I'll start by stating the obvious: Nobody can truly become the "top pound-for-pound fighter ever" because there is no legitimate, in-the-ring way to settle the debate. It can only be based on argument and opinion.
But, argument and opinion form a critical part of the sports fan experience. And comparing the best from across the eras, while ultimately futile, is a time-honored and sacred way to pass the time while drinking beers with your buddies.
Because boxing is a weight-class contested sport, even trying to establish the greatest of a single era is an exercise in subjectivity. Still, there are generally enough head-to-head matchups or common opponents to put the debate on more sure footing.
Among the current generation of boxers, I rank Floyd Mayweather as the pound-for-pound king. An argument can certainly be made for Manny Pacquiao; I can pretty much make it myself. But, I don't think it is quite as solid as the one for Money.
Trying to rank Mayweather among the greats who came before him is much tougher. Until his career is completely in the books, I am ultimately loathe to do it. I did write an article a few months ago that laid out a course of action that would leave him with a pretty impeccable case.
If he just partially fulfills my prescription between now and retirement, he'll end up in plenty of people's all-time top five.
But, this article isn't about that. This article is about the arguments against Mayweather. As I will hopefully make clear,, I don't necessary put a lot of weight into some of them.
But like I said, this is a debate based only on argument and opinion—in other words, hot air. And, these will be the arguments that will prevent a good percentage of fans from ever granting Mayweather a place at the very top of boxing's Mt. Olympus.
In other words, he's been too good for his own good.
I understand that for the pro-Mayweather camp, this argument is laughable. The fact that Mayweather has almost always won easily is justifiably used to buttress the case for his dominance. Nobody has ever won as easily, as often, as Mayweather.
So paradoxically, if you were trying to argue that Mayweather was the top pound-for-pound fighter of all time, this would be the first argument you would make.
But like I said in the intro, a top pound-for-pound fighter earns his crown based on the collective perception of the fans. And so I think, whether it's fair and legitimate or not, the ease with which Mayweather has operated works against him here.
In the brutal sport of boxing, a lasting perception of greatness is so often based upon a moment of transcendent overcoming. Think Ali, past his prime and a heavy underdog, rope-a-doping Foreman in Zaire. Think Sugar Ray Leonard, trailing on the cards, TKOing Thomas Hearns in Round 14.
So, you can legitimately argue that Mayweather's easy coast to an undefeated record and world titles in multiple weight classes demonstrates his high standing among the all-time greats. But for a lot of fans, fair or not, it's only ever going to be viewed as just more proof that he never really walked the same road as the true all-time greats.
This argument is related to the last one, but it is slightly different. And again, you can't really fault Mayweather for this; in a sense, it is once more punishing him for being too good.
But fair or not, the popular perception of a fighter always skyrockets when he takes out a rival that most didn't give him a chance against. Ali's legend exploded when he shocked the world by breaking down Sonny Liston, and he set it in cement when he upset Foreman a decade later.
Sugar Ray Leonard was already an viewed as an all-time great when he came back from a three-year lay off to beat Marvin Hagler. But, that win made his own case for all-time pound-for-pound status pretty unassailable.
This is why a think Mayweather might ultimately take the risk and make a fight with somebody like Sergio Martinez. That would be a fight that a lot of people would pick him to lose. I think he understands what a win in a fight like that would do for his legacy.
In any sport, there is a tendency to lionize past greats at the expense of current stars. But, I think this is especially true in boxing.
For most of the 20th century, boxing was a premier spectator sport. Only in the past generation or so has it fallen in prestige to the point where ESPN routinely bumps it in favor of car racing, which I refuse to even acknowledge as a legitimate sport at all.
Unfortunately, this decline has coincided with Mayweather's own career.
It hasn't prevented him from becoming a mainstream star in his own right. Indeed, to the extent that boxing retains any high-profile presence at all, Mayweather deserves a huge amount of the credit.
But, for any boxing fans who grew up in an era when boxing was still a major sport, when high-profile title fights were always the biggest sports stories the week they happened, it is just tough to fairly measure any part of today's game against what truly was a much brighter past.
Let's be clear: There is a segment of the boxing fanbase that hates Mayweather and will never give him the credit he deserves. They make derogatory, homophobic rhymes with his name and accuse him of cowardice for not fighting Manny Pacquiao.
But, I don't take these fans seriously and don't even truly consider them fans. They are less interested in following a sport than they are in hating a particular athlete. Call it the TMZ bleed into the sweet science.
Furthermore, trying to place blame for the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight never happening, year after year, is really as tricky as trying to touch your nose with your fingers when you've spent the afternoon tossing back highballs. There's at least a little bit of blame for everybody involved.
I've read pretty much everything about this situation that has come out in the past few years and have written about it extensively, sometime while holding my nose and vomiting in my mouth.
If I had to pick an ultimate villain in this situation, I would cast Bob Arum in the role. But like I just wrote, there is blame to go around.
Mayweather has certainly not done every single thing he could to make that fight happen, though. And at times, he has done things that have probably made it less likely to happen.
I'm not going to get into whether or not Mayweather has been justified in refusing to make the fight on the terms it might have been available. I do believe that most of what he does in relation to his career is smart from a business perspective.
But, we're talking about building a case for all time, pound-for-pound status. That's not even remotely the same thing as demonstrating that you are a shrewd businessman.
And if Mayweather never fights Pacquiao, it's going to be held against him in this regard.
Floyd Mayweather has stopped 26 opponents in 43 professional fights. So clearly, we are not talking about a pillow-puncher here.
He has more than enough power to keep opponents at bay and off-balance, to, at times, beat them down and put them away. He's got enough power to be dangerous.
It should also be pointed out that whatever power Mayweather does have is maximized because of his deadly accuracy.
But, I don't feel like he has the kind of dangerous, two-fisted power that fighters like Robinson, Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran or Marvin Hagler had.
Now, this is a quibble. Ultimately, Mayweather, the master technician, is also every bit the brutally dangerous fighter.
Still, when it comes down to arguing about which all-time great is truly the greatest, minor quibbles take on exaggerated emphasis and weight.
So to me, this might be the most lasting and legitimate argument out of the five I have outlined.