LAS VEGAS – There was never any question what was going to happen Saturday in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was too big, too fast, too smart and too strong for Juan Manuel Marquez, who had nothing more than a fluke chance at victory.
Mayweather should undoubtedly reassume the throne atop the various pound-for-pound rankings.
Best fighter in the world, though?
Well, that might be another question.
Mayweather put on a boxing clinic in outclassing Marquez, a guy who gave current pound-for-pound kingpin Manny Pacquiao all he could handle in a pair of fights. Marquez and Pacquiao fought to a draw and a split decision.
Marquez, though, looked like he didn't belong in the same ring with Mayweather, who won by counts of 120-107, 119-108 and 118-109. His dominance was such that Marquez connected on an absurdly low 12 percent of his punches (just 69 of 583) and landed but 21 jabs in a 12-round fight.
Mayweather would beat Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley or anyone else whose name was mentioned as potential opponents Saturday. Mayweather is 40-0 and has rarely been challenged in any of those fights over 12 years.
Yet, after the bout, there was the sense that while Mayweather, who was fighting for the first time in 21 months, had clearly established himself as the finest boxer in the world, something was missing.
He knocked Marquez down in the second round but couldn't finish him off. He was also extraordinarily gracious and shook his head at the hard shots Marquez was able to take.
"Marquez is tough as hell," Mayweather said. "Tough. Tough. I hit him with some shots and I said to myself, 'I know he's going to go with this one.' He kept coming, though. I guess that's the Mexican warrior in him."
Mayweather made Marquez look like a rank amateur in a lopsided fight that was the complete opposite of the grueling, close bouts between Pacquiao and Marquez. However, the crowd clearly appreciated the back-and-forth and the volume of punches that were landed in the Pacquiao-Marquez contests more than the near-perfect exhibition of boxing that Mayweather put on Saturday.
"Pacquiao has skills, but he just doesn't have the skills to match with Floyd," Mayweather's father, Floyd Sr., said in the afterglow of the win. "A lot of people keep saying that Marquez may have won both of them fights [with Pacquiao]. I don't know. People say that. But Pacquiao didn't do to him what Little Floyd did. Did you see what he just did?"
It was inspiring to see a boxer as well-rounded as Mayweather. In one sequence late in the fight in the Marquez corner, Marquez threw six hard punches at Mayweather, none of which connected and none of which came close to connecting. Mayweather blocked one with his shoulder, ducked under four and picked one off with the glove.
Still, while tremendous defense may sell tickets in football, it doesn't often excite more than the purists in boxing. There were almost as many questions about what Mayweather did wrong on Saturday as there were about his brilliance in winning 33 of 36 scored rounds against the man who entered the fight No. 2 in the Yahoo! Sports rankings.
"He was a little too big for Marquez, even though Marquez is a great warrior," said Mosley, who made a spirited postfight campaign for a 2010 bout against Mayweather. Mosley said a bout between he and Mayweather would be the year's biggest and the modern version of the 1981 classic between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns.
Marquez fought most of his career at featherweight and had never fought above lightweight before stepping in for the big payday against Mayweather.
"You had two counter punchers and Mayweather is a touch faster and he's just bigger, bigger all the way around," Mosley said. "He was probably 20 pounds heavier than [Marquez]. If Marquez would have knocked him down or done any kind of damage, I would have been very surprised."
Marquez agreed that the weight was an issue, but he praised Mayweather's defensive prowess. And he touched on the issue that attracts so many fight fans to Pacquiao.
"They have different styles," Marquez said. "Floyd is very clever. He's a defensive fighter 100 percent. He's a good counter puncher. Pacquiao is a guy who likes to fight."
Mayweather has the power in his supremely fast hands to hurt any of his potential opponents. But knowing he has such good defense, he rarely takes chances.
His manager, Leonard Ellerbe, said that after he finished up what he had to do at the MGM Grand, he was going to take Mayweather to a photo shoot. Mayweather wore a natty three-piece suit to the news conference and looked like he'd just attended a play rather than someone who had engaged with one of the best fighters in the world for 36 minutes.
That's because Marquez couldn't lay a glove on him.
Mayweather said he was rusty and believes he can be better. His father rated his performance an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 and said his son can commit much better to the body.
Mayweather may be a victim of his own physical gifts. He rarely gets hit and is rarely in trouble. He was a world champion for 10 of his 11 years in boxing before retiring briefly in 2008.
No one has really given him a significant challenge. Genaro Hernandez was a dominant super featherweight in 1998 when Mayweather, barely two years out of the Olympics, gave him a devastating beating in taking his title. Diego Corrales held another version of the 130-pound title and even Mayweather Sr. was concerned about that fight. Mayweather Jr., though, knocked Corrales down five times and stopped him in the 10th.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has blown through pretty much everyone he's faced and hasn't had to swing wildly and battle back after getting in trouble. He doesn't get in trouble, so there's no way to overcome adversity.
On Saturday, he reestablished himself as the best in the world. Until he's challenged, he'll carry the title of world's best boxer, but not its best fighter.
Somehow, though, he probably won't complain about that.