To be, or not to be–that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing end them.
In tribute to the most ballyhooed undefeated record of an active boxer since Julio Cesar Chavez ran his record out to 89-0, and perhaps with the gentle lassitude of centuries passing, a comparison to the first great undefeated boxing record, that of John L. Sullivan to that of Floyd Mayweather Jr might be instructive.
The Boston Strong Boy turned “modern” boxing on it’s nascent head by not only becoming the first recognized heavyweight champion under the new fangled Marquis of Queensbury rules, but he became boxing’s first “fully unified” champ of sorts when he also claimed the last remaining bare knuckle title claim under Revised London Prize Ring Rules in a memorable, a quite remarkable contrast of styles against Jake Kilrain down Mississippi way.
Sully was in the final days of his long standing dissipation from the ravages of a great fighter’s most formidable enemy, that of the gross excesses of wine, women, and song, unceasing calls carousing like sirens set loose in the night ensnaring those possessing such great fame and fortune as did Sully. He was only at age 30, a figure usually considered near the peak of most traditional sports, but not necessarily so in such a brutal sport of the era of boxing that he fought in.
John L reaped a fortuitous turn of The Luck of the Irish when impossibly he agreed to the spartan training regimen of the champion Greco-Roman wrestler and physical trainer of the era, William Muldoon, a son of Irish immigrants just like Sullivan who cut his own swath of considerable size and strength to match his advanced theories of physical cultivation that brooked no stick from any man. In short, he was the last man standing in the world that John L could respect enough to set aside his massive ego and pride to be ruled over those many months it took to cut out the fifty some odd pounds of flab and add the hard conditioning and strength that the 220 lb Sullivan commanded at his best.
Sullivan had already “unified” any of the standing claims to the Marquis of Queensbury gloved rules and really had no need for another bare knuckle unification added on to his own claims. The problem he shared with Floyd Mayweather was profligate spending that ultimately left him in needs of funds despite being literally a walking mint in his prime years, an estimated ring earnings of near one million dollars on top of his considerable touring exhibitions of boxing, plays, and other public appearances that likely exceeded his ring earnings.
Consider how staggering those figures were in the considerably deflated 19th century dollars where few American citizens earned more than a few hundred dollars every year, if even that.
Jake Kilrain was something of multi sport athlete, being both a champion sculler in his early days before turning to boxing and the considerable income brought in by being a claimant to the heavyweight bare knucks title. His style has some overlap with that of Mayweather, being a lithe 178 lbs against the considerably stronger, more powerful Sullivan, and of being a wrestler and clincher of considerable skill combined with a limited light tapping offensive arsenal operating out a running, contorting defense that went down upon the landing of any heavy or light blow landed by the soon to be frustrated Sullivan. Kilrain’s style was the practice of the defensive masters under LPRR rules.
The reigning consensus of the day was that Sully could not maintain his strength over distance much less in his current bloated, dissipated state, so imagine the Kilrain shock as Sullivan stripped down to reveal a Muldoon rejuvenated John L in better condition than ever. There were at least three dozen knockdowns and throwdowns or more of this contest that went 75 rounds, too many to count with most every one being the game Kilrain hitting the turf. He was successful in defensively extending out Sullivan beyond the point of no return, alas, to no avail by the end. Kilrain retired on his stool at the end of 75 rounds, pulverized beyond recognition after going far beyond any prudent notion of survival instincts, unable to do more than lift a pinky to wipe his bloodied face while drawing painful breaths.
Sullivan was undefeated under Queensbury rules, an amazing 38-0, 32 KO record of what would prove to be one of the highest knockout ratios in boxing history at 84%. He was also undefeated under his dozen or more bareknuck fights with many more savage knockouts. He promptly sauntered forth on a greatly renown tour to be feted by his fans, yet still savaged by his enemies who had long spared no expense with full page challenges of his reputation of being an intemperate, bull necked, drunken brute of a bully. Sullivan did not have to return to the ring some 3 years later in a such a poorly trained corpulent state to go against his former sparring partner and touring buddy, James J. Corbett. They had conducted a boxing exhibition in formal dress attire when the cocky, youthful manner of Corbett became the final challenge to the fierce pride of Sullivan.
So Sully ultimately went out on his shield, finally giving satisfaction to his vehement critics, but not before 21 hard rounds against a lithe boxer and mover in his prime. Noteworth was that Corbett was also considerably bigger and stronger than Kilrain with more offensive nuance at his disposal.
Fast>>forward 123 amazing years later spanning three centuries and here we are again in 2015 with Floyd Mayweather currently standing at 47-0, 28 KO after having finally rising to the top of the monied food chain of boxing. He rakes in more than his fair share of the billions, sometimes trillions the US government issues in printed money and debt every year. Where does boxing and Mayweather go from here?
He has more in common with James J. Corbett who was 9-0-2, 3 KO than he has with the powerful John L who was the proto undefeated Mike Tyson of his day. Corbett had also had defeated the unbeaten under Queensbury rules version Jake Kilrain who was also closer to Mayweather than to Sullivan. Kilrain was 19-0-9, 12 KO coming off his grueling bareknuckled beating by Sullivan the year before going into the Corbett 6 rounder which can hardly be seen as significant given the light nature of the fight.
Kilrain would log several more wins culminating with his last significant win in a fight to the finish under Queensbury rules against era black contender George “Old Chocolate” Godfrey. It was recorded as a thrilling contest of skill until Godfrey landed face first in a pile of straw after having been knocked out of the ring after 44 rounds.
Unlike Mayweather, Sullivan fought all across the country, taking the fight to the people wherever it could be arranged in those “illegal days” when boxers had to dodge the authorities as much as they did punches. He even traveled to Great Britain and France because that’s where the money and the challenges were.
Floyd Mayweather is obligated to fulfill his last two fights under his Showtime contract. He will be in his 8th straight year of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, almost half of his career and all of his most acclaimed period of a fighter. No fighter in history has ever been so confined, coddled, swaddled, and rewarded in such a single venue, there is no precedent. He will be looking more and more like an aging, shopworn 38 years of age if his last two fights against Marcos Maidana are any indicator. The emasculated Mayweather nation can blow their smoke up his keister ’til Gabriel blows his horn in the end times, but the plain truth is that Mayweather didn’t fight his main rivals during their prime years, most especially Manny Pacquiao, a fight that will continue to be floated to the public by the press in fruitless efforts 6 years after it’s primacy has passed.
In short, he will not have any “signature fights” of note to be remembered by. It’s his money, his many “retirements, and his hometown venue that will that stand out as his legacy when future historians rate him. We can only judge in our days where he manages to cover much of the full range of the spectrum from a so, so great to the best ever, but we have no final word as ratings of boxers goes up and down all through history with every new generation.
There are near some 50 fighters of any note who retired with undefeated records, most not being HOF fighters and none making the International Boxing Research Organization, IBRO, their historical rankings of P4P top 20 fighters. Such is a perspective to consider as Mayweather and his here today, gone tomorrow bandwagon fans proclaim him The Best Ever.
Retirement is near and beckoning while the siren sings the eternal song of mo’ money, Mo’ Money, Lot’s MO’ MONEY We Gots Next! We’ll see how that all works out for him come 2015 after a long rest from his recent “grueling” schedule of 2 Mexican Holiday fights at the MGM Grand per year with two more TBAs in the queue waiting, waiting…forever waiting….until…..and……?
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