Premium Issue Opinion

Was Floyd Mayweather greater than Muhammad Ali?

Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor
Esther Lin/Showtime
Floyd Mayweather thinks so but Jack Hirsch explains why he can't agree

FLOYD MAYWEATHER, unsurprisingly, believes he was greater than Muhammad Ali when reacting to ESPN recently declaring Ali as the greatest fighter in history.

In rating the greatness of fighters the first thing that jumps out at you is their defining victories. For Ali it is Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Joe Frazier. The Liston and Foreman wins are particularly legendary because Ali was a prohibitive underdog against two champions who were touted as being invincible at the time. The defeat of Frazier in their rubber match is rated by some as the greatest fight in boxing history.

Mayweather makes his case with wins over the likes of Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya. Of course, some try to diminish his feats by saying the aforementioned were past their best or in the case of Alvarez too inexperienced. A careful review of their records is enough to discount that claim in most cases.

Mayweather makes it clear he respects Ali as both a great fighter and social icon, but wistfully asks, “How do you rate a guy number one who lost to someone with only seven fights?” referring to the first Leon Spinks bout. He claims that Ken Norton deserved to beat Ali three times. But Norton deserved the decisions over Ali no more than Jose Luis Castillo did over Mayweather in their first match in 2002. And ask yourself this: what is worse, Ali losing a 15-round split decision to an Olympic gold medalist in Spinks (which he avenged) or Mayweather going into the 10th round against Conor McGregor who is not even a boxer?

Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather
Esther Lin/Showtime

Mayweather mocks the rope-a-dope, saying that the idea of boxing is to hit and not get hit. Taking punches, said Mayweather, is contrary to everything he was taught at a young age and a bad example to set for young fighters. He has a point. Mayweather is undoubtedly one of the finest defensive boxers in history, rarely hit solidly throughout his illustrious career. But so was the first coming of Ali. Mayweather mastered the shoulder roll to avoid getting hit, Ali used his incredible speed and reflexes to pull back from punches as his modus operandi. Only after Ali came back from exile were we then introduced to his laying on the ropes.

As further proof of his superiority, Mayweather uses the fact that he was unbeaten and Ali lost five times. But that claim is indirectly contradicted by Mayweather himself when he named his own personal best five in history, that was naturally headed by himself. In fifth was Ali, the only heavyweight in the group. If Mayweather was to use records as his criteria then surely he has to put Rocky Marciano ahead of Ali, being that he went his career without having lost. While he is at it, Mayweather can also rate both Andre Ward and Joe Calzaghe ahead of Ray Robinson and Ray Leonard since they were unbeaten while the Sugar men were not.

Even if we take the big three of Liston, Foreman and Frazier out of the equation, Ali’s opposition stacks up favourably to Mayweather’s. He routinely fought former champions and top contenders like Norton, Archie Moore, Doug Jones, Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, George Chuvalo, Jimmy Ellis, Joe Bugner, and Ron Lyle. There was the occasional soft touch, but that was more the exception than the rule.

Mayweather’s best argument for topping Ali is his longevity. Floyd always treated the sport with respect, training hard for every match, only getting complacent for his last fight against McGregor which in reality was a glorified exhibition. He would be given a scare on occasion, but outside of the first Castillo fight, which could have gone either way, Mayweather’s victories were without controversy. The same can not be said about Ali.

But, bottom line, comparisons are futile. Ali and Mayweather boxed in different weight classes, during different eras. Let’s settle the argument by saying that both were the best of their eras and leave it at that.

1 Comment

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  • Floyd doesn’t get that having a 0 on your record without REALLY challenging yourself is meaningless – not fighting Pacquiao in his prime is the most obvious confirmation that Mayweather Jr just didn’t have the fighting attitude of a Robinson, Ali, Duran or Leonard.

    Ali fought the best heavyweights in a great era, the 70s, doing this when he was past his prime. Yet he beat them all, sometimes after making adjustments following a close loss. Whereas Floyd chose opponents according to those who maximised earnings whilst minimised risk, in order not to lose his precious 0 – this meant he chose to fight opponents when they were well past their best (eg: Pacquiao, De La Hoya, Mosley & many more) or some other advantage such as the opponent being too young (Canelo) or too small (JMM) or not being able to fight in their usual style by a conniving referee (Hatton). He also managed to swerve some dominant world champs as he moved through the weights such as Margarito, Williams, Wright, Tszyu & Casamayor.

    In all honesty, despite his precious 0, I wouldn’t rank Mayweather Jr in the top 20 of the greatest fighters of all-time – imho he is a fake, a wanabee great who didn’t have the intestinal fortitude necessary to become a real great.


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