CLAUDE ABRAMS’ RINGSIDE REPORT of Floyd Mayweather vs Carlos Rios, Originally published February, 1999

IT would require an accomplishment of exceptional proportions for one of today’s champions to stand up and be counted alongside his great predecessors, which is why super-featherweight Floyd Mayweather has targeted Joe Louis’ extraordinary record of title defences (25) that has stood since 1948.

Before a sell-out crowd of 12,696, the third biggest in the history of the Van Andel Arena downtown in the second largest city in the state of Michigan, “Pretty Boy Floyd” was rather unexceptional, though totally superior against extremely tough Argentine Carlos Rios, who lost widely and unanimously on points over 12 rounds in his second bid for a WBC title.

Now Mayweather, considered by his promoter Bob Arum to be cast in the same stone as former greats Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, needs another two dozen championship victories to topple Louis’ mark.

The chances are Floyd will be derailed in his quest to break the record – either by the lure of more tempting and richer challenges in a heavier division, or by the demands of such an ambitious schedule. But it will be fun watching him try.

The turn-out here was, not surprisingly, euphoric, though Rios, booed to the ring and during the introductions, ended up as the hero, withstanding Floyd’s best attacks and never appearing likely to go down, despite a heavy onslaught to his body over the final four rounds.

Having seen Rios, a 27-year-old family man with a seven-month-old daughter, survive the full 10 rounds in September against Mexican puncher Cesar Soto – who challenges Luisito Espinosa, the other champion to have conquered Carlos – I knew what to expect.

But there were occasions when Mayweather, trying hard for a knockout, appeared frustrated and sloppy.

“I can’t knock everyone out,” said Floyd. “But I’ve shown people I can go 12 rounds.”

At the finish Mayweather (9st 4lbs) was remarkably fresh. Rios (9st 3lbs) nicked on the bridge of his nose, suffered a bruised right eye which was beginning to close, as well as the third defeat of his 48-fight (one draw) career.

“I’ve been in the sport since 1965,” said Arum. “And I’ve had enough experience with Argentines like Oscar Bonavena, Carlos Monzon, Victor Galindez and Juan Domingo Roldan to know they’re always tough, brave and tremendously conditioned.”

Rios was no exception. He was to Mayweather what Wayne McCullough and Hector Camacho were to Naseem Hamed and Oscar De La Hoya, opponents they could not knock out, no matter how hard they tried. But Mayweather is still only 21 and, after 20 straight wins (15 inside the limit), has plenty of time to improve.

He was often short with his jab, particularly in the early stages, missed the target far too frequently, appeared tense, as though he was overly keen to produce a dramatic finish in front of his own people, and sometimes cuffed with the inside of his glove.

Every punch Mayweather threw contained venom, but Rios covered up adroitly, ducked and rolled with the punches when pinned on the ropes and often made the champion seek cover with his rough-house flurries.

Rios, while never threatening to upstage the homecoming, provided the champion with plenty to work on and Floyd admitted: “I should have thrown more jabs and combinations, but we’ll watch the tapes and do better next time.”

Mayweather’s stunning victories over Genaro Hernandez and Angel Manfredy made the large welcoming committee expectant of fireworks, but fighters like Rios are so crude and awkward – unlike the stylish and upright Manfredy – that anticipation and timing are often made doubly difficult. By the fifth, Rios was feeling the strain, but fought hard not to show it. Mayweather would pin him on the ropes, then lean back, tucking his chin behind his left shoulder to avoid any counters before opening fire.

There were further signs of Rios cracking in the seventh, and when the champion stepped up his body attacks in the eighth, but the challenger had a brief reprieve in the 10th from a low blow. “We take our hat off to Rios,” said Floyd Snr, the champion’s father and trainer. “He’s strong and gave his best.”

This was, in essence, a reality check, the sort of reminder which brings all touted punchers down to earth. “He’s up there with Oscar, Erik Morales, Roy Jones and Shane Mosley as the best five fighters in the sport today,” claimed Arum.

It was an opinion endorsed by the South American. “But I deserve another chance,” said Rios. “Floyd’s tough, he has heavy hands, especially the left, and I think he’ll be champion for a long time.”

That Floyd was able to dominate such a tough rival stresses the extent of his talent.

Two judges, Bobby Watson of America and Luis Guzman of Argentina, who scored 119-108 and 120-109 respectively, both gave the champion the 11th by a 10-8 round, which seemed generous, particularly when compared with De La Hoya’s extraordinary effort against Quartey four days earlier in the concluding session, which the Californian welterweight won by the same margin.

Though Gelasio Perez of Mexico had Mayweather widely in front by 120-110 – I made it 119-109 to the champion – the accumulation of points had ceased to be an issue long before the final bell.

It was merely a question of survival, though hardly a fox hunt, as Rios took Mayweather by surprise on many occasions with his spirited blasts.

Floyd was confident, though a tad uncomfortable under pressure, choosing a form of defence which entailed blocking and slipping as he tucked his right glove against his temple and folded the left arm across his chest.

From this position the champion swivelled his body whilst keeping an eye out for an opening to strike. There were some exciting exchanges, like at the end of the second, which I gave to the challenger, but Mayweather could not decide how best to remove the lid from Rios’ can without spilling the contents.

Floyd took long strides to cut off the ring in the fourth, but for much of the time was unable to find a way to release his energy, like a hyper-active child told to sit still.

At the end of the sixth, Rios, breathing heavily, sat on his stool, elbows resting on the ropes, with an ice pack on his head. Loud chants of “Floyd, Floyd” greeted the champion for the next, but all Mayweather looked for in the round were hard counters.

The eighth signified a change when Floyd jabbed hard to the Argentine’s muscled stomach, then proceeded to work the challenger’s ribs. Rios’ hands started dropping lower and he began to move.

But just when it appeared Rios had taken enough, he started punching back with gusto. Mayweather bombarded Rios in the final 10 seconds of the ninth and landed a terrifically fast combination near the end of the 10th.

In the next, Carlos took a volley of hard hooks and right uppercuts and was worked over again at the bell.

By the last, Rios was looking to hang on and move and his effort fully deserved to be rewarded by finishing on his feet. Mayweather, bright-eyed and clean-cut, tried to topple him and referee Dale Grable looked on closely at one stage as more blistering short-range hooks and uppercuts bounced off the visitor’s head. At the bell they touched gloves.

“I wasn’t tired,” said the champion. “I ran five miles a day with combat boots and chopped trees. I’ll be around for another 10 years.”

And he may need to be if he really intends to smash the “Brown Bomber’s” landmark.