Pundits see peril in comparing eras. How would Koufax have fared against Ruth? Could Lombardi’s Packers have tamed Joe Montana and Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense? Could Russell’s Celtics stifle Jordan’s Bulls?
Boxing may have an ancient exemption. While pro athletes are larger and faster than ever, products of advanced training, nutrition – and perhaps some PEDs – a welterweight is a welterweight. 147 lbs, same sized gloves, same squared circle, and three-minute rounds. Nothing has changed.
But how do we pit welterweights against heavyweights? With Floyd Mayweather Jr boxing and boasting his way to the magical mark of 49-0, which would tie Rocky Marciano for the best record in boxing history if he does defeat Andre Berto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Sept. 12, there’s an impulse to compare fighters. But the more interesting parallel could be between the epochs in which they fought.
Marciano fought during a hiccup in the heavyweight division, facing a dearth of dominant fighters in a division usually stacked with them. His prime came after Joe Louis’ reign and just before Floyd Patterson, Sonny Liston, and a few years before the epic entrance of some kid named Clay. (Marciano actually cried after he knocked a geriatric Louis literally out of the ring, so sad to see his hero in repose.)
Compubox – or Punchstat, if you prefer – the bedrock boxing metric, only became a statistic in 1985, long after the cigar/fedora/typewriter epoch of Marciano. And boxing, of all sports, is the least given to numbers, beyond wins and losses.
Mayweather has certainly fought more fighters with name recognition – Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Arturo Gatti, Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, etc. But in most cases, you could argue that his more heralded foes were past their prime.
Al Bernstein, Showtime’s boxing Yoda, concurs. “Floyd has benefited, in a sense, from the historical point in which he’s fought talented fighters,” Bernstein said. “He’s benefited from when he fought them.”READ MORE: Chicago Night Clubs Gear Up For Looser COVID-19 Restrictions As State Prepares To Enter Bridge Phase
But you can’t control when you were born or the level of competition. Once he defeated Pacquiao – though a few years late for most purists – Mayweather officially conquered every high-end fighter in his orbit. And no one would argue that Canelo Alvarez was old or slow. Alvarez is naturally larger and stronger than Mayweather, and was also schooled by Mayweather.
For his part, Marciano’s best foes were Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, and Archie Moore, hardly an endless list of luminaries. (Moore is one of the ten-best boxers that ever lived, but was not a natural heavyweight.)
Mayweather has fought in over 25 consecutive championship fights, whereas Marciano defended the heavyweight belt just six times. No matter your take on his competition, Mayweather didn’t duck anyone. While he loves his cash, his cachet is equally indisputable.
Purists and pundits scoff at Mayweather’s top-five all-time, as told to ESPN Deportes. And it is somewhat silly. No Sugar Ray Robinson, no Ray Leonard, and Muhammad Ali ranked fifth. Mayweather picked fighters around his weight (Roberto Duran, Pernell Whitaker, Julio Cesar Chavez), all from the last 30 years (except Ali), And placed himself first. Any list is too hard a tug on his vanity to expect objectivity.
As most experts assert, it’s not up to the boxer himself to determine his place in boxing history. That’s for us. Boxers are so naturally narcissistic, so obdurate, they literally cannot see themselves aging, defeated, or even dying.
We are the only animals on earth that know we’re going to die. Except the boxer, who needs his epic sense of self and invincibility to feed his ringside vigor. And few fighters in history have been more consistent or determined than Floyd Mayweather Jr. While the boxing cognoscenti may disagree on his place in history, all agree that he would flourish in any era.
Is Floyd Mayweather Jr the greatest boxer ever? No. Is Mayweather better than Rocky Marciano? By almost any metric, yes. But it’s subjective, even if the subject is so polarizing.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.MORE NEWS: Saint Joseph Catholic School Principal On Administrative Duty After Former Teacher Charged With Child Sex Crimes