This story is set in an alternative universe. One where Floyd Mayweather, Jr. actually cares about his legacy, his place in boxing history, and burns with a competitive fire that demands him to prove, time and time again, he is the best in the sport. Because, as much as I want to project those qualities on to Pretty Boy Floyd, I am not sure how passionate he really is about being the best boxer in the world.
Floyd's athletic career has been an astonishing success. He's made more money than almost all of his peers combined and earned plenty of respect as one of the best fighters of his era. While he touts himself amongst Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali as the greatest of all time, no one seriously ranks him in that class. The frustrating thing is that the challenges exist that could propel him there.
A Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight in their primes would launch the winner legitimately into the discussion for top 10 of all-time. But we have no right to demand that Floyd (or Manny) has to make that fight happen.
It's his life. It's his legacy.
That life and that legacy, from an outsider's view, is one of making tens of millions of dollars and being considered the best at what he does—for a long period of time. If he's satisfied with that, God bless him, he should be.
But the great ones, the greatest of all time—from Michael Jordan to Ali—weren't content until they had met and vanquished every challenge in their path. Especially the most formidable ones. They pushed themselves to win with ferocious determination and cold-blooded will—something that Floyd, with his impeccable defense, hasn't had to do in the ring, nor has he shown the intention to do outside of it.
We won't know how great Floyd is, and can be, until he is in the ring with an equal—a man that most of us believe to be Pacquiao.
That said, there is a path for Floyd to regain his spot as the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world that doesn't involve Pacquiao. And I'm not talking about Sergio Martinez, that's too easy. If Floyd beat Martinez tomorrow, he's No. 1 pound-for-pound, period.
Let's assume Manny goes the path of Mosley-Marquez-Cotto, or something along those lines, over the next year and a half. And let's give him three victories, even three knockouts. Here are three fights I believe Floyd can take over the same period, and usurp Manny on the pound-for-pound lists—even with Manny continuing his winning ways.
In September 2011, a welterweight showdown with Andre Berto. If Berto beats Victor Ortiz, he will remain the top contender at 147 not named Pacquiao. He will retain his WBC championship belt, and he will probably hover around the top 10 on pound-for-pound lists. He will be undefeated and in his prime.
No one can possibly criticize Mayweather for taking this fight—a very stern test after a year-and-a-half layoff. Berto has power, speed and the fountain of youth on his side. A Mayweather win here would totally solidify his No. 2 spot on the pound-for-pound list (unless Sergio does something ridiculous like knock out James Kirkland in the first round, and I'm not doubting anything with Sergio).
February 2012, a bout at 147 against the winner of Amir Khan/Tim Bradley. I expect Khan to beat Bradley in July. My heart's saying Bradley, because I like the guy a lot, but I'm afraid Khan will be just too skilled for him, throwing flurries of punches and moving around him a lot. Bradley has the heart to make it a battle, but he needs to connect a lot more against Khan than he did against Devon Alexander.
Regardless, the winner of this summer's unification bout at 140 will likely become a pound-for-pound darling (Bradley already lurks just outside the top five).
In either case, a match with Mayweather would be laced with subplots. Khan brings the huge British fanbase, looking to avenge Hatton's destruction by Floyd a few years ago, and Freddie Roach vs. the Mayweathers is always enjoyable. Bradley would be a fellow undefeated American coming off a huge win—a nice guy to contrast Floyd's loudmouth, braggart persona.
A Floyd win over either one of these guys would be expected, but no one could deny the challenge of facing a young, skilled contender in their prime.
July 2012, a bout at 154 for Canelo Alvarez's championship. This is assuming a lot (the whole point of meaningless hypotheticals in the first place!). Canelo has remained undefeated and taken significant steps up in competition—ideally cleaning out the 154 division, maybe facing Cornelius Bundrage in late Fall 2011 and Cintron in Spring 2012. He has developed his footwork and skills to the point where he is a viable pound-for-pound star and a genuine threat to Mayweather.
He brings size and power. He brings an undefeated record. He brings the rabid Mexican fanbase.
If Canelo continues on the right path, and I'm a buyer of that, I think he will become that good. This would be a mega-fight. And if Floyd outboxes Canelo, takes away his power, rattles him like so many others before, I think Floyd can jump back to the top spot.
During the same time period, Pacquiao will predictably dismantle Mosley, completely outgun a now much-smaller Marquez and beat up Cotto again.
I'm not completely sold on Cotto being back at the peak of his powers. Yuri Foreman and Ricardo Mayorga? And now, sadly, Antonio Margarito? For Cotto's sake, because I like him, I hope he smashes Antonio and avenges the dubious beatdown that may have been illegal. I'm still not buying him as a world-class opponent for Pacquiao again.
So Pacquiao beats those three guys and Floyd adds Berto, Khan and Canelo to his resume. Three young, valid contenders in their primes.
You can't say Floyd is cherry-picking. Yet the brilliance of it is he would be favored against all three.
I say that would be enough to recognize Floyd as the best in the game again. And he doesn't even have to do it against Pacquiao or Martinez.