In the golden ballroom of a grand casino stands a ring in which I sit flanked by my two guests, Floyd Mayweather and Sugar Ray Leonard. They are here because they share my obsession: who would’ve won had they met at their respective peaks?
George Thomas Clark – Floyd, you’re certainly one of the most gifted boxers in history, and perhaps the finest on defense, but I’m not going to play games. I think Ray had your boxing skills and was a much more powerful puncher who fought far better opponents than you have. He’s also a couple of inches taller and has a two-inch reach advantage and is fundamentally a larger fighter, a heavier and stronger man.
Floyd Mayweather – What have you ever done? I didn’t come here to be insulted. Look at the record.
GTC – We’re not here to discuss what I haven’t done. We’re here to talk about how you and Ray Leonard would’ve matched up.
FM – You’re older than Leonard. I expect prejudice from baby boomers.
Ray Leonard – I agree with Tom’s assessment. Floyd’s definitely great, and I love watching him fight. He’s a magician. He reminds me of myself, but without the power.
FM – You’ve got too many L’s in your column to be talking that way.
RL – I’ve only got three, and two of those were my last two fights. I was almost forty-one for Hector Camacho.
FM – You were only thirty-four when Terry Norris whipped your ass by sixteen points. I’m thirty-seven, and I guarantee you I beat Terry Norris today or any other.
RL – You know, Floyd, you’ve got a point. I fought very little after my detached retina in the early 1980s. I laid off two years one time, three years another, and had only eight fights between 1982 and 1997. That’s fifteen years. But I was definitely pretty good in 1987 when I beat Marvin Hagler and in 1989 when Tommy Hearns and I had a draw in our second fight.
FM – Both those guys beat you.
RL – I think Tommy did edge me the second time.
FM – He knocked you down twice.
RL – Yeah, and I staggered him several times. It was close. And don’t forget, I knocked Tommy out the first time we fought. And I’m glad we’re talking about Hagler and Hearns, Floyd, because we all know damn well you wouldn’t have fought either of them. You’d have made excuses. Look me in the eye and tell me Manny Pacquiao would beat Hagler or Hearns. Manny, like you, would be too scared to fight a powerful middleweight like Hagler. And Tommy would’ve knocked Manny out, guaranteed. Tommy Hearns definitely beats you, Floyd, but maybe you go the distance. Can you imagine me ducking Pacquiao for years?
FM – I’m not getting into that because Floyd Mayweather is the show, not Manny Pacquiao who spent two minutes with his nose on the canvas after getting hit by the same Manuel Marquez who couldn’t hit me and says he’ll never fight me again. And, get it straight, I not only go the distance with Tommy Hearns, I outbox him and use my defensive skills so I don’t take nearly the beating you took against him both times. You never see me come out of fights banged up as you were.
RL – What we don’t see is you fighting guys the same league as Hagler and Hearns and Roberto Duran.
FM – Don’t give me any b.s. about Duran. When Duran was still in his prime, Wilfred Benitez decisioned him and barely got hit.
RL – At the time Benitez was one of the greatest defensive fighters ever.
FM – I am the greatest.
RL – You’re also a relatively light hitter, like Benitez.
FM – Come on, Benitez started getting beat up and knocked out all the time. Be real, or I’m walking out.
RL – Fair enough. I think I’m a lot better at being realistic than you are, Floyd, because I challenged myself so many times. When I fought Benitez, he was a great fighter and I stopped him. You don’t stop the 1979 Benitez, Floyd, trust me. But you do get the decision. You’ll have to prove you beat the 1980 Duran.
FM – The one who said “No Mas”?
RL – That one, yeah, but especially the Duran of our first fight.
FM – The one who beat you? The same guy who lost to Benitez.
RL – Floyd, if you know anything about boxing history – and I assume you do – then you know damn well Roberto Duran is a lot better than anyone you’ve ever fought.
FM – You’re dreaming, Ray. Miguel Cotto kicks Duran’s ass, and I dominated him. I guarantee you I beat Duran at welterweight.
RL – You don’t beat him at lightweight. I think Jose Luis Castillo beat you the second fight.
FM – You don’t think that. You wish that. I don’t have to concede anything to Duran.
RL – You’ve got to concede he fought me three times, he fought Hagler, he fought Hearns, he fought dozens of guys.
FM – Hearns laid him out, and Duran picked up a couple dozen losses.
GTC – Gentlemen, most of Duran’s losses were when he got older and heavier. After all, he fought till he was fifty. Besides, we’re imagining a fight between you two at a hundred forty-seven, as welterweights. I assume you both think that was your best weight.
(Both men nod).
GTC – Let’s take a look at the two giant screens behind us. On the left we have Ray Leonard in November 1981 at age twenty-five, ready to fight Tommy Hearns the first time. It’s true that Ray justifiably trailed on all three cards when he stopped Hearns in the fourteenth round, but I think this is Ray at his peak. He absorbed a pounding from a huge and talented welterweight but came back to take him out. Are you all right with this, Ray?
RL – At a hundred forty-seven, yeah. But the version of me that beat Hagler in 1987 was bigger, stronger, and more resourceful. That’s a version of me Floyd doesn’t want.
FM – I’m not fighting middleweights. I think I could beat them but I’d take more shots and harder shots than I do now, and I feel – as I’ve always said – that my health is most important, and so is the health of all boxers.
GTC – Okay, Floyd, Oscar De La Hoya was a fine fighter but lost a lot of big fights. You won a split decision against him in 2007. I don’t think you were quite at your best.
FM – Everyone but one incompetent judge knows I won that fight, and easily. Oscar did very little against me. But I suppose I’d take myself in September 2009 against Marquez.
GTC – He wasn’t really a welterweight at the time. I don’t know how he enhanced himself by the fourth time he fought Pacquiao, but he definitely was a lot bigger and stronger then.
FM – That’s his problem. I was as good that night as ever, and probably better.
GTC – And so it shall be, gentlemen. Please enjoy yourselves with our international audience as I merge the screens.