Mayweather's legacy already set
When Floyd Mayweather Jr. broke the news on Twitter on Wednesday night that he would be facing Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14, it set off a crazy night for me and probably every other boxing writer out there.
The phone started to erupt -- both my BlackBerry and home phone. Text messages and emails started to roll in. And my Twitter feed got out of control, especially after I tweeted the news myself.
Then the work began of reporting and writing the story -- meaning interviews with Alvarez, Golden Boy promoter Richard Schafer and Mayweather adviser Leonard Ellerbe. (Mayweather was not available, as he was "probably on a yacht somewhere," Ellerbe said.) I also knocked out a video for ESPN.com and did a hit for ESPN Radio.
Here's the point: This is a really big fight, one of the biggest in terms of significance and fan interest during my tenure as a boxing writer. The fight will dominate boxing discussions from now until the fall. The Showtime pay-per-view will sell like hotcakes. If the fight doesn't do at least 1.5 million buys, personally, I'd consider it a failure. That's how big it is.
It matches two undefeated champions with big followings. Mayweather is the pound-for-pound king. Alvarez is the hot-shot 22-year-old king of Mexico. They will fight to unify titles. They'll fight on Mexican Independence Day weekend. It will be Mayweather's speed, defense and experience against Alvarez's power, size, strength and potential.
It has everything you want from a true megafight. All that said, and as pumped as I am for the fight, I don't view this as a "career-defining fight" for Mayweather, as some have suggested it is.
Mayweather has won 44 consecutive fights. He has won eight world titles in five weight classes. He has been in many huge fights and some of the biggest-selling pay-per-view fights in history (including the all-time No. 1 against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007).
To say that any single fight for him at this stage of his career -- when he is 36 years old and a first-ballot Hall of Famer in waiting, with numerous big-name opponents on his spotless résumé -- is "career-defining" is ridiculous.
That maybe could have been said had Mayweather faced the equally accomplished superstar Manny Pacquiao two or three years ago, when the fight was the superfight of all superfights, when they were both in their primes in the same weight class and when the world was begging to see them fight.
But as terrific as Mayweather-Alvarez is, Mayweather isn't in his prime anymore. His legacy is essentially secured as one of boxing's best. He has five more fights, at most, on his Showtime/CBS deal, after which he has said he is done fighting.
Nothing that happens in the next five fights is going to alter what has happened in the first 44.
Mayweather will still be the favorite, as he should be against Alvarez, who brings fans and excitement to the table, but other than his excellent victory against Austin Trout on April 27, his résumé is very, very thin.
Mayweather is supposed to win. And even if he happens to lose, the fight will require at least a small asterisk next to it, in the minds of some, because Mayweather did what he ripped Pacquiao for doing so many times: Mayweather took a page right out of Pacquiao's book and accepted a catchweight for the Alvarez fight, so they settled on 152 pounds.
That will force the much bigger Alvarez, who already struggles to make 154, to cut two more painful pounds. Should Alvarez lose, there will be those who won't give Mayweather full credit because they will say Alvarez had to drain himself too much.
If Mayweather wins, he will have done what he was supposed to do. There is nothing "career-defining" about that.
Facing danger will endear Floyd
Wherever you stand regarding Floyd Mayweather Jr., pretty much everyone can agree that the undisputed pound-for-pound king has entered such a polarizing realm of stardom that just about everything he does attracts criticism from one side or the other.
But when it comes to accepting the challenge of facing fellow unbeaten junior middleweight titlist Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14 in Las Vegas, in the sport's biggest fight since Mayweather defeated Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, let's be sure to give credit and respect where it's due. Critics of Mayweather's résumé in relation to his greatness (of which I am an unabashed one) have had a lot to bark about in the six years since his victory over De La Hoya vaulted him to the top of boxing's food chain. But this isn't one of those situations.
Hold your thoughts about whether Mayweather is to blame for his long-anticipated superfight with Manny Pacquiao never happening or that, in between multiple year-plus layoffs, he handpicked past-their-prime opponents in lieu of difficult challenges. If there's something we all can agree on, it's likely the following points:
• Mayweather-Alvarez is the biggest and best fight that can realistically be made given the current promotional landscape.
• Regardless of the finite details surrounding catchweights (the bout will be contested at 152 pounds) or the financial particulars, when you have an opportunity to match unbeaten champion versus unbeaten champion and both fighters are among the three or four most popular in the sport, it's a special event.
• Canelo, the 22-year-old Mexican sensation who is at the very tipping point of his physical growth and marketability, represents the most dangerous test for Mayweather on paper since Floyd's breakthrough destruction of Diego Corrales in 2001. Yes, really.
It doesn't matter whether or not you believe Alvarez will be vanquished on the scorecards by a wide margin -- and if the version of "Money" who dismantled Robert Guerrero on May 4 can turn in a repeat performance, that will likely be the outcome. The fact that Mayweather will be dealing with a prime and massive junior middleweight who will likely rehydrate up to 170 pounds represents real danger.
It's the kind of danger we don't get to see in Mayweather fights anymore. And let's face it: Even more so than outrageous personalities or the addicting reality shows that are used to promote fights, danger and uncertainty are truly what sell pay-per-views. With Alvarez's legit power and improved level of technique and strategy -- showcased in his April victory over Austin Trout -- he brings large amounts of risk to Mayweather's table.
Also, let's not forget that Mayweather's two previous appearances above 147 pounds -- a pair of victories in junior middleweight title bouts against De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto -- were the two fights in which he appeared most vulnerable in recent years. That, along with the outcry of criticism about Mayweather's selection of opponents, makes it a career-defining fight at this stage of the 36-year-old's Hall of Fame career.
No, a Mayweather victory wouldn't necessarily change how we collectively perceive his talents or where he might rank on an all-time-greats list. But it could alter how we remember him, especially when compared to the alternative had Mayweather retired unbeaten but without having faced the two biggest threats (Pacquiao and Alvarez) to his perfect run.
A career is defined by different fights for different reasons. For Mayweather, the victory over Corrales validated his talent as an elite fighter, and the De La Hoya fight crowned him as boxing's biggest star.
The Canelo fight might not be a big enough bandage to consider it a make-good for the Pacquiao fight never coming off. But it offers Mayweather a shot at achieving the equal critical and commercial value that the second half of his career has lacked.
And that's about as career-defining as it gets.
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