On May 2, Floyd Mayweather Jr. faces the toughest and most credible opponent of his career. For five years now, Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have vied with one another for number one pound-for-pound supremacy, and neither has been able to cement his claim. To truly declare himself the best in the sport of boxing, Mayweather needs to turn Manny Pacquiao into just another name on his resume.
And what about that resume? Undefeated in 47 professional bouts. Pretty impressive. Much hay has been made of Floyd’s “0,” but what about the "47"? Mayweather’s record has been called both impressive and underwhelming. It’s been both demeaned and inflated. Let's check out the most important 13 on the list, from least significant to most, ending with Floyd’s finest moment—so far.
13. Jose Luis Castillo I — December 7, 2002
“Massage my left shoulder,” Mayweather asks his cutman after the first round. An ominous statement that presages what will turn out to be the toughest bout of his career. After generally outboxing Castillo in the first portion of the fight, Mayweather’s activity wanes later on--or perhaps it’s better to say that Jose Luis Castillo has blunted it. He pursues Mayweather relentlessly, bearing an arsenal of powerful body shots and rough tactics. Grappling, slugging, and headbutting his way into the pocket, Castillo roughs Mayweather up like no one before, and no one since.
Castillo came into this bout a champion and he fights like it, building momentum and strength down the stretch. When it’s all over, many fans and pundits feel that he has done enough to win. The judges disagree. They award Mayweather the decision—115-111, 115-111, and 116-111—and the crowd erupts into boos. Even Mayweather himself is unsatisfied with the fight, and in just eight months he will grant Castillo the first rematch of his career. Result: 12-round unanimous decision
12. Arturo Gatti — June 25, 2005
Arturo Gatti was never the greatest boxer on earth, but he was one of the best-loved. Renowned for his trilogy with “Irish” Micky Ward, a series from which Arturo emerged the victor, Gatti comes into this bout wearing the WBC super lightweight belt. It takes Mayweather a mere six rounds to lift it from his waist. At one point, Mayweather humiliates Gatti by popping him with four lead right hands in a row, an audacious reminder that you don’t have to be loved to be the best. You just have to win. Result: 6th round TKO (retirement)
11. Zab Judah — April 8, 2006. Result: 12-round unanimous decision
10. Shane Mosley — May 1, 2010. Result: 12-round unanimous decision
9. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez — September 14, 2013. Result: 12-round majority decision
8. Carlos Manuel Baldomir — November 4, 2006. Result: 12-round unanimous decision
7. Miguel Cotto — May 5, 2012
Miguel Cotto is tough, with a left jab like a ramrod. Floyd has built much of his recent success on his ability to deflect the right hands of his opposition; Cotto represents a new danger. Mayweather finds himself pressed early and often. Cotto’s jab is uniquely venomous because he throws it from close range. Used to leaning back and escaping his opponent’s reach, Floyd finds him pulling right into the path of Cotto’s lancing left hand. For the first time in many fights, his nose starts to drip blood.
It doesn’t matter. Mayweather adapts, and he has already found the chink in Cotto’s armor—an opening for the left uppercut. He begins to throw it at every opportunity, piercing Cotto’s guard every time, and spends the rest of the fight snapping back the head of the Puerto Rican star. Maybe, as some say, Cotto tried to box too much; maybe he fought too hard too soon, and tired. Or maybe Floyd Mayweather is just that good. Result: 12-round unanimous decision
6. Juan Manuel Marquez, September 19, 2009
One of Mayweather’s most meaningful wins is also one of his most divisive. No one disagrees that Mayweather gave Marquez the worst trouncing of his storied career, but the achievement is soured by the fact that Mayweather weighed in for the bout two pounds over the originally-contracted limit.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the one simple truth of this fight: Marquez dogged Manny Pacquiao for eight years after their first battle, which ended in a draw, rematching him three hard-fought times before finally knocking him out. But after fighting Mayweather once, Marquez never mentioned Floyd’s name again. No one cared to see that rematch, least of all Juan Manuel. Result: 12-round unanimous decision
5. Genaro Hernandez — October 3, 1998
Genaro Hernandez has been winning fights at super featherweight for a long time. He’s held his WBC belt since 1991, and defended it 12 times. At 32, he may lack some of the potency of his younger days, as Mayweather himself eventually will, but five consecutive decision victories prove that he still knows how to win. That is, until the 21 year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr. makes him forget. Mayweather beats the veteran titlist thoroughly enough that he quits after the 8th round, retiring not only from this fight but from fighting altogether. It’s Floyd’s first championship, and it comes after just his 18th pro fight. Result: 8th round TKO (retirement)
4. Ricky Hatton — December 8, 2007
Undefeated, Ricky Hatton rules the junior welterweight division as its lineal champ. In his most recent defense he bested Jose Luis Castillo with a fourth-round knockout. Hatton’s style is relentless, built on the twin notions of forward movement and combination punching. With a similar style, he looks set to give Mayweather his toughest test since Castillo himself.
Instead, Mayweather dominates completely. Hatton never stops coming forward, but he can’t seem to land anything of note, while Mayweather is happy to manipulate him on the inside and counter at will. Hatton is still marching forward when Mayweather knocks him down in the 10th round with a check hook, a masterful punch that sees him slipping out to the side and punching into the vacated space now occupied by Hatton’s chin. Now, finally forced to retreat, Hatton wobbles around the ring, and Mayweather cracks him with another left hook. Hatton goes down for the count, his unbeaten record in tatters. Result: 10th round TKO
3. Jose Luis Castillo II — December 7, 2002
Seven months after their first fight, Mayweather wears the lightweight belt, but many feel it belongs to Castillo. Floyd has always ignored detractors, but he doesn’t suffer self-doubt. Seemingly disappointed in his performance the first time around, he has come to redeem himself, and shut Castillo’s mouth in the process.
This time, Floyd is able to fight his fight for most of the rounds. No longer troubled by an injured shoulder, his skills are on full display, and he smoothly navigates the ring as Castillo struggles to hunt him down. It may be less exciting than the last fight, but it proves Mayweather’s unequaled ability to adapt. By the end of the fight, there are no longer doubts about Floyd’s superiority. If the last fight demonstrated Floyd’s underrated toughness, this one gave him the chance to show off just how sweet his Sweet Science can be. Result: 12-round unanimous decision
2. Diego Corrales — January 20, 2001
When Mayweather agreed to fight Diego Corrales, some called him mad.
In 2000, Corrales stands atop the super featherweight division. With 29 of his 33 wins coming via knockout, he is considered the fifth best fighter, pound-for-pound, on the planet, and one of the most dangerous. He is listed at 5’10” to Mayweather’s 5’8”, but he seems even bigger. Corrales towers over Mayweather in the ring.
“One thing I know for sure,” Corrales said before the fight, “I’ll be giving the first three rounds away.” As he stalks Mayweather, he seems unconcerned by the smaller man’s superior speed, and he’s certainly not troubled by his inferior power. He is all terrifying confidence and calm.
By the 7th round, Corrales’ poise has all but evaporated. Mayweather has frustrated every effort to slow him down, and Corrales seems painfully aware that he has lost every round of the fight. Accustomed to the luxury of scoring knockouts, he now finds himself in the uncomfortable position of needing one to win. And then suddenly, mere seconds into the second half of the fight, Mayweather reminds him that speed is good for more than dancing.
Leaping in, Mayweather drops Corrales with a left hook to the jaw. Diego stands immediately, his legs steady but his confidence shaken. As the referee finishes his count, he tries to laugh it off, but Mayweather isn’t smiling. He comes after Corrales with murder in his eyes. Two minutes later, he drops him again with another left hook, and this time Corrales goes sprawling to his hands and knees and rises unsteadily to his feet. He survives the count again, but Mayweather is on him. He rushes across the ring to finish the job, and knocks Corrales down yet again. This time it’s not speed that sends Corrales to the canvas, but ferocity. Mayweather pummels him mercilessly, doing to Corrales what Corrales usually does to others. Diego rises once more, but he has barely managed to survive the round.
By the 10th, Corrales has taken too many shots. His father, working in his corner, mounts the ring apron with a white towel in his hand as Corrales stands up from his fifth knockdown. He doesn’t even have to throw it for the referee to get his point--anyone can see that the mighty Corrales is finished. For the first time in his career, Mayweather has risked his “0” against an undefeated opponent, and come out the victor. Result: 10th round TKO
1. Oscar De La Hoya — May 5th, 2007
Before Floyd Mayweather, there was Oscar De La Hoya.
In the post-Tyson era, no prizefighter could match De La Hoya’s popularity. In many ways Oscar is similar to Floyd, but his star has always been a little bit brighter. Floyd’s Olympic career had culminated in a bronze medal; De La Hoya’s ended in gold. Floyd is young and handsome; Oscar possesses boyish good looks and the charisma to match. Floyd is starting to cultivate a reputation as a safety-first decision fighter; 30 of Oscar’s 38 wins have been knockouts. Oscar is more than just a great boxer.
He is well-loved, and respected. He is also past his prime. Having once gone undefeated himself for seven years, De La Hoya’s best days are clearly behind him at this point. The controversy of his first loss to Felix Trinidad was forgotten when he was clearly beaten by Shane Mosley, not once but twice. Wins over Fernando Vargas, Felix Sturm, and Ricardo Mayorga punctuated his recent career, but a knockout loss to Bernard Hopkins stands out as well. Oscar is still the favorite in the hearts of the fans, but he is the underdog in the books.
The fight itself isn’t really worth much discussion. It’s not a great fight, in any case. More Leonard-Hagler than Hagler-Hearns. When Michael Buffer announces that one of the judges has given the bout to De La Hoya, Mayweather sneers in derision. It’s a face we will come to know well, one that appears any time a Mayweather opponent is given official credit. By 2007, over a decade since his professional debut, Floyd has become used to winning. When the final score is announced in his favor, there is a flash of relief on his face, but this is quickly replaced by smug acceptance. There was never any doubt in his mind about the result. After all, this was a Floyd Mayweather fight, and only one man ever wins those. Result: 12-round split decision
48-0, or 47-1?
And so we find ourselves back in the present, just weeks away from the biggest fight of a career defined by big fights. His win over De La Hoya marked the death of “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and the birth of “Money” Mayweather. Since then, no one has ever out-boxed him, out-fought him, or out-earned him. There is no doubt that Mayweather will go down in the annals of history as one of this era’s greatest boxers, but he stands now on the edge of an unprecedented challenge.
Both he and Pacquiao are somewhat faded now, slower than they used to be and considerably less potent. Mayweather hasn’t suffered any recent losses, as Pacquiao has, but he’s been roughed up, and his precious pay-per-view numbers have declined. As always seems to be the case in boxing’s biggest fights, there are plenty of asterisks ready to be attached to this one after the fact.
But it still matters. If Manny Pacquiao becomes the 48th name on Floyd Mayweather’s list, it will be an incredible climax to an outstanding career. Even his detractors will have to acknowledge Mayweather’s place in the ranks of the all-time greats. After a career of excellent wins, this one would be Floyd’s finest yet.