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The gamble Floyd Mayweather Jr. needs to take

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

In around 29 months' time, Floyd Mayweather Jr. will likely quickstep his way into boxing retirement, with the things he cares about the most firmly intact.

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Andre Ward is widely considered the second-best boxer in the world, behind only Floyd Mayweather Jr. (Getty Im …

Mayweather keeps score on his own success with a two-fisted combination of his bank balance and the '0' at the end of his 44-0 career record. By the time his six-fight, $200 million Showtime contract expires, probably sometime towards the end of 2015, both should remain in healthy order.

Yet if boxing's pound-for-pound king wants to give his legacy a long-lasting boost and provide the fight game and its loyal fans with a desperately needed injection of excitement, there is only one legitimate option – and it's not Canelo Alvarez.

That would be to fight Andre Ward, widely acclaimed as the second-best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet, a bigger man than Mayweather and an outstanding technician with a record (26-0) just as blemish-free as that held by "Money."

"If I fought Floyd it would be a great fight, pretty much the best thing you could see," Ward told Yahoo! Sports in a telephone conversation on Sunday night. "It would be a high-level chess match, but not one that would lack any action. Just two guys who both offensively and defensively are at the highest level of the game, the highest level of skill."

But before fans get too excited about seeing boxing's best fighter play out his career by taking on a sterner test rather than picking his way through outmatched opponents, it should be noted that the Ward option would pose a severe risk for Mayweather. And for all the recklessness Mayweather shows in his personal life, when it comes to who he chooses to face inside the ring, the cautious option is normally preferred.

Until this point, the only sparring Mayweather has shown any interest in exchanging with Ward has been of the verbal variety, in a series of barbed comments deriding the 2004 Olympic gold medalist's relative lack of profile outside the confines of boxing circles.

But while wars of words have a history of ending up in organized contests billed as grudge matches for PR purposes, evidence suggests that Mayweather will keep Ward at arm's length unless he has a significant change of heart and a shift in mentality.

The potential upside for Mayweather largely centers around his legacy and his stated desire to be remembered among the eternal greats of the sport. If that need ever becomes more important to him than simply racking up the cash and victories, then this fight could happen.

But to make it happen, Mayweather would have to move up in weight and even then would still be facing a significant discrepancy.

Ward has fought his entire professional career at the super welterweight limit of 168 pounds, although he said in a recent interview that he would be prepared to come down to 160 (middleweight) if Mayweather was the opponent. However, Mayweather has never gone higher than 154 pounds, for his 2007 split decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya. He will meet Alvarez on September 14 at a catchweight of 152.

Given how boxers rehydrate and bulk up again in the time between the weigh-in and stepping into the ring a day later, Ward could be up to 18 pounds bigger than Mayweather if the two actually squared off.

Yet greats such as Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson, considered by many to be the two best to have ever laced gloves, both stepped into higher categories, moves that did much to further enhance their reputations for posterity.

Those are the kind of fighters Mayweather says he wants to be likened to and the ball is largely in his court.

There is not much more than Ward can do and he is currently looking at options within his own division, such as Englishman Carl Froch. Mayweather fights who Mayweather wants to fight and this will only happen if he suddenly decides it is a good idea, whatever Ward says or does.

Regarding the weight, even going to 160 would severely drain Ward, who carries not a scrap of fat at 168 and would have to effectively boil down his own muscles to meet the lower limit. Any more weight loss would be impossible.

"Going down that much weight to 160 would be entering the land of the unknown," Ward said. "I would have to hire specialists to do it safely without being completely drained. It would hurt and be incredibly difficult as it would be carving muscles off my body. You would have to be careful where you lost the muscle and how."

There is also another potential hang up: Mayweather is committed to Showtime, while Ward recently signed a deal with HBO. That's not a completely insurmountable hurdle to overcome, as in 2002, promoters were able after years of talks to put together Lennox Lewis (HBO) against Mike Tyson (Showtime), but it is a massive mountain that needs to be climbed

Speaking to Ward, it was easy to sense some frustration that his profile is not as high as might be expected for a boxer of his ability. While he admits that his determination to live a clean, uncontroversial, religious life takes away some of the gossip-page headlines reserved for more outrageous athletes, he admitted he expects more from manager James Prince and promoter Dan Goossen when it comes to furthering his name.

Mayweather's name needs no more recognition; he is one of the most famous sportsmen on the planet and rakes in extraordinary sums of money for each of his contests.

Only if and when he starts to see the lift that a bigger challenge, against a bigger fighter, in a fight far more intriguing than anything else he is likely to line up, would provide to his place in history, can boxing's best fight become a reality.

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