Floyd Mayweather didn't just beat Canelo Alvarez on Saturday night; he utterly dominated him. I gave Canelo one of the twelve rounds, and based on general reaction, I was being generous and/or drunk. It was a great performance against Floyd's most legitimate opponent in years. He should rightfully be feted for winning and looking as good as he ever has in doing so.
Let's hold off on crowning Floyd the greatest of all time, or anything close to it. I've commented on this before: boxing is the purest form of competition on the planet, and as a result, you need to - ya know - take into account the level of competition in assessing what it means. Canelo is a good fighter, a deserving young champion, but almost no serious boxing writer or fan gave him a shot with Mayweather. It wasn't just that he wasn't yet in Mayweather's league (and Canelo's resume was far longer than it was deep), it was that his style could not have been more custom made for Mayweather had it been taken from a plaster cast. Canelo is slow on his feet, he fights in spurts, he holds his hands far apart, his "wings" looping punches that occasionally stop for coffee en route to his opponent's face. The point being, Floyd not only should have won this fight, he should have looked very good doing so.
But he looked better than very good. And much of the credit for that rests not on Mayweather, but Canelo, who - at best - out thought himself or - at worst - took the coward's way out on Saturday night. Canelo's one chance to win this fight was to rush the slow-starting Mayweather in the early rounds, bully him into a corner and unload with everything he had. To do so, Canelo would have to both eat a good deal of Mayweather leather and realize he was sacrificing the latter part of the fight, since he'd have long-since burned through his fuel supply. It would be a kamikaze mission, but it was Canelo's only chance to win.
Canelo, instead, opted for an impossible strategy. He tried to box with the greatest boxer in recent history. He tried to preserve his fuel for a 12 round fight against the best-conditioned athlete in the sport. He tried to match wits with a man who is Albert Einstein in the ring (even if he might be Albert Haynesworth outside of it). If he was trying to win, it was a fool's errand. If he was only trying to avoid embarrassment, on the other hand ...
The result was rather predictable. Against a lumbering brawler, Floyd's speed looked faster than ever. Against a fighter who always fought in spurts (and was forced to drain himself to meet Floyd's artificial catch weight), he looked in better shape than ever. Against a fighter with limited boxing skills and ring smarts, Floyd looked more in control than ever. Against a fighter who was not there to win, Floyd looked every bit the undefeated champion he is. In the words of a great man, "if you want to look thin, hang out with fat people."
Floyd Mayweather is a historically great fighter. He is now clearly ensconced in the top-50 fighters of all time, and he may be moving towards the top-25, although there are some major names he must pass to do so. He may get there, he may not. Boxing has a funny way of exposing the truth, but only when given the chance to do so. Only a few years ago, a number of respected announcers on HBO opined that Manny Pacquiao was among the greatest fighters of all time. It's a suggestion that seems laughable today. Had Roy Jones Jr. retired after his easy win over John Ruiz to capture the heavyweight title (or better yet, added the dessicated husks of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield to his collection of scalps), he too might have had his share of lobbyists. Today, Roy is a sad tale of a great fighter who hung on too long, but also one who is almost universally regarded as having been exposed as something less than we all believed. Will Floyd retire at the perfect time to protect his undefeated record? Will he zealously avoid opponents who can threaten it? We don't know.
What we do know, however, is that Floyd is not, and cannot become, the greatest ever. This is a simple reality. Floyd Mayweather exists in an era when the best athletes pursue other sports. Had Ray Lewis decided to box, no one would know the name, Klitschko. Floyd Mayweather has not competed against the Hagler, Hearns, Duran, Chavez, Whitaker and Leonards he would have needed to face in the 80s, or the versions of Mosley, De La Hoya, Quartey and Trinidad he would have faced in the 90s. The most impressive name on his resume remains a choice of Chico Corrales or Jose Luis Castillo, both fine fighters, but neither a Hall of Famer, nor close to it. To compare him to those who have not only competed against the best, but defeated them, is not a comparison at all.
There is nothing any boxing fan wants more than to see the best ever. That desire can easily become delusion if not judged against fact. I wish I was witnessing the best ever. At times, on Saturday night, it was easy for my eyes to believe that they were. Unfortunately, truth in boxing is sometimes more than what meets the eyes. And Floyd Mayweather's eternal curse is that the Pretty Boy will always look better than he is.