August 11, 2017
August 11, 2017
Floyd Mayweather

Esther Lin/Showtime

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IT seems odd to accuse Floyd Mayweather of missing a PR trick. His skills as a self-publicist rank only slightly behind his abilities as a master boxer. Yet the recent news of him officially requesting 8oz gloves for his 154lb bout with Conor McGregor is intriguing. Not as it impacts on the winner of this elaborate mismatch, but more in what Floyd stands to gain from it.

The prosaic explanation is that Mayweather is simply seeking to draw attention back to the potential competitiveness of the fight. Public interest has seemed to wane since the pair’s grim, trash-talking media circus earlier this summer, with the biggest story since being about who really hurt whom when McGregor sparred Paulie Malinaggi.

Hardly the script. So this could be Mayweather drumming up interest in the event by putting in a request that he knows will likely be turned down by the Nevada State Athletic Commission this month. Or perhaps he’s so understandably confident in his boxing superiority above McGregor that he figures it doesn’t matter what the Irishman has on his fists. It could be horseshoes, for all Mayweather cares. If McGregor can’t hit him, what does glove size really matter?

Yet the infamously cautious Mayweather does seem to be giving up something of benefit. The 10oz gloves they were expected to wear would have better protected his brittle hands and reduced the chances of McGregor scoring a shock knockout (widely seen as his sole, slim chance of victory). Perhaps Mayweather has done this purely to stoke interest in the event itself.

Yet there is another train of thought. That perhaps Mayweather himself would like a spectacular knockout a lot more than he’s letting on.

Floyd Mayweather

Protect the 0

That’s not what the trajectory of Mayweather’s career has taught us, of course. As he’s grown in fame, as his unbeaten streak has extended, he’s been as concerned with protecting his ‘0’ as any boxer in history. Wisely so. Mayweather for a long time knew that many of the people watching him wanted to see if he could be beaten, so his worth would drop dramatically should he ever lose – not to mention the dent it would put in his ginormous ego.

That’s an obvious point, as no fighter likes to lose. But some will take risks to achieve greatness – and that was increasingly not Mayweather’s style once he’d reached the top of the the sport.

Yet an argument can be made that – in the wider context of his image, which clearly matters a lot to him – Mayweather made a misstep in not trying to stop Manny Pacquiao. It was in-keeping with Mayweather’s style to outbox his opponent and settle for a comfortable win. Yet the victory did not do as much for his legacy as perhaps he’d hoped. For once, the great PR master made an error in judgement.

By beating Pacquiao, he might assume he’d settled once and for all who the greatest boxer of this recent era was. Mission accomplished, perhaps, but the reaction – from boxing fans and the wider public – was muted. It was a dull bout in which two fading boxers fought and the slightly superior, slightly larger, slightly less injured was victorious.

Mayweather can point to his unblemished record and in-ring mastery as much as he wants, but there’s something he could do to create a greater legacy with the public at large. One thing he hasn’t yet done. Simply, to create an image that sports fans will never forget.

Ali and Mayweather

How many people across the world own that poster of Muhammad Ali, stood fist-cocked over Sonny Liston, mouth agape as he tells him to get up? And how many of them can tell you whether it’s the first Liston fight or the second one? Or that there were two Ali-Liston fights? Or who the chap lying at Ali’s feet even is?

See also: the footage, seen around the world of Ali, fist cocked again, rotating as the stumbling giant George Foreman falls around him to the canvas. These are genuinely iconic moments in sporting history. Ali is an obvious example, but he’s not alone in owning them.

When you think of Floyd Mayweather – for all his indisputable greatness in the ring – what iconic images spring to mind? Boxing fans can easily recall him making an opponent catch air thanks to his defensive skill or the blazing combination punches he used to take out Diego Corrales. But do any of these transcend the sport?

A gif of him throwing bank notes down a camera lens is far more widely known. It seems a slim legacy for someone so acutely sensitive as to how the world perceives him – not to mention a man who knows his future earnings will be dependent on how long his fame endures in the public consciousness. After all, while 50-0 is a pleasingly flawless statistical record, nobody will be putting it up as a poster on their wall.

May’s last chance

The fact is, in his two most high-profile fights to date –  against Oscar De La Hoya and Pacquiao – he fought a safety-first fight. Understandable for a primarily defensive boxer, especially against the bigger De La Hoya. But perhaps he holds some regrets about his other career-defining fight.

When he realised that he had the beating of Pacquiao, was there a part of him that saw an opportunity to create that memorable moment against his wounded foe? Mayweather stood over a prostrate Pacquiao, fist cocked, mouth open, the definitive full stop on the career of a great fighter.

Perhaps not. After all, Pacquiao can punch and Mayweather has never enjoyed taking risks. But perhaps he sees that opportunity now, against the non-boxer he boxes against at the end of this month. How he wins, aged 40, against a mixed martial artist, won’t matter a jot to his legacy within his own sport. That’s pretty set.

Yet it might matter to the wider public. The image, the video footage, of Mayweather battering McGregor to defeat with his fists would be the first thing on every TV news network, in every newspaper, across social media the next day. Much more than a 120-108 decision. And it might even stick too. As MMA continues to grow, the time the top star in the sport crossed over and got destroyed by the best boxer of his generation might well be referenced.

Many boxing purists have precious little interest in this as a contest, which is understandable. But what is intriguing is what Floyd Mayweather wants to gain from it – outside the obvious priority of millions upon millions of dollars.

Perhaps that’s all that is behind this curious announcement about the gloves. Something to generate hype, to give people some reason to discuss how this is ‘advantage McGregor’. But maybe this is Mayweather thinking outside the box a little too. Knowing that despite the flawlessness of his record, creating an iconic moment with his fists is the last embellishment he can give to his rich legacy.