There is a famous scene in the Eddie Murphy starred movie, “Coming to America” where the local barbers in a barbershop in Queens wax nostalgic about boxing’s yesteryear and who was the best boxer: Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali or Rocky Marciano.
While Marciano and Ali never fought, the former did beat Joe Louis; but like Clarence and his crew in the barbershop, those names and their positions in boxing history will be debated for all time. But, unbeknownst to Clarence, Saul and the guys, another more relevant comparison was birthed eight years after this film was released.
And this comparison can now be debated.
As the world’s pound-for-pound king in the sport, Floyd “Money” Mayweather is approaching both his 49th fight and a chance to cap his legacy with an undefeated record and world championships, he now lies in the shadow of the late great fellow undefeated Heavyweight fighter, Rocky Marciano.
Before you ask why I am comparing two completely different fighters stylistically and weight class wise to one another its because when you reach the level of legend in sports it goes deeper than the statistical sheet spilling over into context, character and rarity of the career we have all bore witness to.
Maweather is the self-professed “TBE”, an abbreviation of “The Best Ever”, for his undefeated record and financial prowess in the sport of boxing. Marciano is considered by many to be one of the greatest Heavyweights of all time and during his era he had what can be considered a VERY short career.
Marciano started his amateur career in 1946 at the elder age of 23 (Mayweather, like traditional career boxers started young when he was 16, turning pro at 19) compiling an amateur record of 8-4. In an unusual but probably strategic and financial move, Marciano took one professional fight, winning the 1946 Amateur Armed Forced Boxing Tournament, knocking out Lee Epperson in three rounds. Marciano then returned to the amateurs fighting through 1947.
Once he made the transition to full-fledged professional fighter, Marciano racked up the wins and stoppages like no other Heavyweight in history. He won his first sixteen bouts all by knockout before the fifth round, with nine before the first round was even over. Mayweather won 13 of his first 16 bouts by TKO/KO and the other three by unanimous decision.
What's so astonishing is that Mayweather has been a champion for 17 years and won titles in 5 different weight classes while Marciano was only a champion for 3 years and in only one weight class. However, in his short amount of time, Marciano made big time moves.
In his 38th bout he knocked out Joe Louis in the 8th round at Madison Square Garden, sending "The Brown Bomber" into retirement. However, it wasn’t until his 43rd bout that he received a title shot from “Jersey” Joe Walcott, knocking him out in the 13th round. He defended his title 6 times with all but one unanimous decision.
Marciano left the sport, like Joe Calzaghe (46-0), undefeated, at the top of the division with the hardware to display. Floyd Mayweather will attempt to do the same against Andre Berto on September 12th, 2015 but until he does, Marciano’s record and legacy shine over him.
Marciano fought “Jersey” Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles twice and knocked out Archie Moore while still in his relative prime. That was his swan song performance. Archie Moore went on to fight 42 more times retiring with a record of 184-23-9 and lost to Muhammad Ali. He also is the longest reigning Light Heavyweight of all time (December 1952-May 1962).
Marciano also has the record for being the only World Heavyweight Champion to go undefeated throughout his career. Willie Pep, a featherweight, had a perfect 62–0 record before he was defeated once, followed by a 72–0–1 undefeated streak. Packy McFarland was a lightweight (fighting between 1904–1915) who lost his first fight and then won his next 98, though he never won the lightweight title. Heavyweight Champion Gene Tunney never suffered a defeat at heavyweight and retired as champion, although he did lose one fight at light heavyweight.
With this in mind, where does Mayweather’s current undefeated record and achievements reside in boxing history? In a sport where men fought over 200 times in their lifetimes, putting their safety and financial prowess on the line for the sake of the best challenges, how does Floyd stack up to these names?
At 48-0 and a multi-multi-millionaire, it puts him, like Marciano, in a class of his own.
Marciano started boxing late and ended up a retired undefeated champ, the great white hope and a legend. He is respected for fighting the best in their prime and knocking them out for the win. Even if he didn’t knock them out due to his imperfect form and technical negligence, he threw for the fences and landed in the winner’s circle every time.
Mayweather has perfected the art of not getting hit, not being particularly entertaining and not being broke in the process. This is also an art form and is respected by those who understand and recognize that in today’s fight game, the pain business has been modified to the slightly painful business when taking the Mayweather defensive approach. Today’s fighter has witnessed showmanship, ring generalmanship and defense/avoidance as the keys to success. The ability to recognize and adapt ahead of time.
This is Mayweather’s true legacy.
Marciano went back to the amateurs early in his career because no one would fight him and there were slim paydays while he needed much valued in ring experience. He represents the forlorn era of boxing past and is one of the rare from the past to come out unscathed.
Perhaps Marciano and Mayweather both knew that to be a legend in boxing doesn’t require 200 bouts just the right bouts at the right time.
And for Floyd, like Marciano, if the time to leave on top is now, then so be it.