9. Floyd Mayweather Jr. W 12 Carlos Hernandez – May 26, 2001, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Injuries: Broken left hand, injured right hand
Four months removed from a career-defining demolition of Diego Corrales, Mayweather looked to consolidate his pound-for-pound credentials against Hernandez, who lost his first title shot to Genaro Hernandez – the man Mayweather dethroned in 1998 – three-and-a-half years earlier. The setting of Grand Rapids – Mayweather’s birthplace – projected an air of coronation but in the end circumstances tested Mayweather’s mettle like no other fight, before or since.
Mayweather entered the ring with a secret: Five days before the fight he had his right hand examined by a physician and in round six of a fight he was dominating he began to shake it. With 23 seconds remaining in the sixth Mayweather threw a right-left, with the knuckles of his left hand connecting squarely on Hernandez’s forehead.
The pain was immediate and intense. As Mayweather reflexively turned away his left glove brushed the canvas, prompting referee Dale Grable to issue a mandatory eight count – the only count administered to Mayweather as a pro to date. A grimacing Mayweather straightened up and walked toward his corner, shaking his left glove and pointing to his knuckles to explain to his seconds what just happened. Mayweather danced away the remainder of the round, then listened intently to his uncle Roger as he mapped out an alternate blueprint.
In the seventh Mayweather couldn’t hide the pain from anyone as he skittered about the ring in crab-like fashion. He spent most of the round in a southpaw stance and clinched every time Hernandez got near him. He bit down on his mouthpiece and winced during several clinches but he did just enough to keep the challenger at bay.
“My hands are killing me,” he told manager Leonard Ellerbe between rounds seven and eight, but instantly added “I feel good though” to stem any thoughts of being pulled out of the fight.
In the eighth Mayweather revealed the beginnings of a fight plan unlike any other to deal with a situation unlike any other. From a lefty stance Mayweather fired right jabs and pivoted away whenever Hernandez closed the gap. He then switched stances and stayed on the move to prevent Hernandez from getting set and driving in hard blows. Also, Mayweather found an unusual weapon: long looping lefts to the body from the southpaw position, four of which landed in the round. Although the crowd booed their hero’s overly defensive tactics, Mayweather was gleeful at the success he achieved. It isn’t often that a fighter improvises a total reconstruction of his style in the middle of a title fight, much less use it to extend an already large lead.
Hernandez continued to charge forward from bell to bell and his overeager attitude resulted in a point penalty for elbowing in the final round. No matter; Mayweather won comfortably in a mathematical sense (119-109, 117-109, 116-111) but did so while feeling extremely uncomfortable.
“Tonight was a rough night,” Mayweather told HBO’s Larry Merchant. “I hurt my left hand and later on in the fight I hurt my right hand. So I tried to win the best way I know how. I used my legs and boxed more. He was tough, but I think if I had both my hands I could have eventually gotten him out of there. I came into the fight with two messed-up hands. I took shots of novocaine before the fight. It was a real rough night, but the main thing is that I got through it.”