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Classic Fight: Floyd Mayweather makes first world title defense against Angel Manfredy

Once upon a time, Floyd Mayweather wasn’t a legend, he was a young fighter defending a world title for the very first time.

Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Floyd Mayweather wasn’t always a living legend, a surefire Hall of Famer, or one of the biggest names in all of sports.

Back in Dec. 1998, he was a young kid from Grand Rapids, Michigan, making the first world title defense of his career against Angel Manfredy in Miami.

Mayweather was just 21 years old when he won the WBC 130-pound title two months prior, stopping veteran Genaro Hernandez after eight rounds of largely one-sided action. It was clear that Mayweather had incredible talent and ability; he was a second-generation fighter, following in the footsteps of his father Floyd Sr and his uncle Roger, the latter of whom was a two-division world champion himself.

A 1996 bronze medalist at the Atlanta Olympics — where his semifinal loss to Bulgaria’s Serafim Todorov was incredibly controversial — Mayweather had the speed and power and athletic skill and slickness of a young man, but a mind for the sport much older and wiser than his youth would suggest.

Manfredy (25-2-1, 20 KO coming in) was a good fighter, a 24-year-old scrapper from northwest Indiana who hadn’t lost in four years, and had beaten Arturo Gatti via eighth round TKO in Jan. 1998. After two more wins over lesser opponents, he was lined up as the first challenger for the young dynamo Mayweather.

Manfredy had long been known for wearing a Satan mask on his ring walks, but he abandoned that for this fight, having found religion. He was rapped to the ring by a young Kid Rock. He had a lot of confidence.

And then Mayweather did what the young, pre-welterweight Mayweather did. He used his speed and timing to rip Manfredy with a series of of shots, knocking him hard into the ropes and landing several more unanswered blows before referee Frank Santore Jr stepped in and stopped the fight in the second round.

To this day, Manfredy will tell you he wasn’t hurt, and that Santore pulled the plug early. And if you look at Angel in the ring, he isn’t down and out, and he’s complaining in his corner instantly, shouting about a “bullshit” stoppage. “That fight shouldn’t have been stopped!” he shouted. His corner was asking why there wasn’t an eight-count from Santore. Manfredy and Mayweather spoke in the ring, and Manfredy repeatedly told Mayweather the fight shouldn’t have been stopped.

Manfredy has his pride and his point of view. But he did take a lot of unanswered blows, and Mayweather was raining down on him. You can make your own judgement call there, but it was over 20 years ago, so it doesn’t much matter now.

Mayweather, of course, would go on to become one of boxing’s biggest stars ever. He hasn’t fought since 2017, retiring (again) at 50-0 with world titles at 130, 135, 140, 147, and 154.

Manfredy never did win a major title. He lost a lightweight title shot to Stevie Johnston in 1999, another junior lightweight shot in 2000 against Diego Corrales, and another lightweight shot against Paul Spadafora in 2002, a very close fight. He last fought in 2004, retiring with a record of 43-8-1 (32 KO).

Bonus fun: spot a young Leonard Ellerbe, with hair, as part of Floyd’s team.

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