Floyd Mayweather ended his storied boxing career by knocking out the most feared MMA fighter on the planet. After defeating Conor McGregor on Saturday night in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena, Mayweather rode off into the sunset holding the most pristine record in all of boxing history.
It is no small feat in such a rough and tough sport, and it's one that will likely go unmatched for decades—the same way former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano's 49-0 mark stood from 1955 until Mayweather's win over McGregor. Whatever you think about the man outside of the ring, Mayweather, a fighter who was lineal champion in four different weight classes, has set boxing's new benchmark of perfection.
Yet many in the boxing media seldom praise Mayweather's legacy as a fighter. While pundits will begrudgingly tip their hats to him as the best of his time, Mayweather is often roasted in the peanut gallery as a cautionary tale rather than an example for young fighters to follow.
Sport's Illustrated's Chris Mannix summed the totality of such views before Mayweather's last so-called retirement fight—a 12-round decision against Andre Berto in 2015:
"Mayweather could have been a legend, could have been, as he loves to say he is already, the best ever. If he fought the fights that were out there—if he had engaged Manny Pacquiao in a trilogy, if he had taken on Miguel Cotto earlier in his career, if he had picked apart Paul Williams, if he had challenged Tim Bradley—his resume would have be bulletproof. Instead, we spend too much time, waste too many column inches on the fights Mayweather didn't fight, of his baseless defenses of opponents everyone knew were not worthy."
Mayweather's defeat of McGregor has probably done little to sway those with such a strong opinion on his resume. While McGregor is as feared a striker as exists in MMA, the reality of the situation is that he had competed in exactly zero professional boxing matches prior to facing Mayweather.
Other than knocking McGregor out, which Mayweather did by the way, there was really nothing more for him to do to stem the tide of such heavy criticism.
But in his last fight ever, Mayweather gave the public exactly what it wanted: the world's best boxer versus the world's best MMA fighter. The bout against McGregor was almost exclusively made to send Mayweather to retirement in style. Ever since McGregor began hemming and hawing about wanting to box him after Mayweather's win over Berto nearly two years ago, the sports media world devoted it's full attention to getting the fight made.
Mayweather made it. And once the bell rang on fight night, McGregor's spirited effort helped Mayweather finalize his career in a spectacular way. He scored a sensational knockout against a household name and made millions of dollars doing it. There is no fighter in the history of boxing who could have finished his career in such a fitting manner.
Even if Mayweather's last fight wasn't his toughest test, his resume is littered with the names of men who were deemed at the time to be excellent competition. Jose Luis Castillo. Diego Corrales. Arturo Gatti. Oscar De La Hoya. Zab Judah. Shane Mosley. Miguel Cotto. Canelo Alvarez. Manny Pacquiao.
How many future Hall of Fame fighters are on that list? And how many great fighters must the greatest fighter of an era defeat to be worthy of praise?
Marciano, the only heavyweight to retire both champion and undefeated (and stay that way), did not suffer the same fate as Mayweather once he left boxing. He was lauded as an all-time great fighter the moment he left the ring and is still considered one of the greatest boxing champions ever.
What's right praise for Marciano should be right praise for Mayweather, too.
If you think Pacquiao looked past his prime against Mayweather in 2015, you should have seen how old Joe Louis looked when he got knocked out by Marciano in 1951. And after he won the heavyweight crown the next year against Jersey Joe Walcott, Marciano only defended it six times before he retired, albeit against stalwart boxing legends such as Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore. Mayweather, on the other hand, has defended his world title belts 21 different occasions.
Still, isn't Mayweather's resume at least equal or better in quantity and quality as the revered Marciano's?
Perhaps it's his persona that's off-putting. Yahoo.com's Kevin Iole detailed Mayweather's rapid ascension as a household name starting with his 2007 bout against De La Hoya:
"When HBO created the preview series "24/7" to promote his May 5, 2007, bout with Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather saw it as an opportunity.
"He portrayed himself as an over-the-top, ostentatious character who knew no bounds. He changed his nickname from "Pretty Boy" Floyd to "Money May," and he'd boast incessantly about his wealth and what it did for him.
"It was a clever way to attract mainstream attention and expand beyond the comparatively small boxing audience.
"He became a celebrity much the way Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian became celebrities. It wasn't so much for any particular talent, because the mainstream doesn't care much for boxing talent. It was because of the opulent lifestyle he portrayed."
Mayweather is criticized for his extreme existentialism. He defines himself publicly by whatever external measures he pleases, most often aggrandizing things like materialism and wealth while minimizing certain aspects of competition. Perhaps Mayweather's definition of greatness has more to do with how much money he can retire with in his bank account than how great the fighters were that he defeated, and because of that, the people in the sport shun him for uprooting their own sense of boxing's more traditional values.
Or maybe none of that is true and Mayweather is simply a product of his time. Fighters today do not treat their careers the same way old-timers did. Where 70 years ago boxers engaged in bouts every month and ran up careers that spanned 200-plus fights, today once a fighter reaches a certain level it is assumed he will carefully choose just two or three fights a year at the most.
Should Mayweather be blamed for that, especially considering all we know today about the physical damage that occurs to a boxer's brain and body?
Losses on a fighter's resume in the previous era of the sport meant he had put in work against the toughest competition available and that he was a seasoned professional. Today, one or two losses can send even the top fighters to the brink of irrelevancy. Look no further than formerly undefeated light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev, who is reportedly considering retirement at the age of 34 after being defeated twice by the pound-for-pound best fighter in the sport, Andre Ward.
Regardless, it's difficult to gauge how much of Mayweather's legacy has been defined by those who criticize the wrong aspects of his overall work.
In the end, perhaps it is as simple as this: Mayweather was as great a fighter as his time period allowed. He captured 15 world titles in five different weight classes. He fought and defeated the single greatest rival to his claim as the era's best in Pacquiao, and he did so decisively. And at 40 years old in the final fight of his legendary career, he put on a spectacular show against the most feared fighter in the world today, knocking him out in Round 10 of perhaps the biggest pay-per-view event in boxing history.