The way some in the sports media see it, Floyd Mayweather, like so many robbers, wore a black ski mask while going to work on Saturday night robbing Rocky Marciano of his record.
“He will sleep comfortably at night knowing he’s undefeated,” Steven Muehlhausen opines at the Sporting News. “But deep inside, Mayweather probably knows the 50-0 record will come complete with an asterisk.”
Except that it doesn’t.
Mayweather fought much better competition than Rocky Marciano. He defeated Manny Pacquiao, Oscar de la Hoya, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Canelo Alvarez, Zab Judah, Genaro Hernandez, Jose Luis Castillo, and Juan Manuel Marquez. One can add ten more names, including a lineal welterweight champion, a boxing hall of famer, the victor in arguably the most exciting fight in history, and an entertaining ESPN mainstay that Mayweather labeled his toughest out, that casual boxing fans might recognize. Can the average boxing fan name ten opponents of Sugar Ray Leonard, Julio Caesar Chavez, or Rocky Marciano?
Like many great fighters, Mayweather exhibited exquisite timing. His matches with Pacquiao, De la Hoya, and Mosley should have come years earlier. We wish he fought Kostya Tszyu, Paul Williams, Marco Antonio Barrera, Joel Cassamayor, and Acelino Freitas. But conflicts with weight class, TV deals, career trajectory, and promoters impede so many dream fights, not just the ones we in which we wished Mayweather competed. And of the what-might-have-been bouts, only Tszyu and Williams carry any wonder regarding the outcome.
Marciano owns wins over quality names. But, almost to a man, those quality names were not of the quality they used to be when Marciano fought them.
Sure, he beat Joe Louis…in 1951, in the Brown Bomber’s last fight—13 years, four months, and four days after the heavyweight legend knocked out Max Schmeling in Yankee Stadium. He beat Jersey Joe Walcott—in his last two bouts as a professional—in two title fights. He beat Lee Savold in his last fight. He beat Ezzard Charles twice the year before his retirement. He beat a 38-years-young Archie Moore.
For his fortieth win, Rocky Marciano defeated Gino Buonvino, a 24-14-8 fighter best known for getting TKO’d in the tenth by Rocky Marcianio less than two years earlier. In the months between their meaningless matches, Buonvino went 2-2-1 before the Rock knocked him out in the second round of their second bout. At least Mayweather never rematched Henry Bruseles.
All a boxer can do is beat the competition put in front of him. Mayweather and Marciano did that. If they didn’t beat this or that guy in his prime, or face every great boxer of the era, that just means they committed an offense to which every fighter must plead guilty. The thing they did that no boxer ever did is to win so many matches without a loss. That’s worth celebrating, not denigrating.
Out of respect for Marciano, Mayweather retired at 49-0 two years ago. The 49-0 Marciano did not motivate Money to take this fight. Money did.
And Conor McGregor fought more gamely than the opponents faced by other all-time greats in their swan songs. Archie Moore in his last match knocked out a professional wrestler making his boxing debut in Madison Square Garden. Does his record get an asterisk, too? Larry Holmes defeated Butterbean, King of the Four Rounders, in his last bout. Does his record deserve an asterisk?
Talk of asterisks speaks more of the media’s dislike for Mayweather than his accomplishments in the ring. His flamboyance and apparent enthusiasm for intergender combat may diminish him as a human being. They don’t downgrade what he did in the ring. Men in a rough profession often come from rough places. Bernard Hopkins, Mike Tyson, Sonny Liston, and so many fighters with great records left behind criminal records. Hopefully, Mayweather transcends his past the way Hopkins did. But even if he doesn’t, 50 wins and zero losses remains 50 wins and zero losses. He doesn’t deserve an asterisk for his efforts in the ring because of his lack of effort outside of it.
Rocky Marciano ranks with Mike Tyson and Sonny Liston as one of the heavyweight division’s greatest power punchers. Floyd Mayweather fought as the best defensive boxer of his era and perhaps of all time. If you prefer the sweet science, you love Mayweather. If you like knockouts, you prefer the Rock. They both deserve the label “great.” And since neither fought in the same era, weight class, or style, comparisons come across as idle parlor-game debates establishing nothing.
Asterisk talk unfairly taints not only Mayweather but Marciano, who, because of the comparison their records inspires, now comes under scrutiny by partisans of the undefeated smaller man. One doesn’t carp about the blemish on Kate Upton’s elbow or harp on Albert Einstein’s high school “D” in French. And in boxing, in which everyone from Sugar Ray Robinson to Muhammad Ali to Marvin Hagler lost multiple times, when you carp over a perfect record you say something about your carping self rather than the undefeated boxer.