By Jason Keidel
If you’ve read this column with any regularity, you know I’m hardly a Floyd Mayweather, Jr apologist. Nor am I a company shill. Neither my boss nor my editor has ever forced my pen in a particular direction. So despite the fact that Showtime broadcasts his fights, which means my boss (CBS) broadcasts his fights, I refuse to fall into the sequence of sycophants who stroke his back, butt, or ego, no matter his malfeasance.
Like most boxing fanatics, I’m conflicted when it comes to the sport’s biggest star. My clashing impulses over Mayweather the boxer and Mayweather the man probably parallel yours.
Mayweather is a savant in the sweet science, more boxer than brawler, who can unleash five whiplash punches before his foe fires one. His ability to slip punches, lean back an inch too far to be reached, to twist his front shoulder so that his opponent’s punches bounce harmlessly off, and his ability to taunt or torment all comers makes him the best fighter of the last decade.
But like all things Mayweather, he adds adjectives, octaves, and observations that make him virtually impossible to like personally, hence his maddening duality.
By now the world knows about the five-second summit between Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao at the Miami Heat game, which then spilled over into Pacquiao’s hotel room. By all accounts, the meeting was formal but cordial and it was the first time each fighter eschewed their bloody barbs, cyberspace spats, and looked the other in the eye with way more respect than rancor.
But, in the name of the game we love, the original sport of kings, I will swallow my pride, a slice of my soul, to advance the cause of the final mega fight the sweet science will ever enjoy. And while the last thing Floyd Mayweather, Jr needs is another reporter kissing his hind parts, I will pucker up and smooch away.
Floyd, you’re great. While I can’t concede the greatest, and I wince when you compare yourself favorably to The Greatest (Muhammad Ali) and propel yourself past Ray Robinson – the original and only real Sugar Ray – I’ll give it that you’re the best of your time, bar none, not even close. You’ve vaporized all comers, and are two wins from equaling Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0.
Despite the conga line of luxury cars, mansions, harem and histrionics, you’ve somehow hurdled all the inherent obstacles of stardom. You never fell prey to the potholes of celebrity. You never smoked, drank, or drugged. Your monolithic focus and fitness is legendary, as are your impromptu, 2 a.m. workouts in the desert. While many fighters balloon to comical contours between fights, gorging on steak, Coke and cookies and cream, you can always wash your wardrobe on your abs.
But, as Freddy Roach recently asserted, you may be too glued to the goose egg on your record, Floyd. You’ve been perfect and are so close to retiring perfect that you may be blinded by the finish line, forgetting what got you here in the first place. As you often bark between sit-ups – your twin mantras of “hard work!” and “dedication” – you have fallen into the trap of excessive caution. You are, in football parlance, playing not to lose, rather than to win. And that coda isn’t what got you to the mountaintop, the highest perch in pugilism.
All great athletes have more than a modicum of arrogance. It’s part of what makes you do divine things in the ring. From Magic to Michael to McEnroe, there’s an inherent hubris in all savants. Like Malcolm Gladwell often writes, genius is not just a talent for X, but also a dedication to it. And, despite your epic sense of self, your gaseous assertions, and endless monologues, no one disputes your dedication to your craft, your mastery of the squared circle.
You have kept boxing in the national dialogue, Floyd. In the post-Tyson tumult, there’s been a slow drip on boxing’s soul. With MMA’s meteoric ascent and team sports poaching pugilism of the gifted 200-pounder, there’s been a profound dearth of decent talent among big guys. So if you buy the premise that boxing is only as important as the heavyweight division, then our beloved sport is in profound peril.
Not only did we lose Tyson, the post-Y2K talent pool has been drained to the floor. We lost Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones, Jr, Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, and have been relegated to watching a very geriatric Bernard Hopkins get slapped around. Father Time keeps his record as pristine as Floyd’s.
But your manic obsession with your microscopic body fat content means you’re not your garden-variety boxer. In May you will enter the ring at 38, but with the body of 28, and the soul of 18. Your physical and metaphysical mores are spellbinding. In a pure, scientific sense you are a marvel. Though at the age when most fighters are slurring words between chattering teeth, gesturing with trembling hands, the scar tissue over your eyes swollen like almonds, you are remarkably fit and lucid and logical. And because you’ve slipped so many punches, you have not been robbed of your golden tongue, lightning reflexes, and uncanny showmanship and gamesmanship. You are alarmingly close to your prime despite being alarmingly close to pasture by any metric we use to measure boxers.
You’ve always cherished your fans, promising them that your only goal, other than living up to your “Money” moniker and opulent lifestyle, is to deliver the best bouts possible. Your professional pledge has been to fight everyone, duck no one, and leave the most glittering legacy in history.
If that’s still true, Champ, then you owe your fawning fans one final fight against the one fighter we all agree has the best chance to beat you.
And for all your flaws, you’ve never been branded dumb, Floyd. You’ve been brilliant in how you fight, whom you fight, and when you fight them. It’s no secret that Manny Pacquiao is not at his pyrotechnic peak. This is not the same fighter who pummeled Miguel Cotto or bludgeoned Antonio Margarito. Juan Manuel Marquez knocked Pac Man into the Twilight Zone. And, Floyd, we all remember you smoked Marquez the one time you fought him.
A conga line of luminaries – from the masses to media to retired fighters – almost unanimously predicting a Mayweather win. You’re faster, smarter, fitter, and are fighting at home, on the very weekend you’ve trademarked as a homecoming parade.
This is the time to fight, Floyd. And this is the man to fight, Floyd. This is a perfect confluence of timing, talent, and history. Even the most malleable estimates put your payday at $120 million, the most you will ever make for a fight. Manny has agreed to take a smaller slice of the gate, PPV dollars, rabid and rampant drug testing, and the bottom rung on the gritting marquee.
And in keeping with your alarming sense of self, your place in history, and your epic appetite for cash, you could not have a better event. This is the final fight that has a hold on the nation’s soul. And with a win, you could plant your flag as the finest boxer of your generation, if not ever.
Those of us who still adore boxing for its historical prerogative, its grip on our adrenal gland, and its singular spot as essential theater, see this fight through a dual prism. We’re excited to see one more Saturday night when the world stops for twelve rounds; and we’re sad to concede that we probably won’t see it again.
But if the sport is to erode, decay, and die, who else to give it a proper prologue and epilogue than you, Floyd? You are a perfect microcosm of the sport, both bold and ebullient, rich and rancorous, vulgar and victorious. You, like boxing, revel in the gory and glory of bloodsport. You could fight today, tomorrow, or at boxing’s bare knuckle-best.
Boxing, like America, is a meritocracy, kind to the gifted while devouring the weak. Boxing adheres to the laws of survival. And no sport epitomizes the outhouse-to-penthouse premise like the sweet science. Boxing was our first public melting pot. Before Jackie Robinson was Joe Louis. Before Curt Flood demanded his vocational freedom, Ray Robinson was demanding a slice of the receipts. While Frankie Carbo and Murder Inc was fixing fights and fighters at gunpoint, Carmino Basilio refused to shrivel before the Mafia’s murderous fist.
We all love you, Floyd.
So send us off in style, Floyd.
You owe it to us, your fans, and yourself, Floyd.
And who loves Floyd Mayweather more than Floyd Mayweather?
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.