In the domain of sports, as most everywhere else, it's an obvious and self-evident truth that the space between a champion and runner-up is usually the shortest possible distance to a title, and that second place always falls between first and third.
But in boxing -- an infinite source of surprises and oddities -- this isn't always the case.
Too often, second place (and with it, the right to challenge for first place) isn't given to the most deserving fighter, partly because of the multiplicity of rankings, lists and other methods of classification used in boxing. This anomaly is currently on full display in the 147-pound division, where the still-incarcerated and soon-to-be-released Floyd Mayweather Jr. is recognized as the champion by one of the main alphabet soup organizations, and where former three-time world champion Robert Guerrero earned the mantle of interim champ in a close but well-deserved win over Turkey's Selcuk Aydin on Saturday in San Jose, Calif.
Guerrero's achievement is impressive enough on its own. After having sustained a potentially career-ending injury (a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder) that would have pushed many other fighters of his age (29) and accomplishments to consider early retirement, Guerrero soldiered on toward a seemingly unthinkable new challenge: making a two-division jump to face a top contender such as Aydin (considered the favorite in their fight) and with the support of a following from his native Gilroy, Calif., as his only readily apparent advantage.
But attempting to parlay the victory into an opportunity to face the best fighter on the planet, in which Mayweather would be fighting at his natural weight class, is a bridge too far -- and a difficult sell. Boxing's followers are already in a mild uproar about the revival of the old practice of champions defending their titles against challengers who move up from lower weight classes, such as the imminent Saul Alvarez-Josesito Lopez bout. Abusing the tactic again, in a high-profile bout such as Mayweather's first outing after his brief prison stint, would be counterproductive for both fighters.
A case can be made for the need to clarify the legitimacy of the championship, now that both own a piece of the same belt. But let's be reasonable. There is only one title, and it belongs to Mayweather. And we're not just talking about the glorified WBC trinket that hangs in Mayweather's ample trophy case, but also his mythical position as the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing. The rest of the titles acknowledge temporary achievements in a division in constant change, and in which the best don't always face the best. The notion that Guerrero, an admirable and courageous fighter, should face an established welterweight such as Mayweather after making a single fight at 147 can't be taken seriously.
Just as important, the matter of star power must be taken into consideration. Because it's one thing to amass the requisite achievements to earn a championship bout with Mayweather -- and Guerrero remains a step or two short in that regard -- and a completely different thing to hold up the "other" half of a megafight that demands worldwide attention. Guerrero has a terrific backstory that could one day make for great material on an edition of "24/7," but it takes more than a compelling personal narrative to properly fill the role of Mayweather's dance partner in a pay-per-view event.
And setting aside titles and turnstiles, don't forget that Guerrero should nominally be expected to compete with Mayweather in a fight. Although he's currently riding a solid winning streak, Guerrero has notched every victory by points -- sometimes via generous margin, but never overwhelmingly large -- against a series of no-longer-in-their-prime former champs and respected contenders (Michael Katsidis, Vicente Escobedo, Joel Casamayor and Aydin) who offered a stiff challenge while highlighting a few of Guerrero's weaknesses. A fighter of Mayweather's class wouldn't merely highlight them, though. He'd brutally expose them.
Guerrero now has the difficult task of settling at this weight and proving he can mix it up with the toughest 147-pounders: Devon Alexander, Marcos Maidana, Víctor Ortiz, Andre Berto and/or Amir Khan. Perhaps Mayweather will be waiting for him at the end of that path. And so will fight fans, who have grown fond of Guerrero's warrior attitude and terrific skills.
But whatever the case, let's not hold our collective breath or clear our schedules for Mayweather-Guerrero, at least not for the next 12 months.