Floyd Mayweather Jr. takes a perfect, 47-0 record into his long-gestating fight with Manny Pacquiao. Thousands of miles away, a man in Bulgaria holds the distinction of being the last person to secure a victory over him. In our latest #HSTBT, we explore the events surrounding the 1996 featherweight bout between Mayweather and Serafim Todorov at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Whether they touch gloves in the center of the ring or not at the MGM Grand, there’s no disputing that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is putting his unblemished 47-0 record as a professional on the line versus Manny Pacquiao. Fans of his will point to notable victories over the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley as proof of his excellence. His detractors hone in on narrow victories against Marcos Maidana, Jose Luis Castillo and Zab Judah as evidence that he’s not unbeatable. The term “unbeatable” suits Floyd Mayweather. It’s a part of his personality. It builds upon his larger-than-life spending habits. But Floyd Mayweather isn’t unbeatable, he just hasn’t lost as a professional yet.
Pazardzhik, Bulgaria may not be as geographically far away from Las Vegas, Nevada as other locations around the world, but for Serafim Todorov – the last blemish on Floyd Mayweather’s boxing record – it’s practically Mars. While Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are set to share a $300 million USD payday, Todorov lacks the simple luxuries that many Americans deem necessities – living on $435 USD a month – in something of a “13th round” where CNN notes “his life [is] plagued by depression brought on by a number of broken promises and wrong decisions.”
Serafim Todorov was 27 years old at the time of the featherweight semifinals at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. As an amateur, he was a three-time world champion in two weight classes – bantamweight and featherweight – and won a silver medal in 1989. He also represented Bulgaria in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona where he reached the quarterfinals before losing to North Korean Li Gwang-Sik.
His opponent, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., was 19 years old at the time of the bout and years removed from being either “Pretty Boy Floyd” or “Money Mayweather.” Coming into the Olympics, Mayweather had won the Golden Gloves titles – annual competitions for amateur boxing in the United States – in 1993 (at 106 lb), 1994 (at 114 lb) and 1996 (at 125 lb). His amateur record at the time was 84-5.
Todorov turned down lucrative deals to turn pro and ratchet up his career in the United States in favor of Olympic glory. “I was 100% sure I would win the gold medal and return in Bulgaria as a champion,” Todorov said. “If I were there right now, I would tell myself to sign the contract and stay in America. If I knew that my life would go downhill from there, I would have signed the contract right away.”
Prior to their semifinal meeting at the Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Georgia Tech’s campus, Mayweather had scored victories over Bakhtiyar Tileganov of Kazakhstan, Artur Gevorgyan of Armenia, and Lorenzo Aragon of Cuba – becoming the first U.S. boxer to defeat a Cuban in 20 years. For Todorov, he easily advanced past Yevheniy Shestakov of Ukraine, Robbie Peden of Australia, and Falk Huste of Germany. While professional boxing is often plagued with controversies and curious decisions by judges, there was little indication that the sanctity of both their match and the gold medal bout would still be questioned almost 20 years later.
Amateur boxing is scored differently than professional bouts. Whereas the pros compete on the 10-point must system – so named because a judge “must” award 10 points to at least one fighter each round – on the amateur/Olympic level at the time, five judges watched the fight. Upon seeing a scoring blow, if three of the five judges pressed their buttons within a second of one another, a point was awarded to the fighter landing the punch.
The fight itself was a close contest – with Mayweather taking the slightest lead (7-6) into the final round. “It was just like any other fight, to be honest — I had beaten much stronger fighters,” Todorov told The New York Times. Many who witnessed the fight recall a true “back-and-forth” affair with each man landing solid, scoring shots that made the outcome hard to call when the final bell rang.
As The New York Times noted, “No one involved in the fight, including the judges, was supposed to know the score at any given time, though in practice most corners had a spy who would find a TV in the arena, which showed the score to viewers, and then signal to members of his camp whether their boxer was ahead or behind. When the decision was announced, the referee initially raised Mayweather’s arm before realizing his mistake and raising Todorov’s (who won 10-9). 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.”
”Everybody knows Floyd Mayweather is the gold-medal favorite at 57 kilograms,” Mayweather said afterward. ”In America, it’s known as 125 pounds. You know and I know I wasn’t getting hit. They say he’s the world champion. Now you all know who the real world champion is.”
Todorov’s next opponent was Somluck Kamsing of Thailand who he had beaten on numerous occasions while only committing himself to days of training before they fought. While charges of corruption have been leveled against Emil Jetchev for Mayweather’s loss, Todorov himself believes that the Bulgarian official is also responsible for his own fate in the gold medal match. He tells a story of Jetchev coming into his dressing room before the fight and instructing him to “knockout” Kamsing. While some would look at that as encouragement, Todorov saw it in a completely different context. “Why did he come to tell me this? I beat this Thai guy on points, so many points, in a pre-Olympic tournament,” Todorov recalls. “And Jetchev knows that I am a technical guy, that I am not Mike Tyson. So what he was doing was clear: He was saying, ‘You are going to lose.’”
Serafim Todorov did lose. Somluck Kamsing’s surprise win marked Thailand’s first Olympic Gold Medal in 40 years of participation. According to CNN, “Upon his return home, promises of extra financial support from the Bulgarian Boxing Federation following his Olympic exploits failed to materialize. Such treatment led Todorov, struggling to support his family, to try to switch nationalities and move to Turkey, whose boxing federation prepared to offer him a larger salary to represent the nation at the 1997 world championships. A disagreement between the two federations, however, soon brought him crashing back to square one — the politics of boxing had stifled him once more, this time proving to be one step too far.”
In 2003, Todorov retired from professional boxing with 47 victories – the same number of wins that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. takes into the ring with him when he faces off with Manny Pacquiao.