6. May 26, 2001 – W 12 Carlos Hernandez, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Michigan
While the scorecards had Mayweather an easy 119-109, 117-109, 116-111 winner, they didn’t tell the whole story. Of all the fights that happened before or since, Mayweather had never been in such sustained danger of losing his “0.” That’s because Mayweather was confronted with an in-fight crisis that forced him to formulate – on the fly – a fight plan that was far outside his comfort zone and one he had to follow for more than half the fight.
The fight began as expected with Mayweather out-boxing the aggressive Hernandez with relative ease. But Mayweather and his team knew that his body was a ticking time bomb, for five days earlier he visited a doctor to have both hands examined. In round six Mayweather began shaking his right hand and with 23 seconds remaining the bomb exploded. Mayweather landed a right-left to the head, with the knuckles of his left hand landing squarely on Hernandez’s forehead.
With intense pain shooting through his arm and even down his back, a grimacing Mayweather instantly turned away and brushed the canvas with his injured hand. That prompted referee Dale Grable to issue a mandatory eight-count, the only one of Mayweather’s career to date. Mayweather managed to dance away the rest of the round and as he sat in the neutral corner, he and his uncle Roger formulated a new game plan.
When the seventh began, Mayweather was still in obvious pain as he skittered around the ring with both hands extended awkwardly. He fought much of the round left-handed and clinched every time Hernandez got close. The seventh proved to be a survival round, but the eighth saw the beginnings of Mayweather’s ability to think outside the box.
From the southpaw stance, Mayweather began pumping right jabs and pivoting away whenever Hernandez closed the distance. Mayweather’s constant movement and switching of stances distracted Hernandez just enough to prevent an all-out assault, and by round’s end he found a new weapon – a long, looping left to the body from the lefty stance that landed four consecutive times. When Mayweather returned to the corner he was almost gleeful because he produced the goods under incredible physical and emotional stress.
Mayweather continued to apply the strategy, even as the ring was showered with boos. Later on, Mayweather injured his right hand but he continued to fight through the pain and did just enough to win rounds. The overzealous Hernandez lost a point for elbowing in the 12th, but the deduction was merely academic. On the most challenging night of his professional career Mayweather proved he had the resourcefulness, mental acuity and, most importantly, the heart of a champion.