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Marciano vs. Mayweather: Who Had Better 49-0 Record?

Mayweather
Photo Courtesy of AP

Rocky Marciano Jr. thinks Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a great fighter.

Just don’t try to tell him that Floyd’s 49-0 somehow matches his dad’s 49-0.

“I suppose I would be more impressed,” Marciano Jr. told USA TODAY. “I think my father’s record is a difficult record to achieve in the heavyweight class. In boxing history we’ve seen (boxers in) lighter weight classes go deep before losses. The weight matters in my opinion and also in others’ opinions.”

The younger Marciano was watching at a bar as Mayweather picked up an easy win over hapless Andre Berto, and doesn’t believe that the newest member of the 49-0 club is really going to retire.

“Waiting to see if Mayweather sticks to his word or goes for 50 before retiring,” Marciano Jr. said. “… It’s difficult to believe this is his last fight.”

The skepticism is easy to understand—this isn’t the first time Mayweather has announced his retirement—and so are the questions about if it is easier to go 49-0 at a lower weight class.

Ricardo Lopez, who spent most of his career fighting at 105 pounds, retired at 51-0-1, while Julio Cesar Chavez was 87-0 before a highly disputed draw with Pernell Whitaker and made it to 89-0-1 before losing to Frankie Randall.

Flyweight champ Jimmy Wilde made it to 93-0-1 before being knocked out in the 17th (!) round by Tancy Lee in 1915, and featherweight Willie Pep started his career with 62 straight wins.

More recently, super-middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe retired in 2008 with a record of 46-0, beating Mikkel Kessler (39-0 coming into the fight), Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. in his last three fights.

In the heavyweight division, though, the only fighter who came close to Marciano was Larry Holmes, who made it to 48-0 before losing back-to-back decisions to Michael Spinks. Despite what Holmes fans claim, that he might have had a legitimate argument over the second decision, Spinks beat him in the first fight.

Holmes, though, was lucky to fight in the years between Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. He was passed the torch after an easy win over a sick, old Ali, and moved it to the next generation when he was brutally knocked out by Tyson in his first fight after the losses to Spinks.

So, yes, in one sense, Marciano Jr. is correct—it is tougher to put together a long winning streak at heavyweight than it is at lighter weights. In a way, that makes perfect sense, because no matter how good you are, if you get caught on the chin by a 240-pound man, you are going to be in trouble.

Ask Lennox Lewis, who might have threatened Marciano’s record if not for two big punches from Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. Ali hadn’t lost a fight until he ran into Joe Frazier’s left hook, and Frazier hadn’t lost until George Foreman unloaded on him.

Even now, where Wladimir Klitschko owns the weakest heavyweight division in decades, there are the knockout losses to Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster.

So Mayweather definitely has the advantage of being able to avoid the kind of power only found in the heaviest weight classes, and technically, that’s all Marciano Jr. said. However, there’s also an implication there that, because of the weight difference, Marciano was a greater champion than Mayweather, and that’s a much tougher case to make.

No mediocre fighter is ever going to go 49-0 and retire with the undisputed heavyweight championship, and Marciano was clearly far beyond that. He and Mayweather are both first-ballot Hall of Famers, and they would be if they had gone 48-1 instead of 49-0.

However, if you put weight differences aside, Mayweather’s road to 49 is much more impressive than Marciano’s. Like Holmes, Marciano fought in an era just after the days of a great champion—even taking the torch from Joe Louis with the traditional end-of-the-career beating—and before the days of a new one.  When Marciano retired, Ali was a 13-year-old kid in Louisville, but he was only nine years away from the heavyweight title.

Marciano beat great fighters, but never beat a Hall of Famer in his prime. Louis was 37. Archie Moore was 38 and had already been fighting for 20 years. Jersey Joe Walcott was 38 for their first fight, and Ezzard Charles was about to turn 34 and in his 97th career fight.

Mayweather had his share of those fights—Oscar De La Hoya was 34 and nearing the end of his career, and his win over Manny Pacquiao was against a 36-year-old version of the Filipino fighter.

But Mayweather was 36 when he beat 23-year-old Canelo Alvarez, and has continued to dominate fighters into his late 30s.

Mayweather also has more big-name wins than Marciano, from the ill-fated Diego Corrales through Arturo Gatti, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez and Miguel Cotto.

There are many, many things to dislike about Floyd Mayweather Jr., but he hasn’t taken the cheap way to 49-0. Sure, he could have taken a tougher fight to tie Marciano’s record—a rematch with Alvarez would have been entertaining, or Amir Khan, but Mayweather has gone through the toughest fighters from 130 pounds to 154 over the last 17 years.

Hate him for what he’s done outside the ring, but he’s every bit Marciano’s equal inside of it.

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