By Sean Waisglass: Capable of much more than the average person, top level athletes are often superheroes of sorts in that they allow us to transplant the kind of admiration usually reserved for fictional comic book, novel, or movie idols to reality as they thrill us with their amazing feats utilizing special powers the rest of us slobs don't posses.
Consider a poll of various sports medicine and athletic specialists conducted by ESPN a while back (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/sportSkills) which assessed such categories as hand/eye co-ordination, agility, power, endurance, strength, etc., and concluded that boxing is the all-round hardest of all sports to excel in (fishing came last).
Which means if you're the best boxer in the world, you may very well be the best athlete in the world.
Which brings us to the point: When you are as good as Floyd Mayweather Jr. is, it a near crime to let that go to waste.
His November 19 bout with faded former 140lb title holder Sharmba Mitchell, which was more an over-the-weight jr. welter bout than a welterweight debut (and a less than thrilling one at that) was also his fourth bout in two years against another solid, yet unthreatening foe.
Mitchell, who was looking pretty good for a while before getting blown out by former division king Kostya Tszyu, was preceded by Arturo Gatti, another solid belt holder, who was coming off respectable wins over undefeated guys in Giancula Branco and lightweight titleholder Leo Dorin and savvy former champ Jesse Leija. (No-hoper Henry Bruseles started the year out.) Mayweather's sole 2004 outing was a decision over crafty gatekeeper DeMarcus Corley, who had lost a split decision to current welterweight champ Zab Judah in his fight previous, and gave prospect Miguel Cotto hell two fights after.
Not exactly Joe Louis' infamous Bum of the Month Club, but not exactly the line up of opponents you'd hope to see a man supposed to be one of the best, if not the best practitioner of the sport face off against in his prime.
While Mayweather puts on glorified exhibitions and sparring sessions for millions of dollars but less than millions of fans on HBO, other Pound for Pounders have been beefing up their resumes by fighting each other in great matches over the past two years. It's been nearly three since Mayweather had faced someone of the same calibre - the last being Jose Luis Castillo in December '03.
Three years since one of the most gifted men lacing up the gloves in our era has faced one of the best boxers in the world much less his own division: that's a depressing stat for both fans and Mayweather's career trajectory.
Now there's talk of staying at welterweight permanently. Admittedly, if he signs to fight unified champ Zab Judah or the equally dangerous Antonio Margarito for his next fight we could all quit complaining, but he'd still be leaving what may be his peak division behind without cleaning it out - and what a shame that would be.
There are some very intriguing matches to be made at 140lbs before Mayweather moves up; the kind that will generate a loud enough buzz amongst the hardcore faithful that they would perk up the interest of the casual fan - a market that has eluded the ultra-talented Mayweather his whole career.
There's the well-seasoned Castillo, who has beaten a succession of very good fighters since giving Floyd two of his toughest bouts, and would likely be an even tougher foe at 140lbs - a healthier weight for him. There's also the undefeated Miguel Cotto, who many have become slightly soured on since his chaotic last bout in which he was hurt badly on multiple occasions, but ultimately stopped his assaulter Ricardo Torres and showed he's got championship-calibre guts as well as skills. He also likely wouldn't be an easy night for Mayweather.
Then there's England's Ricky Hatton, whom, after finishing off the rugged Carlos Maussa this weekend to grab another belt, has established himself as the opponent that would be truly tragic for Mayweather not to face.
Hatton is young, hungry, considered top ten Pound for Pound, and is an eye-catching television-friendly fighter. He also beat the best in the division in Tszyu to become the best. That's as good a resume to get the job to face Mayweather as you'll need. And on top of that, he's a perfect compliment to Mayweather's 'counterpunching offence/stand-and-slip defence' style: a pressure-fighting, volume-punching, hard-working, high-stamina brawler with skills. The last time we got a match like that was James Toney vs Vasiliy Jirov for the IBF cruiser title in 2003, a breathtaking battle that was by far the best of the year (yes, that includes Lewis vs. Klitschko) and should be considered a modern classic.
Even if Mayweather ends up proving that he is indeed boxing's finest by making these potential barnburners look one-sided, at least action - not speculation - would make it so. And calling out the best in the world in the media then scaring them off at the negotiating table (as has been the case so far) won't get it done.
By the time he fights next, Floyd will be 29 years old (his birthday is late February), and that is not that youthful an age for a boxer, even if he is in his prime.
Maybe it's time Floyd Mayweather took a good look at Roy Jones Jr.
Jones likely ended his career last month in his third match with Antonio Tarver with a 'moral victory'. That is, he didn't get knocked out again after being stopped twice in his previous two bouts, and was conscious at the final bell to hear that he had lost a unanimous decision. It was a sad end to a high-potential career.
Jones, like Mayweather, is also a Jr. who fell out with his trainer father, spent years atop of the Pound for Pound lists without fighting fellow Pound for Pound boxers, and used his much touted natural abilities to outclass mostly solid opposition impressively. But due to high self-worth translating into high-money demand, he let the career-defining bouts the fans and history books craved slip through his fingers.
After beating one of boxing's best in James Toney for the super middleweight title in late '94, Jones fought six tough but limited opponents before leaving 168lbs behind. He also left behind a few hard-hitting Brits in Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, and Steve Collins, who were pounding things out amongst themselves across the pond. Would Jones have beaten all three? Likely - but we'll never really know will we? Then Jones, one of the most physically talented boxers of the 90's, spent six years at 175lbs running through opponents ranging from decent to pathetic. Meanwhile career-defining matches with German linear champ Dariusz Micalczewski and a built-up catch-weight rematch with fellow Pound for Pounder Bernard Hopkins never came to fruition.
Although Jones' move up to heavyweight was admirable, his win over the weakest of the best, John Ruiz, tarnished the feat. Then his last chance to engage a fellow peaking Pound for Pound player - James Toney - who was coming off the thrilling win over Jirov, never materialized. A rematch with Toney, whom Jones made his name off of, whom Jones had a heated rivalry with, whom like Jones was as charismatic as he was skilled, would have had the sports world enthralled. It would have snagged Jones his fifth weight class title if at cruiserweight, or been a significant second heavyweight win if it took place after Toney's KO win over Holyfield. It would have erased all the other lost opportunities to cement his legacy.
It never happened.
Instead Jones drained back down to 175lbs from heavyweight, likely ruining himself, then lost humiliatingly to Tarver and Glen Johnson, two fine fighters whom he would have schooled a mere year earlier.
Now Jones, who was compared during his apex to Sugar Ray Robinson, is a fast-fading debate topic. The talk about whether he's one of the best of all time hasn't stirred much passion since no one can really present a convincing argument beyond speculation because there's no proof: no domination of the rugged English super middles of the 90's, no Micalczewski 'linear champ' showdown, no rematches with fellow Pound for Pound boxers Hopkins or Toney.
Maybe Roy Jones was right: He was the champ, why should he go over to Europe and give the other guys a hometown advantage when they wouldn't come to the U.S.? He already had wins over Hopkins and Toney, why shouldn't he have the lion's share of the purse money?
But now what does he have? A career that's over, a grocery list of significant fights that never happened, and a questionable place in boxing history despite not long ago being thought to have a spot in the upper echelon ready and waiting.
The only passion Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s fight last week with Mitchell elicited from both fans and media alike was scorn - the rest of us just shrugged. Those aren't the kind of reactions the man sitting on top of most lists as the best boxer in the world should be inspiring. It's not good for Mayweather, and it's not good for boxing.
There's been calls from Mayweather for matches with Judah, De La Hoya, and Winky Wright, but we got Mitchell instead. Now we wait to see if he'll put his money where his mouth is, stop teasing us with his talents, and actually face someone significant in the ring.
When the negotiations for Floyd's next fight get underway, it's going to be like gazing into a crystal ball telling us what's in his future: Will we see the likes of Hatton, Castillo, Cotto, Judah, or Margarito and a legacy beginning to be fulfilled? Or will we see another Roy Jones Jr.-like waste of opportunity, and a biological clock slowly but surely winding down?
November 28, 2005