3. Floyd Mayweather Jr. – 2001: 3-0 (2)
Since capturing THE RING’s Fighter of the Year honors in 1998, Mayweather lived a double life – continued perfection inside the ropes and chaos beyond them. In 1999 and 2000, the man then known as “The Pretty Boy” had notched four defenses of his WBC super featherweight belt against solid opposition (Carlos Rios, Justin Juuko, Carlos Gerena and Gregorio “Goyo” Vargas) to bring his total to five but he wasn’t making much headway in terms of gaining the notoriety he wanted beyond the hard-core boxing fans. His out-of-the-ring issues ranged from the managerial (hiring rap mogul James Prince as his new manager) to the paternal (firing his father as manager and chief second) and the result was unusual stretches of inactivity. Six months elapsed between the Gerena and Vargas fights and seven more passed before his non-title ninth round TKO of Emanuel Augustus. The year 2001, however, would produce a far better story.
Mayweather began the year with a hastily arranged superfight with Diego Corrales, a bout which would have merged two belts had the IBF not stripped Corrales for daring to take the bout. While Mayweather wrestled with his issues, Corrales’ out-of-the-ring distractions were far more severe as he was facing a variety of charges that eventually resulted in jail time. The pre-trial stresses contributed to weight-making woes that surely affected his performance.
Even if Corrales had been perfectly prepared, he probably would have lost decisively to this version of Mayweather. In every conceivable way Mayweather was pristine; his mobility was dazzling, his combination punching was razor-sharp and his ring intelligence was far beyond what could have been expected of a 23-year-old. Also, the feud with Floyd Sr. appeared quiet for the time being as he held his infant granddaughter in the dressing room and accompanied his son into the ring. Mayweather’s sound mind and body produced a knockdown in the sixth, two in the seventh and two more in the 10th, prompting Corrales corner to signal surrender.
Next for Mayweather was a May 26 defense against Carlos “Famous” Hernandez, a fight that tested his resourcefulness like none other. Late in the sixth, Mayweather banged the knuckles of his left hand off the top of Hernandez’s head and the pain shooting up his arm forced him to turn away and take the only mandatory eight count of his career to date. Forced to fight outside his comfort zone, Mayweather resourcefully conjured an alternate game plan that not only kept Hernandez at bay but also allowed him to pile up enough points to earn a unanimous decision.
His final outing of 2001 took place Nov. 10 against top challenger Jesus Chavez, a swarming volume-puncher who was on a 32-fight winning streak. Though Chavez succeeded in imposing a fast pace, Mayweather willingly engaged him at close quarters before darting back to long range and pelting him with pinpoint counters. Several massive uppercuts snapped back Chavez’s head, and the accumulation of punishment moved corner man Ronnie Shields to halt the contest between rounds nine and 10.