By Mauricio Castillo
What makes a boxer great?
His career record? The wars he’s been in? His fan reception? His wealth?
For Floyd Mayweather Jr., that decision has already been made. If we’re to go by the credentials above, Mayweather fits in them all (although, “wars” would be a bit of a stretch).
Yet, even with his shimmering 48-0 record and his utter domination of the sport, analysts, writers, and fans always have questions:
“What if he had fought ____ back then?” “Why does he dodge everybody?”
I am a fan/student of pugilism, and I’ve never witnessed a fighter (or athlete) butchered so openly by the media and fans. Sure, you can argue that some of the barbs are warranted (that episode with Larry Merchant in 2011, for example). Mayweather hasn’t been cheered since he was an up-and-coming featherweight. How can the viewing public hate a man who has provided such statistical greatness to the sport? Why do we despise everything about him?
Or, perhaps, Mayweather is just a scapegoat for the real problem: Boxing is not the “May The Best Man Win” sport it was. Instead, “Who Can Make The Most Money”, with Mayweather as the perfect poster boy.
If one looks up “The Greatest Fights of All Time”, one sees names like Louis, Ali, Leonard, Hagler. Back in the old days, it seems like every Pay-Per-View main event was one for the ages, regardless of weight division.
In 1997, we had De La Hoya V. Whitaker.
A great bout, but a controversial decision led to a call for a rematch. Both fighters were game.
Except De La Hoya’s promoter, Bob Arum, said a rematch would “not be good business.”
What?! Since when does an obvious rematch between two great fighters who just had a terribly close battle sound like bad business?
Coincidently, a fighter (promoted by Arum) by the name of “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, Jr. was currently making his way up the Featherweight ranks.
Sport has always been a partnership between business and entertainment. Certain athletes get paid more. Certain cities get more publicity. This issue goes beyond that.
In the late 90s-early 2000s, Mayweather ruled boxing. Showing the kind of preternatural talent unseen since the days of both Sugar Rays, he fought the best featherweights and lightweights, making it look like child’s play. Then he moved up to welterweight.
After the Mayweather V. Judah debacle in 2006, the whisper spread:
“Why hasn’t he fought Pacquiao, or Margarito, or Cotto, or Mosley…?”
After Mayweather’s split with Bob Arum he was apparently offered $8 million to fight Antonio Margarito, an overpowering Mexican sure to put on a show. Mayweather declined, citing injury, but left the door open for a future fight.
It never happened.
Did Mayweather dodge Margarito? Did he drag on negotiations with Pacquiao in order to ultimately make more money?
Is that zero in his record less important than the zeroes in his bank account?
These are questions that have clouded his career since his groundbreaking showdown with Oscar De La Hoya in 2007. On this night, Mayweather’s “Pretty Boy” moniker was shed for “Money”, and the fight lived up to it. To date, the two fighters earned $77 million, with total PPV revenue of $165 million (of course, this number was obliterated by Mayweather V. Pacquiao earlier this year).
These are all just stats, of course. What fans remember is Mayweather’s sinister persona, the cackling antagonist to De La Hoya’s natural hero. Mayweather’s legacy was cemented: he would be the villain, the villain the public is willing to pay limbs for, just to see him lose.
What followed was eight years of the same story: Mayweather fighting outclassed foes, earning ridiculous purses in ratio to them.
The match fans had been waiting for since 2008, happened this year.
Once again, when the dust had settled, fans were left with questions:
“What if they had fought in their primes?”
“Why didn’t Pac-Man push the pressure?
“Why did I even pay for this?”
Recently, after a bout against Ricardo Mayorga, Shane Mosley has decided to call out every fighter under the sun, as if anyone really wants to see the 43-year old fight anymore. Mosley just wants to make a couple more big paydays.
The boxing world let out a collective sigh when Mayweather revealed his “final” (because who really believes he’s going to end his career now when 50-0 is so close) fight would be against unranked, forgotten Andre Berto. Fans were begging for fights against the lightning fast Amir Khan, the young lions Kell Brook, Keith Thurman, and Shawn Porter. Or perhaps even going up to fight Kazakh wrecking ball Gennady Golovkin.
Instead, we get Mayweather V. Berto on September 12th.
Huh? So, Berto gets a big paycheck, Mayweather gets a bigger paycheck and (if we’re to believe Vegas) cruises to his 49th victory.
But it would be “bad business” to hate the man. Mayweather, for all his bravado and apparent “evil” ways, is just a savvy businessman who just happens to be one of the greatest fighters ever. Why should he have to apologize for working the system? Applaud him for his ability to dominate his competition AND creating a moneymaking machine of a brand.
Is he really “The Best Ever”? What if he had fought all those big names when the fans clamored for it? Who knows? Boxing is and should be driven by fans, who are not objective. What we can answer now, on the eve of this fight, is what Mayweather is not.
Mayweather is not the bad guy. He does not need to change. The culture of boxing needs to change in order for it to return to the times of yester year, when it was about two fighters lacing up their gloves and stepping out to a cacophony of cheers. Their eyes fixed on the squared circle. They’re not thinking about a paycheck. All they care about is making sure their hand is being raised once that final bell tolls.
Mauricio Castillo can be reached at [email protected]