London – The last of my breed. That is how the best boxer in the world describes himself. Arrogant, maybe, but The One, as he is being billed in Las Vegas on the eve of the biggest fight of this century, is by no means alone in that opinion of himself.
“The Last Great American Prizefighter” is how Floyd Mayweather is headlined in one US magazine which has devoted its glossy pages to this hundred-million-dollar blockbuster.
The question waiting to be answered on Sunday morning (about 4am SA time) is whether Mayweather’s successor to the throne of the pound-for-pound king is to be a red-headed young man who looks like an Irish-American slugger but who speaks little English.
Saul Alvarez is a 23-year-old Mexican who turned professional at 15. As a consequence of starting so young he has only one fewer fight on his unbeaten CV – 43 – than the legendary veteran.
Mayweather is dismissive of ‘Canelo’, the Spanish word for cinnamon by which Alvarez is known in reference to his ginger hair.
Does the man who calls himself Money give his opponent any credit at all for helping sell this match made in box-office heaven? “Yeah, I give him credit ... for turning up,” says Mayweather.
Canelo is also a world champion but the mighty Floyd says: “There are too many belts now. That taints the game. These kids get titles too soon, too easy.”
Despite his new-era wealth – he does not deny having more than $125million in only one of his bank accounts and is thought to be worth half a billion – Mayweather is old-school when it all comes down to the harsh reality of the boxing. “I’ve got here the hard way,” he says. “Years of work, training, dedication, fighting and beating the best fighters out there.”
Not even the severest critics of his loadsamoney lifestyle can deny that this ethic of commitment is Mayweather’s saving grace. “I work my ass off so I can beat these young guys,” he says. “I’m devoted to my craft.”
That is why he is still at the peak of his game at 36. That is what earns him the right to Sunday’s guaranteed minimum purse of $41.5m (£26m).
I was among many who admired the masterclass Mayweather put on while winning his last fight, against the tough Robert Guerrero.
While he enjoys the compliment, he reports himself dissatisfied with that performance: “I only gave myself a D that night. I was not impressed with myself. It was my first fight for a year, my first after coming out of prison. I’ll show you something better this time. I can’t predict the future but I can tell you that Canelo can’t beat me.”
The Cinnamon Kid is unabashed. Alvarez is calmer than any opponent in recent memory on the eve of doing battle with Mayweather, even though he acknowledges that “of course Floyd is the best boxer in the world”. But he adds: “At the moment.”
Does the scale of the task not worry him? “Every fight is dangerous,” he says. “This one is no different. Any fight can be changed by one punch.” There is no such thing as a tender age in the tough barrio in Guadalajara where Canelo and his six brothers grew up boxing. Once all seven of them appeared on the same bill.
Like Mayweather, he too comes from the old school of hard knocks.
He and The Last Great American Prizefighter hold the future of boxing in their gloved hands. – Daily Mail