The best pound-for-pound boxer in the world; the best boxer the world has ever seen? Floyd Mayweather Jr. stands as a titan in the boxing sphere: a five division world champion; an eight time winner of world titles and, most important of all, undefeated throughout his professional career. The question of who can stop him is moot; it’s whether he can be stopped at all.

Slight over-exaggeration aside, Mayweather has risen to the top of his profession showcasing some of the fastest hands in the ring alongside a showmanship that makes him the talking point of any fight. He’s also a contradiction, two sides of a whole that don’t sit easily. One that’s respectful and appreciative of the life he’s led, but combative, hardened, with aggression shown to his family and others outside the ring: he faces jail time next month for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Josie Harris, in 2010. He’s not quite the soft image his family life or acts of kindness portray.

…never really much promise…

Like a lot of talented sportsmen, Mayweather Jr. came from difficult circumstances, a thorny upbringing that shaped him into the man he would become. Born into a family of boxers (his father fought Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978 and his uncles Jeff and Roger Mayweather were pugilists), there was never really much promise that he would go into a profession other than boxing. Drugs were never far away – his mother was addicted to heroin and his aunt died from AIDS – and nor was violence, a gun-related incident left Mayweather Sr. injured following a domestic dispute. Poverty bit at the family, a far reflection from the fortunes Mayweather amassed in the future and a reminder of how excellence in sports can level social inequalities.

Taught by his father the defensive skills that would become a hallmark of his displays (most notably ‘The Shoulder Roll’), boxing instilled values into the young Mayweather, lessons he would come to rely on when his father was incarcerated for drug trafficking. He excelled at boxing, dropping out of high school to pursue it full-time and the hard work paid off when he made the US squad at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, securing the bronze medal and turning pro soon thereafter.

It’s here, if it’s to be found anywhere, that the ‘legacy’ of Mayweather began, entering in at the super-featherweight division and then going about his business, beating Genaro Hernandez for his first title in 1998. By then his father had come back into the picture, released from jail and looking to regain a place in his son’s life. Their relationship from then on would be a rocky one fraught with arguments, some public, leading to Junior firing Senior as his trainer for putting too much pressure on him and lacking chemistry.

…something of a brash self-promoter…

But it didn’t detract from his performances in the ring and if it did affect him mentally, it didn’t show. His guile, his precision, his excellent defence, lightning-fast hands and combos carried him from fight-to-fight, victory-to-victory. Moving up the divisions he become something of a brash self-promoter, confident in the extreme and played himself off as the ‘heel’. A highlight would be his ring entrance to the Arturo Gatti fight, carried by Roman centurions as if they were carrying a senator of Rome (see below) – all to the tune of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. “Pretty boy Floyd” didn’t want your love; he earned your respect.

He fought the best (well apart from Manny Pacquiao, the one fight everyone would like to see happen) and triumphed; he’s come across a variety of methodologies and fighters and stopped them. He sees himself as one of the boxing greats and whether that’s a true reflection of his talent or an inflated sense of worth, it’s hard to reject the notion that he isn’t one of the best fighters we’ve seen. After a few ‘retirements’ in the last few years there’s rumblings that he may bow out again after his win against Miguel Cotto last week. For good? It’s certainly more likely than before. ‘Money May’ may be the best pound-for-pound fighter we’ve seen in the last twenty years; 43 – 0, several titles and millions in the bank: what more could you want?

 

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