Floyd Mayweather has never been quiet when it comes to singing his own praises. There's no reason he should be. In a professional career that has lasted 43 bouts and more than 16 years, he has never lost, has never been held to a draw and has rarely been in competitive fights.
But every great champion grows old. And by historical standards, Mayweather is already living on borrowed time.
To be perched at the top of the sport at age 36 already puts Mayweather in a rather unprecedented situation. Fighters older than him have won world titles, but nobody has remained as a pound-for-pound star as long as he has.
By the time he was 36 years old, Sugar Ray Leonard was in his second retirement after a unanimous-decision loss to Terry Norris. Tommy Hearns was fighting the likes of Freddie Delgado and Lenny LaPaglia as a cruiserweight, already two years beyond his second loss to Iran Barkley.
At 36, Muhammad Ali was soon to drop a split decision to Leon Spinks. Sugar Ray Robinson had a couple of world title runs in front of him at age 36, but he had also dropped fights by that point to guys who couldn't have stayed in the ring with him for a handful of rounds when he was at his best.
Yet Mayweather at 36 remains the universally acknowledged top star in the sport. And he just signed a three-year deal with Showtime, so it would seem he plans to hang around until nearly age 40.
Of course, this is a different era, when breakthroughs in training and conditioning have allowed athletes to extend what were once viewed as hard limits on productive peak years.
Mayweather is a classic example of the smart modern athlete. Whatever other drama has surrounded him outside of the ring, he has always approached his conditioning like a committed professional, remaining close to his fighting weight year round.
A fighter like Ricky Hatton, who notoriously ate and drank himself up to 60 or more pounds above where he should have been between fights, is going to wear out his body much quicker than a fighter who treats his body correctly on a day-to-day basis. Through proper physical conditioning, Mayweather has extended his peak in a manner similar to Juan Manuel Marquez and Bernard Hopkins.
Even more important is that Mayweather hasn't been through all the wars that those earlier fighters endured. Few of his fights have even been competitive. His slick, counterpunching style has been able to protect his body from absorbing the punishment that is normally par for the course in a top fighter's career.
Still, boxing has always been mostly a young man's sport. And sooner or later time will catch up with even the Money Team.
Don't forget how Roy Jones Jr. seemed to go from the pound-for-pound king to a guy everybody wishes would retire practically overnight.
In his last fight almost a year ago now, Mayweather won an entertaining yet relatively easy unanimous decision over Miguel Cotto. It was viewed as his most exciting fight in years, as Mayweather chose to engage Cotto repeatedly in exchanges, often with his back to the ropes.
Mayweather's nose was bloodied in the bout, but the damage appeared chiefly cosmetic. He lost more rounds than he usually does, though still not many, and he once more avoided significant punishment.
Mayweather has a fighting style that is designed to age well. He can win fights without the benefit of a young man's legs. While he has a terrific jab and great lateral movement, he most excels at making opponents miss at close range and then making them pay for it.
Mayweather's shell defense is nearly impenetrable. Trapping him on the ropes means fighting him on the terrain where he is most comfortable. He has always benefited from lightning hand speed, but he relies as much on timing—and timing is a product of experience and repetition as much as natural ability and is often an area where veterans can even up the odds against younger and quicker men.
Mayweather's style makes it difficult to assess how much time might have slowed him down so far. After fighting Cotto, Mayweather claimed to have made a deliberate choice to engage more aggressively in order to put on a show and entertain the fans.
But a lot of observers have insisted that Cotto deserves credit for roughing Mayweather up and extending him further than many thought would be possible. Maybe it was just the superficial blood trickling from his nostrils, but Mayweather did seem slightly more vulnerable in the aftermath of his win over Cotto.
Cotto's next fight after Mayweather was an even less competitive loss to Austin Trout last December. Trout won more rounds against Cotto than Mayweather did, and some of Mayweather's ubiquitous detractors have pointed to this as a sign that Money has lost a step after all.
I don't buy it. Fighters make fights, and Cotto was ready to put on the fight of his life against Mayweather. He made a terrific stand, and Mayweather still beat him by a fairly comfortable margin.
Against Trout, Cotto faced a hungry and talented young star who was ready for the break that would take him into the big time. Trout came in with the perfect game plan and carried the night.
I expect Robert Guerrero to be a tougher opponent for Mayweather than Cotto was. Though smaller than Cotto, Guerrero is a tenacious, skilled fighter in his prime. He is a multidimensional boxer who can brawl intelligently and effectively, as he demonstrated against Andre Berto last November.
This fight against Mayweather is Guerrero's chance to ascend to a new level of success. Just as he jumped on Berto from the opening bell, he will look to make this fight with Mayweather ugly early.
But ultimately, I don't see May 4 as being the night that Mayweather gets old before our eyes. If Guerrero fights similarly to how he fought against Berto, the bout will be exciting, but Mayweather will get the better of the exchanges and end up closing one, or both, or Guerrero's eyes with accurate counter-shots.
Still, I expect Mayweather will take more punishment than he ever has before. Guerrero is going to land some of his punches. He's too tough and determined not to.
When it's all over on May 4, I expect 36-year-old Floyd Mayweather to be standing in the ring and crowing in victory once more. But while we may not see definite signs of it that night in the ring, deep down the aging champion may feel every single one of his 36 years.
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