While preparing for his May 2012 fight against Miguel Cotto, Floyd Mayweather Jr., then 42-0, was asked to name his toughest opponent. His answer was the same as it had always been: Emanuel Augustus. He didn’t have the best record in the sport of boxing; he has never won a world title, but,” said Mayweather, “he came to fight.”
If there is a go-to anecdote that veritable legion of Augustus enthusiasts calls on in their apologies for a fighter who retired with a 38-34-6 (20) record, this is it. It is a compliment that warrants some unpacking. Mayweather would have no problem so lavishly complimenting a fighter he was, by then, in no way competing with. Indeed, by isolating Augustus, Mayweather was effectively diminishing the challenges posed by opponents such as Jose Luis Castillo, who many argue beat Mayweather in their first fight, or Oscar De La Hoya, who fared better against the best fighter in the world than his aged form should’ve allowed. And you can trust that Mayweather expected his answer to find some traction, hence the “sport of boxing” he couldn’t resist using when pressed to speak of his trade on the record. Mayweather hedged immediately after that praise, too, inserting the often-ignored qualifier that he “took a long layoff” before the Augustus fight.
But the compliment stands—and so it should.
Augustus made Mayweather earn his twenty-fourth professional victory; there was hardly a free moment for “Pretty Boy,” who was forced to fight, and dazzlingly so, to put away Augustus in the ninth. Craft pushed Mayweather that night: you need more than talent, or physicality, or toughness to trouble so complete a fighter as the lightweight version of Mayweather.
We should take Mayweather at his word, then, just as we did James Toney—a man less calculated in his compliments, loathe as he is to offer them—when the fiercely proud fighter praised Mike McCallum as the best fighter with whom he had shared the ring. And so a .500 fighter, a career .500 fighter, not one who ran up a gaudy record before being derailed, is the best fighter this generation’s best fighter ever faced. It is for reasons like this that people like to say Augustus’s record fails to tell the story.
Are they right to do so? And if Augustus’s record fails to tell the defining story, does it still tell us something?