LAS VEGAS, September 14- It was in the 11th round that it happened: Floyd Mayweather so brilliantly bamboozled Andre Berto that it was possible to buy into his claim of being “TBE” — The Best Ever.
Certainly dozens in the crowd at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday thought so, chanting “TBE! TBE!” as Mayweather earned a unanimous decision over the limited Berto.
The widely expected victory gave the American, 38, a perfect 49-0 record to equal the feat of heavyweight legend Rocky Marciano.
Mayweather said before the bout that he had achieved all he could from the fight game and Berto was to be his final victim — and he repeated that assertion afterwards.
But then it is not the first time the welterweight world champion has quit: he also did so in 2008.
Whether he stays retired this time only time will tell, but fans, pundits and fighters are already evaluating his glittering career and trying to work out what his legacy might be.
The man himself was in reflective mood.
“I’ve been in the sport 19 years and I don’t know anybody who’s been in the sport and made upwards of $800 million,” he said, handing more ammunition to critics who say Mayweather has been the best ever only in terms of knowing how to make more money from boxing than anyone else in history.
“It’s crazy. I’ve been in the sport my whole life and they say I’m the best,” he added.
“Every champion — Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard — there’s so many champions… Larry Holmes… the list goes on and on.
“They opened the doors to pave the way for me to be what I am today. I’m appreciative.”
– Dividing opinion –
Mayweather is a deeply polarizing figure.
His fans rightly defend him as a deeply hard-working and magnificently gifted boxer who has perfected the art of avoiding getting hit.
They also admire his undoubted business acumen that has made him the highest-earning sportsman in the world and say he has introduced a financial savvy never seen before in boxing.
His critics dismiss him as an arrogant, money-obsessed man and boring boxer who has dodged some of the best in the business simply to maintain his unbeaten record.
Many cannot look beyond the incidents of domestic violence that saw him spend time behind bars.
Evander Holyfield is in as good a position as anyone to judge where in the pantheon of boxing greats Mayweather ranks.
“Everyone has that opinion of himself and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having that opinion,” Holyfield, a former heavyweight champion and one of the sport’s greats, told AFP, asked if Mayweather really was the best ever.
“But do I really think that about Mayweather? No, I don’t.
“I definitely think he’s a great fighter — I wouldn’t take that away from him — but you can’t say best ever until everything stops, each generation is supposed to get better.
“He will definitely go down as one of the great fighters in whatever weight division they choose to put him in.
“He won the championship in a lot of divisions, but he never fought everybody.”
– ‘Undeniable skill’ –
Colorful boxing promoter Don King has seen many of boxing’s legends up close, having arranged some of the biggest bouts in the sport’s history, including the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Ali and George Foreman.
Mayweather will be remembered as “one of the greatest fighters that ever lived,” the famously wild-haired King told reporters on the eve of the Berto showdown.
“He has already achieved that despite his personality, which leaves a lot to be desired. But I love Floyd and his talent and skill are undeniable.”
Ali, like Mayweather, proclaimed “I am the greatest” — and King agrees, pointing out also how Ali fought for the rights of black Americans.
Michael Woods, editor of The Sweet Science boxing website, is among those who says Mayweather’s personality and defensive style overshadow his achievements.
“He will never be universally regarded as the best,” he said.
“He boasts too much to get the segment of opiners who can’t stomach that sort of ego. I like to say I think he’s in the mix as TBE defensively.
“He is supremely talented, but doesn’t offer enough focused offense to lift himself from chess master in a ring to TBE.”