LAS VEGAS -- At the close of the evening he had sought for so many years, through professional trials and personal tribulations, Robert "The Ghost" Guerrero left the arena on his feet, head high and body fully intact.

That was his triumph, as the Gilroy welterweight surely did not win the fight but just as surely lost not an ounce of his soul.

Guerrero and his partners spent nearly three years tapping incessantly on the shoulder of Floyd Mayweather Jr., boxing's best and brightest, calling him out in public, practically begging for a chance to show they belonged in the ring with him -- might even beat the undefeated champion.

Well, yes. And no, not even close.

Though Guerrero was more active, he also was less efficient and surely less effectual in losing a 12-round unanimous decision to Mayweather, who retained his welterweight championship Saturday night before an international pay-per-view audience on Showtime and a sellout (15,880) crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

With celebrities in all walks of life looking on -- including 49ers stars Michael Crabtree and Colin Kaepernick, as well as actor Don Cheadle and music executive Sean Combs -- Guerrero proved a courageous and willing combatant.

The fight simply came down to the rational fact that Guerrero, a very good boxer, could not summon the skills and power to conquer the best of his generation.


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After all three judges scored the fight nine rounds for Mayweather (now 44-0, with 26 KOs) to three for Guerrero (31-2-1, 18 KOs), The Ghost stood in the ring and agreed, concluding that God put him in the ring with the champ, but not necessarily to beat him.

"It was to be here in front of all these people," he said, gesturing toward the crowd, "to inspire them."

He did precisely that in the early rounds, stalking the champ, chasing him into corners and matching his every tactical move. Though he was a heavy underdog, Guerrero clearly was not intimidated by Mayweather's record or lofty status.

"I had good work for this fight; he's a strong guy," Mayweather conceded. "He pushed me for this fight. That's what I needed."

But as the rounds progressed, Mayweather asserted his will and began meting out punishment. Guerrero was not in danger of going down, but his face was a mask of welts by the fifth round, and he was bleeding about the eyes by the seventh.

"That's why he's undefeated," Guerrero said. "He did a great job."

Guerrero, 30, will pick up at least $3 million, and he earned it the hard way. Mayweather, 36, will make $32 million.

But this was the fulfillment of Guerrero's dream. Coming off his most impressive win, decisively beating former champ Andre Berto in November, The Ghost finally caught Mayweather's attention, and the fight was made. He finally would get a giant piece of the action, on the big stage in Vegas, sharing the marquee with America's boxing king.

Guerrero and his fists already had garnered all the attention they could in the ring, and even a few nonfans had grown aware of his back story, most notably though stories detailing his supportive role as his wife, Casey, waged war with leukemia.

This, though, was Guerrero's moment to capture the tricky and most elusive aspect of a sports career: household recognition beyond the borders of his hometown.

Once the Mexican and American national anthems were concluded, with former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland performing "The Star-Spangled Banner," Guerrero entered the ring to a mixed reception, to the sounds of Norteno music.

Mayweather, befitting his status, entered to the music of Lil Wayne, accompanied by Lil Wayne himself.

It was all very Vegas, of course. The crowd flocking here for a big fight is the sports version of a Hollywood red-carpet event, artificially enhanced women in impossibly high heels squeezed into dresses like sausage into casing, accompanied by men whose cigar smoke and cologne linger two days after they're gone.

This was the scene throughout this Cinco de Mayo weekend at the MGM Grand, and now these folks will return to their lives, leaving behind whatever happened in Vegas and saving only the memories. They came to see a fight -- and, for a while, they got one.

For Mayweather, this was the first of six bouts he'll fight under a contract signed with Showtime and CBS. He says he'll probably retire after that, and he'll take at least $200 million with him.

Guerrero returns to Gilroy to be with Casey and their two children. He'll be wealthier for his efforts and richer for the experience.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/1montepoole.