In the short term, a victory over Miguel Cotto (37-2, 30 KOs) Saturday night in Las Vegas will probably do very little to affect Floyd Mayweather’s standing in the boxing world. Partially, Mayweather (42-0, 26 KOs) is a victim of his own success. He’s beaten so many very good to great fighters on Cotto’s level that most boxing fans and media members won’t be all that shocked or impressed by him doing so again. Also, anytime Mayweather fights, the 144 pound gorilla in the room is going to come up. The fact that Floyd isn’t sharing the ring with Manny Pacquiao (as well as the fact that Pacquiao has already knocked Cotto out himself) will also temper enthusiasm.
Often though in boxing we don’t fully understand the legacy of a fight, or even a fighter’s career in general, until years after the dust has settled. This will be an attempt detach from the current mood surrounding the fight and landscape of the sport and think about how beating Cotto would look for Mayweather long after they both hang up the gloves.
After some thought, it is easy to imagine that years from now this fight could be remembered as one of the great accomplishments of Mayweather’s career. The logic behind this theory is that all the minor little slights that the boxing press gives a match up tend to fade away over time. Cotto has already lost to Pacquiao, sure, but when was the last time you heard somebody disparage Hagler-Hearns because Thomas Hearns had already lost to Ray Leonard? The parallels extend a bit. Hearns had already established himself as a likely future hall of famer before he met up with Hagler, but he wasn’t the man everybody was dying to see in the ring with Marvin. It was Leonard, in fact, that fans were clamoring for to take on Hagler. They were forced to settle on Hearns, but ultimately it would go down as Marvin Hagler’s greatest victory.
The problem for Mayweather’s legacy in terms of this comparison, beyond the fact that we likely won’t see a torrential storm of punches leading to somebody being stopped in the third round, is that he can’t beat Cotto too thoroughly. If Floyd dominates from the opening bell and stops Cotto, then it will be said that Miguel was washed up. If he wins a competitive fight on the other hand, then he beat a future hall of famer who was near the top of his game.
This is an example of how winning over boxing fans and establishing a legacy can be a lose-lose situation. Especially for a defensive wizard like Mayweather, making your opponent look bad can in turn take some of the luster off your own accomplishment. If Cotto is ineffective and has trouble getting off (don’t count on anything else) there will be those who claim the fight was more a story about Cotto’s weakness than Mayweather’s greatness. A word of caution to those of that mindset though… if something happens every single time it might not be a coincidence.
If you are a hardcore boxing fan you have no doubt heard or made arguments at that everyone from Diego Corrales to Juan Manuel Marquez to Ricky Hatton wasn’t at their best when they fought Mayweather. At some point though, we need to understand that it maybe is more about him being that good than any of them being that hampered.
All things considered, if Mayweather beats Cotto on Saturday it will be yet another win over a hall of fame caliber opponent. It will be a win over the top man in his weight class (a weight that Mayweather has fought at only once and is four divisions above where he started his career) who holds a belt and is on a three fight knockout streak. It also will be a win over one of the biggest names in the sport of boxing, a man that many have been calling for Floyd to fight for years. It may not be widely praised in the boxing community today, but history will likely tell a different story.
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