FLOYD MAYWEATHER produced what he needed, a virtuoso performance to dismantle the unerringly brave Phillip Ndou in seven rounds before around 9,000 fans in the Van Andel Arena in the world lightweight champion’s home city of Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 1, 2003.
Mayweather retained his WBC title – and position as the best boxer of recent times – with a top-quality display that suggests he could now compete with the best in the light-welter and welterweight divisions.
Promoter Bob Arum is keen on a Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya fight but to make that credible, Floyd wants to take on the likes of Ricardo Mayorga, Arturo Gatti and Antonio Margarito.
Arum, meanwhile, has begun negotiations for De La Hoya to box Shane Mosley for a third time next April or May. If De La Hoya won that, and if Mayweather won at light-welter or welter, their meeting would be more appealing.
When the subject was raised earlier in the year, Mayweather just wasn’t producing exciting fights at lightweight and the tendency was to pour cold water on it.
Now, though, he has again showed how good he is when he wants to attack, as well as defend on the backfoot behind the jab. Frankly, we need good fighters to fight each other – and by this time next year it might well be a viable bout.
As for the lightweight division, Ndou’s gritty display – especially his amazing rally from the brink in a thunderous fifth round – has served to keep him in the shake-up as and when Mayweather hands back the WBC belt.
Juan Lazcano and Victoriano Sosa are also in the mix. Ndou was unmarked and still smiling early the next morning as they prepared to leave for the long trip home to South Africa.
His manager and trainer Nick Durandt said: “I’m very proud of Phillip. We’re going home with our heads held high.
“He just met a Mayweather at his very best. Now we’re right up there and will come back. The belt won’t elude us.”
Ndou also earned the champion’s respect – in the ring Floyd told him: “You’ll take over when I’m gone.”
At the post-fight press conference they were side by side. “I’d never seen him before tonight and he showed heart,” added the champion.
Mayweather’s two previous WBC title appearances (at super-featherweight) in Grand Rapids had disappointed him because hand injuries had hampered him in points wins over Carlos Rios and Carlos Hernandez.
He badly wanted to put on an exciting show this time and did.
“It felt good,” he said.“These were the first fans I had and I wanted to do something for them.”
After the Las Vegas casinos lost interest in him following a safety-first points win over Jose Luis Castillo, he was shunted out to Fresno, California in April for the points victory against Sosa.
Grand Rapids had more personal meaning for him and made some commercial sense, but Arum knows this kind of display will rekindle the necessary interest from the major boxing venues if the more ambitious matches are to be made in the higher weight divisions.
I’ve been critical of Mayweather’s mental approach in the past but he was a different man here: relaxed, friendly, confident among his own people and committed to a fight in which he believed he could look good because of what his uncle Roger – his trainer, the former super-feather and light-welterweight champion still known as “The Black Mamba” – had told him about Ndou’s open style.
The music business impresario James Prince has been removed from the team – he was still due a payment from this fight but is not a part of the scene – and replaced by Leonard Ellerbe. The team is tight-knit.
Mayweather also credits his long-term partner, Josie Harris, for changing him as a person, even to the point of getting him involved in his local church. ä
ä “I’m not out to get the fastest car or more jewellery,” said the father of four, who has come through domestic violence difficulties in the past. “I’ve done been there.
“When I retire, I want to have boxed everybody. And it won’t matter if I wasn’t a knockout artist. All I ever claimed to be is a winner.
“An ugly victory is better than a pretty loss, but my last two fights at home weren’t pleasing, so I really want to put on a show.”
Mayweather and Arum have had public spats in the past when the fighter’s ego was running out of control – he wanted his image to be as large as that of Britney Spears on the outside of the MGM Grand, for example. He famously called a multi-million-dollar offer from HBO a slave contract; he missed press conferences, felt persecuted.
The change may have come at the second Castillo fight when his grandmother, Bernice, took him aside and gave him a dressing down.
Here, at least, he enjoyed the fruits of his changed manner.
He has one more fight on his current HBO contract – he earned a gross $3.95m for this fight and will be on $3.25m for the next – and then will be open to a major pay-per-view American showdown.
Grand Rapids’ most famous boxing son was the legendary middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel, whose grave is in the Holy Cross cemetery in a nice area a couple of miles from the city centre.
Boxing gloves have been hung around the cross of the man shot dead over his breakfast in Conway, Missouri in 1910, the year after he gave Jack Johnson a good fight before he was knocked out in 12 rounds.
“Stanley Ketchel was a great,” said Mayweather, who like his uncle, is a keen student of boxing history. “Hopefully, one day I can be in the Hall of Fame too.”
Mayweather still talked tough, but mostly pre-fight jousting is hogwash. Nevertheless, his confidence in himself is the arrogance of a young man who has not lost since a dodgy 10-9 decision against Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria in the 1996 Olympic semi-final.
“He can’t beat me in a million years, man,” Floyd said of Ndou. “I know the sport too well.”
Ndou refused to be intimidated by the suggestion he was coming to a dangerous place, in spite of the noisy screeching
of Mayweather’s stereotypical group of bottle-washers and towel-carriers.
This is an element of American society that is irritating. They have to believe they have the best, the biggest of everything, including ghettos.
Roger Mayweather has his tongue in his cheek when he says: “I hope he knows where he’s coming to. He’s not coming to England or Germany or somewhere. He’s coming right down to the ‘hood.”
Unfortunately, the idiots around do believe it. As Durandt said: “These people think they’re tough. They haven’t been to Johannesburg, they haven’t been to Soweto.” (I have and, believe me, the central area of Johannesburg is scarier than Soweto or Grand Rapids, or for that matter downtown Detroit.).
Ndou is from Venda in the north of South Africa. He grew up in hardship, raised by his mother after his father left when he was a baby, shunted about between relatives and at one time, he says, going seven days without food.
This smiling man went to Michigan hardened by life and by years in the discipline of Durandt’s gym. They, too, were a solid, positive unit from the moment they arrived to the moment they left.
Ndou gave everything he had and there is no disgrace in coming up short in a smashing fight against one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Ndou went into the ring wearing a signed patch given to him by Nelson Mandela and fought with the kind of courage predicted by Durandt when he said: “Phillip is not fighting for himself or a camp, but for a nation.”
At home, Ndou said, his family, including his fiancée, were praying for victory.
At the weigh-in, there was a row when the commission used a bizarre set of scales that had different figures on the front to those on the back. When Mayweather weighed in exactly on 135lbs on the side at which the commissioner was looking, on the back, where Durandt was standing, the suggestion was that it was closer to 136lbs. Therefore, he protested and people began shouting and jostling. Eventually, Durandt accepted the commission ruling but went away still convinced an injustice had been done.
This kind of stuff is exasperating. It is 2003, not 1953. Every commission in the world should insist on digital scales with a large screen so that everyone can see for themselves what the fighters weigh without this kind of controversy occurring again and again.
Ndou looked relaxed in the ring as if he felt his moment had come. The man had won 31 of his 32 pro fights, 30 by knockout or stoppage, and had genuine belief in himself.
Those who saw Anthony Campbell send him sprawling beneath the bottom rope at the Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre years ago believed his chin was suspect, but Durandt gets genuinely irritated by that.
He says it happened for one reason only: that on the night, Campbell was substantially heavier and nailed his man with a good shot. It, he said, bore no relevance to the rest of his career.
It remained in the mind, though, as Mayweather opened up within seconds of the first bell.
Dressed in a pair of fur-edged shorts provided by a company owned by former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman (who was in his corner), Mayweather disorganised Ndou with an attack which included a cracking right hand.
The South African’s chin held firm, as if to prove Nick’s point.
Ndou (9st 8 1/2lbs) came back and got his left jab working. He got his gloves up, blocking Mayweather’s punches, and repeatedly tried to counter the champion’s rights over the top with lashing rights to the body.
He walked onto a perfectly picked right hand near the end of the first but didn’t blink. Inside, Ndou was tied up, but he did land a short right hook of his own that made Mayweather back off.
Referee Frank Garza ordered grease to be wiped from Ndou’s face at the start of the second.
Ndou took another right, but kept punching, and one of his shots made Mayweather skate away and regroup.
Ndou’s jabs went in two or three times without reply. He worked the body and kept the pressure coming.
Mayweather did land a hard left hook but made mistakes, lunging in, and wasn’t finding a rhythm. Ndou may have missed a lot but won the session clearly.
The pattern continued until halfway through round three, with Ndou applying good pressure, working inside while Mayweather held.
At ringside, you could almost hear the slick American thinking, waiting, discovering how to deal with this, and then as if he’d found the answers, or at least understood what Ndou was about, he raised the pace and took command, jabbing well on the move.
Suddenly, Ndou wasn’t as effective – was getting hit more. Right hands bounced off his jaw and a left hook to the body thudded home. He stood and punched back but the pendulum had swung.
Mayweather opened round four with a classy burst that had Ndou twisting away and avoiding most of them. As soon as the champion relaxed the pace, the South African came on again.
Mayweather was more accurate and more economical, but Ndou stayed calm under fire and tried to keep his jab working. Unfortunately, it was becoming tentative,
a little lazier.
Towards the end of the fourth, Ndou was hurt for the first time by a left hook to the body and left hook to the head, but again he worked his way back and Mayweather smiled.
The fifth was one of the best world championship rounds in recent memory. Ndou was nailed by another right hand and walked through it, came forward throwing a stream of punches, but his defences were being picked apart.
He began to lose balance, and then suddenly, Mayweather hurt him badly with right hands and I thought he must go down. Ndou swayed, he stumbled, but he stayed on his feet.
He threw a right hand here and there to stay in the fight but Mayweather blasted him with full-blooded shots from either hand and the end seemed imminent.
Finally, Ndou cracked in a defiant right and the champion smiled at him in acknowledgement and backed off.
And incredibly, the lanky South African chased after him, digging into his personal resolve to let punches go again.
Mayweather, temporarily surprised, was bulled to the ropes and took time to demonstrate his defensive skills, anticipating the punches, taking some but avoiding most. Ndou cracked him with several shots, though, before Mayweather responded again, blazing back to regain command in a toe-to-toe punch-out.
Durandt poured water on Ndou at the bell, but early in the sixth, the challenger was knocked into the ropes again. The softening-up process continued, but Ndou was still on his toes, still looking for openings.
After two jabs and a right hand, Ndou went over, but Garza ruled it a push and didn’t count. Whatever the accuracy of that, the strength was draining from Phillip by the second.
His heart never faltered though, even when he shipped full-blooded right hands. He was unsteady on his legs but kept trying to come forward, kept trying to land with some miracle, fight-turning punch.
Mayweather took a right cross, then a jab, but then hurt Ndou with body shots.
The South African corner, led by Durandt and Tommy Brooks, gave their man one more round but he couldn’t make it through it.
Mayweather landed two left hooks to the head, then another one and Ndou took them again. He tried to counter on the inside, but it was beginning to be sickening.
The champion worked his body. Ndou kept his gloves high, but gradually they began to drop. Floyd was patient, as the best are, then suddenly switched to the head and finished the job.
Halfway through the round, two right hands took everything out of Ndou and a third one sent him down, Mayweather instinctively throwing a left hook and another right as he reached the floor.
Even as referee Garza began to count, Durandt was on the ring apron with the towel. Ndou spotted him and shook his head to indicate, “Don’t stop it”.
Garza didn’t see it because Durandt was behind him, so Ndou got up but reeled into the ropes, his legs ‘gone’, and the fight was rightly stopped with 1-50 on the clock.
Mayweather defended the WBC lightweight belt for the third time, scored his most dramatic win since his five-knockdown defeat of Diego Corrales, and improved his own record to 31-0 (21). This was his 13th world title fight.