Don't expect much rust from Mayweather

Kevin Iole

LAS VEGAS – Retirements in boxing usually last about as long as the effects of Viagra.

That's especially true when the retiree is only 30, in his prime, routinely earning eight-figure paydays and plows through money about as quickly as Usain Bolt runs the 100.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is hardly the first boxer to voluntarily walk away from the sport. And when he returns on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena to face Juan Manuel Marquez in a 12-round welterweight bout on an HBO pay-per-view card, he'll be an overwhelming favorite to record his 40th victory without a defeat.

Roger Mayweather, his uncle and chief trainer, reacted indignantly when asked what his nephew needed to do to defeat Marquez.

"What does he need to do?" Roger Mayweather said through a sneer. "You serious? What does he need to do? Man, let me tell you something. This is the great Floyd Mayweather we're talking about. What does he need to do? He needs to make sure he don't get lost and finds the MGM all right on Saturday night. That's what he needs to do."

He's taking on the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world in the Yahoo! Sports monthly rankings without a tune-up, without a game plan, without so much as watching a single tape.

Mayweather will have been out of boxing for 21 months when he steps into the ring on Saturday. He knocked out Ricky Hatton in the 10th round of their Dec. 7, 2007, fight, announced his retirement the following June and then announced on May 2 that he would return.

If he needed any advice on what to expect when he climbs back between the ropes, he needed only to ask the fight's promoter, former world champion Oscar De La Hoya. In 2006, in the same ring in which Mayweather and Marquez will fight, De La Hoya returned to boxing after a 20-month absence to knock out Ricardo Mayorga.

Less than a minute into the fight, Mayorga was on the floor, courtesy of a left hook. De La Hoya said that despite the dominant victory, he had more than his share of concerns when he climbed into the ring.

"Everybody has those little insecurities. 'Do I still have it?' 'Can I still do this?' " De La Hoya said. "I had been boxing my whole life. I knew how to fight, but you worry if you'll react the way you need to after you've been away so long.

"I was worried about timing and things like that, making adjustments to the speed of a real fight."

Mayweather was injured in June and forced to reschedule the fight from the original date of July 18, which may turn out to be a blessing for him. That gave him a lot more time to box and get reacquainted with the rhythms of life between the ropes.

He's been sparring consistently, which he insists will help him make the return to competition more smoothly.

"The main thing was to get my timing back, and with a lot of boxing in the gym, I got my timing back," he said.

He said he wouldn't avoid sparring in order to pamper his brittle hands or avoid any other kind of injury.

There's nothing better a boxer can do to get ready for a fight than to, well, fight. Hitting the heavy bag and working the speed bag can only go so far.

"I box every day and I'll box right up until (the fight) is close," Mayweather said. "That's how I stay sharp. It's like a basketball player shooting jumpers. If he takes a week off and then comes back and has a jump-shooting contest, (you can't do that). (Shooting) is how you stay sharp. I'll box right up until it's close to the fight."

He wouldn't admit to any nerves or apprehensions or anything that he perceived might make him appear anything less than Superman. But he's got plenty of boxing history to rely upon, and that should make him feel comfortable. Most of the sport's biggest stars have had long stretches away from the game and have come back and won.

Muhammad Ali had his boxing license suspended because he refused induction into the military. He was off for 43 months and returned to fight Jerry Quarry, a highly regarded heavyweight. Ali was as sharp as ever, cut Quarry to ribbons and stopped him in the third.

Sugar Ray Leonard retired after a Feb. 15, 1982, fight with Bruce Finch, when he learned he had a detached retina. He returned to stop Kevin Howard in the ninth round on May 11, 1984, but not before getting dumped onto his backside. Leonard promptly re-retired after the fight and didn't compete again until beating "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler in one of the sport's most memorable fights some 39 months later.

Others, like the great Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Mike Tyson, George Foreman and more, have taken extended breaks from the sport and returned.

Of that group, only Louis did not have one more title reign.

Their history would suggest that Mayweather's return should be triumphant. His father, Floyd Sr., taught his son to box. He's concerned about the impact of timing, but said he's stressed working hard on the jab.

"The longer you are away, the more timing can become a problem, but Little Floyd has been in the gym every day and working so hard, I think that's not an issue," Mayweather Sr. said. "But I'm stressing the jab with him so much because when you have that jab going for you, everything works off that. It's an offensive and defensive weapon, and it makes up for a lot of other things.

"When I see Little Floyd working behind that jab, I'll know everything is all right."