Preface: An edited version of this piece was originally published by Maxim on April 24th, 2015—just prior to Floyd Mayweather’s historic clash with Manny Pacquiao. At the time, Mayweather was 47-0, but he has since added the names of Pacquiao and Andre Berto to his resume, along with two more victories. Now, after two years of retirement, Mayweather returns to take on UFC champ Conor McGregor, an odd way to get to 50-0, or a humiliating way to suffer his first loss? As the fight approaches, Bloody Elbow gives you this piece in its original, expanded form.
Let’s rank some wins.
On May 2nd, Floyd Mayweather Jr. faces the toughest and most credible opponent of his career. For five years now Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have vied with one another for the position of number one pound-for-pound, and neither has been able to cement his claim. To truly declare himself the best in the sport of boxing, Mayweather needs to turn Manny Pacquiao into just another name on his resume.
And what about that resume? Undefeated in 47 professional bouts, much hay has been made of Floyd’s “0,” but what about the “47?” Mayweather’s record has been called both impressive and underwhelming. It’s been both demeaned and inflated. What is this list of 47 names worth, anyway?
Let’s make our way through them, one by one, from least significant to most. We’ll end up at Floyd’s finest moment, but to find the start of his story we’ll have to travel almost two decades into the past.
47. Edgar Ayala, 2nd round TKO - February 1st, 1997
46. Jesus Chavez, 5th round TKO, July 12th, 1997
45. Roberto Apodaca, 2nd round TKO - October 11th, 1996
Boxing fans, Google this one. Pull up the video of Mayweather vs Apodaca, and find yourself in a very different, very distant time.
“Floyd Mayweather is a power puncher,” Al Bernstein tells his broadcast partner at the start of the fight, and you are immediately struck by the incredible length of Mayweather’s professional career: “Power” and “puncher” are two words completely absent from discussions of Floyd’s skillset today, but twenty years ago it was feasible to describe him thus. “The only problem is that he leaves his head exposed a little bit,” the veteran commentator continues, and you have to laugh a little at the greatest defensive fighter of his time having the integrity of his defense questioned.
This is an event of universal importance to the sport of boxing, despite the fact that Apodaca won’t amount to much more than a mobile punching bag--in this or in any other of his four professional bouts. Just a month removed from the 1996 Olympics, and perhaps still bitter about the controversial loss that relegated him to bronze, the 19 year-old Mayweather blitzes Apodaca in only two rounds, and announces his stunning potential to the world of professional pugilism. Further up on the same card, Diego Corrales wins his eighth pro bout by fourth-round TKO. We will meet him again very near the top of our list.
44. Jerry Cooper, 1st round TKO - January 18th, 1997
43. Felipe Garcia, 6th round KO - October 14th, 1997
42. Tony Duran, 1st round TKO - May 9th, 1997
41. Kino Rodriguez, 1st round TKO - March 12th, 1997
40. Reggie Sanders, 4-round unanimous decision - November 30th, 1996
39. Angelo Nunez, 3rd round TKO - November 20th, 1997
38. Bobby Giepert, 1st round KO - April 12th, 1997
37. Hector Arroyo, 5th round TKO - January 9th, 1998
36. Sam Girard, 2nd round KO - February 28th, 1998
35. Larry O’Shields, 6-round unanimous decision - June 14th, 1997
34. Miguel Melo, 3rd round TKO - March 23rd, 1998
33. Louie Leija, 2nd round TKO - September 6th, 1997
32. Carlos Gerena, 7th round TKO (retirement) - September 11th, 1999
31. Carlos Hernandez, 12-round unanimous decision - May 26th, 2001
30. Henry Bruseles, 8th round TKO - January 22nd, 2005
29. Carlos Alberto Ramon Rios, 12-round unanimous decision - February 17th, 1999
28. Victoriano Sosa, 12-round unanimous decision - April 19th, 2003
27. Justin Juuko, 9th round KO - May 22nd, 1999
26. Gregorio Vargas, 12-round unanimous decision - March 18th, 2000
25. Gustavo Fabian Cuello, 10-round unanimous decision - April 18th, 1998
We have to travel a year and a half into the future to find another bout worth discussing, but the young Mayweather has been busy. Floyd has fought and beaten fifteen men in the space of 17 months, but Cuello is his toughest test to date. He also represents the young Mayweather’s assumption of a dynastic mantle. Years ago, Floyd’s uncle Roger gained a reputation as a man willing to fight tough, unregarded opponents just for the hell of it. They called him “The Mexican Assassin,” and between 1986 and 1988 he felled five tough veterans from south-of-the-border before the legend Julio Cesar Chavez snapped his streak after ten brutal rounds.
Now Floyd faces his own Mexican warrior. He beats the veteran Cuello, a tough come-forward fighter who refuses to be broken, and wins just the third decision of a career that will soon be defined by the judges’ scorecards. His goal is to not only fill his uncle’s shoes, however, but to outgrow them. Five world-class Mexican opponents and seventeen years later, his streak remains intact.
24. Tony Pep, 10-round unanimous decision - June 14th, 1998
23. Philip Ndou, 7th round TKO - November 1st, 2003
22. Sharmba Mitchell, 6th round TKO - November 19th, 2005
21. Victor Ortiz, 4th round KO - September 17th, 2011
You probably already know this story. It starts with a few headbutts. Ortiz jumps forehead-first into Mayweather’s mouth late in the fourth round, and leaves him cringing and complaining to the ref, Joe Cortez. Ortiz has a point taken away, and makes a big show of apologizing to his opponent, even hugging him in the middle of the ring. Meanwhile, Cortez is busy talking to the timekeeper at ringside. Mayweather notices. As Ortiz steps back from the embrace, Mayweather cracks his jaw with a left hook. Ortiz turns to Cortez to complain, and Mayweather smashes him with a right hand--the meanest he’s thrown in years. This time Ortiz goes down, and he’s done for.
“You don’t ever give me a fair shake,” Mayweather says after the fight when Larry Merchant accuses him of unsportsmanlike conduct. He stands up for his actions, and it’s no surprise. Despite his brash personality and increasingly affluent lifestyle, Floyd is a prizefighter first and foremost, and this is the rule by which he lives--the rule that Ortiz forgot: protect yourself at all times.
20. Emanuel Augustus, 9th round TKO - October 21st, 2000
You might think it strange to rank a win over a fighter with a 22-16-4 record (Augustus would actually finish his career 38-34-6) above a slew of fighters with fewer losses, and more wins. If that’s how you feel, you don’t know Emanuel Augustus.
Known as “The Drunken Master” for his bizarre mid-fight antics--including a penchant for literally dancing in front of his opponents--Augustus could rightfully be called the King of the Journeymen. Particularly at the start of his career, Augustus dropped fights to veteran opponents just as often as he beat up favored, undefeated prospects. His record is more the result of bad management than any lack of skill, though Augustus himself, who reportedly never turned down a fight, would likely tell you that his career had been run just the way he liked.
That is, had he not been gunned down in October of 2014. The shooting took place while he walked home from the local boxing club. Despite taking a bullet to the brain, Augustus still lives, and fights everyday to recover. If you were to mention this to Floyd Mayweather, Emanuel’s toughness would come as no surprise. “Out of every guy that I fought,” Mayweather said in 2012, “I’m going to rate Emanuel Augustus first . . . He didn’t have the best record in the sport of boxing, he has never won a world title, but he came to fight.”
19. Angel Manfredy, 2nd round TKO - December 19th, 1998
18. Marcos Maidana I, 12-round majority decision - May 3rd, 2014
17. DeMarcus Corley, 12-round unanimous decision - May 22nd, 2004
16. Robert Guerrero, 12-round unanimous decision - May 4th, 2013
15. Marcos Maidana II, 12-round unanimous decision - September 13th, 2014
In their first tilt, Marcos Maidana fought Mayweather like the faded ghost of Jose Luis Castillo, whom we’ll encounter very soon. Like Castillo, Maidana roughed Mayweather up against the ropes, worked the body, and made the defensive virtuoso look unusually average for portions of the fight. Floyd must have sensed the similarities, because he decided to give Maidana a second try. It’s only the second rematch of his career since he settled affairs with Castillo over ten years ago.
Like Castillo, Maidana doesn’t do so well the second time around. This one isn’t as fun as the first fight was, but it proves one thing: even at 37 years of age, Floyd can still improve and adjust, and fight his fight against a dangerous foe.
14. Jesus Chavez, 9th round TKO (retirement) - November 10th, 2001
13. Jose Luis Castillo I, 12-round unanimous decision - December 7th, 2002
“Massage my left shoulder,” Mayweather asks his cutman after the first round. An ominous statement that presages what will turn out to be the toughest bout of his career. After generally outboxing Castillo in the first portion of the fight, Mayweather’s activity wanes later on--or perhaps it’s better to say that Jose Luis Castillo has blunted it. He pursues Mayweather relentlessly, bearing an arsenal of powerful body shots and rough tactics. Grappling, slugging, and headbutting his way into the pocket, Castillo roughs Mayweather up like no one before, and no one since.
Castillo came into this bout a champion and he fights like it, building momentum and strength down the stretch. When it’s all over, many fans and pundits feel that he has done enough to win. The judges disagree. They award Mayweather the decision--115-111, 115-111, and 116-111--and the crowd erupts into boos. Even Mayweather himself is unsatisfied with the fight, and in just eight months he will grant Castillo the first rematch of his career.
12. Arturo Gatti, 6th round TKO (retirement) - June 25th, 2005
Arturo Gatti was never the greatest boxer on earth, but he was one of the best-loved. Renowned for his trilogy with “Irish” Micky Ward, a series from which Arturo emerged the victor, Gatti comes into this bout wearing the WBC super lightweight belt. It takes Mayweather a mere six rounds to lift it from his waist. At one point, Mayweather humiliates Gatti by popping him with four lead right hands in a row, an audacious reminder that you don’t have to be loved to be the best. You just have to win.
11. Zab Judah, 12-round unanimous decision - April 8th, 2006
10. Shane Mosley, 12-round unanimous decision - May 1st, 2010
9. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, 12-round majority decision - September 14th, 2013
8. Carlos Manuel Baldomir, 12-round unanimous decision - November 4th, 2006
7. Miguel Cotto, 12-round unanimous decision - May 5th 2012
Once Miguel Cotto was renowned for his vicious body attack--particularly the liver-bursting left hook, which remains the most dangerous tool in his kit. By the time Mayweather gets to him, the Puerto Rican puncher has transformed into something different. He is still tough as sandpaper (with skin like rice paper), but now his style is more boxer than brawler. He still possesses the hook, but now he favors the jab.
Naturally left-handed, Cotto’s jab is a rocket-powered ramrod. In his rematch with Antonio Margarito, who triumphed in their first fight thanks to a pair of plaster-soaked handwraps that gradually hardened inside his gloves, Cotto outboxed his nemesis with the help of a spearing left hand. He managed to drop Joshua Clottey in the first round with the same weapon. As for Floyd, much of his recent success is owed to his ability to stop the right cross; Cotto, with his venomous left, represents a new danger. Not quite a southpaw, but something akin to it.
Mayweather finds himself pressed early and often. Cotto’s jab is uniquely dangerous when he throws it from close range. Floyd is used to leaning back and escaping his opponent’s reach, but when he tries that trick against Cotto, the Puerto Rican is able to reach his mug with that lancing left hand. For the first time in many fights, Mayweather’s nose starts to drip. In the corner after the eighth round, he looks into the camera, his face smeared red, and grins. The crowd roars with glee--not to see him smile, but to see him bleed.
It doesn’t matter. Mayweather has built his reputation on his ability to adapt, and he has already found the chink in Cotto’s armor. Cotto keeps ducking to his right, and Floyd has the answer to that, as he seems to have the answer to everything. The left uppercut is there, and as round nine heats up, he begins to throw it at every opportunity, piercing Cotto’s guard every time. He spends the rest of the fight cruelly in control, like a kid torturing an ant as he slips cracking punches through and around his adversary’s gloves. Maybe, as some say, Cotto tried to box too much; maybe he fought too hard too soon, and tired. Or maybe Floyd Mayweather is just that good.
6. Juan Manuel Marquez, 12-round unanimous decision - September 19th, 2009
One of Mayweather’s most meaningful wins is also one of his most divisive. The fact that he weighed in for the bout two pounds over the originally contracted limit, for example, casts a bit of shade on this fine scalp. And what about the jump Marquez is making, from 135 pounds all the way up to 144? He is taking on a champion in an uncharted weight class. Henry Armstrong did that kind of thing back in the day--he was just that great--so what about Juan Manuel?
As it turns out, Marquez isn’t quite up to the task. In fact, Mayweather gives him one of the worst trouncings of his storied career. For eight years after their first battle, Marquez dogged Manny Pacquiao. It took him four tries, but he finally managed to knock his man out in 2012. And yet, after fighting Mayweather just once, Marquez hardly ever mentioned Floyd’s name again. No one cared to see that rematch, least of all Juan Manuel.
5. Genaro Hernandez, 8th round TKO (retirement) - October 3rd, 1998
Our last trip to the early days of Mayweather’s career.
Genaro Hernandez has been winning fights at super featherweight for a long time. He’s held his WBC belt since 1991, and defended it 12 times. At 32, he may lack some of the potency of his younger days, as Mayweather himself eventually will, but five consecutive decision victories prove that he still knows how to win. That is, until the 21 year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr. makes him forget. Mayweather beats the veteran titlist thoroughly enough that he quits after the 8th round, retiring not only from this fight but from fighting altogether. It’s Floyd’s first championship, in just his 18th pro fight.
4. Ricky Hatton, 10th round TKO - December 8th, 2007
Undefeated, Ricky Hatton rules the junior welterweight division as its lineal champ. In his most recent defense he bested Jose Luis Castillo. It was five years and two wars with Diego Corrales since Castillo’s fights with Mayweather but still--Hatton managed to knock Castillo out in only four rounds. Hatton’s style is relentless, built on the twin notions of forward movement and combination punching. With a similar style, he looks set to give Mayweather his toughest test since Castillo himself.
Instead, Mayweather dominates completely. Hatton never stops coming forward, but he can’t seem to land anything of note, while Mayweather is happy to manipulate him on the inside and counter at will. Hatton is still marching forward when Mayweather knocks him down in the 10th round with a check hook, a masterful punch that sees him slipping out to the side and punching into the vacated space now occupied by Hatton’s chin. Now, finally forced to retreat, Hatton wobbles around the ring, and Mayweather cracks him with another left hook. Hatton goes down for the count, his unbeaten record in tatters.
3. Jose Luis Castillo II, 12-round unanimous decision - December 7th, 2002
Seven months after their first fight, Mayweather wears the lightweight belt, but many feel it belongs to Castillo. Floyd has always ignored detractors, but he doesn’t suffer self-doubt. Seemingly disappointed in his performance the first time around, he has come to redeem himself, and shut Castillo’s mouth in the process.
This time, Floyd is able to fight his fight for most of the rounds. No longer troubled by an injured shoulder, his skills are on full display, and he smoothly navigates the ring as Castillo struggles to hunt him down. It may be less exciting than the last fight, but it proves Mayweather’s unequaled ability to adapt. By the end of the fight, there are no longer doubts about Floyd’s superiority. If the last fight demonstrated Floyd’s underrated toughness, this one gave him the chance to show off just how sweet his Sweet Science can be.
2. Diego Corrales, 10th round TKO - January 20th, 2001
When Mayweather agreed to fight Diego Corrales, some called him mad.
In 2000, Corrales stands atop the super featherweight division. With 29 of his 33 wins coming via knockout, he is considered the fifth best fighter, pound-for-pound, on the planet, and one of the most dangerous. He is listed at 5’10” to Mayweather’s 5’8”, but he seems even bigger. Corrales towers over Mayweather in the ring.
“One thing I know for sure,” Corrales said before the fight, “I’ll be giving the first three rounds away.” As he stalks Mayweather, he seems unconcerned by the smaller man’s superior speed, and he’s certainly not troubled by his inferior power. He is all terrifying confidence and calm.
By the 7th round, Corrales’ poise has all but evaporated. Mayweather has frustrated every effort to slow him down, and Corrales seems painfully aware that he has lost every round of the fight. Accustomed to the luxury of scoring knockouts, he now finds himself in the uncomfortable position of needing one to win. And then suddenly, mere seconds into the second half of the fight, Mayweather reminds him that speed is good for more than dancing.
Leaping in, Mayweather drops Corrales with a left hook to the jaw. Diego stands immediately, his legs steady but his confidence shaken. As the referee finishes his count, he tries to laugh it off, but Mayweather isn’t smiling. He comes after Corrales with murder in his eyes. Two minutes later, he drops him again with another left hook, and this time Corrales goes sprawling to his hands and knees and rises unsteadily to his feet. He survives the count again, but Mayweather is on him. He rushes across the ring to finish the job, and knocks Corrales down yet again. This time it’s not speed that sends Corrales to the canvas, but ferocity. Mayweather pummels him mercilessly, doing to Corrales what Corrales usually does to others. Diego rises once more, but he has barely managed to survive the round.
By the 10th, Corrales has taken too many shots. His father, working in his corner, mounts the ring apron with a white towel in his hand as Corrales stands up from his fifth knockdown. He doesn’t even have to throw it for the referee to get his point--anyone can see that the mighty Corrales is finished. For the first time in his career, Mayweather has risked his “0” against an undefeated opponent, and come out the victor.
1. Oscar De La Hoya, 12-round split decision - May 5th, 2007
Before Floyd Mayweather, there was Oscar De La Hoya.
In the post-Tyson era, no prizefighter could match De La Hoya’s popularity. In many ways he is similar to Floyd, but his star has always been that little bit brighter. Floyd’s Olympic career had culminated in a bronze medal; De La Hoya’s ended in gold. Floyd is young and handsome; Oscar possesses boyish good looks and the charisma to match. Floyd is starting to cultivate a reputation as a safety-first decision fighter; 30 of Oscar’s 38 wins have been knockouts. Oscar is more than just a great boxer. He is well-loved, and respected.
He is also past his prime. Having once gone undefeated himself for seven years, De La Hoya’s best days are clearly behind him at this point. The controversy of his first loss to Felix Trinidad was forgotten when he was clearly beaten by Shane Mosley, not once but twice. Wins over Fernando Vargas, Felix Sturm, and Ricardo Mayorga punctuated his recent career, but a knockout loss to Bernard Hopkins stands out as well. Oscar is still the favorite in the hearts of the fans, but he is the underdog in the books.
The fight itself isn’t really worth much discussion. It’s not a great fight, in any case. More Leonard-Hagler than Hagler-Hearns. When Michael Buffer announces that one of the judges has given the bout to De La Hoya, Mayweather sneers in derision. It’s a face we will come to know well, one that appears any time a Mayweather opponent is given official credit. By 2007, over a decade since his professional debut, Floyd has become used to winning. When the final score is announced in his favor, there is a flash of relief on his face, but this is quickly replaced by smug acceptance. There was never any doubt in his mind about the result. After all, this was a Floyd Mayweather fight, and only one man ever wins those.
48-0, or 47-1?
And so we find ourselves back in the present, just weeks away from the biggest fight of a career defined by big fights. His win over De La Hoya marked the death of “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and the birth of “Money” Mayweather. Since then, no one has ever out-boxed him, out-fought him, or out-earned him. There is no doubt that Mayweather will go down in the annals of history as one of this era’s greatest boxers, but he stands now on the edge of an unprecedented challenge.
Both he and Pacquiao are somewhat faded now, slower than they used to be and considerably less potent. Mayweather hasn’t suffered any recent losses, as Pacquiao has, but he’s been roughed up, and his precious pay-per-view numbers have declined. As always seems to be the case in boxing’s biggest fights, there are plenty of asterisks ready to be attached to this one after the fact.
But it still matters. If Manny Pacquiao becomes the 48th name on Floyd Mayweather’s list, it will be an incredible climax to an outstanding career. Even his detractors will have to acknowledge Mayweather’s place in the ranks of the all-time greats. After a career of excellent wins, this one would be Floyd’s finest yet.
Post-script: Mayweather-Pacquiao never did amount to much of a fight. It was impressive, in its way, how Floyd seemed to casually take the win. How he treated Manny Pacquiao just like any other opponent, and beat him with familiar ease. But fans had really wanted a fight, and many of us were misguided into thinking that Pacquiao, all speed and southpaw fury, could force Floyd to trade. Some—many, in fact—wanted to see Mayweather lose. Personally, I just wanted to see a fight.
But whereas Mayweather-Pacquiao seemed like it meant something, Mayweather-McGregor is aggressively meaningless. Nonetheless, it will be a historic payday for both men, and it is one of those rare contests which finds its way into the hearts and minds of those well outside the insular community of fight fans. As a fight, however...
Look, Floyd Mayweather is not TBE. He is not even head-and-shoulders above the rest of his generation; his legacy truly pales in comparison to the likes of “Sugar” Ray Robinson, Harry Greb, Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore, Muhammad Ali. Even among welterweights, he is outclassed. Thomas Hearns, Emile Griffith, Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Jose Napoles. Boxing is a very old sport, steeped in tradition, and at this point few fighters manage to force their ways into the all-time rankings. When they do, even men like Floyd Mayweather find themselves behind dozens of other fighters. The most important name of a generation can be reduced to nothing in comparison to the titans of old.
Floyd Mayweather is a historic boxer, however. He is not the best boxer of all time (or even particularly close), but he may be the best at being a boxer. In the history of the sport, no one has made more money or enjoyed more control over his career than Floyd Mayweather. He found a way to turn an exploitative game to his advantage. He became his own promoter, his own matchmaker, and his own PR rep. A fight with Conor McGregor could suggest that Mayweather does not care about his legacy. Maybe, though, this is the perfect final addition to a legacy defined by money, power, and political savvy.
Floyd Mayweather is good at two things: making money, and not giving a fuck. Boxing is a sport that robs its students blind while giving them endless, painful reminders of their own inadequacy. And yet Floyd gets paid, and does what he wants.
Who knows where Conor McGregor will rank amidst 49 other names, or whether he will start a new column on Mayweather’s ledger? The fight could be a hit, or it could flop unexpectedly. It could be fun to watch, or it could another Mayweather win, clinical and dispassionate. The point is, Mayweather has made his career doing whatever the hell he wants, and no one has ever managed to stop him.
This time, he wants to fight an Irishman.