Durban – If the mark of greatness is a matter of standing head and shoulders above your peers, then Floyd Mayweather jr has transcended beyond that ... he is head, shoulders and even snake-skin trunks above the field, and even at 36 shows no signs of slowing down.
Last weekend’s mismatch against Canelo Alvarez was supposed to be Mayweather’s toughest fight. It was to be the passing of the torch, the shutting up of boxing’s loudest-mouth champ since Muhammad Ali. Alas, we are witnessing greatness here, folks.
That Alvarez, bristling with intent and potent power, couldn’t lay a full fist on the “Money” further illustrated why Mayweather regards himself as “The Best Ever”.
Cynics will say he was born in the wrong generation, an age short on worthy adversaries. They will point to the names from the past he is now chasing – the Sugar Ray Leonards and Sugar Ray Robinsons – and say that they had contemporaries who stretched them and elevated them to even greater standards of excellence.
In every sport, there is a rivalry that inspires one athlete to find another gear, and confirm his superiority. With David Duval at his heels, Tiger Woods found that gear at the turn of the millennium, trampling the field like he was playing a video game. Until he was caught.
Roger Federer transfixed the world with ballerina-like poise on the Centre Courts of the world, but he, too, was reined in by Rafa Nadal, who now has a Serb for company.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, undoubtedly the best footballers in the world, battle each other week in, week out for bragging rights. Messi saw Ronaldo’s trio of goals in Turkey this week, and delivered a similar dose to Ajax Amsterdam the very next night.
That is how sport normally goes. There is always somebody out there pushing you, forcing you to dig a little deeper.
That, according to the experts, was what Alvarez was going to do. Which is why, billions tuned in, anticipating history being made. Even the commentator got carried away, proclaiming it the biggest sports event in the history of the world.
World Cup finals, Champions League finals and even iconic fixtures like the El Clasico and Sunday’s Manchester derby draw similar, if not bigger audiences.
But you can forgive the Yanks for occasionally overlooking the fact that there is a universe beyond their borders.
They sold last week’s boxing lesson as the biggest fight of this century, but they couldn’t have been further from the truth. By the seventh round, after an uppercut of savage beauty had caught him flush, Alvarez stood, slack-jawed, on the ropes, with no answer.
At that point he knew he was sharing the ring with true greatness.
Pity that there seems to be no one who can even begin to stretch Mayweather. He may yet have to go back and give Manny Pacquaio his pension pay-day, because the world may still be mildly interested.
Mayweather is chasing history now, obsessed with retiring as the best yet. In an age of exaggeration, where sports stars are too easily granted superstardom, his star quality is written in the numbers.
The world gulped when Gareth Bale’s pay packet at Real Madrid was revealed. They then gasped when Ronaldo signed a new deal that sees him earn almost double that. In the midst of a financial crisis, you wonder where Madrid get this monopoly money.
But all those figures pale into insignificance when tallied against the real “Money Man”. In one night, Mayweather earned $41-million. That is 36 minutes of work. He doesn’t even have a single endorsement, yet he is the biggest earning sportsman on the planet.
Love him or loathe him, he is in a league of his own. And he ain’t done just yet.