Roger, Floyd, and Sugar Ray Robinson
Roger Mayweather the boxing historian should have stopped while he was ahead. But stopping while he’s ahead is not Roger’s style…
“I fought Ray Robinson so many times, it’s a miracle I don’t have diabetes.”—Jake LaMotta
Roger Mayweather, like the rest of us, has opinions. Sometimes they’re spot on. Sometimes they come from left field. But that’s the thing about opinions. All opinions are created equal, at least at their inception. Equality becomes inequality when hard cold facts rear their ugly head.
The trainer and uncle of Floyd Mayweather Jr. opined that Money May is the “second greatest fighter of all time,” just behind Sugar Ray Robinson.
“Ray Robinson is the greatest ever, period,” he said. “I don’t care what circumstance. Ray Robinson is the greatest fighter in the history of boxing.”
Roger is right. Robinson was the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in history. But those with even an inkling of boxing’s history would not rank Money May as the next man in line. An undefeated record is something of which to be proud, but numbers don’t tell the whole story.
What about Muhammad Ali (56-5) and Jack Johnson (53-11-7)? What about Henry Armstrong (150-21-10) and Jack Dempsey (61-6-9)? What about Willie Pep (229-11-1), Sam Langford (179-31-40) and Harry Greb (104-8-3)? What about Roberto Duran (103-16), Benny Leonard (90-6-1) and Archie Moore (185-23-10)?
“You know what his record was?” Roger asked about Robinson. “127-1. Do you know any other fighter with a record of 127-1? And the fighter that beat him (Jake LaMotta), he beat him six times. And the only reason he beat Robinson is because he outweighed him by like 50 pounds. And Ray Robinson wasn’t even really a middleweight fighter but slowly he started putting that weight on and then he smoked [LaMotta] every time.
“There is no fighter in the history of boxing to do what Ray Robinson has done. But fighters don’t fight that often anymore, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks. Now they have that whole medical shit. Fighters can’t fight as often as they fought back in those days.”
Roger the boxing historian should have stopped while he was ahead. But stopping while he’s ahead is not his style, as Roger Mayweather would be the first to admit.
“He is ranked right behind Sugar Ray Robinson,” Roger said about his nephew. “He won seven world titles, didn’t he? He beat everyone from 130 to 154. Where would you put him at?
“[Floyd] already broke records with less fights. Ray Robinson only stayed in two divisions. Floyd started at 130, then 135, 140, 147 and 154. He already done what Ray Robinson done in 42 fights.”
One can’t blame Roger choosing to advocate for Floyd. That’s what family does. But he can be blamed for rewriting history to suit his own purposes, especially as it concerns the proliferation of weight classes that didn’t exist in Robinson’s era, not to mention the precipitous decline of talent in our own time.
To get some perspective on Floyd Mayweather, I asked the historian Mike Silver, author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science,” about Money May and Roger’s claim that he ranks right behind Sugar Ray Robinson.
“That is of course absurd,” said Silver. “Look, he’s a very good fighter. No question about it. To me he’s like a welterweight Roy Jones Jr., a fighter who bases his great success on extraordinary athletic skills. But as we know, boxing goes beyond that. It’s also an art. I think it’s a mistake to compare him to fighters like Benny Leonard and Henry Armstrong. You could just go back to some of the top welterweights of the ‘40s and ‘50s. I’m talking about welterweights like Tommy Bell. Beau Jack would have run Floyd out of the ring. A fighter like Jackie Wilson—slick, sharp. Excellent boxers. Tippy Larkin. A fighter nobody ever heard of, George Costner. Bernard Docusen. These were top contenders I would put my money on to beat a prime Floyd Mayweather Jr.”
Silver has been studying boxing for decades and his knowledge is formidable. But he’s not clinging to the past while ignoring the present. His book isn’t called “The Arc of Boxing” for nothing.
“I go back and look at a fighter like Oscar De La Hoya,” he said, “who was over-the-hill when he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. He was about a half-dozen jabs away from winning that decision. If an over-the-hill Oscar De La Hoya gave Floyd Mayweather problems, what would a Kid Gavilan do to him? What would an outstanding boxer like Freddie Dawson do to him? What would IKE WILLIAMS do to him? If an ordinary club fighter like Ricky Hatton, who only attained contender status because of the lack of talent we have today, can be even with Floyd after eight rounds, what would a Beau Jack—who was an animal in there—do to a Floyd Mayweather Jr.?”
Beau Jack was a helluva fighter and it’s not inconceivable that he’d have eaten Mayweather alive. But Floyd is the finest pure boxer of our era, if not necessarily the finest pure fighter.
“We’re not taking anything away from Floyd Mayweather’s talent when we say this,” Silver continued. “But real boxing skill, real greatness, goes beyond pure speed and athleticism. And the reason why a lot of people look at Floyd Mayweather and say he could compete with the greats of the past is because he is a bit of a throwback. He has a decent amount of boxing ability, but being a bit of throwback doesn’t mean you can compete with the top fighters of that era. So the people who say that—and forget about what his uncle says—the other people who say that lack perspective and a frame of reference when it comes to Floyd Mayweather Jr.”
Silver pulled a copy of his book from a bookshelf and began leafing through its pages.
“I devote seven pages to dissecting Floyd Mayweather’s skills and abilities as compared to the old-timers. I would like to quote Tony Arnold, who was a former pro and who really is, in my opinion, one of the best analysts around today. People haven’t heard of him, but that doesn’t mean anything. Tony Arnold, who fought pro in the ‘50s, had an extensive amateur career, and this is what he said about Floyd Mayweather Jr.”
“From what I can see,” Arnold observed, “Floyd Mayweather doesn’t have what they used to call ‘ring guile’ or ‘ring generalship.’ He uses speed and quick hands to defeat opponents who are slower moving. He dominates with his speed, which is enough to overcome fighters with third-rate skills. But years ago you needed more than speed to dominate really good fighters.
“Mayweather doesn’t capitalize on an opponent’s mistakes. He just bewilders them with speed and throws a lot of punches real quick. That’s enough to win the fight. Mayweather wouldn’t know how to make a fighter do what he wants him to do.
“If he met a fighter who was crafty enough not to be bewildered by his speed, I don’t think he’d know how to handle him.
“Mayweather is quicker than the other guy. He throws faster punches. He maneuvers around, but doesn’t show any real skills. [When I saw him fight Zab Judah] I never saw any feinting or any head movement. I never saw him slip and counter, not once. I didn’t see any skills in that area at all. He’s got so many flaws.”
Silver began leafing through his book again. He wanted me to hear what Teddy Atlas had to say about Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“In the old days,” said Atlas, “there were fighters who were good defensively, but the difference was they had the attitude and the wherewithal to find a way to create an offense that would make it possible to take control of the opponent in a more meaningful way, in a more dominant way, and in a more productive way.
“I remember somebody asking before the [Mayweather-De La Hoya] fight if De La Hoya could deal with the speed of Mayweather. I said, ‘No, but he could win the fight.’ Now he thought that sounded pretty contradictory. I said, ‘No, it’s not contradictory. It’s boxing. Haven’t you heard of boxing before?’”
Mike Silver stopped reading and looked up. “I felt it was very important in my book, not to destroy Mayweather, but to put him in context. Nobody today has the knowledge and perspective to put Floyd Mayweather in historical context.”
Silver returned to his book. There was an analysis of Floyd by Mike Capriano Jr. Capriano is a former amateur fighter, trainer, and licensed manager. He was also the former coach, in the 1950s, of the most successful Marine Corps boxing team in history. If those credentials aren’t enough to establish his bona fides, his father was the man who discovered and trained Jake LaMotta.
“I think critics have a misunderstanding between speed of movement and speed of attack,” said Capriano. “Those fast and elusive boxers we saw were always involved in maintaining the attack. They were always looking for spots to land effective punches. They weren’t runners doing nothing, and then jumping in and throwing a flurry of punches. They were different.
“Ali never ran away like Mayweather. Ali was fast, but he was moving from left to right, looking to hit you with punches. Sugar Ray Robinson was also extremely fast. He was up on the soles of his feet, boxing and moving left to right. But he wasn’t running here and there. He was interested in making contact with his punches. And of course Robinson was a very hard puncher.
“Mayweather just wants to punch and run. But against the old-time welterweight and middleweight fighters you were not going to do that because they’re going to keep you on the ropes and hit you with clean punches. He can run all he wants, but sooner or later he has to come in to make contact with his opponents and those guys are going to tie him up and grab him, push him into the corner, push him against the ropes, and start ripping punches up.
“The better old-timers would feel their opponent out for a couple of rounds and then all of a sudden—‘bing-bang.’ You’d see some dynamite punches coming in. Carmen Basilio would have beaten [Mayweather]. [He’s] not in Emile Griffith’s class either. And how about Kid Gavilan? I mean Gavilan’s going to fire punches that make a difference, and he’s strong, and he’s pushing you. Gavilan would have Mayweather on the run, up against the ropes, he’d be timing that bolo and other shots, and he’s hurting Mayweather. It’s a different kind of fight.
“The old-timers came to fight. He can do all the running, but they wouldn’t get caught up in his evasive movements. Mayweather has speed, but it is not combined with cleverness.”
Mike Silver harrumphed. He liked hearing what he wanted me to hear, even though, not because, it ran contrary to Roger Mayweather’s conclusion.
He continued leafing through his book and asked if I was curious as to what one the old-time great fighters had to say about Floyd. I answered in the affirmative and he gave me a quote from former lightweight champion Carlos Ortiz.
“Mayweather is just a regular fighter with great speed,” said Ortiz. “He would have a lot of trouble in my time because every fighter that you fought in my time was a good fighter who was trying to get the title. There was only one champion per weight class, and there were three to four thousand fighters looking for that title. Today you don’t have that competition.”
More verbal but no less precise in his analysis was Bill Goodman, another great boxing historian.
“What comes to mind when I watch today’s fighters,” he said, “are the words unskilled labor. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has a great deal of natural ability, but it hasn’t been brought out the way it was with fighters years ago. I don’t think he jabs enough, and he doesn’t take advantages of opportunities. He ducks and slips punches, but instead of taking advantage of what he just did, he lets it go by, he doesn’t follow up. He makes some pretty moves and looks nice doing it, but nothing happens, he doesn’t fire. Mayweather throws one left hand and he stops punching. He doesn’t follow it up with two, three, four left jabs like they did years ago. Consequently, he doesn’t get a barrage going, he doesn’t get any momentum. Like I said, it’s unskilled labor.
“Mayweather is very fast, but he doesn’t compare to these better welterweights who were around years ago. How can you compare him to a guy like Tommy Bell from the 1940s? It’s night and day. Of course someone who doesn’t know Tommy Bell would see a number of losses on his record and not be impressed. But look at who he fought. He fought anybody and everybody.”
Silver also compared Floyd Mayweather to Tommy Bell, so he added, “He fought Sugar Ray Robinson to a close, down-to-the-wire title fight, 15 rounds. You’re not chopped liver if you do that.”
Goodman continued, “Even a guy like Gil Turner, who was a 1950s welterweight contender, wouldn’t have had any trouble [with Mayweather]. Isaac Logart and Gene Burton wouldn’t have had any problem with [him] either. Not only were these contenders well educated; they put their education to use. They fought frequently and kept busy and they were better fighters.
“They talk about Mayweather’s speed, but he wasn’t as fast or as skillful as Docusen, who fought Sugar Ray Robinson for the title in 1948 and gave him plenty of trouble. Would you say that Mayweather is going to give Sugar Ray Robinson as a welterweight plenty of trouble? There’s no comparison. But you go and tell that to a young boxing fan today and they think you’re a psycho.”
I was eager to give Mike Silver the last word—and he was eager to accept it.
“If Floyd Mayweather was fighting in 1940s or 1950s, his speed and athleticism would be the foundation—not the end product—for his development into a seasoned and technically proficient fighter. Under the watchful eye of a master trainer, Floyd’s physical gifts would have been supplemented with the footwork, moves, strategy and ring generalship that is missing from his repertoire. He also would have gained the experience and seasoning to compete with the fighters of the golden age. But even then, his success would not be guaranteed in that fierce competitive jungle.
“This is in no way meant to denigrate any fighter, including Floyd Mayweather. Any fighter that can walk up those steps into the ring I respect. It takes a certain amount of courage to just get in the ring. But, if you’re going to analyze fighters, please. Roger was a pretty good fighter, no question about it. But they let Floyd do his thing.”
Autographed copies at a reduced price of Mike Silver’s “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” can be purchased by contacting the author at mikesilverboxing.com.