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.”
“I was very smart,” he said. “I was a very beautiful and attractive fighter to watch. You must be an artist in the ring. I was an artist.”
Hyperbole aside, Todorov’s basic assessment is accurate: Mayweather was a teenager, a Golden Gloves champion, sure, but one who had to overcome a hiccup in Olympic qualifying just to make the US team. He had shown little on the international stage.
Todorov was a three-time world champion, a two-time European champion, a regular in the celebrated German boxing league and the kind of boxer who would occasionally toy with his opponents by feinting and dodging their attacks before reaching around to tap them on the back of the shoulder.
“No, no,” he would taunt them. “I’m over here.”
Todorov, who grew up in Peshtera, a southern town, learned boxing at a young age — his uncle taught him to fight when he was eight — and he quickly developed into a prodigy, a whirling master of the ring whose fundamentals were flawless. Footwork was always his specialty, and even this week, despite having not trained for years, he fell easily into a fighter’s sharp, staccato prowls and bounces when asked for a short demonstration.
Todorov’s weakness was his focus. He liked women and he liked rakia, the fruit brandy popular in many of the Balkan countries. His coach, Georgi Stoimenov, who discovered Todorov as a teenager and worked with him throughout his career, tried his best to control Todorov, but found it difficult.
Todorov does not deny his flaws. He said that before the Atlanta Games, he trained for only about three weeks and even during that period found time to take breaks to go drinking with his friends. He still dominated at the Olympics, shredding his first three opponents by a combined score of 45-18. He said he had done little scouting on Mayweather other than watching his quarter-final match.
“It was just like any other fight, to be honest — I had beaten much stronger fighters,” Todorov said.
However, Mayweather surprised Todorov in the first two rounds. Todorov feinted and used a lot of one-punch attacks while Mayweather pattered in combinations. The fighters went to the final round with Todorov trailing by a point, 7-6.
Still, Todorov was confident.
“I was not afraid to go after him,” he said.
The last three minutes were a mess of flailing blows. Todorov edged Mayweather. In the ring, neither fighter immediately knew who had won because the scoring system was designed to keep the result secret until it was announced.
Both Todorov and Mayweather said afterward that they believed they should have been awarded more points. When the decision was announced, the referee initially raised Mayweather’s arm before correcting his mistake.
Mayweather’s backers thought that Emil Jetchev, a Bulgarian who was the longtime chairman of the international referees’ and judges’ commission, had influenced the judges to favor his countryman, Todorov. That was not a new accusation; South Korean and American boxers similarly suspected Jetchev at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
And Todorov agreed with the theory, but for his own reason: He blames Jetchev for his loss in the gold-medal match, contending that he was unfairly beaten, 10-9, by Somluck Kamsing of Thailand.
After the Mayweather fight, men involved in promoting professional boxing spoke to the two fighters. An interpreter sat next to Todorov. He said that the men had been impressed by Todorov and wanted to sign him to a professional contract.
“They saw my style, they saw me in the ring, they saw that I was white,” Todorov said, grinning at the memory. “There will never be another white boxer like me and they knew this. They wanted me to stay [in the US].”
The terms of the contract were familiar to Todorov, because he had been approached by Australian promoters after he won the 1991 world championship in Sydney, he said.
In Atlanta, he smiled while the interpreter checked off the perks: a big signing bonus, house, car, a new life and big fights in front of big crowds. The other two men leaned in, one of them holding a pen, but Todorov pushed it away, he said.
“Without considering, I said no,” he said. “I just said it quick, like that: ‘No.’”
“You know what happened next?” he said. “The two men went over to Floyd and started talking in English.”
Todorov is not foolish enough to think the men went to Mayweather only because he had rejected their offer, but the image remains burned in his memory all the same. It could have been him, he thinks now. It should have been.
After his defeat in the final, Todorov spent two days in a perpetual stupor as he waited for his flight home.
“I didn’t stop drinking the entire time,” he said. “I just wanted to drink myself to death.”
He felt betrayed. He had brought much attention and adulation to Bulgarian boxing over the years, but now he felt only bitterness. With the 1997 world championships approaching, he met with officials from the Turkish federation and accepted an offer to change his affiliation and fight for Turkey.
The deal was not as rich as the one from the US promoters, but it was substantial. If Todorov won the gold medal, the officials told him, he would receive a reward of US$1 million. All that was needed to process the nationality switch in time was approval from the Bulgarian federation.
“The deal was done,” Todorov said. “And then I got a call telling me that it was off. Jetchev had asked the Turkish federation for a transfer fee of [US]$300,000 at the last second.”
If he had lost to Mayweather, he would have surely continued fighting in an attempt to reach an Olympic final, he said. He would not have wondered about the chance to stay in the US, or about a subsequent betrayal against Kamsing.
“Instead, it all happened and I wanted to hope that things here could get better,” he said. “It was stupid. I came back and I found hell.”
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
ANOTHER SCANDAL: Searches focused on several riders, including Dayer Quintana, a source said, while the two being held were reportedly a doctor and physiotherapist French police on Monday detained two people as part of an investigation into suspected doping in the Arkea-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, prosecutors announced. The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour, which on Sunday wrapped up in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century. Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of France-based Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody. Laurens added that the two
Chen Jifang hits the gym for at least two hours every day and has the physique to prove it. At nearly 70, she is being held up as a shining example as China orders its vast population to get fit and lose the bulge. The grandmother from Shanghai has become a minor celebrity in in the past few months after her newfound and unlikely love for working out made national headlines. After becoming a gym regular in December 2018, Chen lost 14kg in three months, and now sports the kind of flat stomach and toned muscles that people decades younger aspire to. She