Floyd Mayweather Jr. has been the top-ranked fighter of his generation and is widely considered to be the best fighter in the world.
He will be putting his legacy and his reputation on the line when he steps into the ring with Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero May 4 in Las Vegas.
Guerrero (31-1-1) is an excellent technical fighter who knows he is getting the opportunity of a lifetime when he steps into the ring with Mayweather (43-0-0). Guerrero comes across as serious in his training in Showtime's All-Access program that previews the fight.
Mayweather does not seem as serious. When he goes into the gym for a 1 a.m. training session, Mayweather jumps rope like Sugar Ray Robinson once did and is stellar on the speed bag. However, instead of continuing with his training effort, Mayweather goes off to play pickup basketball.
Mayweather is a supremely confident fighter who realizes that his training methods are unusual. He does not believe that Guerrero or any other fighter will ever beat him.
But what if Mayweather's carelessness costs him against Guerrero? What if he runs into Guerrero's best punch and gets knocked out in the process? What if a Guerrero flurry stuns Mayweather and it results in a loss for the best fighter in the world.
How badly would a loss harm Mayweather's legacy?
Mayweather is not a machine. He takes great delight in having a clean record with zeroes in the loss and draw columns.
The greatest fighters in the history of the sport have been beaten. The aforementioned Robinson, the legendary Joe Louis and the iconic Muhammad Ali all lost multiple fights. They are perhaps the three best fighters of all time.
Rocky Marciano and Gene Tunney both finished their careers with undefeated records and it's something that Mayweather would like to duplicate.
But if he were to lose a fight to Guerrero, the fight would probably do more damage to Mayweather's psyche than it would to his legacy.
If Mayweather were to get knocked out—a long shot at best—it would truly be a shocker and almost certainly a fluke. If he were to lose a close decision—thanks to his less-than-stellar training habits—it would create a lot more interest in the sport.
Mayweather would need some time to come to grips with what happened. Once he recognizes a loss as reality, he would probably redouble his training efforts throughout the remainder of his 30-month contract with Showtime (source: ESPN.com).
Boxing fans would probably see Mayweather's best effort in years in a rematch with Guerrero, and in two or three subsequent fights.
So a loss would do very little to hurt his long-term legacy.
But what if he didn't take the loss professionally? What if his desire to complete his career with an undefeated record has been his primary motivation? What if he couldn't put it behind him?
Then his reputation would take a hit. All fighters get hit. All fighters get hurt. Nearly every fighter loses in the ring.
You have to get up after a defeat and get back to business. If you can't, your reputation suffers.
Mayweather is a professional. That's the bottom line. If the unimaginable happened and he lost to Guerrero, he would gather himself, rededicate himself and then return to top form.