By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Floyd Mayweather Jr. cemented his place among the pantheon of boxing greats with a unanimous decision over fellow American Andre Berto on Saturday in what he has repeatedly said would be the final fight of his career.
Mayweather, 38, easily outboxed his younger opponent over the 12 rounds to retain his WBC and WBA welterweight titles and improve his perfect career record to 49-0, matching the benchmark set by former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano.
Five-division world champion Mayweather dominated most of the exchanges in the MGM Grand Garden Arena with his lightning jabs, control of space and agile movement about the ring to finish well ahead on all three judges' scorecards.
Berto, a 30-1 underdog against one of the best defensive fighters of all time, dropped to 30-4 as he suffered his fourth loss in his last seven fights.
"Andre Berto has heart, a tremendous chin, he wouldn't lay down," Mayweather said in a ringside interview after sinking to his knees after the final bell sounded before looking up at the rafters as the fans snapped pictures with their cell phones.
"It was a good fight. I knew he would be a tough competitor. Experience played a major role tonight. He is a very athletic boxer. What can I say? I was the better man tonight."
Asked if he might be tempted to come back for a 50th fight, Mayweather replied: "My career is over. It's official. I'm financially secure and I'm in good health.
"You've got to know when it's time to hang it up, so I think it's about time for me to hang it up. I'm close to 40 years old, I've been in this sport 19 years, been world champion for 18 years, I've broken all records.
"There's nothing left to prove in the sport of boxing," said Mayweather, who has made more than $700 million during his stellar career.
Back in the ring for the first time since May when he beat Manny Pacquiao in a 'mega-fight' that became the richest bout in boxing, Mayweather landed 232 of 410 punches thrown while Berto connected with just 83 of 495.
Mayweather also dominated the jabs count, connecting with 83 of 191 compared to his opponent's paltry 39 of 301.
LOW ON ENTERTAINMENT
However, it was a welterweight showdown that failed to capture the public's imagination given Berto's relatively low profile globally and his mixed run of results over the past four years, and it was low on entertainment value on the night.
Barely five hours before the start, the MGM Grand box office said "a bunch of tickets" were still available for the arena in the price range between $300 and $1,500, and the official attendance ended up at 13,395 -- 3,000 short of full capacity.
Among those in the crowd were American actor, singer and comedian Jamie Foxx, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber and boxing Hall of Famers Evander Holyfield and Thomas Hearns.
"I was in shape but he was difficult to hold on to, he's really, really slippery," said Berto, a 32-year-old twice former welterweight world champion who overcame a career-threatening shoulder injury in 2013 to knock out Josesito Lopez in March.
"I was coming forward, I used a lot of speed but he was really crafty, he was using little things to kind of get me out of my rhythm. It is what it is.
"Tonight I felt like we put on a great performance. We pushed him to the limit but we fell short. He's where he is for a reason. Floyd is definitely one of the best out there, for sure."
(Editing by Frank Pingue/Sudipto Ganguly)