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October 23, 2014

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Floyd Mayweather Jr. emulates boxing greats in return

Mayweather’s hiatus from ring has a couple of historical parallels you might not recall

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Steve Marcus

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., center, makes his way through a crowd of boxing fans in the lobby of the MGM Grand Tuesday after making his official entrance.

One for the "Money"

Floyd Mayweather Jr. talks with the media as he prepares to come back to boxing for the first time in two years. Mayweather Jr. fights Juan Manuel Marquez Saturday, September 19th at the MGM Grand.

It Is a Family Reunion

After a nine-year estrangement, Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr. have reunited for Junior's September 19 fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.

Pick a Little, Talk a Little

The Mayweather camp makes its last comments before Saturday's fight, while the Marquez corner remains mum throughout the fight week hoopla.

If You Go

  • What: Floyd Mayweather Jr. (39-0, 25 KOs) vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (50-4-1, 37 KOs), 12 scheduled rounds
  • When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
  • Tickets: $150-$1,000; mgmgrand.com
  • TV: HBO pay-per-view, $49.95

Mayweather, Marquez press conference

Floyd Mayweather Jr. stares down Juan Manuel Marquez during a press conference at the MGM Grand hotel Wednesday. Launch slideshow »

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When comparisons are drawn between Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s hiatus from boxing and other memorable comebacks in the sport, names such as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman usually come up right away.

Ali missed three and a half years of the prime of his career when he refused to be inducted into the military in 1967.

Foreman left the ring for 10 years after losing to Jimmy Young in 1977, only to return and eventually regain the heavyweight title.

Roger Mayweather, Floyd’s uncle and trainer, likes to add a pair of Sugar Rays — Leonard and Robinson — to the discussion.

On Saturday night, Mayweather Jr. will fight for the first time since December 2007 when he faces Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand.

His trainer insists Mayweather’s skills have not corroded during his time away and that, like Leonard and Robinson, Mayweather will return in top form.

“Floyd ain’t going to be the only guy that’s been laid off in boxing,” Roger Mayweather said. “Most of the great guys, great fighters, have something in common. All of them who were good, what they called great, they all had layoffs and they all still had spectacular performances when they fought.

“So a guy keeps asking about how you laid off, when you laid off. Fights are won by skill. That’s all there is to it.”

Although Ali, Foreman, Leonard and Robinson are famous for their layoffs and subsequent comebacks, in most respects Mayweather’s journey bears little resemblance to theirs.

Mayweather’s temporary retirement was not prompted by an injury, like Leonard’s. It did not coincide with a religious awakening, like Foreman’s. It had nothing to do with any quarrel with them Viet Cong. And Mayweather says his decision to come back was not driven by financial considerations, as Robinson’s was.

A more accurate parallel, perhaps, could be drawn between Mayweather and two world champions from boxing’s lighter weight divisions who have not yet been mentioned in the buildup to Saturday’s bout: Eder Jofre and Vicente Saldivar.

Like Jofre and Saldivar, Mayweather left of his own accord, lamenting that he was no longer able to find joy in boxing.

When Saldivar announced his retirement in 1967 at age 24, he was at the top of his game, just as Mayweather was after stopping Englishman Ricky Hatton in his most recent bout. Saldivar, of Mexico City, was coming off two grueling victories against Welshman Howard Winstone in featherweight world championship bouts.

Like Mayweather in 2007, Saldivar had his pick of several big-name opponents and ready-made blockbuster fights, but decided his body had taken enough punishment.

Saldivar’s layoff lasted 21 months — the same length as Mayweather’s. He looked invigorated upon his return, beating Johnny Famechon in Rome for the featherweight world title in just his second fight back.

Jofre, heading into his 1965 bantamweight world title bout with Japanese phenom Fighting Harada, was undefeated as a professional (47-0-3) and widely regarded as the sport’s best fighter, pound-for-pound — two distinctions familiar to Mayweather.

After losing two 15-rounders to Harada in consecutive years, however, Jofre opted to step away from the sport. His hiatus lasted three years. When he returned to the ring in his native Brazil in 1969, Jofre was 33 years old — a year older than Mayweather today.

After a string of tune-up fights, Jofre challenged for and won another world title, this time in the featherweight division.

Coincidentally, Jofre and Saldivar, well into the comeback portions of their hall-of-fame careers, fought each other in a 1973 featherweight title match. Jofre scored a fourth-round knockout.

By then their legacies were secure.

As a part of the promotion for Saturday’s fight, several prominent trainers were asked for their thoughts on whether Mayweather’s hiatus would affect his talent and ultimately his place in boxing history.

Emanuel Steward and Freddie Roach both said the break could help Mayweather, making him hungrier while giving his body time to heal after 39 professional fights.

Mayweather’s determination to stay active by continually working out during his time off likely kept him sharp, according to Buddy McGirt.

“I don’t think the layoff is going to affect Mayweather,” McGirt said. “He’s a natural fighter. He’s picked a real tough guy to come back against, but I don’t think he will have any problem on fight night.”

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