Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the reigning WBC Welterweight holder, current WBA Light Middleweight Super World Title holder, five weight world title holder and 2013's highest paid athlete.
Having achieved accolades like that during his professional career, you would think that Mayweather would receive credit. However, at every turn he seems to face criticism for his choice of opponent.
Is the caliber of Mayweather's past opponents a justified criticism, or is the nature of his victories proof that he is just that much better than his opponents? Going back to 2007, let's take a look at who Mayweather has faced and see if he has made "safe" choices in his opponents.
*All references within this article pertaining to fighters' records, titles held, etc are taken from boxrec.com.
At the time of their fight in 2007, De La Hoya was the reigning WBC Light Middleweight champion having stopped Ricardo Mayorga via TKO a year earlier. In what became the highest grossing pay-per-view boxing event to date, Mayweather stepped up to light middleweight for the first time in his career to take on one of the divisions champions.
De La Hoya holds a height advantage over Mayweather and had fought, and won titles, up into the middleweight division. With wins over the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Arturo Gatti and Felix Sturm, De La Hoya doesn't seem like a safe option for a fight.
In their bout, De La Hoya pushed Mayweather hard, especially early. Trying to use his size advantage over the smaller man, De La Hoya pressed the action through the early rounds.
In spite of this, Mayweather sustained very little damage throughout as his defensive class showed through. He successfully nullified De La Hoya's dangerous left hook and used his superior technique to land his own shots throughout the contest on his way to a decision victory.
Stepping up in weight to take on a reigning world champion who holds victories over a number of hall of fame boxers—is that taking a safe option for a fight? Definitely not a fight someone would pick if he were looking for the safest option.
In his second bout of 2007, which was the last time until this year he fought twice in a calendar year, Mayweather took on Ricky Hatton. Hatton, undefeated at the time, was a two weight world champion who had effectively forced the dominant Kostya Tszyu into retirement two years earlier.
Hatton was a physical, pressurizing fighter, who would not allow Mayweather a minute to breathe in their fight. Unlike many opponents, he wouldn't shy away from looking to get in close with Mayweather in an attempt to turn the fight into an inside, close quarter contest.
Mayweather surprised Hatton by not shying away from the physical inside game Hatton employed. Whether slipping Hatton's punches before twisting away to land from range, or staying in close and getting involved in the physical in-fighting, Mayweather damaged Hatton on his way to stopping the British fighter in the 10th round.
Once again Mayweather took on a reigning champion, and an undefeated one to boot, when he faced Hatton. After the bout, Mayweather praised Hatton's toughness and resilience, stating he was one of the toughest boxers he had ever been in the ring with. So much for taking a safe option!
Retirement from boxing followed the Hatton fight for Mayweather, lasting almost two years. His first fight out of retirement was former featherweight and super featherweight, and reigning lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez. At the time of the bout, Marquez was regarded as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
This fight would mark the first time in Marquez's professional career that he had fought above the lightweight limit of 135 pounds to face Mayweather in a welterweight contest.
Mayweather dominated the Mexican fighter throughout their contest, landing seemingly at will against the highly regarded counter puncher en route to a unanimous decision victory. Many felt Marquez was severely undersized at welterweight, although he has continued to campaign at and around the 147 weight limit since the Mayweather bout with great success.
Given that Marquez had never fought above 135 pounds in his career before his bout with Mayweather you could argue that Mayweather took the safe option in this fight.
Arguments could also point to Marquez's technical proficiency, counter punching ability and status amongst the sports top pound-for-pound fighters as backing that he was a very ambitious choice of opponent to fight immediately after almost two years out of the ring.
Marquez is the closest of Mayweather's recent foes you could consider as a safe option.
Mosley was a seasoned veteran with fast hands, a dangerous right and an iron jaw.
He was also coming off impressive stoppages of Ricardo Mayorga and Antonio Margarito in his last two fights, the Margarito stoppage came in a vintage display that saw Mosley dominate his opponent throughout their bout on his way to a TKO victory in the 9th Round.
Always dangerous with his power and durability, Mosley was able to rock Mayweather badly early on in the bout by catching him with a pair of hard right hands that caused Mayweather's legs to buckle. If a wake-up call to Mayweather's trademark cagey opening rounds was needed, that was it.
After being rocked by the huge right, Mayweather regained his composure and set about dominating Mosley for the rest of the fight and showing more aggression and offense than we have become used to seeing from him.
In Mosley, Mayweather selected a fighter who had won titles as high as the junior middleweight division, and who was coming off stoppage victories over durable fighters in his last two outings. Mosley had proven his quality throughout his career, combined power, speed and durability and had only lost once in six years before being beaten by Mayweather.
Future hall of fame fighter, multi-weight champion, just one loss in six years, two recent and impressive stoppage victories, safe option? Not in my book.
After slaying a couple of veterans, Mayweather's went with youth in his next fight. Victor Ortiz, a young, strong, skillful, powerful southpaw fighter was next in line.
Ortiz had the potential to be a nightmare opponent for Mayweather. With an often tricky southpaw stance, Ortiz was fresh off an impressive victory over Andre Berto. The Berto fight (a bout voted 2011 fight of the year by Ring.tv.com readers poll) earned Ortiz the WBC Welterweight title, bringing him confidence and swagger for his fight with Mayweather.
Mayweather wasted no time in this bout proving his technical superiority while utilizing his hand speed to frustrate Ortiz with an accurate right hand throughout. Ortiz, responding to his frustration at the ease with which Mayweather was landing rights on him, decided to use his head—literally.
In Round 4, Ortiz pinned Mayweather against the ropes and landed a couple of swift blows with his head. These resulted in a points deduction for Ortiz and were followed by a swift, and controversial, knockout victory for Mayweather.
If you consider taking on a young, strong and confident champion on the back of a great victory safe, then sure. If you consider taking on a powerful southpaw when that is rumoured to be your weakness, then definitely.
In Ortiz, Mayweather took on a young buck. Ortiz had demonstrated stoppage power, accurate punching and better-than-average hand speed on a number of occasions. Throughout the promotional tour and on fight night, he looked much broader and stronger than Mayweather.
There's also the suggested problems Mayweather has against southpaw fighters to consider. Ortiz, going into the fight, is not a safe option for Mayweather. Mayweather took on a young, hungry, strong champion and once more dominated the man across the ring.
Mayweather's next opponent, and final foe before his jail sentence, was Miguel Cotto. An aggressive, durable and highly skilled veteran fighter, Cotto had avenged one of his career losses in his previous fight, stopping Antonio Margarito at the end of 2011.
Fully settled into his new weight class, once again carrying a world title and having paid back Margarito, Cotto was a revitalized fighter.
Cotto, as expected, started the fight brightly and pressed the action against Mayweather. A strong, aggressive volume puncher, Cotto landed frequently on the defensive master Mayweather. In spite of the early pressure, Mayweather's hand speed and counter punching was still telling.
With Cotto looking to swarm, Mayweather picked his punches well and engaged in some back and forth action that thrilled the crowd. Eventually Mayweather's technical superiority shone through as he made the necessary adjustments in style as the fight wore on to better counter Cotto's aggression.
While there was no controversy in Mayweather's decision victory it was visible to all he had been in a tough fight.
Cotto was yet another champion Mayweather stepped in the ring with. Once again he stepped up in weight to take on the champion at his comfortable weight limit. In Cotto he was also facing a rejuvenated fighter who had looked like a new man in the junior middleweight division.
Cotto had the confidence of having just defeated Margarito and thereby avenging his first professional loss. Safe choice? Not a chance.
After serving a jail term, you would be forgiven for thinking Mayweather would look to take a warm-up bout against a no hope fighter. Instead he chose a man who had chased him for a long time, even before they were officially competing in the same weight class when he signed to fight Robert Guerrero.
Guerrero had stepped up in weight and proved himself in the welterweight class with impressive victories over the heavy-hitting Selcuk Aydin and physical powerhouse Andre Berto while looking to force a bout with Mayweather. Mayweather obliged.
This fight, it turned out, was not much of a contest. Mayweather started slowly and felt out his opponent, and truth be told these opening rounds were the only ones in which Guerrero had any success.
Once Mayweather had the measure of Guerrero's timing it became a one-horse race. From the third round on, Mayweather put on a boxing clinic and landed at will while slipping and evading almost everything Guerrero threw.
Guerrero had spent most of his career in lower weight classes, so you could point to that to say he was a safe choice. However, the beating he handed Berto showed that he was physically ready and fully capable for the welterweight class.
Guerrero brought the southpaw stance Mayweather supposedly struggles with, impressive hand speed, volume punching and high pressure style. He was also very hungry for the chance to face Mayweather and wanted to show the world what he could do.
In theory, at least, Guerrero was a dangerous opponent for Mayweather. While practice proved different it doesn't mean he was a safe choice, just proved Mayweather's superiority.
Next up, scheduled for Sept. 14, is Saul Alvarez. Alvarez is the WBC and WBA (Super) Junior Middleweight champion who, at just 22 years of age (23 by fight night) has competed in 43 professional fights and boasts an undefeated record of 42 wins and one draw.
After the apparent ease of Mayweather's win over Guerrero, he signed up to give fans the fight they wanted to see against Alvarez. This fights pits Mayweather against yet another bigger opponent as he once again steps up in weight for the challenge.
Another champion, another step up in weight, another young, strong and powerful fighter. Alvarez is undefeated, has incredible momentum and has impressed time and time again. Definitely not a safe option.
I can't think of any other dominant fighter in history who has faced such a high level of criticism and doubt over his ability. Mayweather has fought, and defeated, every single boxer he has faced throughout his professional career.
In gaining these victories, Mayweather has repeatedly stepped up in weight to challenge the best fighters out there. He has taken on a number of young, strong and hungry fighters. He has fought dangerous veteran fighters. On each occasion he has risen to the challenge and won, usually in dominant fashion.
Is his dominance the reason behind the accusations of picking safe opponents? Is his dominance the reason some people refuse to acknowledge him alongside discussion of all time greats?
The fact that Mayweather routinely dismantles his opponents and looks to be having an "easy day at the office" shouldn't be used to knock either his quality or that of his opponent. Mayweather simply seems to be a step or two higher than everyone he's faced throughout his career, but his brilliance is used against him.
Every fighter who steps up to challenge him feels he is the one who will prove their own greatness, and everybody so far has failed.
Time will tell whether anyone ever manages to attain a level of greatness as high as Mayweather, but his record shows he continually takes on challenges in his boxing career, and continues to rise to the occasion and prove each and every time that he is the best around.
The only faults in his opponents is that they are simply not as good as Mayweather. While being brilliant fighters in their own rights, Mayweather is simply a cut above. Admire his brilliance rather than vilify him for it.