BOXING COMMENT: If Floyd Mayweather's victory over Miguel Cotto for the WBA light middleweight title proved anything, it was that when it comes to skill, heart, and fortitude, the unbeaten future hall of famer is one of the greatest athletes to ever grace the sport of boxing.
To his detractors, of which there are many, Mayweather is too arrogant, disrespectful and brash to be treated with anything more than grudging respect.
This has been the case since he first entered the ring as a professional in 1996, when he overcame Mexico's Roberto Apodaca by TKO in the second session of a four-rounder at the Texas Station Hotel and Casino, located in North Las Vegas far from the bright lights of Las Vegas.
And though Mayweather savoured his triumph on Saturday night in front of a packed crowd at the MGM Grand Hotel on the Strip, he had to fight every step of the way there.
Following his debut he fought in the kind of arenas in the kinds of towns and cities that don't exactly trip off the tongue as being synonymous with the glamour and excitement that surrounds him now.
His rise, while steady, was certainly not meteoric - nothing to compare with a young Oscar De La Hoya, for example, who was immediately propelled to big-money bouts when turning pro after his gold medal win at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
But one of the benefits of serving such a tough apprenticeship is the mental toughness and fortitude it develops, not forgetting hunger.
All three attributes were in evidence against Cotto, who himself brings something special to the ring and pushed Mayweather to fight harder and dig deeper than any opponent he's faced since his war with Jose Luis Castillo in the first of their two fights back in 2002.
Cotto's work with Cuban trainer Pedro Diaz has clearly borne fruit.
On Saturday he was in superb condition and was able to penetrate his opponent's normally impregnable defence on more than one occasion, particularly in the later rounds.
Fighting at a weight suited to his natural size and strength, the Puerto Rican relentlessly pressured Mayweather throughout, taking the kind of shots that would have stopped lesser fighters in the process.
It was a performance that has rightly earned him plaudits, leaving little doubt that Miguel versus Cotto will come again.
Remarkably, after 43 fights in 18 years it remains impossible to detect any deterioration in Mayweather's ability, which if anything has matured to the point where it is hard to think of anyone who could best him.
Talk of Amir Khan earning a shot - assuming he comes through his upcoming rematch with Lamont Peterson - has been heard recently.
But Khan would have to raise his game a level if he is to have any chance against Mayweather, while the US fighter would have to drop a level to meet him.
The decidedly dim prospect of both happening on the same night would not fill the bookies with dread, it has to be said.
What Mayweather has succeeded in doing during his career is elevating defence and counter-punching to an art form distinct from any other aspect of the sport.
His perfection of the shoulder-roll defence is exquisite to watch in action, as is his unique ability when it comes to fighting with his back against the ropes, finding angles and openings which in this position no other fighter could.
You know that you are describing a special talent when you watch each of his fights not expecting his opponents to win but simply to see how much they can test and push him.
Only a few fighters have reached this level of near-invincibility, with stellar names such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali in his prime and Mike Tyson in his prime springing to mind.
Among Mayweather's peers, Andre Ward is the only other fighter who can lay claim to such an accolade, though whether he will be able to continue to do so after 18 years in the sport like Mayweather is another question.
Of course, the name that continues to hover over proceedings whenever future opponents are mooted for Mayweather is Manny Pacquiao.
Over the past few years there's been a sharp polarisation between fans and commentators over the merits and demerits of Mayweather compared to the Filipino boxing congressman and vice-versa.
Making such comparisons especially intriguing is that each represents in its purest form defensive and offensive boxing respectively.
For some, Pacquaio's stock has dipped since his last fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.
The veteran Mexican challenger was able to nullify Pacquiao's considerable hand speed and relentless come-forward style by constantly changing the distance to make him miss before punishing him with sharp counter-punches.
In this regard Mayweather is virtually peerless in the sport today, matched only by Ward when it comes to applying a strategy to take away his opponent's strengths while emphasising his own.
This suggests that Pacquaio would come up short if the two were ever to meet in the ring, which currently remains a forlorn hope.
But no matter - the fact is that Mayweather has reached the stage in his career when the prospect of 90 days detention for assault beginning on June 1 will likely fill him with more apprehension and doubt than any potential opponent in the ring ever could.
He really is that good.
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