By Tyson Bruce
The Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Marcos “Chino” Maidana fight has suddenly snuck up on us. It seems like just yesterday that the controversial selection of opponents—whether it would be Amir Khan or Madaina—was the premier story in the sport that Mayweather likes to call his own. The actual fight itself seems to lack the same intrigue as Mayweather’s often hotly debated and careful selection of opponents.
It’s not that Maidana, 35-3-0-(31 KO’s), doesn’t deserve a shot at the ‘pound for pound’ king, as he’s defeated a string of impressive opponents like Josesito Lopez, Jesus Soto Karass, and Adrien Broner. He is also among the most exciting fighters in the game—proving time and again that he is a warrior of the highest order. Maidana is a blood and guts human highlight reel; cut from the same cloth as Carmen Basillio or more recently Arturo Gatti. So why are so many people down on this fight?
It’s because we’ve been there and done that with Mayweather. The very attribute that makes Madaina an effective fighter—raw aggression, punching power, and heart—are the same things that will almost guarantee his downfall against a master boxer like Floyd. Except for perhaps punching power, Madaina doesn’t do a single thing better than Saul Alvarez. He can’t box as well, he’s not as mobile and he’s a much physically smaller opponent. We all remember how well Alvarez did, right? If Maidana were to win more than a few round he will have exceeded the expectations of almost every boxing expert on the planet.
Another reason this fight has failed to capture the imagination of the general sports public is because of the recent emergence of more intriguing opposition. The next generation of welterweight superstars is gradually emerging. Within the last month Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman have boldly announced their presence in the boxing community. Their combination of youth and physicality (you could easily mistake them for middleweights) has, almost over night, transformed them into the most exciting and feared fighters in the 147 pound division. In fact, outside of Mayweather and Pacquiao, they might very well be favored against any other welterweight.
At the same time a lingering skepticism, always at the heart of a true boxing fan, has accompanied their rise. It’s not about the ability of the young fighters, as that is not yet known, but rather that opportunity to prove their talent will be elusive. While Mayweather and Pacquiao have undoubtedly been the most dominate welterweights of their generation, they both moved up from smaller weight classes and have both—to varying degrees—used that as a crutch when selecting opponents. Pacquiao has often had the advantage of fighting at a catch-weight, as was the case when he fought Cotto and Margarito. While Mayweather has arguably hand picked overrated opponents, like Baldomir and Hatton, and avoided more legitimately dangerous fighters in their prime like Paul Williams, Miguel Cotto, and Antonio Margarito.
Neither Mayweather nor Pacquiao have admitted to outright ducking any opponents, but instead label certain fighters as lacking the notoriety necessary to help carry a PPV. Still, how Robert Guerrero was a more deserving Mayweather opponent in 2013 than Miguel Cotto was in 2007 remains an enduring mystery. In all likelihood Porter and Thurman will prove their true worth in a showdown against one another. Whether Mayweather and Pacquiao will even be around after that happens is anyone’s guess. But with more celebrated and less talented guys like Amir Khan waiting in the wings, I wouldn’t count on them winning the sweepstakes anytime soon.
The stark quietness of the Mayweather-Maidana promotion is proof that Mayweather requires a juicy b-side opponent to truly capture the world’s attention. He’s not exciting or scary enough to capture the world’s attention just by fighting a John Doe. In other words, he’s not Mike Tyson or Muhammad Ali. His true talent as a salesman and value as a commodity only emerges when his aura of invincibility is most threatened. Tyson’s popularity had nothing to do with his quality of opposition; people loved watching him fight because he scored highlight reel knockouts and when that went away he tried to break peoples arms and/or bite them. Ali had once in a lifetime charisma, as well as the civil rights movement to make him a transformative figure. People watch Mayweather because they want to see him lose. When that isn’t even a remote possibility people care about watching him fight a lot less. It’s even harder now that a potential Pacquiao fight is no longer a realistic possibility.
It’s possible that a pattern in emerging in Mayweather’s lucrative Showtime contract. Could it be that they will alternate between a soft opponent (like a Guerrero) and a more threatening one (like Alvarez)? Maidana got the call because he was the most viable opponent based on his sensational win over Broner. With no one else available that was either credible or not with a rival promoter (Top Rank) they had to go with a guy on a hot streak. Enter Maidana. It’s the same reason that Guerrero got the fight after beating Andre Berto. The next true “mega-fight” level opponent has not been found yet. Smart money says that if Cotto were to upset Martinez, a move up to middleweight and a title in a sixth weight class will be all but a sure thing for Mayweather.
The best case scenario this weekend is that a stacked undercard, featuring Amir Khan, Luis Callazo and Adrien Broner, blows away the highest expectations and that Mayweather-Maidana proves modestly entertaining, if not competitive. Maidana will certainly try his very best (he always does) and has the clichéd punchers chance. However, if he couldn’t stop Broner who has less talent and a worse chin than Mayweather, then the possibility of a punchers chance maybe nothing more than fool’s gold. Come Sunday morning, however, the most likely thing we are to read is the most predictable idiom in boxing: Mayweather W-UD-12.