On Monday, Sports Illustrated will announce its highest honor, Sportsman of the Year. It's a distinction that has gone to such world-renowned and mega-successful athletes as Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Tom Brady.
The frontrunners for the honor include last year's winner Miami Heat superstar LeBron James, tennis great Rafael Nadal (who went on an incredible, historic run capturing two slams and winning 75 out of 82 matches all year), and Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, among many others.
But a top contender for the award could come from the world of boxing. Sugar Ray Leonard, the last boxer named Sportsman of the Year in 1981, certainly thinks so. Twenty-two years later and now 57, Leonard tabbed soon-to-be fellow boxing Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Attributing a “wow” factor to his choice, Leonard credits the undefeated five-division, eight-time title holder with reaching a pinnacle of boxing that only Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, and himself have attained before. Leonard also points to Mayweather’s ability to attract attention, whether justly or unjustly, from rabid and mainstream fans.
An endorsement from one of boxing’s greatest dignitaries carries significant weight, but Mayweather’s work in the ring this year makes the strongest case.
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In two bouts, four months apart, the 36-year-old ticked his record up to 45-0 with decisions over Robert Guerrero and Saul Alvarez, retaining both his welterweight and light middleweight belts.
Neither opponent was ever seen by fight fans as worthy, or even capable, of being the first to tarnish Mayweather’s record and name. If Mayweather had finally agreed to a superfight with Manny Pacquiao and won, he might have been a shoe-in for the award.
Then there’s the bundles of cash and earnings that could take away some of Mayweather’s shine. In the Alvarez victory, Mayweather hauled in a record $41.5 million, according to Forbes.
That’s not even counting the six-fight, 30-month deal Mayweather signed with emerging cable fight giant Showtime, dubbed the “richest individual athlete deal in all of sports.” The exact figures were withheld from the media, but it could fall in the range of $200 million for Mayweather.
All the money aside, Leonard specifically credits Mayweather’s ability to find the “hidden reservoir of strength” during numerous bouts over the years, that only boxing greats like Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson before him have done.
Garnering comparisons to those legends might be all the recognition Mayweather needs this year.