By George Ogier
Saturday night saw two genuinely modern greats of world boxing step into the ring, continents apart. Floyd Mayweather laced up the gloves for the 44th time as a professional whilst Wladimir Klitschko made his 63rd ring walk in the paid game.
The two men turned pro a little over a month apart after each winning medals at the 1996 Olympics and both have risen to the top of the sport. You could make a strong case that each man would have prospered in any era of boxing such are their gifts and yet people bend over backwards to disparage the achievements of Floyd and Wladimir.
You would struggle to find two more different sportsmen than Floyd Mayweather and Wladimir Klitschko. One is a loud-mouthed braggart with a chequered past and a taste for the overtly flashy. The other is a more thoughtful, reasoned man whose life away from boxing only strays into the public domain as a result of having an actress girlfriend.
However, when it comes to fighting, Floyd and Wlad are matched in their love for the sport and their dominance over those who have tried to topple them from the pinnacle of it. In spite of such imperious careers there is queue a mile long waiting to tell us that Wlad’s an imposter or that Floyd is a runner.
The root of scorn for each man is borne out of a very different set of circumstances. The main point of frustration with Wladimir appears to be that his peers just aren’t very good. It is a perfectly valid point but hardly Klitschko’s fault.
If Wladimir had avoided big names and just coasted to easy title defences then I could understand the anger but the truth isn’t that simple. Wladimir and his brother Vitali are the two best heavyweights on the planet. The only man who might come close is David Haye and Wladimir put such a beating on the Londoner that it left no doubt as to the identity of the world’s best big man.
Klitschko’s next opponent will probably be the unbeaten Russian, Alexander Povetkin in a fight that has been long talked about. Before people rush to suggest that Wlad has been avoiding Povetkin it is worth remembering that the Russian’s camp have shown little appetite for this contest in the past. It took the promise of a huge payday to make the bout a reality.
There is no denying that this a weak era for heavyweights. The two best won’t fight each other – and rightly so – because they are brothers. The challengers are often out of shape or blown up cruiserweights. Let’s be clear though, Wladimir Klitschko would have been a top ten fighter in any era.
Wlad is very good technically and accusations of his being robotic are wide of the mark. He rarely has to deviate from the one-two style that has served him so well but when called upon to do so the Ukrainian has varied his approach. Klitschko is also in great shape and clearly looks after himself between fights. The history of heavyweight boxing is littered with fighters who have taken a relaxed approach to fitness.
It is obviously difficult to compare eras but the fighters from golden ages of the past would be dwarfed by “Dr Steelhammer”. As one writer pointed out, Rocky Marciano wouldn’t have been a heavyweight today. Wlad has also fought “fast” guys and few, if any have made it past his ramrod jab.
Wladimir Klitschko’s record has more than its fair share of mediocre fighters but as they say, a boxer can only beat what is put in front of him. Wlad struggled early on at the elite level but he has ironed out those faults and should now be recognised as an all time great of heavyweight boxing. sixty people have lost to Klitschko and only nine of those opponents have seen the final bell. That is greatness in any era.
The anger directed at Floyd Mayweather is of an altogether different nature. The public don’t often respond well to ostentatious displays of wealth, even less so from a man convicted of domestic violence. Once again though, the off-kilter moral compass of some boxing fans renders that argument useless.
The other big shadow hanging over Floyd is that of Manny Pacquiao. It is hard to escape the feeling that Mayweather avoided the Filipino great when Manny was at his peak. The window of opportunity for that fight has now gone with it being announced that Pacquiao is to fight Brandon Rios later this year.
Pacquiao aside, Floyd Mayweather has achieved some special things in boxing. World titles in five different weight classes is no mean feat. Especially when you consider that Floyd has gone from super featherweight all the way up to light middleweight.
Mayweather has fought many greats of modern boxing, Corrales, Castillo, Hatton, De La Hoya, Mosley and Cotto. There are other names on Floyd’s record not mentioned there who will also end up in the hall of fame yet plenty behave as though Mayweather has spent a life ducking tough opponents.
In recent times there have been people queueing up to claim that Mayweather’s next opponent would be the one to break the spell. De La Hoya would be too big, Hatton would be too rough, Cotto too powerful. In the end they all went the same way.
Even Floyd’s most recent conquered foe, Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero said he’d have too much for Mayweather to handle. It is one thing to talk a big game but nobody has managed to live up to their pre fight promises against Floyd Mayweather.
One of Robert Guerrero’s main bugbears ahead of the fight appeared to be Floyd’s entourage. Guerrero referred to them as mere cheerleaders, there to chant Mayweather’s mantra of “Hard work. Dedication”. Guerrero misses the point. That chant is not just something repeated offhand. Few people in boxing train harder than Floyd. There’s a reason he makes great fighters look silly and it isn’t simply natural talent.
I understand the nature of people’s attitudes towards Floyd Mayweather. He can be unpleasant at times and the talk of wealth grates a little after a while. Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that Mayweather is one of the greatest fighters to ever set foot in a ring. You might not like the man but he has done more than enough to earn your respect.
Boxing is one of the few sports where those involved have their achievements measured by those they beat rather than the achievements themselves. In a sport where the best don’t always fight the best that is a fair judgement. However, fans should avoid letting that taint their perspective of two strikingly different but equally remarkable athletes. Floyd and Wladimir won’t be around forever, I suggest we make the most of them while they are.