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?
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.