By Ivan G. Goldman
You can have a lot of fun reading boxing articles, and I had great fun recently when I came across the statement that “it’s hard to conceive of a believable star in the absence of Floyd Mayweather.”
I’m too polite to say who wrote that, but poke around this site and you might find the article. Here’s a clue: it’s really long.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that if you have no imagination you can’t see beyond what’s in front of you. As John Lennon pointed out, before we could get to the moon, someone had to imagine going there. There are always great fighters coming through channels, and most of them are more exciting than Mayweather. If he’s the best, biggest star you can conceive of then you need to get around a little more. Take drugs if you have to. Ponder history too. Can anyone name a superstar of the last few decades who was less exciting than Mayweather? I can’t.
Floyd zealots like to say that if you don’t see how exciting their guy is then you don’t understand boxing. But only people who don’t understand boxing would believe Mayweather is a more complete fighter than Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, or Sugar Ray Leonard. If you’d rather watch Floyd than Tommy Hearns in his prime, well, it’s a free country. But if a young Tommy were fighting today, who do you think fans would rather see? They say Detroit fans put second mortgages on their homes to bet on him against Leonard. That’s passion.
Before Tyson came along it took some imagination to predict that a star with Tyson’s talent and charisma could exist. But you don’t need a tremendous imagination to see that there are plenty of fighters out there right now who are more exciting than Floyd. That doesn’t mean they’ll all be as big a star as he is. As the article that gave me so much fun noted, stardom isn’t something that depends wholly on how good a fighter is. That intangible crossover something that makes a lot of fans want to see him again is what’s required, and it’s not always easy to say when and where it will pop up. But it always does.
Anyone happen to see Adonis Stevenson take apart tough Tavoris Cloud in a terrific light heavyweight match out of Montreal last Saturday? Notice how he walked him down, beat him up and made him quit? Well this is a hurting sport, and that’s how you’re supposed to do things. Stevenson, 22-1 (19 KOs), can get people out of there using the kind of power and boxing skill that makes fans know they saw something worthwhile. In Stevenson’s one loss he got stopped by journeyman Darnell Boone in the second round. No, that doesn’t eliminate him as a potential star. Fighters who either knock you out or get knocked out themselves are fun to watch. Stevenson avenged his loss by stopping Boone in the sixth round of their rematch.
Here’s a short list of other fighters who are more exciting than “Money” Mayweather on a pretty consistent basis: Sergio Martinez, Manny Pacquiao, Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin, “Kid Chocolate” Quillin, Miguel Cotto, Adrien Broner, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Lucas Matthysse, and Mikey Garcia. Sure, they’re not all as good as he is, and they may never bring in a $50 million payday. But they can fight and they’re fun to watch. And sure, some of them will compete from time to time in stinkers. That’s the way styles match up sometimes. Notice that Amir Khan, who apparently is Floyd’s next opponent, didn’t make the list.
Unfortunately, none of the above are heavyweights, and being a great heavyweight remains the surest ticket to stardom, as always. You could very easily argue, by the way, that both Klitschkos are more exciting than Floyd. They’re not easy to hit, they walk their man down and almost always stop him. But U.S. fans find them boring, so I bow to the realities of the Klitschko box office.
I’m sure I left guys out that I shouldn’t have and included others who are ready to begin a downhill slide. Maybe I should have listed Juan Manuel Marquez, for example. Some readers will get red-hot angry at the notion that there are fighters who do some things better than Mayweather does. And there are always people out there who, when they get behind a keyboard, let their psychotic flags fly. You spot the same guys going nuts when they get behind the wheel. Distance gives their temper and valor a boost.
Floyd is a brilliant talent and has developed a style that’s pretty much impossible to beat, and that’s no easy thing to do. He will go down as a legend. But to think that no one can surpass him in popularity is not to think much at all.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in June 2013 by Potomac Books. It can be purchased here.