Ultimate Mayweather

By Jake Rossen Dec 24, 2007
Telling the media that he had "accomplished all that I could as a fighter" following his Dec. 8 bout with Ricky Hatton, Floyd Mayweather intimated that he would be happy to retire with a perfect 39-0 record and the unofficial title of best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet.

But if Mark Cuban is to be believed, the 30-year-old pugilist has a prescient sense of history and wants to add one more chapter to his inevitable self-congratulatory autobiography -- Mayweather could become the first boxer in his career prime to risk hyper-extended ligaments in a mixed martial arts contest.

Mayweather, Cuban said, will be involved in some capacity with the billionaire's fledging HDNet Fights promotion and will visit MMA gyms in the coming months to gauge his interest in an open-style fight.

Perhaps Mayweather, who is nothing if not shrewd, sees that there is increasing debate about the superior combat sport, and that his participation would prompt a lot of people to fork over a lot of money for resolution. Or perhaps he believes that observers in the future will question why none of boxing's royalty ever made the transition, especially now that the UFC's media saturation has made good paydays feasible.

Alternately, he could be under the woeful delusion that if he can hurt people with 16-ounce gloves, then four-ounce gloves would be akin to sanctioned homicide. (More likely, his notoriously brittle hands would suffer more than his opponent's jaws.)

However you slice it, Mayweather's move would be spectacular business for Cuban, who may have just found himself the only athlete that could make a legitimate attempt to outpace the UFC for pay-per-view clicks. Mayweather versus Athlete X is more than the sum of its parts; it would be boxing versus MMA, ingrained institution versus upstart eyesore. It's the kind of territorial promotion that boxing made its bones on, with countries rallying behind their athletes and fights being more socio-political in nature than just two jocks exchanging jabs.

It could be, in short, the first goosebump-inducing attraction in years, a spectacle that both sports have struggled to provide, with their respective mega-fights taking place years after their expiration dates. (Randy Couture (Pictures) will be cashing Social Security checks before he ever steps in the ring against Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures); Roy Jones Jr. versus Felix Trinidad is a running punchline in boxing circles.) Mayweather himself is running out of options in his native sport, with the Hatton bout drawing only a third the TV business of the De La Hoya meeting.

For Floyd, the question won't be how much money he can make stuffing takedowns (it'll be a lot), but if the purse justifies the risk to his reputation. Boxers who have stepped into MMA in the past have either been too old (see: Ray Mercer), too one-dimensional (see: Art Jimmerson), or too ill-prepared for the task at hand (see: Francois Botha (Pictures)). Boxers that have seen a modicum of success (Jeremy Williams, LaVerne Clark (Pictures)e) also happen to have substantial wrestling backgrounds. Hardly a coincidence.

Whether Mayweather realizes it or not -- and his handlers will inevitably clue him in -- walking into a mixed-style arena with his only current abilities is a dangerous arrogance. His vaunted defensive style assumes his oversized gloves will help block attacks; in MMA, the thin membrane of leather and stuffing will leave him exposed. His boxing stance doesn't need to concern itself with kicks or flying knees; in MMA, strikes will come from impossible angles courtesy of appendages he didn't even know existed. Worse, punches that begin at his feet and use his entire body for support and power will only leave him planted and ripe for takedowns.

In short, the Floyd Mayweather we see now has no practical application in MMA. If he's serious, he'll need to begin shaping Floyd 2.0: a striker with quick, devastating hands who has jet fuel in his gloves and the agility and reflexes to defend shots and kicks.

Mayweather might find inspiration in Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), a Croatian kickboxer who was a dangerous -- if not elite -- participant in K-1 that went on to beat people bloody in MMA. Filipovic had no collegiate wrestling background, but was eager to learn, was brought up slowly and had undeniable athleticism. Sure, Mayweather doesn't have Cro Cop's lower-body arsenal … but the kickboxer doesn't have Mayweather's hands, either.

Marrying Mayweather's hand speed with takedown defense and submission awareness is one thing, but applying it is another. I don't think there are enough years on the calendar for Mayweather to equip himself well enough to deal with the wrestling prowess of a Urijah Faber (Pictures) or Sean Sherk (Pictures). (Then again, I've seen Filipovic stuff takedowns from Mark Coleman (Pictures), so who knows?) It's far more likely he would take inspiration from someone like Cung Le (Pictures), who has been matched with athletes in MMA that are predisposed to stand up and trade with him.

Assuming he goes that far, the boxer's Sherdog record won't consist of any Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts or NCAA champions. To even imagine him in the same contained space as a "Kid" Yamamoto is sadistic. Instead, he's likely to oppose a spastic, undisciplined combatant on the level of a Charles Bennett (Pictures) or Melvin Guillard (Pictures), someone who is just as apt to make positional mistakes as he is.

But I'm not sure Mayweather's legendary work ethic would be inspired by mid-level competition; nor am I sure the fights between champions like Sherk and Faber would be entertained by Zuffa.

That leaves fights that have little to do with rankings, but a lot to do with emotional investment. The historian in me would love to see Helio Gracie's wish for Joe Lewis come to life in the form of Mayweather versus Royler Gracie (Pictures). The grappler versus striker conceit would be presented in its purest form; the 40-ish Royler would create some kind of doubt as to whether he's still nimble enough to wrestle an antagonist to the ground.

And the Gracie name has obvious promotional implications. From all perspectives, it's the perfect fight.

But until Mayweather proclaims his commitment to the sport, it's also just fantasy. Mike Tyson used K-1 -- and K-1 used Tyson -- just to get press for years. Lennox Lewis considered it (a co-promotion with the WWE and Brock Lesnar (Pictures)), but ultimately rejected the notion of getting mounted and elbowed in the face; Michael Moorer said he'd do it, but out-priced himself; Shannon Briggs trained at American Top Team, and obviously, he must've seen something there he didn't like.

Not exactly encouraging precedents. Mayweather might follow the same path of having an ego bigger than his skill set.

Or perhaps he'll follow the classic archetype of the fighter who has everything to lose, but still keeps coming forward.

For comments, e-mail jrossen@sherdog.com
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