“PERFECTION is not attainable,” said Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL player and coach, “but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

At first glance, the word perfection would appear to encapsulate Floyd Mayweather’s 50-fight professional better than most – yes, better even than ‘Pretty Boy’ and ‘Money’ and ‘TBE’ (The Best Ever). The stats, 50-0, are perfect and his style, too, whether operating as a super-featherweight, lightweight, super-lightweight, welterweight or super-welterweight, was often the very embodiment of fighting perfection; his every move, be it the flick of a wrist or roll of a shoulder, designed to inflict maximum damage while minimising the return.

Such was his brilliance, in fact, we speak of Mayweather’s shortcomings not in terms of fights lost or opponents unconquered but in terms of the memorable punches landed on him and the scorecards not indicative of a dominant, landslide victory. We focus less on his ring record and more on his criminal record. We highlight human flaws in lieu of him looking anything but human when wearing boxing gloves. For him we have – have always had – different rules.

Yet Mayweather was human, even in the ring, and his record, though defined by a zero, attests to this. Forget the numbers, the devil is in the detail: the odd controversial decision, the notable big punch received, the momentary crisis, the avoided rival. Look hard enough – a cursory glance won’t suffice – and you’ll find imperfections with Mayweather just as you’ll find them with any fighter. You’ll find the rough spots. You’ll find the asterisk. You’ll find the men who thought they had cracked the code; the men who made Mayweather appear, if only for a short time, human like them.

Men like Jose Luis Castillo, for example, the marauding Mexican who took the fight to Mayweather in April 2002 and refused to hand over his WBC lightweight crown without a fight. Some, to this day, maintain Castillo deserved the nod over Mayweather following the 12 rounds they spent together and the scorecards of Anek Hongtongkam (116-111), John Keane (115-111) and Jerry Roth (115-111) irk them as much as they did Castillo at the time.

“I think, to a certain degree, he underestimated me, but he was certainly very good, very difficult to catch,” Castillo told Steve Kim. “He had very good speed and quickness, but I just kept putting pressure on him as much as I could. After 12 rounds I thought I had done more than enough, certainly more than he did. But they didn’t give me the decision.”

Their December rematch appeared easier for Mayweather yet would somehow deliver closer scorecards than their first encounter: Ken Morita saw it 115-113, Larry O’Connell had it 116-113 and Daniel Van de Wiele settled on 115-113. Still, whatever the margins, it put the rivalry, this one Mayweather never asked for, to bed. Floyd had made it 2-0 and Castillo and his fans were left to forever curse three Vegas judges.

Floyd Mayweather jab
Mayweather measures Castillo with the jab

Mayweather’s next hairy moment arrived not when waiting for a decision to be rendered but during the second round of a supposedly routine May 2004 fight against the former WBO super-lightweight champion DeMarcus Corley.

It occurred when Mayweather squared up, flung a wild right hand and found himself countered by a sharp, compact right hook from Corley, a shot he never saw coming. It was then two previously sturdy, reliable legs stiffened, and two gloves instinctively found their way to his face – for protection. It was then Corley, pinning him against the ropes, understood two things: one, this was his moment and, two, such moments tend to be short-lived. He swung and he missed. He swung and he missed. By the third swing and miss he acknowledged it was far tougher to land on Mayweather when Mayweather was hurt and on the defensive and able to anticipate all that was heading his way. He then acknowledged the moment had passed.

“I remember everything,” Corley told Boxing News. “We trained hard for Floyd and the game plan was there. We knew he wasn’t a power puncher but he’s very quick. The game plan was to get Floyd to exchange. We wanted to get him in a shootout where we could hurt him and try to finish him.

“I did that in the first and second rounds and in the third I caught him and in the fourth we tried to finish him, but he went to the ropes where he recovered. He listened to his corner very well. His uncle Roger told him, ‘Don’t bang with him. Box him.’ He then stopped banging with me and started boxing with me. He knew if he banged with me, I was going to knock him out. I would have caught him again. It was just a matter of time.”

Upon realising Mayweather had switched up his tactics, Corley was consigned to the same painful pattern endured by most Mayweather opponents. From active to passive, he resorted to pot-shotting from range and counting down the rounds, acutely aware he was winning none of them.

“I wasn’t thinking about winning the fight or him surviving and outpointing me,” said Corley, who was dropped in the eighth and tenth rounds en route to being widely outpointed. “All I was thinking about was getting him to fight with me.

“In the fourth and fifth rounds I remember he started talking to me. He was trying to get me out of my game plan. He was saying, ‘Come on, fight me. You can’t hit me. I beat your best friend.’ That was James Baker. We came up in the amateurs together. He was trying to talk to me to take away my focus. He didn’t want my focus to be on putting pressure on him and trying to knock him out.”

Two years later, in April 2006, Mayweather met Zab Judah, an athletically gifted sharpshooter cut from the same cloth, and for four rounds seemed perplexed by his own reflection, one standing southpaw, inside a Vegas ring. For once, to the dismay of onlookers, Mayweather had met his match where speed was concerned and struggled to contain the explosiveness of Judah. He even appeared to touch the canvas with his glove in round two, though it was ruled only a slip.

“He struggled because I was quick and because we knew each other,” Judah explained to BN. “I knew him, and he knew me. There was nothing that surprised me. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. In ’96, we were best friends – me, him, Zair (Raheem). I’d been around Floyd at a younger age in different tournaments. He was always Detroit; I was always New York. We always kicked it.”

This knowledge worked both ways. Initially, it allowed Judah to predict Mayweather’s next move and establish a foothold, yet, as the fight progressed, it would work more in Mayweather’s favour, so cognisant was he of the fact Judah blew hot and cold and that his undoubted talent was often undermined by wavering concentration. Ultimately, it resulted in the final six rounds of the fight being as disappointing for Judah as the first six were encouraging. Oh, and a unanimous decision (119-109, 116-112 and 117-111) for Mayweather after twelve.

“Like he says, I won six rounds, he won six rounds,” argued Judah. “If he won six and I won six, what does that mean? I would have accepted a draw. At least then I know I would have messed up his pretty record. Back then he was known as ‘Pretty Boy’ and I would have messed up the ‘Pretty Boy’ record.

“But it was a great night, a very big night, and I felt excellent in there. I felt like at the end of it I would get a draw. I really believed that. I didn’t think they would just let me walk out of there with all of that s**t.”

Jose Luis Castillo
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

One of the few Mayweather opponents capable of matching Mayweather for marketability was Oscar De La Hoya. He met Mayweather in May 2007 and, though 34 years of age, remained relevant and important and, well, ‘The Golden Boy’. He also rolled back the years that night, some three years after being stopped by Bernard Hopkins, and got his tactics spot on. He took the fight to Mayweather. He got close and stayed close. He roughed him up and hit whatever flesh was available to be hit, often flurrying his hands as though trying to break free from a confined space.

The approach led to one judge, Tom Kaczmarek, awarding the fight to De La Hoya by a score of 115-113 (Kaczmarek remains the only judge to have ever scored a pro fight against Mayweather), only to be outnumbered by the other two judges, Chuck Giampa and Jerry Roth, who scored it 116-112 and 115-113 respectively in favour of Mayweather. The outcome was jeered by those in attendance at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas and for once ‘The Golden Boy’ had to settle for silver.

“If I didn’t press the fight, there would be no fight,” Oscar said at the time. “I hurt him with a few punches, I was pressing, and I wanted to stop him. I was trying to close the show. I was the champion and you’ve got to do more than that to beat the champion. I believe I won the fight.”

A rematch never happened. Mayweather retired after beating Ricky Hatton in 2007 and didn’t unretire until the second half of 2009, by which point De La Hoya was even more faded than he was the first time they met and out the door himself. Mayweather, the new money man in the sport, made do with other big names. He had fun against Juan Manuel Marquez, a blown-up featherweight, on his 2009 return, before then underestimating the degree to which ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley was faded the following May.  

This crisis, the first of Mayweather’s ‘second’ career, was triggered by a jab to the body followed by a rapid right hand fired over the top; the first shot was clever while the second rocked Mayweather, locking his feet in place and forcing him to grab hold of Mosley’s right arm as if he were drowning and it were the only bit of driftwood in sight.

More was to come, too, as for a round Mayweather functioned on sea legs.

“History could have been changed,” Mosley told BN. “I think Floyd thought, Oh, he’s an older guy, he’s not as strong or fast as he used to be. He didn’t believe in the power.

“When I hit him the first time, I think it caught him off guard. You could see him thinking, How did he get that right hand in? He still wasn’t convinced, so then he tried his little check hook and I went over the top again with the right hand. That’s when I almost knocked him out. I think for a moment he saw black and thought he was going to be knocked out.

“He proved he was a champion by recovering from it. He started holding and doing what it takes to survive. That’s what champions do. They find a way to survive and then win. He did just that.”

Unlike most Mayweather opponents, Mosley had seen the light. He knew not only could he touch a chin for so long deemed out of reach but that he also had the power to erase the cocksure smirk from Mayweather’s face.

“The game plan, as always, was to knock him out,” he continued. “But, more specifically, it was to land that overhand right, break him down with body shots, and to slow him down and confuse him to the point where I could then land certain shots he didn’t think I was going to be able to land.

“But I think he managed to nullify it with different positioning and with the way he bobbed and weaved and moved. When he moved to his right and dipped down, I couldn’t really let go of my shots and land anything.

“He was a lot faster than me with his feet and his hands. I couldn’t get off. I wasn’t the faster fighter in that equation. He made it difficult for me all the way around and all I could do was land a big shot. I felt like that was the only option available to me.

“He was much younger than me and I didn’t think I was going to be able to keep up with his punch production. I could feel myself tiring and I could see him getting more energetic by slipping and sliding and countering. My whole thinking was, Okay, I’ve caught him once already in this fight. Let me try and trick him with something else and catch him again. But I could never find the right shot to hit him with to get him started again.”

In the end Mosley acquiesced like the rest. He made peace with the fact he was past his prime and that his chance had been and gone. Resigned to it, at points during the fight he would even find himself distracted by the thought of what would have happened between the pair had they met in their younger days, perhaps at a lower weight. He was dreaming of fantasy fights before reality had run its course.

“I was thinking, If I was a little bit younger, how would this fight be going right now? How would it be different? Back in my day, I know I would have knocked him out,” he said.

“During our fight I didn’t believe he could take my punches. I rocked him in the second round, and it wasn’t really that hard. I just kind of slid in and got him. So I knew I was going to get him again.

“But it just never happened. I could never get another clean shot. I think if I was a little bit younger and in better shape I would have been able to throw a lot more punches and get different positions and I think I would have been able to catch him with the shot I was looking for. My timing would have been a lot better and I would have timed him and caught him.

“If I had fought him in a rematch maybe I could have gone to his body a little more. I could have looped some left hooks at him and come down straight to the body with straight right hands. Maybe I would have tried to fight him a little more like (Marcos) Maidana fought him. Or (Jose Luis) Castillo. Smother him, swarm him, stay close to him. Even hold him a little bit, too, so he can’t come back with counters. Make the fight as ugly as possible.”

Although his purse was guaranteed, Argentina’s Marcos Maidana harassed Mayweather as if certain more cash could be prised from his trunks and wouldn’t leave him alone for the 12 rounds they shared in May 2014. He pushed him hard, both figuratively and literally, and landed cleanly, thanks to an ugly approach, more times than most Mayweather opponents.

Mayweather, though, true to form, survived. He survived some shaky patches and the fight, winning a majority decision, ahead of making the necessary adjustments to win the rematch, held four months later, by wider margins.

Floyd Mayweather boxing

He survived three subsequent fights, too, against Manny Pacquiao, Andre Berto and Conor McGregor, a mixed martial artist, and survived the sport, retiring – yet again – with a 50-0 (27) pro record in 2017.  

“A lot of fighters get into boxing and then age as their career goes along but Floyd was born into boxing,” said Corley. “His father (Floyd Snr) was a professional fighter, his uncle (Roger) was a professional fighter and his other uncle, Jeff, was also a professional fighter. When he was in Pampers, he was boxing. Before he could walk, he was boxing. From the time his feet first hit the ground to start walking he was already throwing punches.

“His brain has been developed like a computer. He’s programmed to do certain things instinctively and that gives him the upper hand on everybody. He’s a fighting machine. You’ve got to break that code to beat that machine and no one has done it yet.”

Mosley, a future Hall-of-Famer who believes timing is the only reason he couldn’t break the code, is mostly in agreement with Corley.

“Floyd’s obviously a great fighter,” he said. “He has great legs and he’s very sharp with his punches. He pinpoints his shots really good. He throws fast shots and his power was pretty decent, too. I was surprised by that. I thought he had some pretty good sting on his shots.

“But I can’t say anybody’s The Best Ever because there’s always a style out there that’s wrong for someone. (Muhammad) Ali always had a hard time with (Joe) Frazier and had an easier time with (George) Foreman, but Foreman had an easy time with Frazier. Who was the best?

“I don’t know if I can see Mayweather beating ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns or Roberto Duran. Castillo was a form of (Julio Cesar) Chavez and Castillo is someone a lot of people think beat Mayweather. But everything Castillo did were patterns he had got from Chavez. Would Mayweather beat Chavez based on how he performed against Castillo? I don’t know. Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t.

“We don’t know which era is best. Mayweather was the best in his era. Does that make him the best of all time? No, of course not.

“He also fought a lot of guys on his terms; at the right time, at the right weight. He was smart. He made a lot of money and he can tell everyone he is The Best Ever because he never lost as a pro. But real fight fans, real people who follow boxing, know what to believe and what not to believe. I can’t say ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard was the best ever. I can’t say Muhammad Ali was the best ever. The best I can do is say they were the best in their era.”

That settles it then. ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather, later known as Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, was the best of his era but was not, despite what it says on the caps, T-shirts and tracksuits, The Best Ever. Nor perfect.

He was, however, pretty close.

Floyd Mayweather
TBE? Not quite.