By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Should Floyd Mayweather's boxing career now be over, as the undefeated American insisted after easily beating Andre Berto in their welterweight showdown on Saturday, his place among the sport's very best is assured.
He will certainly be remembered as one of the greatest defensive practitioners of all time because of his remarkable ability to stay away from danger in the ring, right up there with fighters such as Pernell Whitaker and Willie Pep.
As for his brash claim to be 'TBE' (The Best Ever), that will fall to historians to judge, though many pundits would be reluctant to put him on a pedestal alongside true greats like Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Roberto Duran.
Part of the problem for Mayweather is public perception directly caused by the way he promoted himself as a boxer, both inside and outside the ring, with an extravagant lifestyle.
His career-long pursuit of perfection, with his focus on iron-clad defense to stay out of trouble, and his frequently arrogant showmanship helped him compile a stellar 49-0 record to match former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano.
All too often, though, he has been criticized for hand-picking his opponents, and there is also the question of his relatively low knockout rate, just 26 for a boxer who prides himself on his brilliant defensive skills and agile movement.
Former world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield felt that Mayweather's legacy was all about the 'numbers' game with the American bowing out as boxing's richest ever prize fighter after setting records in the sport when it comes to annual earnings, pay-per-view buys and gate receipts.
"Mayweather has made more money than anybody else in the game of boxing," Holyfield, who has been crowned world heavyweight champion a record five times and watched Saturday's fight at the MGM Grand, told Reuters.
"He's brought the game up in a way that no other fighter ever has. He took boxing and turned it to a whole other level, whether people believe it or not.
"I don't think we ever thought a welterweight or a middleweight would make more money than a heavyweight but that is what this man has done."
Mayweather, 38, topped the Forbes list of the world's 100 highest-paid celebrities in June with an estimated $300 million in earnings over the previous 12 months.
Holyfield expressed mixed feelings, though, over Mayweather's legacy as a fighter.
"He is undefeated, which speaks for itself," said the 52-year-old American, who was nicknamed 'The Real Deal' for his own exploits in the ring. "He can fight. He's everything that a lot of people may not give him credit for.
"But he has done things his own way, which has been good but has been bad too."
Outside the arena, 'Money' Mayweather's pursuit of an equally accomplished life has often hit rocky ground. Over the last decade, he has been accused of assaulting five different women on at least seven different occasions, including a 2010 incident that resulted in a 90-day prison sentence.
"I'm a little different from everyone else," said Mayweather who on Saturday tied Louis with his 26th world title fight triumph. "I am only human, I make mistakes. I try to be a perfectionist but no one is perfect."
Overall, though, Mayweather believes that he has been misjudged by the media and the public.
"I've had a great career," he said during a post-fight news conference that lasted almost an hour. "I'm very comfortable and I've made great investments. I'm A-okay.
"I've heard a lot of things about me: 'All he does is hold. All he does is run. He's cocky. Arrogant. No one likes him. He can't write, can't read.' And you all believe it.
"It's okay. If you all believe it, you're dumb for believing it. I think everyone needs to go the Floyd Mayweather way."
Of course, there is still the chance that Mayweather's career is not yet over, with the doubters pointing to his unexpected U-turn when he came back from a 21-month retirement to fight Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in September 2009.
Mayweather insists he is done. "My career is over. It's official. I'm financially secure and I'm in good health," he said ringside after finishing finish well ahead of Berto on all three judges' scorecards.
"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."
However his trainer and father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., is less sure and has cautioned his son -- if he does return -- to do so no more than six months after Saturday's fight because of his advancing age as a boxer.
"Fighting is never easy to do," Mayweather Sr. told reporters shortly before his son's post-fight news conference. "If you don't want to fight, you better quit right then.
"When your mind is telling you, 'I don't want to do this no more,' you better not do it no more. Because if you continue to do it, you're going to get hurt."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)