Floyd Mayweather Jr is a lot of things. He’s marketing gold, a polarizing social figure, boxing’s bell cow, and arguably the best fighter of the last 25 years or longer (with all due respect to Roy Jones), but perhaps above all else, Mayweather is a con man.
Mayweather prepares to do battle with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on Saturday night in what is not only the most anticipated fight of the year, but also perhaps the most anticipated fight of Floyd’s prestigious career, and he’d have you believe that’s OK.
The truth is, it’s not okay. While declaring boxing “dead” has become popular public sentiment, it’s also wrong. The heavyweight division is in shambles, no doubt, and in weight classes where the best of the best athletes are scooped up by football and basketball and other (more forgiving) pursuits, boxing may never be the same. But in the lower weight classes boxing is still as good as ever, maybe better. And Mayweather, as the best-of-the-best, has succeeded in protecting the zero on the back end of his record, but he’s failed at delivering the great and compelling match-ups that defined the sport, and the welterweight division, as recently as the 1990’s. Therein lies Mayweather’s marketing genius, and therein lies the con.
One day, long after Floyd has hung up his gloves, people will look back at his fight records, and specifically his opponents and they’ll be impressed. The names on his resume ring out. What’ll be lost in that perception, what Mayweather is doing his best to hide right now, is that none of them got to face Mayweather at a time when they’d have been considered “in their prime”. The annals of boxing history are filled with great fighters who cleaned out their divisions; in Floyd’s case, he more fairly waited his out.
Make no mistake, Floyd is the best boxer of this generation and then some…it’s not even close. But as anyone who loves the sport can attest, anyone can be beaten on any given night. Therefore it’s been easier, and far more lucrative for Mayweather to avoid the fights we all wanted to see the most, or at least to delay them until the risks were significantly lessened.
By creating the brash, unlikable “Money” persona, and by talking the talk even better than he walks the walk, Floyd has made himself a sellable commodity. There’s interest in Mayweather, mostly because fans of good fights are hoping to see him get his comeuppance eventually. It leads us to believe (or want to believe) that the lesser opponents he routinely takes on might have a chance to beat him…because we hope so. As Floyd has continued to prove however, they can’t.
This weekend’s fight becomes interesting because it’s a slight deviation from the norm for Mayweather. He’s not fighting a guy who’s past his prime; instead he’s fighting a guy in Canelo Alvarez whose prime is probably yet to come. Canelo’s popularity may be peaking right now, but his skills will probably continue to improve for the next couple of years at least. So, Floyd’s getting him out of the way now.
It’s a risky proposition for Money Mayweather, but he’s offsetting at least part of that risk by demanding the fight be at a catch weight. Despite the fact that Floyd is at home at 154-pounds, despite the fact that he’s beaten World Champions at that weight, he negotiated the fight at a catch weight of 152-pounds, forcing Canelo to cut more weight than usual. It’s typical Floyd Mayweather, taking a deck that’s already stacked in his favor, and stacking it his way even further.
The truth is Mayweather shouldn’t (and probably doesn’t) need a catch weight to beat Canelo on Saturday. The fact is he shouldn’t have had to duck Manny Pacquiao or Antonio Margarito or Paul Williams. He shouldn’t have had to wait until Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto had been worn down and proven beatable before stepping into the ring against them. He could have and should have beaten them all, at their best, when those fights actually made sense. But he didn’t, and he remains the sport’s biggest attraction.
I’m excited about the fight on Saturday, but I’m not unrealistic about it. Mayweather will win easily, although not excitingly. He’ll avoid and frustrate Canelo, he’ll land his pot shots and get out quick and grind out a decision; then he’ll pat himself on the back, and pretend he did something special.
Mayweather is special, but his career, sadly, hasn’t been or at least not as special as it could have been…as it should have been.