Greatest of All Time. It's not a title you can actually win. It can only be bestowed upon you by popular consensus.
This means, of course, that it is a title no one can ever decisively hold.
In the sport of boxing, a pretty high percentage of historians and writers agree that the honor currently belongs to Sugar Ray Robinson. But you would have no trouble finding plenty of dissenting opinions, knowledgeable boxing observers who would argue the distinction rightfully belongs to any of a handful of different fighters.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has never been shy about making his own claim to this mythical crown, and a pretty good chunk of contemporary boxing fans agree with him. They point to his undefeated record and the undeniable artistry of his in-ring performances, and they have a point.
Still, the majority of us need to see a little bit more before we're willing to put him on the short list with Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Benny Leonard, Ray Leonard or Harry Greb.
That he is the most talented boxer of his generation seems to me impossible to deny, unless you are simply blinded by your hatred of him. But this era in boxing simply can't be compared to the era of Armstrong and Robinson, when everybody fought everybody, over and over, without the sort of dog-and-pony shows we have seen a la Pacquiao vs. Mayweather.
You can't even compare boxing today to the "Four Kings" era that Leonard emerged from.
Ultimately, you can only judge boxers based on the available opponents. If Mayweather manages to finish out his career as I've outlined in the next few slides, he has to be in the conversation for greatest pound-for-pound fighter ever, whether his haters like it or not.
I believe that Mayweather will beat Cotto in a fairly one-sided decision. It's hardly a sure thing, though.
To beat Mayweather, Cotto will have to fight a radically different fight than the masterpiece he turned in against Antonio Margarito last December. He'll have to become the stalker, cutting off the ring on the smaller, quicker fighter, beating him up against the ropes.
Victor Ortiz had some success crowding Mayweather into the ropes last September, although once he got him there he was unable to do much against the defensive wizard from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Ultimately Ortiz became frustrated by his inability to land solidly and threw the infamous illegal headbutt that led to the even more infamous knockout.
Cotto is a far more accurate and skilled puncher than Ortiz. If he can trap Mayweather on the ropes he will be patient and have a much better chance of putting Mayweather in some truly difficult situations.
If the Pacquiao fight couldn't be made for the first half of this year, I think Mayweather deserves credit for putting together this match instead. Cotto is the third biggest star in the sport in the U.S. media and one of the better pound-for-pound fighters of the current era.
Cotto is coming off of one of the greatest performances of his career, and if Mayweather can manage to beat him and collect another world title in a fifth weight class, it will be the best line he's put on his resume in years.
I am flat-out sick of reading, talking and writing about this fight. Nevertheless, I sure hope it eventually takes place.
There is no denying that it's the most important fight that could possibly be made right now. It is the one fight that the most casual boxing fans are fascinated by, people who scarcely even give the sweet science a second thought.
For the serious fans, it is even bigger. These are the two best pound-for-pound boxers of this current generation. To most observers of the sport, there is Manny, Money and everybody else.
It's true that many writers like myself believe Juan Manuel Marquez actually deserved the win over Pacquiao last November. And Mayweather handled Marquez easily.
But Mayweather versus Pacquiao would be an entirely different fight. Mayweather is a brilliant counterpuncher, but it is reasonable to question whether or not he would have the grit to counterpunch as aggressively as Marquez did against the hurricane-like, multi-angled attack Pacquiao would bring to him.
Pacquiao would give Mayweather one of the crucial elements missing from his resume—a rival who would define him and highlight his greatness.
I'm not even going to address the various obstacles preventing this fight from happening or speculate on whose fault it is. I'll leave that to the readers in the comments section.
I won't even say he needs to out and out beat Martinez for the fight to raise his overall standing.
Mayweather started out winning world titles at 130 pounds. If he managed to seriously push the immensely talented middleweight champion Sergio Martinez to near his limit, it would rate in my mind as comparable to former welterweight champ Sugar Ray Robinson going up to challenge Joey Maxim at light heavyweight and out-boxing him all night before collapsing from exhaustion in the summer heat of Yankee Stadium.
If he beat him, which would be a definite possibility in my opinion, then his claims on all-time greatest would take on a much more serious tone. I'm not saying it would make me rank Mayweather ahead of Robinson. But it would force me to put them in the same discussions.
It would certainly rate as a more impressive accomplishment than Sugar Ray Leonard taking the light heavyweight belt from Donnie Lalond.
This is probably the best possible fight for Martinez, too, so I would love to see it happen. Martinez, who fought for years as a junior middleweight, has balked at the idea of challenging the super middleweights, and I'm not interested in seeing him risk his life to make the 150-pound limit that has been floated as a requirement for a bout with Pacquiao.
Mayweather is big enough and has the skill set to meet Martinez at a catch weight of around 155 or 157—very comfortable weights for the Argentinian champ.
Ideally, I would like to see the current obsession with "catch weights" fade into the dust bin of history. If a fighter wants to go up and take a shot at somebody else's belt, he should be willing to do it at the true weight.
If Mayweather were to knock off Cotto, the current Ring and general consensus number one at junior middleweight and then went up to 160 and knocked off Martinez, he would have a lot of folks proclaiming him the greatest of all time, whether he bothers to fight Manny Pacquiao or not.
The old master versus the rising star is always one of the classic matchups in boxing. Mayweather presented a version of it last September when he took Victor Ortiz to school.
But Ortiz already had a reputation as a quitter, due to his loss against Marcos Maidana in 2009. When confronted with the enigmatic puzzle of Mayweather's defensive tactics, he became flustered and fouled outrageously. Then he tried to hug Mayweather, in the middle of a live round.
So it wasn't exactly a young versus old matchup for the ages.
But one last exciting win, over an up-and-comer from a new generation, an Amir Khan or Saul Alvarez, would be the perfect icing for Mayweather's retirement cake.