Who was the better fighter? Mayweather or Ray Leonard?

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Sugar Ray Leonard are two of the best welterweights to have ever laced up a pair of boxing gloves. Anyone who knows anything about the sport of boxing would not really question the two fighter’s place in history, but who was better?

To really answer that question you must first agree on several determining factors or criteria. Here, I will break them down into two.

  1. Record / Competition – Number of pro fights, wins & losses, KOs, title bouts, and level of competition (how good were their opponents.)
  2. Public appeal (ability to sell tickets, entertaining, likeability, etc … ),

To start, no matter who you think was a better boxer, both fighters had amazing professional boxing careers and both were prize fighters for most of their careers.

Records

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has fought fifty times in his career to Ray Leonard’s forty. Mayweather ended his career 50-0. No losses and no draws. Ray Leonard finished 36-3-1. He lost three times (Roberto Duran, Hector Camacho and Terry Norris) and had one draw (his rematch with Thomas Hearns). Watch that fight here: Leonard vs. Hearns II.

Just by looking at the pure numbers without any research at all, Floyd Mayweather Jr. easily wins. After all, he is undefeated and had more fights. Of course this is foolish cause it does not take into account all the variables such as level of competition (how good were their opponents), championship fights, knockout ratio, and more.

  • Record – Mayweather, 50-0. Ray Leonard, 36-3-1.
  • Knockouts – Mayweather, 27 KOs (54%) . Leonard, 25 KOs (62.5%).
  • Championships – Out of the four major title belts (WBA, WBO, IBF, WBC) Mayweather has fought in a whopping 29 title bouts and won them all. Leonard has fought in 13 championship title bouts. He won 11, lost twice and had one draw.

‘Record’ Winner: Mayweather Jr. He had more professional fights, including more championship matches, and he never lost. Their KO ratios are close to equal.

Competition

Both Leonard and Floyd Mayweather Jr. had several matches against top notch opponents of their era, however Floyd had a lot more. NOTE: When looking at level of competition, you must take into account the opponents standing or status at the time of the fight, NOT after their retirement. This is important for a number of reasons too long to discuss in this piece.

Sugar Ray Leonard had a few prize fights against the very best of his era including Roberto Duran (2x), Thomas Hearns (2x) and Marvin Hagler. Other top tier boxers he fought include Hector Camacho, Donny Lalonde, Terry Norris and Wilfredo Benitez.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. also had many prize fights against the very best of his era, many more than Leonard however. Some of those opponents include Diego Corrales, Oscar De Lay Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Marquez, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Saul Alvarez, Marcos Maidana (2x) and Manny Pacquiao. Other top tier opponents Mayweather faced include Andre Berto, Robert Guerrero, Victor Ortiz, Zab Judah, Arturo Gatti, Jose Castillo and others in the early part of his career.

‘Competition’ Winner: Mayweather Jr. He fought more top fighters of his era than Ray Leonard did. (see above listing).

Public Appeal (PA)

When it comes to public appeal, both fighters had mass appeal, but for very different reasons. In terms of pure numbers, nobody has done as well as Mayweather when it comes to PPV and ticket buys. Ray Leonard however, was adored by more boxing fans than Mayweather and also could sell his fair share of tickets, but for as many people who loved to watch Sugar Ray Leonard fight and cheer him on to win, even more people loved to watch Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the ring in the hopes he would finally lose a fight.

Floyd was genius at playing ‘Money Mayweather’ outside the ring, showing off his money and glamorous possessions. Sugar Ray was good at playing that same cocky role, but in the ring, often times show boating or taunting his opponents to most of the fans pleasure.

It could be argued that the majority of Ray Leonard’s fights ,were much more exciting than Floyd Mayweather’s. This would, for the most part, be a true statement. Floyd, in the later half of his career, was too often concerned about his defense to let his hands fly. Although he was a defensive genius, using this tactic led to boring fights if you were not one of those who can truly appreciate just the science. It is also one of the biggest reasons he won every match he was in.

‘PA’ Winner: Draw.

Summary:

Ray Leonard is placed well above Mayweather Jr. in most ‘best of all times’ lists. Even though these lists are subjective and do not really mean anything, it gives good insight into how boxers are rated, which more often than not, is based more on popularity or likability than actual real criteria.

I strongly disagree with most of these writers. Although I do like Sugar Ray Leonard and believe he was one of the sport’s best, I think Floyd Mayweather Jr. is even better. Looking at the championship fights and career records of both boxers, including strength of opponents, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has fought more top tier opponents, had more title fights and has never lost. He belongs ahead of Leonard, in any and all, ‘best of all times’ lists out there.

Overall Winner: Floyd Mayweather Jr.