I’m just going to paint the picture for how boxing was back in the day for me:
The first pay per view match I ever watched was Mike Tyson cancelling Carl Williams like Nino Brown, in a minute and thirty-two seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13O57lV2jws
After that, I was mystified by the sheer power of a then-seemingly invincible behemoth, which graced the pictures of magazines, video games, and then T-shirts after his dubious conviction and incarceration for sexual assault. Today, Tyson is seen as more of a character than an athlete, but let’s call it as we see it; Tyson was GREAT for boxing. He brought in more casual fans than the sport could even anticipate. His rough upbringing in Brownsville gave him a mystique of street-fighter turned boxing juggernaut. His unapologetic speech and frightening nature towards both his opponents and the media caused people to give pause, and added to that aura of unfuckwitable-ness that he exuded every time he stepped into the ring. Well, every time before Buster Douglas, at least. Nevertheless, no matter if you loved him or hated him in the early 90’s, Tyson was must-see-TV, and people all over were tuning in.
Fast-forward to the later-2000’s, what some might call the ’Dark Ages of Boxing’; legendary greats like Chavez and de la Hoya were planning retirements, and heavyweight greats like Holyfield, Lewis and Hopkins were fighting past their prime. That’s not even mentioning the meteoric rise of mixed martial arts and how it would supersede boxing in popularity by the turn of the decade. Even though during this time there were notable fighters and matches, boxing just wasn’t the spectacle it used to be. There weren’t any more characters in the sport to root for.
Or root AGAINST.
Enter Floyd Mayweather Jr., a boxing prodigy hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who won his first championship belt within two years of being a professional, left his promoter Bob Arum in 2006 and changed his boxing moniker from ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd, to ‘Money’ Mayweather. A great source that contains a YouTube clip of Floyd’s ‘Greatest Hits’ can be seen here.
One could even argue that name change was a change of persona as well, self-promoting himself as an brash, arrogant malcontent of the public’s failure to recognize his greatness and, to this day, still calls himself “the greatest boxer ever/”
Hero Vs. Villain: Making the Choice
Floyd actually tried to have a more valiant approach to his matches. Before his fight against Diego Corrales, who was looking at incarceration for alleged domestic abuse in January 2001, he (ironically) quipped “I want Diego because I’m doing it for all the battered women across America… Just like he beat that woman, I’m going to beat him.” Maybe Floyd, who after that match has been charged for domestic abuse on three separate occasions, took notes that day on how to be hated, but I digress. The point is that now, after his transgressions, Floyd KNOWS he is hated, and he KNOWS some people want him to get knocked the fuck out, ala Debo from Friday. He also knows that some people will pay $50-$100 to watch said activity occur, and he uses that to his advantage.
Now, Floyd loves to don the visage of a villain; at least, he sees the marketability of doing such. His first big payday was against the great Oscar de la Hoya, who was known as the ‘Golden Boy’, and being that he was so liked and appreciated during his career, Floyd came into that match as the villain strictly by default, and saw the benefits of such afterwards, even when he contemplated retirement after that match in 2007.
In Chuck Klosterman’s book, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains Real and Imagined, two interesting excerpts come to mind:
“It has always been my belief that people are remembered for the sum of their accomplishments but defined by their single failure.”
“The most villainous move any person can make is tying a woman to the railroad tracks.”
Floyd Mayweather has been defined (and judged, by public opinion) not by his boxing record, but by his criminal record. He knows his being convicted of domestic abuse multiple times is no secret in the world. He knows that feminists and women’s advocate groups have taken to their Tumblrs and blogs and asked that this man be admonished, beaten into the ground and stripped of his titles. It was the same route Mayweather tried to take in the Corrales fight; to be a savior of the fairer sex, to swoop in and untie the woman in the nick of time from the tracks before the mustache-twirling villain gets his murderous satisfaction. And he did so. He won. He remained “Pretty” to the people. His record was still untainted, and he was lauded as one of most talented pound-for-pound boxers in the sport by the experts.
But where’s the money in that?
In 2006, Mayweather passed on an $8 million purse against Antonio Margarito and paid $750,000 to Top Rank to become his own free agent. The fact is after that instance; Floyd has been incredibly successful at finding ways to keep his nickname, Money, coming in. He spoke for himself to plug the matches he fought in, and cut the costs of a promotional team. In 2007, he made $25 million on the de la Hoya fight, which means he tripled his earning value in only one year. In 2013, he made $80 million to dance in the ring with Canelo Alvarez for 12 rounds. He has now earned a total of $400 million (That’s 8 zeros, if you’re wondering) in his career, with the bulk of said amount being accumulated after going solo and telling Top Rank to “kick rocks.” You can check all the stats here. He now makes the majority purse of every fight, and he makes a percentage on every ticket and item sold in the venue. How’s that hot dog taste now that you paid Floyd MORE money than he already needs?
Floyd also doesn’t need to appease the court of public opinion to make money. In 2013 and 2014, he was listed as the world’s highest-paid athlete, and that was without one single endorsement from an independent party. He doesn’t mute his individual voice to placate to the values of a certain sponsor, and without the overwhelming arrogance, you could say his stance is quite respectable, and even admirable. He doesn’t have to scratch the back of a corporate entity in order to make his bread. He doesn’t work for ANYBODY; Floyd Mayweather works and speaks for only himself. That would actually be a redeeming quality, and even worth rooting for in the ring, if maybe he wasn’t such a cocky cock about it.
Does More Mindgames and More Money Equal Better Boxing?
After the de la Hoya fight, Mayweather has carefully chosen his opponents and bided his time between matches for optimum performance (and maximum pay) in his later years; The first 11 years of his career he fought 38 matches, and won the light middleweight title (Floyd at his heaviest) by a split decision, whereas the final 7 years of his career he has only fought 10 matches; only 2 of those being decided by knockouts (1 technical), and arguably against fighters that were past their prime, and could’ve given Mayweather more of a run had he agreed to fight with them sooner.
That last sentence was not a direct target at Manny Pacquiao, even though the general consensus says that match was long overdue. But in Floyd’s eyes, it was perfectly planned. He accused Pacquiao of using steroids and performance enhancing drugs for months when there was no faint proof of such, and mandated that he take multiple drug tests before stepping in the ring. Now one may look from a distance and call that an act of self-preservation on Floyd’s part. Some may call it egregious to even suggest a fellow competitor is cheating with no empirical evidence. But whatever your standpoint, the indictment puts Pacquiao on the defensive to repair his character, and not Floyd. It’s a brilliant flip-around; Pacquiao now has to explain HIS character now, and Floyd doesn’t, because he already KNOWS what you think of him. Floyd’s literacy has come into question recently (shout out to 50 Cent), but his psychological smarts and his ability to get into an opponent’s head never has.
But what does a great villain do? He points out the flaws in everyone else. Again, in Klosterman’s book, he writes, “In any situation, the villain is the person who knows the most but cares the least.” The villain makes no bones about his demeanor and motives, and he believes that his viewpoint is the most correct because he doesn’t hide behind a façade of purity or innocence. The cliché movie-villain line, “We’re not so different, you and I” that s/he delivers to the protagonist is a call to introspection: We are ALL flawed in some ways. We ALL lie, cheat, steal and hurt people to get what we want sometimes. This is the way the world is; we are ALL animals. This is what a villain believes.
I also enjoyed this article while reading up on this subject: Why We Love To Hate A Villain
Floyd actually tries to turn the villain card around and blames the media that he is painted as such, and the appearance isn’t of his own volition. He is quoted as saying, “You’ve got to have a villain and they’ll always make me a villain. I’m used to it. It makes me work harder and it makes me fight harder.” Just the fact that he admits that there always has to BE one suggests to me that it’s the role he chooses to represent presently. Sometimes you gotta read between the lines.
But you can‘t say Floyd CAN‘T box; the dude is STILL undefeated. In all 48 of his matches he has came out victorious, more by the use of his feet rather than his fists. Floyd is more known for wearing an opponent down with defensive speed and technique and using offense secondly, rather than the ‘empty-the-tank’ (what I like to call the Rock-’Em-Sock-’Em Robots) approach we are used to seeing from the heavyweight matches of the 90’s and the early 2000’s. Mayweather was trained at an early age to be a BOXER, not a brawler, and was trained with the notion that boxers are supposed to AVOID getting hit, and he has never wavered from that philosophy.
“What the Hell Am I Watching?”
Now I’m not going to write about how awful the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight was. I thought the first 6 rounds were quite entertaining, and I understand how opponents have a get a feel for each other so they can anticipate punches thrown. I wasn’t expecting a go-for-broke slugfest from both competitors; I knew what I was getting into. However, my girlfriend at the time of the match, who bought into the hype from her coworkers and ordered the fight after not seeing one in her life, was expecting a little more. She called the fight ‘unwatchable’, and left the room after the 7th round, and even I, by the 9th or 10th round was nodding off and looking for a little more offense. When is either of these guys going to take a chance, I thought to myself. I didn’t feel that this was a bad boxing match as much as I thought it was a bad representation of boxing to show to an outsider, and DEFINITELY not worth the price tag.
Back to the Tyson v. Williams fight. If I were to show my girlfriend THAT fight and not the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight (or arguably any Mayweather fight after de la Hoya, excluding Hatton) she could actually SEE the entertainment value of the match. Dominant specimen. One round. One PUNCH. A clear-cut victor. It vindicates boxing fanaticism. It solidifies the watchability of the product. Last year’s Super Bowl did that for casual fans of football. Last year’s NBA Championship did that for basketball. This “supermatch” that Floyd promised did NOT do that for boxing. In fact, some might say it secured its national dormancy and future demise as a popular sport.
What has noticeably happened in the aftermath of arguably the most overhyped sports event of the century is now we as fans of boxing search for something better. We go to the internet and scrounge and scrape for new stories, new competitors, new rivalries, and a NEW MATCH over the horizon. Something to wash out the dry, stale, unappetizing taste that was Mayweather/Pacquiao, like a fresh glass of milk to chase down that morsel of year-old boxing cookie that we took a bite of before it was too late. We think of the matches before; an Ali v. Frazer, a Hagler v. Hearns, even a Corrales v. Castillo where they leave it all out on the canvas. These are the true examples of boxing that we want to pass down to future fans. These are the matches that made the sport what it is and not the match in May 2015, nor will it be Mayweather’s upcoming “retirement” match against Andre Berto, a punch-drunk boxer who has lost 3 of his last 6 matches. This generation deserves better than what it is receiving.
Most would say it’s to the sport’s detriment. However, it’s not the most watchable style of sports that is most successful. The Dan Marino-led Miami Dolphins of the 80’s were a high-octane group of receivers that you could hardly take your eyes off, yet they never won a championship. How about the crazy amount of points the Phoenix Suns of the 2000’s put up being coached by Mike D’Antoni? How many rings they got? Anna Kournikova is STUNNING to watch, and you can barely call her a professional without laughing.
But how can you blame him for ducking actual competition? Again, the man is undefeated, with a chance to break Rocky Marciano’s record as the winningest boxer in the sport, and he has worked long and hard to accumulate such a record. Wouldn’t you do whatever to preserve YOURself as the best anyone of anything ever? Wouldn’t you make it as easy on yourself as possible, especially in your later years? Even U2 admits to not playing their hardest songs on tour anymore.
Now to the casual fan, this is the way you watch sports. Big punches. Takedowns. Home runs. High scores. Leaping catches. Slam dunks and alley-oops- a-plenty. And when we cheer, you cheer. However, being a nice team to watch is hardly a successful plan for being an elite competitor. The San Antonio Spurs pride themselves on being a team with solid fundamentals solely, and while the style of play is almost mind-numbing and unwatchable to the casual fan of basketball (which I am NOT, personally, and can watch the Spurs play with those crisp passes all season), it wins games, keeps the team within playoff contention every year, and every other year, wins championships. Gregg Popovich couldn’t care LESS about what the PEOPLE want to see; he just wants to WIN. EVERY time.
The same case can be made for Mayweather, who takes it a step further than Popovich, because Floyd doesn’t care what ANYONE thinks of him.
No, wait. Scratch that.
Floyd Mayweather DOES care of what you think of him.
And he WANTS you to HATE him.