Robert Silva is back with his greatest super featherweight in boxing history, “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather.
Before the multiple homes and luxury cars. Before the women and entourage. Before the arrogant behavior and lavish lifestyle. Before he was “Money” Mayweather, Floyd Mayweather was just “Pretty Boy” Floyd, arguably already the greatest defensive fighter of all-time. He was also the greatest Super Featherweight that ever lived; bar none.
The first time I saw Floyd fight was when he was 19 years old, winning a Bronze Medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. My father and I were both impressed with his boxing ability and felt that he could be something special. We were both fans of his Uncle Roger when he boxed and thought that Floyd could be a better version of his uncle as he was much quicker. We remembered seeing his father Floyd Sr. who was nothing special as a fighter when he fought. At the time, Floyd Sr. was in prison so Roger and their brother Jeff trained Floyd early on in his career. Floyd improved immensely his first two years in the ring and after 17 fights, received a shot at the WBC Super Featherweight Champion Genaro Hernandez. At this point, Floyd was now being trained by his recently released father. It would be the beginning of an almost 20-year period of boxing superiority for the 21-year-old Floyd.
On October 3, 1998, the boxing world was introduced to the incredible boxing acumen of Floyd. Hernandez stood 5’11, a full three-inches taller than Floyd. Hernandez was a counter puncher with an excellent jab. My father and I figured he would be a very difficult challenge for Floyd. What occurred was Mayweather’s coming out party. For the first three rounds, Floyd brilliantly boxed Hernandez’s ears off. Hernandez did not use his jab at all. Instead he attempted to counter Floyd’s rapid combinations. Unfortunately for Genaro, Floyd’s jab, movement and hand speed were too much to overcome. He made Hernandez look like a statue. Beginning in round four, Floyd began walking Hernandez down and behind his piston jab, punished Genaro from pillar to post. Finally, at the conclusion of the eighth round, Hernandez’s brother and trainer Rudy stopped the fight. When the fight ended, my father said that other than Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd was the closest fighter he ever saw who fought like Muhammad Ali. My father passed away in 2000. If only he knew how prophetic that comparison would become.
Two months later, Floyd made his first defense against the dangerous Puerto Rican from Gary, Indiana, Angel Manfredy. Manfredy had just come off impressive knockout wins over Jorge Páez and Arturo Gatti. Despite those big wins, Manfredy needed a real life angel to get him a win over the vastly superior fighter in Mayweather. Once again, Floyd put on an incredible display of speed and ring generalship. Late in the second round, Mayweather staggered Manfredy with a booming right cross and landed close to 20 unanswered punches before referee Frank Santore wisely stopped the contest.
Over the next two years, Mayweather continued to impress as he easily defended his title four times before agreeing to fight IBF 130-pound champion Diego Corrales in one of the biggest fights in the history of the Super Featherweight division. Also, Floyd made a significant change by firing his father and rehiring Roger to be his trainer. It was a wise decision as Roger emphasized offense while his brother was a defensive specialist. Floyd’s defense was already at a legendary level. He felt to defeat the almost 6’0 Corrales, he needed to improve offensively. This resulted in one of the single greatest performances in boxing history. One of the biggest regrets I had about this fight was that my father had passed away six months prior to the fight. He would’ve made a ton of money betting on Floyd and he would’ve seen just how Ali-like Floyd was the night of January 20, 2001.
That night Floyd put on a boxing clinic. Just like he did versus Hernandez, Floyd’s jab was on fire. He made Diego look slow and sluggish as he circled and landed at will. Diego’s vaunted right hand kept missing the entire night. At the beginning of the seventh round, Mayweather landed a blazing left hook reminiscent of Roy Jones that dropped Corrales for the first knockdown of the fight. A minute later, he dropped Corrales for a second time with another left hook. Then with seconds left in the round, Mayweather landed rapid-fire wicked combinations that dropped Diego for a third time. Incredulously, referee Richard Steele allowed the fight to continue. At that point in time, Diego needed a shotgun just to have a chance. It wouldn’t have mattered.
The next two rounds saw Floyd stalk and batter the now listless former champion Corrales (Diego had been stripped of his IBF crown before the fight for reasons too asinine to bring up). Then, in the 10th round, Mayweather landed another blistering left hook that dropped Corrales for a fourth time. After dropping Corrales with a double right cross, Corrales’ father, Ray Woods stopped the fight. Corrales was upset and took a swing at his father. It was the closest he came to landing a significant punch the entire evening. The win cemented my father’s comparison of Floyd to Muhammad Ali.
Floyd would successfully defend the 130-pound title two more times in 2001 before relinquishing it in January, 2002 when he moved up to 135 pounds. His accolades from 2002 on is a story for another day. As far as his reign at 130 pounds, there is not a fighter who ever fought at 130 who would’ve beaten Floyd. He was a combination of Ali, Leonard and Jones, making him the greatest Super Featherweight of all-time.