COMMENTARY | As Floyd Mayweather nears his thirty-sixth birthday on February 24, many will dwell on the career that "could've been" rather than the career that actually happened. Looking up and down his 17-year career resume, the names not on the list are just as important as those actually on the running tally.
Critics will blindly dwell on those Mayweather has never faced. Fans will just as blindly dwell on the high-profile fighters he did beat. The two sides of the debate will clearly never agree.
The general consensus among many, however, is that Mayweather's legacy will be defined by the negative side of this fan debate. Years from now, the talented fighter will surely be in the Hall of Fame, but with a bit of an unconscious asterisk because of the perception that he had somehow earned his star without facing true risk.
But is this fair? Is it even logical?
Put aside the dislike and the well-earned bad feelings generated by "Money" Mayweather. The five-division world champ has given the boxing world plenty of reasons to dislike him and actively root against his best interest, but let's put all that aside for a moment.
The problems with Mayweather and his opponent selection seem to have begun with his move up to junior welterweight and, not coincidentally, with his move away from Top Rank Promotions and Bob Arum.
From that point forward, Mayweather would not get the benefit of any media doubt when it came to career moves he made. Right or wrong, justified or not, Mayweather would be wearing a target on his back as he took steps toward unprecedented career independence.
Back in 2006, Mayweather would be drilled by the media during the press tour to announce his welterweight bout with Zab Judah. He would be accused of ducking Carlos Baldomir, who had just beaten Judah, and accused of avoiding the UK's Ricky Hatton, who had decided to enter the 147 lb. division after a long, successful run at junior welterweight.
The media outcry would continue until he actually defeated Baldomir and Hatton. Then, Baldomir and Hatton would be cast as less-than-satisfactory opposition.
Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley were also two fighters Mayweather was accused of "ducking." Both would eventually be handled solidly by Mayweather-- And then be quickly dismissed as washed up and past their primes.
Yes, the timing of the bouts was convenient for Mayweather, but not any more convenient than the timing behind Manny Pacquiao's wins over Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, and Shane Mosley.
Well-timed wins over faded, big name opposition is as standard in boxing as ring card girls and concession stand beer. No major fighter, especially in this day and age, can claim clean hands when it comes to cherry-picked opposition.
So, who else was there to fight? Who else did Mayweather "avoid?"
After seeing the utter impossibility of getting Bob Arum to book one of his guys in a main stage bout against a non-Top Rank fighter, would anyone be gullible enough to believe that this could ever have been in the cards? Even back when Arum was issuing a public challenge for Mayweather to face Margarito in 2006, it all seemed to be with a bit of a "wink-wink, nudge-nudge." Mayweather had just left Top Rank and was closing in on the lineal welterweight title when the alleged challenge to face the still relatively-unknown Margarito was issued. The whole public relations ploy smelled of rotten baloney.
What about Paul Williams?
The lanky, awkward southpaw was certainly an avoided fighter. Avoided by Mayweather, but also avoided by every other elite welterweight.
At the end of the day, all of this talk about avoiding true "threats" and being unwilling to risk his undefeated record comes down to Manny Pacquiao. And, without going through the entire Mayweather-Pacquiao fiasco for the nth time, a fair and honest assessment can be made that neither side was exactly eager to actually put this mega-fight together.
The real reason behind the negative strokes with which Mayweather's career has been painted may have more to do with personal prejudices and general naiveté than actual reality.
Never underestimate the visceral, perhaps subconscious, dislike generated by a fighter who insists on career autonomy and financial independence. Fighters are supposed to be quiet, do as they're told, and be happy with the money they're allowed to keep from their efforts. They're supposed to look tough, ball up their fists on command, and let management do what they want.
A fighter actively looking out for his own best interest is a definite no-no in boxing and it's something frowned upon, even among high-minded boxing writers and analysts, who tend to go along with the worst aspects of the sport far more than they care to admit.
Mayweather is, by no means, an innocent victim in the effort to assassinate his legacy. More often than not, the genius-level fighter has been a hall of fame nitwit when it comes to public relations. A bad attitude and apparent disdain for his own profession tends to rub people the wrong way. Mayweather should've been told long ago that, in the boxing world, facts rarely stand in the way of a good, self-righteous vendetta.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.