LAS VEGAS – Floyd Mayweather Jr. can shelve the talk about Sugar Ray Robinson. And Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler or Aaron Pryor for that matter.
He retained his title as the world's best active fighter – barely – and claimed the super welterweight belt by scoring a razor-thin decision over Oscar De La Hoya Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden.
Mayweather turned in his usual excellent performance defensively, using his quickness to force De La Hoya to miss 79 percent of his punches.
"The man could barely hit me," Mayweather said. "They can't all be superstar performances. But what more do they want?"
He brought the questions on himself, though, with his brash pre-fight talk. Mayweather insisted he is the greatest fighter who ever lived, but he was locked in a life-and-death struggle with a 34-year-old part-time boxer who'd lost to fighters Mayweather had derisively dismissively as bums and sparring partners.
It was a fight that could have gone either way, but a fight that could have gone either way is not good enough when you want to consider yourself the best ever.
“Sugar Ray Robinson? Ray Robinson and Mayweather don't even belong in the same sentence,” De La Hoya trainer Freddie Roach said. “Come on.”
Judges Jerry Roth and Chuck Giampa had Mayweather by scores of 115-113 and 116-112. But Tommy Kaczmarek saw it 115-113 for De La Hoya.
That in and of itself was a victory of sorts for De La Hoya, because it was the first time Mayweather had not won by unanimous decision or knockout.
As significant a victory as it was for Mayweather – it was the fifth division in which he won a world title – it wasn't what he needed to back up his outrageous boasts.
That honor was, is and, given the dearth of quality young athletes who even consider boxing these days, probably always will remain the property of Ray Robinson.
There was plenty of doubt on Saturday if Mayweather was even the best fighter in the ring.
Mayweather simply doesn't have the offense to be regarded as anything more than the best fighter in a diluted era.
He won world titles at 130, 135, 140, 147 and now, 154 pounds and is a lock to be chosen for the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
He said after the fight that "as of right now, I am officially retired," but few believe that decision to last, particularly with the lure of a lucrative rematch.
De La Hoya said he'll consider a rematch, but judging by his history, it will mean another excruciating loss and another monstrous payday. De La Hoya, who could make upwards of $40 million from Saturday's bout when all revenues are counted, will be remembered as a very good fighter just a shade short of great.
Mayweather will be judged on different terms. He's run the table, winning all 38 of his bouts, with few of them even close.
De La Hoya refused to compare Mayweather with the other men who had beaten him, saying, " (Bernard) Hopkins is a great fighter, (Shane) Mosley is a great fighter and Mayweather is a great fighter."
Mayweather controlled the bout when it was in the center of the ring and appeared to hurt De La Hoya a few times early in the fight with straight right hands.
De La Hoya acknowledged feeling Mayweather's power, but insisted he was never in trouble of going down.
But if, say, Thomas Hearns had hit De La Hoya with the rights that Mayweather did, De La Hoya might not have been around to talk about it.
And for all Mayweather has accomplished – and it's a lot – that's where he comes short when you’re separating the best of the best. Don Sutton and Sandy Koufax are both Hall of Fame pitchers, but there's obviously a vast gulf between the two.
His hands are tender and he complained of pain in both hands Saturday. They, perhaps, didn't allow him to punch with the authority that would have been necessary to consider him as, say, one of the 10 best ever.
Mayweather pleaded his case Saturday, pointing out that he was much smaller than De La Hoya. He said he weighed 148 pounds before the fight, a day after officially weighing in at 150.
He noted that he began at 130 – as did De La Hoya – and said he felt his defense and his ability to compete in so many weight classes without a loss should boost him over Robinson.
"It would have been hard for those guys to hit me," Mayweather said of Robinson, Pryor and Hearns. "You can't hit what you can't see."
But what was obvious to see Saturday was that as good as Mayweather is, he's simply going to have to settle for being the best of a bad era.
- Oscar De La Hoya
- Sugar Ray Robinson