Floyd Mayweather and the semantic satiation of legacy

After seeing Floyd Mayweather spill a few drops of blood in a closely-contested, hard-fought but well-deserved victory over Marcos Maidana last Saturday, it’s natural to wonder whether the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter can retain that crown until he retires. Yes, he won, but we haven’t seen him struggle like that since his first bout with Jose Luis Castillo, and that night he fought with a torn rotator cuff. This time he simply met a bull of a fighter he had a tough time taming.


It’s just as normal to wonder whether the hypothetical superbout between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao just became more competitive. If Pacquiao looked, as Mayweather said, “like an amateur” in defeating Tim Bradley last month, Mayweather looked human in outpointing Maidana. His sudden vulnerability appears to have re-ignited interest in a fight many hardcore boxing fans had lost hope of ever seeing.

Shortly after the final bell, Muhammad Ali told Twitter what he wants to see:

Less than an hour later Lennox Lewis echoed Ali.

I don’t profess to know more about boxing than Ali and Lewis. Either one of those legends has more credibility than every “boxing analyst” on the planet combined. I am, however, a little confused by the idea that Mayweather’s legacy depends on winning a fight with Pacquiao that, for countless reasons, still may never happen.

I can’t be the only sports fan on the planet who feels about the word “legacy” the way Milhouse felt about “Jiminy Jillickers” — we’ve heard the word so much it’s lost all meaning. If forced to glean the meaning from contemporary sports discussion I’d define the legacy as “something that’s not really worth having because the only thing you can do is tarnish it, even if you’re one of the best and most accomplished practitioners of your craft in history.”

But the definition shifts shape depending on whose legacy we’re discussing.

Ray Leonard never fought Aaron Pryor, but that gap on his resume never dented his legacy as a great fighter.

Lennox Lewis never faced Riddick Bowe, yet we never deducted legacy points.

And if Mayweather isn’t fighting Pacquiao, Pacquiao also isn’t fighting Mayweather, and nobody is suggesting Manny will be remembered as a lesser fighter because of it.

Is Mayweather, as he claims, The Best Ever?

Not to me. On the pound-for-pound list and among welterweights specifically that’s Sugar Ray Robinson’s spot, probably forever. Mayweather can’t help that any more than Bob Hayes can help not being Usain Bolt.

But his legacy?

Whatever that means these days a win over prime Pacquiao would have enhanced it, but Pacquiao’s absence from Mayweather’s record doesn’t necessarily diminish him. It just means Mayweather has one fewer trophy to add, sort of like Michael Jordan retiring with six championship rings instead of, say, eight.

Pacquiao or no Pacquiao, Mayweather remains a first-ballot Hall of Famer who has beaten every fighter he has faced so far and who, by becoming his own promoter and cutting himself in on every available revenue stream, made more money in the ring than any fighter before him.

If that’s not legacy enough the word really does have no meaning.


Follow Morgan Campbell on Twitter.

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