By: Norman Yallen
Floyd Mayweather is the best boxer alive right now. If you have a quarrel with that, take it up with the man himself. He’ll tell you all about his credentials, how he’s won every pro fight he’s ever had, how he’s never even truly been knocked down. He’d go on to say that he’s the greatest of all time, that no one can touch him. Or perhaps he’ll just kick your ass. Mayweather may fight too defensively, he may only agree to fight only those he is sure he can beat, but the one thing Mayweather cannot be accused of lacking is bravado. Last Saturday, he knocked out a fighter in the process of apologizing to him, and he threatened an 80 year-old reporter who questioned it. A common complaint is that Mayweather is ruining his legacy, yet that complaint presumes that Mayweather cared about his legacy, or had much of one to begin with. He is the greatest boxer in the age boxing matters least as a sport. He is successful not because of being able to hit powerfully, but because of a knack for evading powerful hits. He is not what most boxing fans would like boxing to be, and yet they tune in fight after fight, opponent after opponent to see if Floyd can give that something extra, to see him pushed to the brink, to see him reach within himself to pull out something he didn’t know he had. That is why everyone would like to see him fight Manny Pacquiao, except Floyd will not have any of it.
Most young African-American athletes today and in Floyd’s generation pursue either basketball or football. They work hard to become a basketball or a football star, making a conscious decision to invest themselves in their sporting dreams. Floyd Mayweather did not make the same decision; in actuality he never made any decision at all. His father was a boxer; his two uncles were boxers, leaving little doubt about Floyd Junior. Before he could walk his father took him in a stroller to the gym and he was held up to hit the punching bag. He never decided to become a boxer; he simply always was a boxer. In an age where young men were fleeing the sport of boxing in droves, seeing the damage inflicted on all its greats, Floyd Mayweather, due to his unique personal circumstance, actively pursued it. When he broached his grandmother about getting a job, she told him to just keep boxing. When his father went to prison for drug trafficking he boxed, even when he fired his father as his trainer, he continued to box. It never seemed to be much of a choice, or a job, it is just who Floyd Mayweather is, and when something is who you are, you tend not to care about your legacy, that is for people who have a passion for it, who choose to do it.
When he started out his nickname was Pretty Boy Floyd, due to a bank robber with the same name, yet it just seemed to naturally fit. Other boxers would end their fights with cuts, a bloody nose, a black eye, a busted up ear, but never Floyd. His face was always just as pretty at the end of a fight as at the beginning. At the same time as complimenting his defensive strengths, the discipline his father taught him in how to avoid any hard hits, it also validated the criticisms of him. There was the perception that he couldn’t slug it out, that he cared more about protecting himself and his face than in fighting the best fight he could. That he wasn’t as tough as a boxer should be. The original Pretty Boy Floyd hated his nickname, as did Mayweather for it seems tough guys don’t like being called Pretty Boy. He abruptly decided he would create his own nickname, introducing himself as Floyd “Money” Mayweather. This had more relatability to young, urban, primarily black people, who had grown up similarly to the way he had. He had started out dirt poor in Grand Rapids with a rough family life, and was now saying to the world that he had made it, that he was “money.” A cynical person would say he has crafted that image, that he waves hundred dollar bills as a marketing tactic, that he is just trying to prove he is worthwhile to the public. However, that person would have it quite wrong, Floyd Mayweather most of all needs to prove that he is worthwhile to himself.
“24/7”, HBO’s boxing show that follows the run-up to big fights has become a hit over the years in large part due to the fascinating dynamics of the Mayweather family. There’s the father and son who don’t speak, and the crazy Uncle who trains him now instead. The father was in prison for drug trafficking, the mother was a drug addict. It is not a family that will have a charming sitcom made about them on CBS; it is a family that would have a show on, well, HBO. Growing up like that, it doesn’t take a psychologist to realize that Floyd Jr. had a mindset that it was every man for himself. He carried that into his professional career, and if there were two things Floyd knew it was how to look out for himself, and that boxers were often guided and evaluated by people that did not have their best interests at heart. Muhammad Ali was praised as the greatest boxer ever, now all his hits to the head have him almost incapacitated with Parkinson’s. Mike Tyson had almost all his wages stolen by corrupt management. One of Mayweather’s opponents, Arturo Gatti, was beloved for the brutal fights he fought in the ring. He was tragically found dead in his hotel room a couple years back. Floyd was determined not to follow that blueprint. He would protect his body by fighting defensively, not taking any big hits. He would protect his money by discarding Bob Arum a man notorious for taking a large commission, and taking a large hand in managing and promoting himself. So it shouldn’t surprise us that Floyd Mayweather doesn’t seem to care what the public, those who don’t have his best interests at heart think of his legacy, he cares only about the man in the mirror.
So when his face, and his reputation were in the process of being attacked, Floyd acted in his own best interests. Victor Ortiz broke the rules in head butting Mayweather. Floyd could not and would not stand by as a man tried to damage him by breaking the rules, when he couldn’t compete with Floyd playing by them. He did what he would have done in a fight back in his home of Grand Rapids, when a man shows weakness and takes his eye off the fight in the middle you take him down. Interestingly, it seems most boxing writers and experts, such as Dan Rafael, agree with that viewpoint. Boxing isn’t governed by rules or ethics; the entire industry is a little less corrupt than Bernie Madoff. The sport of boxing is governed by looking out for your own best interests, and sometimes that may include a cheap shot on an opponent. Floyd Mayweather has fought since he could walk, he understands it as few do, so he would not take criticism from Larry Merchant who never fought, who could never truly understand Floyd or boxing in Mayweather’s eyes. Mayweather has never seemed to bother with those who don’t understand boxing, and therefore don’t understand him.
Boxing as a sport is dying. People dispute that with fight viewership statistics, but I see the point as being inarguable. MMA and UFC have countless rising stars, and countless young men in gyms across America training to become the next UFC fighter. Boxing has no young American stars, just Floyd Mayweather, and it is quite possible he may be the last big boxing star we ever see. I am aware that Manny Pacquiao is also a star of that caliber, yet he is 33 and Mayweather is 34. It is quite possible their best fights are behind them, and no young stars seem to be taking their place in the ring or in the public imagination. Floyd Mayweather is the last of a dying breed, The American Boxing Superstar. Which is why although boxing fans may not like him, they root for him to fight Pacquiao, to maintain relevancy, for as long as Floyd Mayweather is on the map in America then boxing is on the map in America.
Floyd Mayweather does not care about the health of the sport of the boxing, in the same way that the sport has never cared about the health of its fighters. Floyd Mayweather cares most of all about himself, and in the individualistic sport of boxing where no one can be trusted, that is the smart way to be. While it would be great for the sport for him to be challenged by Pacquiao, he is keenly aware that it may not be great for him. He makes tens of millions to fight men who he is sure he can beat, so why would he need to make a little more to fight a man he is unsure he can beat. To him, what makes him the greatest is not merely that he has gone undefeated but unchallenged. So although it may be cliché, Floyd Mayweather does not care about what you or me think of him, whether we feel he has fulfilled his potential as a fighter. He doesn’t need the potential trauma of fighting Pacquiao, and he sure as hell doesn’t need the money. The only reason he would take this fight is for public approval, and like it or not, the only approval Floyd Mayweather cares about is his own.