In less than two weeks, Floyd Mayweather will climb into the ring with Andre Berto and attempt to run his perfect record to 49-0. It’s hard not to view victory for Mayweather as a done deal in this fight. Upsets certainly happen in boxing, but it’s hard to imagine Mayweather failing to properly prepare for this fight or Berto, especially at this point in his career, having any shot at doing what 48 previous opponents couldn’t do.
Mayweather and his partisans have an annoying habit of pointing to his perfect record as incontrovertible proof that he is the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time. While it is a remarkable achievement, it hardly proves he’s the best ever.
However, Mayweather’s perfect record does stack up very well against other champions who ended their careers undefeated, which is a short list to begin with.
The most recent champion to hang up the gloves without a loss was super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Joe Calzaghe. Calzaghe was a great fighter, but outside of the British Isles, you’d be hard pressed to find anybody who thinks he belongs in the all-time, pound-for-pound top 10. I wouldn’t place him in the top 30 of all time. The only two great fighters he beat, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, were past their prime when Calzaghe fought them. And I thought Hopkins actually deserved the nod in his split-decision loss to the Welshman.
Germany’s Sven Ottke retired as the IBF and WBA super middleweight champion with a 34-0 record in 2004. Ottke was a good, but not great fighter. His best wins were over Byron Mitchell and a close unanimous decision over Glen Johnson, both in his native Germany. Like many, I also think his perfect record benefited from some decisions that could easily have gone the other way. Germany is notorious for its home cooking.
Perhaps the greatest small fighter in history, Ricardo Lopez retired with a record of 51-0-1 in 2002. He was a technically near-perfect fighter, but the fact that he campaigned most of his career at 105 pounds, with just a short stay at 108 at the end of his career, makes it almost inevitable that he gets overlooked to some degree.
In the days before Mayweather fights Berto, one name will be on everybody’s lips: Rocky Marciano. With a win over Berto, Mayweather will match Marciano’s career mark of 49-0. Marciano is one of the sport’s iconic heavyweight champions, but his career resume does not remotely approach Mayweather’s. He dominated a weak era of heavyweights. The three heavyweight champions he beat—Joe Louis, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles—were all past their prime when Marciano beat them. The other great fighter he beat, the ageless Archie Moore, was a 39-year-old light heavyweight. Marciano deserves his status as a great champion and provided some of the most dramatic moments in ring history. But his resume can be legitimately criticized.
I do not consider Mayweather the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time. But it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the best undefeated fighter of all time. He’s fought almost nothing but world champions since last century. No other undefeated world champion ever fought at such a high level for so long.