TWELVE million dollars for six fights was supposedly “a slave contract,” but Floyd Mayweather begged to be put back into those golden chains.
And after unanimously outpointing Mexico’s mandatory contender Gregorio Vargas to retain his WBC super-featherweight title at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on March 18, 2000, HBO commentator Larry Merchant sneered: “Mayweather’s no $12m fighter.”
Trainer Emanuel Steward, working alongside him, readily agreed.
On this display, it was hard to believe Floyd was even the best super-featherweight on the show, what with Diego Corrales stopping Derrick Gainer.
Floyd won a virtual shut-out, scored 119-108 (twice) and 118-109, and floored his man with a body shot in round six, but the sparse crowd of 5,121 (1,500 of which were complimentary) booed.
“Floyd Mayweather is a superstar!” said the boxer last year after he was angered he didn’t receive a $48m pact like “Prince” Naseem Hamed.
Mayweather sulked for six months before pleading to come back, but when you can’t draw big crowds and put on fights like this, even if it was against the No.1 contender, how can you be worth big money?
“I thought it was a good fight after being off six months,” said Floyd Mayweather Snr, his trainer, trying to find a bright spot. But Floyd Jnr isn’t improving.
Mayweather claimed he’d injured his right hand and wrist in training. He said it was throbbing from the sixth.
Admittedly, Floyd is only 23, but when you run in with your chin high, zip a jab at a time and are always bailing out, how can people possibly compare him with Sugar Ray Leonard?
Floyd Jnr dumped his father as manager and signed on with James Prince, a wealthy rap impresario. Prince may well be the next big player in boxing, but he has already blown Floyd’s head way out of shape with his own record deal and a slew of bellowing flunkies.
Mayweather sports a £300,000 watch, as if he’s the Sultan of Brunei.
Floyd opened with long jabs, but quick as he was, didn’t step in with his blows.
Vargas (9st 4lbs) moved about gingerly, gloves high, but was too slow to sustain much of an attack. Dangling his hands but ramming his jab, Floyd was picking him apart easily, though Vargas did shuffle close to unleash one surprisingly sharp burst.
Mayweather resumed zipping his jab in round two and speed served him well, but Floyd was lunging and amateurish at times.
Vargas, about five years over the hill at 29, was at his best as WBC featherweight king, but the Aztec-garbed warrior sliced home an occasional jab, while the chin-high Mayweather needed to smooth out.
Two hard left hooks jarred the challenger in the second, but Floyd kept posing when he needed to get busy.
As Vargas mounted a brief flurry, the small crowd yelled for him to do more. Mayweather cheekily shook his tush at the bell.
Floyd flicked his jab, then jumped right back, moving before he’d completed his punch. The longer the fight lasted, the more gun-shy Mayweather became.
Brilliant boxers like Leonard, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson knew they were going to get hit. It’s an occupational hazard, but Mayweather’s first objective was not to be touched, then jab.
The ambling Vargas tagged him with a hard right counter halfway into the third, but as the sputtering prodigy threw more off-balance replies, he resembled a speedy amateur.
Late in the session Mayweather finally fired to the body and a hard left hook sent the Mexican down with a delayed reaction after they had scuffled near the ropes.
The bell rang before Floyd could follow up, but Vargas was giving a decent account of himself by the seventh, while Mayweather continued his fast, robotic assault.
Floyd leaned back and tucked his chin behind his shoulder, making him even tougher to hit. He continued outboxing
and outpunching the one-paced Mexican, but there was a hard exchange late in the round and, as the two tore into each other again, it finally looked as if a fight had broken out.
Mayweather, however, went back to his sniping and bouncing. The slick Vargas occasionally caught him, but there was no question who was winning.
By the ninth, as Mayweather did a lot of prancing, boos were beginning to roll down.
Vargas, 40-7-1 (28), wasn’t connecting cleanly, but scored with crisp double left hooks downstairs before “Pretty Boy”, overrated on this display, shot back.
As shrieks broke out, there was some hard, bristling action back and forth, then Mayweather bundled “Goyo” into a corner to open up with both hands.
Mayweather again lost his concentration and began bantering with ringside commentators when he should have been tending to the task at hand.
Vargas crowded him in the 10th, but Mayweather wouldn’t stand still. Finally, with about a minute gone, Floyd hooked, jabbed and uppercutted, but again, it was amateurish. Thirty seconds later, by the ropes, some lusty left hooks knocked the spray off Mayweather’s face. Vargas was coming on and had one of his best rounds, but Mayweather returned to yammering to TV, when a good slap in the face might have woken him up.
In the 11th, Floyd, 23-0 (17), continued his fast, faint-hearted attack, but by now everybody knew what he was going to do.
Despite his undoubted handspeed, all Mayweather could do was limited things. He jabbed one at a time, seldom punched downstairs and repeatedly ran in chin-high to swipe and flail instead of flurrying correctly.
A slapping two-fisted combination was too quick for Vargas, but four years after the Olympics there’s no way Mayweather is the finished article as a pro.
HBO is supposed to be the “Heart and Soul of Boxing,” but there were loud boos with three minutes to go.
Mayweather tried to put on a show, firing fast left hooks and uppercuts, but as the session wound down, amid more boos, it was questionable whether Mayweather would ever be big box office.
No doubt HBO’s Lou DiBella wishes Mayweather’s contract was in invisible ink.
Ultimately, Mayweather would figure in many of Las Vegas’ most successful boxing events ever.