As the inaugural Showtime All Access program began, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was lounging in a comfy bed and confidently explaining to an interviewer why the latest incarnation of a pre-fight documentary series starring him would be better than its 24/7 predecessors.
But as I listened to the premium cable mantra I’ve heard him parrot for more than half a decade, something else made an impression on me.
All of a sudden, he looked old.
Admittedly, at age 36 and after spending most of two decades in close proximity to professionals trying to punch him in the face, a body’s got a right to grab a nap.
And though he’s barely been hurt, hardly been cut and never been pushed to the brink of actually losing a pro fight in those 17 years, it’d be unfair to say Mayweather has had it too easy.
His training work ethic has long been ranked among the sport’s best, and his ability to maintain such high-end output in the ring on fight night—43 wins, championships in five weight classes—is a marvel for guy born before eight of the top 10 contenders to his current 147-pound WBC throne.
He’s six years older than challenger Robert Guerrero, but is nonetheless a solid betting favorite for their fight in Las Vegas on May 4. Meanwhile, Zab Judah, who’s eight months Mayweather’s junior, is a big underdog against 140-pound champ Danny Garcia, aged 25, this weekend in Brooklyn.
So, upon further review, I wondered if I was reading too much in to Mayweather’s TV look.
He may have been up late. Perhaps the lighting was bad. Or maybe the 10 weeks he spent in the Clark County (Nev.) lockup last year took a bigger toll on his complexion than I assumed it might.
But then I remembered I’m not the only one who’s noticed.
So did Guerrero.
“(Mayweather) knows deep down in his heart, his legs are starting to get a little slower,” he said on Showtime. “He’s not moving the way he used to move. He knows.”
The temptation exists to dismiss Guerrero’s assessment as predictable blather from one fighter trying to get into another’s head. But, while the idea of the “Ghost” attempting to rile Mayweather is hardly unique, the tack he chose while doing so veers wildly from his predecessors.
Many past victims—Mssrs. Gatti, Hatton, Ortiz and Cotto, for example—claimed they’d be first to crack the Mayweather code, simply because their brand of high-intensity combat would be more than a man once billed as “Pretty Boy” could possibly handle.
And while Guerrero’s hell-bent-for-leather ring style has clear similarities to all four, he chose instead to target his foe’s advanced age—and not his own superior brawn—as a primary path to success.
It’s got me thinking he might be on to something.
As much as any fighter in a generation, Mayweather’s career arc bears a strong resemblance to that of Roy Jones Jr., who stockpiled belts in four weight classes (160, 168, 175 and heavyweight) while beating each of the first 49 men to face him in the ring.
No one worked harder in the gym. No one’s six-pack was more defined. And no one beat any better a collection of opponents—Hopkins, Toney, Hill and McCallum, among others—any more one-sidedly while using all manner of athletic gifts to make it look simple.
But once those gifts went stale, problems quickly followed.
Upon reaching age 35, Jones was KO’d by a single left hand from 5-to-1 underdog Antonio Tarver, knocked cold by Glen Johnson in a would-be comeback four months later and landed unanimously on the short end of a 12-round decision in a Tarver return over his next three fights.
In fact, in 14 bouts since the milestone birthday, he’s a pedestrian 7-7 with four KO losses.
Naturally, to think Mayweather could follow the same path boggles the mind. But to anyone who’d seen a nonpareil Jones in his first 14 years as a pro, the idea of him losing once—let alone seven times—was equally ridiculous based on the existing body of work.
In Guerrero—like Jones did with Tarver—Mayweather is facing a determined and confident opponent with one-punch southpaw pop and the mettle to take a few shots to dish a few of his own. Like Tarver, Guerrero’s been a world champion. And like Tarver, he’s got a tangible chip on his shoulder.
If revisionist history is your angle, he’s got a puncher’s chance.
Of course, even if Mayweather clears the May 4 hurdle, it’s not as if the road between Guerrero and completion of a 30-month Showtime deal signed in February is lined with creampuffs.
His pals at Golden Boy Promotions work with two other champs at 147 pounds and two more at 140, not to mention a 22-year-old named Canelo Alvarez who drew 40,000 to San Antonio last weekend to watch him pass a “Money” audition – and win another title at 154.
That bout—if not on Mexican Independence Day in September—is a natural for Cinco de Mayo 2014.
And Mayweather, if he gets to 2016 with his zero still intact, will have beaten the calendar, too.
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