the opponents’ style, only to have their foe get injured and be faced with fighting a brand new challenger with a much different fighting style.
Mayweather is only twenty-nine, not an age when a label like “best athlete ever” is usually applied, but what has made him stand out is his vastly superior intelligence. His record is a respectable 36-0, after an amateur record of 84-6. There have been many other boxers that have compiled similar records, many of them facing mediocre opposition, but Floyd has compiled his perfect record in a devastating fashion. He has power, though it is not the explosive one-punch knockout power of a Mike Tyson, it is exceptional power just the same. Floyd has the distinction of knocking out twenty-four of his thirty-six victims.
In comparison to his peers, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., has skills which are so refined that there is no one to compare him with. He is simply unique. As an example, I offer his “mega fight” with Diego Corrales that took place on January 20, 2001. Now Corrales is no chump. Indeed he is considered by most boxing writers, who vote on such things, to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. At the time Diego Corrales met Floyd Mayweather, Jr.; he was a feared fighter with awesome knockout power and possessed a 33-0 record with twenty-eight knockouts. He was also the World Boxing Council’s super featherweight champion (130 pound weight limit). Diego Corrales had already fought and destroyed most of the top fighters in the division.
On paper, at least, this seemed like a very competitive match-up, with Floyd having a record of 24-0 and being considered, as yet, untested against superior competition. But if you watch this fight, as I have many times, what stands out is the immense domination of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., over Diego Corrales. The fight ended in the ninth round after Diego’s corner threw in the towel following his fifth knockdown of the fight. This was a man who in thirty-three previous fights had never been knocked down or even in trouble in the ring. Diego Corrales ended the fight with a bloodied and grotesquely disfigured face whereas Floyd Mayweather Jr., looked refreshed and was unmarked.
But one dominant performance does not make the argument of “best athlete ever.” What does make the argument is that Mayweather has similarly dominated virtually every top ranked opponent he has faced and has won over ninety-five percent of the total rounds he has fought. In his thirty-six victories, he has very rarely even been hit flush by an opponent.
Given his total domination over his sport, and given the fact that he arguably has another five to seven years to continue that domination, given the overall athleticism demanded of a boxer, Mayweather is arguably the best athlete the world has ever seen, not to mention the best boxer. If, as the pundits say, a superlative athlete comes once every century – witness Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, then Mayweather is boxing’s version. I would argue he is the overall superior athlete based on the number of skills that a boxer must possess in order to be highly competitive in the sport. So, let the challengers arise, and I will continue to proclaim, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is the best athlete ever.