Sun, Apr 05, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Last man to beat Mayweather regrets past

NY Times News Service, PAZARDZHIK, Bulgaria

Floyd Mayweather Jr poses at a news conference in Los Angeles on March 11.

Photo: Reuters

The man who beat Floyd Mayweather Jr lives across the street from a burned-out coffee hut with a giant banana painted on its back wall. Around the bend, leaning in the tall grass, is a corroded shed holding ancient farming equipment. Every so often, a horse trots down the craggy road, pulling a splintered cart and a rider toward the center of one of Bulgaria’s poorest towns.

Late on Tuesday morning, the man who beat Mayweather, Serafim Todorov, stood on the curb here. He was in front of the seven-floor concrete apartment building where he, his wife, his son and his pregnant daughter-in-law live in a modest first-floor unit. Todorov talked with his son, Simeon. He watched a horse clop by. He smoked a cigarette. Then he went inside, sat in a chair and, like a teakettle perched on a glowing stove, steamed to a rolling boil as he remembered what happened in Atlanta in the US state of Georgia 19 years ago.

The victory by Todorov, then 27, over Mayweather, then 19, in the semi-finals of the 1996 Olympic boxing tournament was the last time Mayweather lost in the ring. A few months later, Mayweather turned professional and began a career that has produced 47 consecutive victories and hundreds of millions of dollars in earnings. On May 2 in Las Vegas, Mayweather is to have a long-awaited showdown with Manny Pacquiao in what many are calling the richest fight in boxing history.

Yet for Todorov, now 45, the stark gap between his life and Mayweather’s since their match — the loser is worth an estimated US$280 million and the winner does not even own a flat-screen TV — is not what roils him. It is the circumstances behind his life’s unraveling that have made him sour.

And in a curious twist, Todorov believes he and Mayweather might have actually been wronged by the same man.

For years, boxing fans — particularly Americans — speculated that Todorov’s victory over Mayweather was, at least in part, a product of suspect judging. Todorov does not discard this theory.

“It’s possible, absolutely,” he said.

However, Todorov’s real fury stems from what happened in the Atlanta final — the match after his win over Mayweather — when he believes he was the one unfairly beaten. He detailed the unspooling that followed: A fallout with his federation, a failed attempt at switching nationalities, missed opportunities abroad and unhealthy offers to work in the Bulgarian underworld.

Today, while Mayweather is preparing to make as much as US$180 million for one fight, Todorov is trying to live on a pension of about 400 euros (US$435) a month. Slumped in a chair, Todorov gestured toward the window that looked out at the coffee hut with the banana on it.

All of this struggle can be traced to what happened in Atlanta, he said.

The fight between Mayweather and Todorov took place on a Friday, two days before the closing ceremonies of the Atlanta Games, at the basketball arena on Georgia Tech’s campus. It began with a flurry of punches, as if the opening bell had twisted a cap off both fighters’ fizzing emotions. As Todorov watched a YouTube video of the bout, his lips curled into a tiny smile.

“He was 19, remember,” Todorov said through an interpreter. “My experience was much stronger. I beat all the Russians, all the Cubans, some Americans, Germans, Olympic champions. I was making fun of them in the ring. British, French — I beat them all.”

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