By Jason Keidel
Since the passing of boxing’s Bon Vivant, Burt Sugar, we have leaned on a conga line of luminaries to frame the state of boxing, its future and, with Floyd Mayweather Jr marching toward Rocky Marciano, its bejeweled history.
Perhaps no one is better suited to see the sport in all its dimensions than Al Bernstein, Showtime’s boxing Yoda. Few men with a mike have had a longer or more relevant ringside seat. Fewer men have done it with his alacrity and adamance. So who better to dissect Floyd Mayweather’s relevance, current and historical?
Jason Keidel: Does 49-0 still have the same gravitas it had 30 years ago?
Al Bernstein: To be undefeated is difficult, in general, but there’s more of an emphasis to be undefeated than there is to be 49-0. There wasn’t an emphasis before because no fighters were undefeated, and that’s because they fought so often and against such stiff competition. So being undefeated is a badge of honor, but not necessarily 49-0.
MORE>> Check Out CBS Local Sports’ Mayweather-Berto Live Blog For Live Coverage Of The Fight On Sept. 12
I ruled the first Maidana fight a draw but he’s never been seriously challenged other than his fight with Oscar De la Hoya. There’s been debate about his competition, but there are many champions on his list. Today they are cynical about who he fought, but in fifteen years the list will grow in stature.
Jason Keidel: Is it fair to compare eras?
Bernstein: I think it’s fair to compare eras. But it depends on the division. Fuzzy Thurston weighed 230 lbs at offensive line 50 years ago, whereas Calvin Johnson weighs 240 lbs at wide receiver today. But there’s a fair comparison between weights because a middleweight is a middleweight. The level of competition matters, as well.
Floyd has benefited in a sense, from the historical point in which he’s fought talented fighters. He’s benefited from when he fought them. He would be terrific in any era. But had he lived in the 1980s he would not be undefeated. Zero chance. You could even argue that if he came up in the De La Hoya/Fernando Vargas/Felix Trinidad/Ike Quartey era he could have lost at least once, as well.
Floyd would be great in any area, between 135 and 147, but objectively speaking, it’s impossible to imagine him beating Sugar Ray Robinson, Ray Leonard or Thomas Hearns. And I think he has a life-and-death struggle with Trinidad, Pryor, and Duran.
JK: What do you make of Mayweather’s top-five all-time, as told to ESPN Deportes?
Bernstein: Ray Robinson is the best who ever lived. He was 131-1 as a welterweight. End of sentence, end of discussion, end of story. And he did it against the toughest competition. To not put him in the top five is silly.
The list was skewed to pander to recent fighters or younger audiences. Julio Cesar Chavez being number three? I can’t think of anyone who put him in the top five. Duran had a lot of losses, so why the losses matter with Ali but not Duran is a mystery to me. My guess is Floyd did it to keep people talking and it worked.
JK: Who will be the next great fighter to assume the throne?
Bernstein: In this era it depends on who gets the attention, not just the ability. It has to be someone who will keep winning and has the star appeal. If Canelo Alvarez beats Miguel Cotto he could be next in line.
Then we have Gennady Golovkin. Triple G is 33 but is well preserved and has crossover appeal. Another is Keith Thurman. We don’t know how good he will be but he has the potential to be really good and is getting exposure. And a possible sleeper is Anthony Joshua, if Deontae Wilder doesn’t continue to rise.
JK: Why fight Andre Berto?
Bernstein: I don’t know. It’s Floyd’s decision and I can’t answer it. They keep saying it’s his last fight but he’s mercurial and he can change his mind.
JK: If Manny Pacquiao fights and beats Danny Garcia would he warrant a rematch with Mayweather?
Bernstein: Depends on the public view of his injury. Will they buy it? Do they think he’s still got it? If he’s really impressive (against Garcia) then I think he will garner enough attention and enthusiasm for a rematch. I can see that Pacquiao threw half his normal punches, so maybe it’s because of the shoulder.
JK: Favorite Mayweather fight?
Bernstein: I’d say the first Castillo and Maidana fights. His best performance was against Diego Corrales
JK: Will you miss him?
Bernstein: I will miss the technical brilliance. He’s polarizing but a brilliant boxer, his skills are that of a master, His style is impossible to duplicate. He’s got some Pernell Whitaker and some Willie pep, a genius in the ring.
JK: Will he really retire on September 12?
Bernstein: I think it’s 50-50.
JK: Why is it so hard for boxers to retire?
Bernstein: Boxers have the ability to come back because people will pay to watch. People won’t pay to watch old pitchers pitch, but if an iconic fighter can pass a physical then you can fight long past your prime.
JK: How large a hole is Floyd leaving behind?
Bernstein: Boxing is in a precarious position. It doesn’t get covered appropriately. Ten prominent sportscasters could not name ten boxers. Even at ESPN or Fox Sports. Mayweather came along when boxing needed a star, and became mainstream. This is a hard time now. It’s problematic because we need an American face with talent and star power.
But there will always be someone or a group of boxers that will save the sport.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.