By Ivan G. Goldman
If we’ve really seen the final fight of Floyd Mayweather’s career the mass media will likely pull back from boxing. Gatekeepers of what the general public gets to see, hear, and read will have to endure cold-turkey withdrawal and won’t know where to turn for their next superstar.
Even if Floyd returns for another match or two (quite possible), he probably knows too much about the sport to keep throwing his aging body into the ring against young contenders.
Punch stats tell us that hand-picked Andre Berto landed only 86 of 495 shots over the twelve rounds of competition on Saturday night for an abysmal 16 percent connect rate. Mayweather struck pay dirt on 232 of 410 punches thrown for an impressive 56 percent.
But science tells us that Mayweather, the most elusive target in prizefighting, won’t be improving. He knows all he’s going to know about how to succeed in there, and in the future his body won’t handle the stress any better than it does now at age 38. Yes, he has amazingly athletic ability and a healthy lifestyle, but his body isn’t fooled. It knows its age.
If the average guy on the street took those 86 shots from Berto he wouldn’t be parading around the ring in triumph as Floyd did. He’d need an ambulance. Fighters learn to take it, but they still absorb punishment, and Mayweather has taken hits in virtually every bout and every sparring session of his 19-year career, and he knows it. He feels it.
Of course there are under-the-table ways to hang on even longer, but let’s not rehash the recently divulged information that Mayweather received a secret injection the day before his bout against Berto. His team says it consisted of vitamins and water. Such injections can mask the presence of other chemicals, including performance-enhancing drugs. USADA retroactively said the shot was okay. Whatever the facts of that situation, even PEDs betray the body eventually.
Meanwhile, fighters who stay too long pay a price. That includes great fighters like Roy Jones, who probably has plenty of money but can’t bear to turn away from the promise of that adrenaline rush.
If Mayweather should mimic Jones and James Toney by hanging around forever fighting second-tier guys, the mainstream media will catch on and realize at some point that it’s time to step away from him. But where will they go?
Pretty much nowhere at first. But doomsayers who predict boxing will at last get its comeuppance and fade into something close to nothingness are all wrong, mostly because they lack imagination. They don’t understand that someone will come along and grab attention. Someone always does, though it may take awhile.
Years ago when I wrote for Ring we knew that putting Mike Tyson on the cover guaranteed more street sales. No one else pumped up purchases the way he did. Not Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Julio Cesar Chavez. They had followings, but not like Tyson.
In time the post-Tyson vacuum was filled by Oscar De La Hoya. Once again the magazine had a fighter who could really kick up sales. Oscar and Iron Mike attracted different audiences, but they both had the ability to pull in people who wouldn’t ordinarily follow boxing. Tyson did it by being perceived as monstrously tough and vicious, De La Hoya through boyish charm and an appearance that attracted women.
But never forget that his smile was accompanied by a tremendous left hook. When Oscar competed at 135 and 140 he was just about impossible to beat.
Even after he stepped up to welterweight he won eight consecutive matches, most by knockout. He didn’t lose until he fought Felix Trinidad, and that was a Don King robbery.
Manny Pacquiao filled in for a while after Oscar faded, but it wasn’t until Floyd came along that boxing produced a star whose fame catapulted beyond the usual boxing circles.
So who’s next? If I knew, I’d tell you. But by the time a fighter stirs up real excitement his talent may have already begun to fade. Attracting attention early helps a lot because it gives a fighter’s reputation enough time to percolate.
If you look at the top fighters on most pound-for-pound lists you come up with a lot of guys in their thirties – Wladimir Klitschko, Miguel Cotto, Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Kell Brook . . . And not one is an American.
Terence Crawford? Keith Thurman? Too soon to tell.
Canelo Alvarez has the youth, the good looks, charm, talent, and style to put him in the running if he keeps improving his English. Basically, a superstar must be able to trade quips with talk-show gatekeepers.
Big-time media may not know much about boxing, but they’re out there searching for new stars constantly. And eventually they’ll find Mayweather’s replacement. Count on it.
Ivan G. Goldman’s 5th novel The Debtor Class is a ‘gripping …triumphant read,’ says Publishers Weekly. A future cult classic with ‘howlingly funny dialogue,’ says Booklist. Available now from Permanent Press wherever fine books are sold. Goldman is a New York Times best-selling author.