ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED, November 2001
FLOYD MAYWEATHER said goodbye to the super-featherweight division with the sort of performance which will leave his 9st 4lbs rivals glad to see the back of him.
The 24-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan retained his WBC belt for the eighth and last time when the corner of Jesus Chavez withdrew their man after nine rounds before a sell-out crowd of 7,100 at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on November 10, 2001.
Chavez gave it his best shot, won a couple of rounds, but started to soak up punishment when Mayweather got down to business.
His retirement was a compassionate decision by his handlers, even if some fans in a city unaccustomed to top-class boxing booed.
Floyd will move up to seek new challenges at lightweight and even light-welter. He reckons he will be even stronger there.
“I couldn’t eat for four days,” revealed the champion. “Only a little salad. I didn’t drink for four days. I’ll be much stronger at 135 (pounds, or lightweight), even 140 (light-welter).
“Since I’ve been in San Francisco, my first meal was yesterday (Friday November 9). I basically drank no liquids.”
Such deprivations may explain why Mayweather spent so much time covering skillfully on the ropes as Chavez whaled away.
The challenger, of Mexican origins and based in Austin, Texas, threw so many punches some had to get through, but the quality work was always coming from the champion – especially his right uppercuts.
“I took my time, let my experience work for me,” said Mayweather. “He’d had more fights than me, but I’d been in bigger fights.
“I knew he’d be strong in the early rounds, but also knew if I went to the solar plexus he’d weaken and then I’d come on with combinations in the later rounds.
“My manager (rap impresario James Prince) wanted me to move on my legs, because the only thing Chavez could do was come straight ahead. I took my time and threw pot-shots.”
Floyd, who has developed the disconcerting tendency of referring to himself in the third person, felt the withdrawal of Chavez by his trainer Ronnie Shields was wise.
“Ronnie Shields is a good trainer. I worked with him as an amateur. Jesus Chavez is tough. A lot of guys just come to lay down. I take my hat off to him.”
The challenger seemed remarkably upbeat, even about being pulled out by his corner.
“I’m happy with my performance. Floyd is the better fighter. I gave it my best shot and hope there’ll be better times.
“My trainer felt the fight should be stopped because I was getting hit. I agreed with him. Safety should come first.
“I didn’t get frustrated. I knew he was slowing down, but he was hitting me with uppercuts to the body and that’s why my corner stopped it.
“I knew I had to bring it to Floyd. Now I’m his No.1 fan. I’ll think about things and then come back.”
Mayweather is looking for a fight with WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo (March has been mentioned) or WBC/WBA/IBF light-welter king Kostya Tszyu – but recognises he needs to stay more active.
This defence was originally set for October, but put back when Floyd needed wisdom tooth surgery.
“I need to fight more often,” he said. “I’m still young, only 24. Everyone on the pound-for-pound list is over 30.”
Judging by this showing, the Michigan boxer (who now lives in Las Vegas) deserves his place on that list. Chavez was already the WBC’s No.1 contender when Mayweather became champion three years ago – problems with the US immigration authorities hampered his career – but Floyd beat him handily despite rarely going flat out.
When Mayweather opened up with a burst, the difference between his fast, accurate, hurtful punches and the more cuffing efforts of the challenger was stark.
It is not being unfair to Chavez to say that, for all his endeavour, the title never appeared in danger of changing hands.
The champion led clearly on all cards at the end: 89-82 for Lou Filippo, 88-83 for Marty Sammon and 87-84 for Tom Kaczmarek (all American judges).
Mayweather (9st 3 1/2lbs) went on the move from the opening bell, with Chavez – three inches shorter at 5ft 5ins – marching in after him.
A right clipped the champion early on, but even in these opening moments it was noticeable how Jesus’ shots were cuffing, roundhouse ones.
Still, the challenger’s followers chanted their man’s name and created a heady atmosphere whenever there was an exchange of value.
Such was the case when a Chavez (9st 3 1/2lbs) right prompted the champion to fire back with his own right, followed by a crisp combination.
Floyd was also scoring with the jab, although soon holding and blocking as Chavez, now 35-2 (24), kept punching.
Any doubts about whose round it was were erased when the champion went on the attack over the final 15 seconds, catching the challenger with hard blows from either hand. At the bell, Mayweather strolled calmly to his corner like a man out for a Sunday morning constitutional, while Chavez punched the air with his right arm.
The champion began round two on his toes, sticking out the jab and nimbly moving out of range. But his dancing did not last long, and soon a left-right had him on the ropes, although he wasn’t hurt.
With Floyd content to lie on the strands, left hand low, he was bound to get tagged. Thus it proved, with the challenger’s best effort a hard left which caught Mayweather flush in the face.
The champion fired back, but Jesus went with him and was soon climbing all over Mayweather, punching non-stop.
When Floyd did rouse himself to throw a punch, it was usually a crisp one, but most of the work was coming from the Austin man. After six minutes it was a round apiece (judges Sammon and Kaczmarek both gave the session to Chavez).
Mayweather got off first in round three, banging in a right, but the challenger was a whirlwind. He drove the champion to the ropes, slamming away with more enthusiasm than thought.
Floyd moved little, but now and again found the opening for a sharp left hook or right uppercut. Jesus absorbed them all and kept coming, but the cumulative effect could be seen when, later in the stanza, Chavez slowed.
Now he was walking on to shots – rights in particular – as the Grand Rapids star teed off. As the bell rang, Floyd scored with yet another right and Chavez wound up a reply, being stopped from committing the foul by the prompt intervention of California referee John Schorle.
Early in the fourth Mayweather again tried lying on the ropes and using his reflexes to slip punches. He evaded many, but with Chavez pounding his body so relentlessly, some got through.
When Jesus switched his attentions upstairs, he scored with a fine left hook – only for the champion to hit back immediately with a jolting right uppercut.
That was the cue for Mayweather to open up with both hands, stinging the challenger and making him back off for almost the first time.
The Mexican-American regrouped and attacked again, but apart from one good right over the top, all the significant blows came from the champion – mostly rights to the head. It was another round for Mayweather, who as he walked to his corner, took time to banter with those at ringside, including former world heavyweight champion George Foreman, working for HBO TV.
I gave the fifth to Chavez, as did judge Kaczmarek. Mayweather spent most of the three minutes with his back to the ropes and took more punches than he landed (which wasn’t many, because he was mostly defensive).
Floyd ended with a flourish, but had thrown the round away.
All three judges awarded the sixth to the challenger, although I thought Mayweather edged what was undoubtedly a quieter session.
Moving and punching more, the Michigan man left Chavez chasing and missing – and Jesus became so frustrated, he shoved his opponent and was ticked off.
As Mayweather continued to box on the move, and Chavez failed to catch up, some fans began to boo. The city by the bay either has high standards or doesn’t know what it’s watching.
Floyd took a right early in round seven, but quickly got on his bike and again drew scattered booing. He was unconcerned, using his skills to cuff Chavez with rights rather in the manner of a mother cat keeping an errant kitten in line.
As the round wore on, it became clear the challenger was slowing, going forward more on instinct than with bad intentions.
When Floyd dodged a tired shot and countered with a jolting right uppercut, one could see he was in a different league.
Chavez made the champion grab briefly with a big left hook early in round eight, but following a spell of smothering, Mayweather scored with several right uppercuts then went for it via a barrage of stinging blows from either hand.
Jesus was under heavy pressure, but soaked it all up and retaliated with a sharp left hook as the fans warmed to the best action of the fight.
Mayweather’s storm had blown itself out but put another session in the bag – and he was soon back on the offensive in the ninth.
Chavez stormed forward straight away and got through with a right, but Mayweather fired in a burst, then brought his challenger up short with a right uppercut.
Sensing his chance, Floyd followed up with both hands to have Jesus groggy, striving to cover and hold while on unsteady legs in the centre of the ring.
His fitness and bravery enabled him to soak it all up, but as Mayweather pounded on him, it was clear the Austin man was close to breaking point.
When Floyd was unable to put him away – not for the want of trying – he dropped down a gear and Chavez finished the round bulling the champion to the ropes, giving the lie to his nickname of “El Matador.”
It had been a big round for Mayweather, but all the same it was still a surprise when the challenger’s corner pulled their man out during the interval – especially for the crowd, who booed when they realised they’d been deprived of the nine minutes’ action remaining.
“I feel like a winner tonight,” was Chavez’s instant reaction for TV interviewers. “I gave the best fighter in the world the best fight he ever had.”
That is probably true – but judging by the way he responded to the challenge on this night, Mayweather surely has great performances to come at higher weights.
The lightweights, and light-welters, have been warned.