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Pretty Perfect: What is Floyd Mayweather’s legacy, and will he risk tarnishing it with yet another comeback?

Mayweather-McGregor
Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus
Following the announcement of Floyd Mayweather's latest comeback, Elliot Worsell takes a look at the great American's legacy

APPARENTLY, he’s back again. Back like Arnie. Back like the rodents in your kitchen you thought you had zapped. Back like a software update reminder. Back like a psychotic ex. Back for real this time.  

Floyd Mayweather, master of saying one thing and doing another, will supposedly return to the boxing ring in partnership with UFC President Dana White in 2020 and look to squeeze more from the teat of a sport he has already milked for all it’s worth.

Whether he achieves this via a string of exhibition bouts, as he implied only recently, or boxes another mixed martial artist, or rematches Manny Pacquiao, the current WBA welterweight champion, remains to be seen, but certainly – a word, I admit, should never be used when discussing Floyd Mayweather – there appears to be some movement, call it a shoulder roll, in one of these two directions. Floyd tweeted it. Dana White tweeted it. Therefore, it must be true.

Then again, this is Mayweather. Last week he had eyes only for Pacquiao. Days later he fancied some exhibitions in Asia. Earlier this week, meanwhile, we experienced the mother of all twists when an unusually philosophical Floyd ruminated on the recent deaths in boxing and claimed a comeback made zero sense because, and I quote, “Health is wealth.”

That may be correct, and Mayweather, now 42, may even believe what he says, yet what he also understands is this: wealth is health.

At least this seems to be the case for Mayweather and individuals similarly lifted, enriched and defined by how much cash they can flash in the faces of those without. To them, money is the driving force behind every move they make and the single thing that makes them truly happy. For as long as it’s available, therefore, this medicine, the temptation to chase it will never subside.

It’s precisely why Mayweather fought a Japanese kickboxer, Tenshin Nasukawa, on New Year’s Eve last year and why, the year before that, he dragged Conor McGregor, a mixed martial artist, into a boxing ring. Only one of those counted, or at least appeared on his professional boxing record, but both delivered everything Floyd Mayweather wants from a ‘fight’ these days: money and an easy victory.

And yet, such was its bizarre, unorthodox nature, Mayweather’s fiftieth career win – the one against McGregor – managed to not only complete a perfect record but, annoyingly for its architect, remind us of how 50-0 was made. Sorry, Floyd, but it’s true. On August 26, 2017, we got a glimpse of the trick behind the magic.

Floyd Mayweather
Esther Lin/Showtime

The Big 50, a hollow victory against a mixed martial artist, framed Mayweather as the great control freak: the man who gets everything on his terms, gets the timing spot on, and gets what he wants. It was as much a celebration of his business acumen as his boxing skill and, what’s more, because it involved a mixed martial artist and not even a fellow boxer, the ‘Money Fight’ encapsulated Mayweather and the movement of pay-per-view prizefighting, for which he is partly responsible, in the most fitting way possible.

If the number 50 defines his greatness, the choice of fiftieth opponent, critics say, defines how he got there. It was sneaky, cynical and clever. It was, in truth, the sort of move they’d all be making if they had the opportunity and could get away with it.

The win, always guaranteed, meant little to Mayweather’s legacy, but a great deal to his ego and bank balance. Ideal fight, ideal opponent, Mayweather, on reflection, had seemingly been working towards it – the most shameless case of free money in boxing history – for years. The darling of Sin City finally became The House. Mission accomplished.

Or so we thought.

Floyd Mayweather
Mayweather messes about with a kickboxer in Japan (Action Images/REUTERS/Issei Kato)

The Controversy

Floyd Mayweather has been called many things throughout a 21-year professional boxing career. Prospect. Contender. Champion. Pretty Boy. Money. Overrated. Legend. The Best Ever. The list goes on. But rarely will you hear someone describe him as a nice guy, role model or gentleman.

There will be some, I’m sure, who have seen Mayweather’s lighter side, a side shielded from the public and opponents, and will speak in glowing terms of the human being behind the TBE mask and cape. Yet it’s just as true that many of these advocates will be in the Mayweather business, therefore familiar with Floyd on a professional level rather than a personal one, and keen to not only promote his good side but stay on it.

What we can be certain of is this: between the years 2002 and 2012, Mayweather has faced a litany of domestic violence and misdemeanour battery charges, all of which shape his legacy as much as the many fabulous ring victories. There have been fines, accusations, suspended sentences, community service and court-ordered counselling sessions. There has even been jail time.

Considering it’s his personal life, perhaps the rap sheet should be ignored, stashed away in a box, and separated from his unblemished boxing record and world title wins. But, unfortunately, that’s difficult to do when dealing with someone who lives his life in public, has earned astronomical amounts of money from the trade-off, and is both helped and hindered by its fickle ways.

Besides, around the time ‘Pretty Boy’ made way for ‘Money’, there was a sense Mayweather was happy to embrace this newfound bad boy persona. Beyond the point of no return, he flaunted his cash in the faces of those less well-off, opened a strip club, and established a reputation for saying whatever he wanted, doing whatever he wanted, and living however he wanted. Made no apologies for it, either. And why would he? It helped make him rich. Filthy rich.

Polarising, too. For while Mayweather’s vulgar display of power endeared him to a new generation of fans, those who viewed him an aspirational role model, it distanced him from many who remembered him as the quiet, fresh-faced Olympian making his way in the pros.

The change left him open to criticism, with some – the ones keen to seem him humbled – now encouraged to tear apart his record, criticise more freely, and accuse him of ducking tough opponents. They said, for example, the 2015 Manny Pacquiao fight arrived much too late. They found him guilty of cherry-picking, ensuring the odds were stacked in his favour. When he won, they said he was boring. When it was reported he used a pre-fight intravenous injection, they labelled him a cheat. You get the idea. The more he won, the more he declared himself TBE, the more they wanted him to lose.

It’s the price Mayweather had to pay, I suppose, for being so money-oriented, for preaching perfection from a glass house, and for assuming a 50-0 record and an ability to punch and evade punches is what ultimately makes a man. Newsflash: it doesn’t. What it does, though, is make a hell of a fighter.

Mayweather and his true love

The Techniques

My experience of a Floyd Mayweather fight night can be defined by the ritual of trying to stay awake until the early hours of a Sunday morning, having bought the pre-fight hype, only to then fall asleep, usually before round six, and come to during the post-fight interviews.

This happened time and time again, and while I’d be quick to blame Mayweather, lambast him for a tedious, safety-first approach, I knew the truth had more to do with the dominance of the man, and the predictability of it all, than anything else.

Mayweather, in the end, was simply too good. Too good for his opponents, too good to allow jeopardy into his fights, and too good to pin your hopes on him somehow coming unstuck. It’s what made him so successful. It’s what often made it so hard staying awake.

If you managed the feat – or were based elsewhere in the world, thus fortunate enough to watch him at a civilised hour – there was obviously a lot to admire. You settled in for the duration, knowing you’d likely get the full 36 minutes’ worth, and then marvelled at the speed, the composure, the stingy defence, and the crispness of the counterpunching on display. 

Back in the early days, when going by the ‘Pretty Boy’ moniker, these gifts were exhibited primarily on the back foot. He’d skate around the ring, use his legs, seamlessly switch positions, and escape when that was the objective. In time, however, ‘Pretty Boy’ made way for ‘Money’ and with this came a stronger desire to stand his ground and fight. It was a move inspired by age and an evolving skillset, you suspect, as well as a robustness that came as a result of advancing through weight classes, besting everybody he faced, and believing he was immune to defeat.

However it was sparked, there was now an urge to stand and beat opponents not with his feet but with his hands, the roll of his shoulders, and with the subtlest of movements inside. In their wheelhouse; at their game. While in close, the danger zone for less talented fighters, Mayweather would catch and parry punches with an open glove, utilised like a window-washer, or deflect them with his shoulder, updating and making fashionable tricks once performed by the likes of Nicolino Locche. He’d be there one moment, gone the next. But rarely would he run.

Admittedly, there have been more exciting fighters. We’ve seen greater, too, in terms of record, level of competition and all-round package. But, speaking only of talent, no one has made the boxing ring, this square of constant fear, danger and uncertainty, seem like the safest place in the world quite like Floyd Mayweather.

Mayweather, seen here against Juan Manuel Marquez, was a fine technician (REUTERS/Steve Marcus, UNITED STATES SPORT BOXING)

The Fights

Owing to the ease with which he shut down quality fighters, Floyd Mayweather’s perfect pro record is one that will always be judged more harshly than others.

Many of these fighters, his victims, would go on to have, or perhaps already had, Hall of Fame-worthy careers of their own. They will have been celebrated in a way Mayweather wasn’t or isn’t. They’ll be called legends and warriors, and few will disagree. Yet, because of how easily Mayweather stripped them bare, their standing, at least in the context of being a Floyd Mayweather opponent, will invariably be downplayed. There, on that night, when in Mayweather’s company, they’ll be remembered only as disappointments. Crueller still, they’ll remembered as poor opposition.

But forget the context for a moment and just look at the names. Read them out loud if it helps: Genaro Hernandez, Gregorio Vargas, Diego Corrales, Carlos Hernandez, Jesus Chavez, Jose Luis Castillo, DeMarcus Corley, Arturo Gatti, Sharmba Mitchell, Zab Judah, Carlos Baldomir, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, Miguel Cotto, Robert Guerrero, Saul Alvarez, Marcos Maidana, Manny Pacquiao and Andre Berto.

Every one of those men was a world champion and the majority will have made more money fighting Mayweather for 36 minutes – or less – than they would have made in all their other pro fights combined. They were beaten, usually out of sight, but that doesn’t mean they were subpar opponents, nor should a catalogue of lopsided scorecards and disappointing spectacles detract from Mayweather’s greatness. The boring wins were still standout wins, while the wins against the likes of Corrales, Hatton and Alvarez were just special, that’s all.

There’s a misconception, too, that it was all plain sailing for Mayweather; that his talent was such that it allowed him to skip school and eschew the painful lessons endured by most who call boxing their livelihood. This, though, wasn’t necessarily the case. Roughhoused first by Castillo in 2002, and then by Maidana in 2014, Mayweather escaped with the wins, but had to clear up any doubt in rematches. There was controversy also surrounding his 2007 fight with De La Hoya, another who encroached his safety zone and got physical, and even Judah, he of the wandering mind, seemed too quick for Mayweather for four rounds in 2006, until he was eventually figured out and neutralised.

Few and far between, granted, but wait long enough and there were moments of genuine drama. Don’t forget the time Corley staggered him with a southpaw hook in 2004, for instance, or when Mosley did similar with an overhand right six years later. On both occasions, Mayweather, all of a sudden vulnerable, had never seemed more human. He was, if only for a frantic few seconds, built like the rest of them: flesh, blood, and bone. Worse, for a man who prided himself on an air of invincibility, seemingly beatable.

Of course, the very fact these moments stick out in a 21-year, 50-fight pro career, yet never amounted to more than fleeting chaos, says all you need to know about Floyd Mayweather’s intelligence, matchmaking and dominance. And, indeed, his legacy.

Floyd Mayweather
Mayweather made easy work of Canelo Alvarez (Naoki Fukuda)

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  • Floyd was HoF worthy as a super-featherweight however imo as he rose up the divisions he started to avoid risking his 0 and really challenging himself – despite having such an opportunity several times. The big names on his record were usually fought after their prime (Pacquiao, Mosley, De la Hoya, Cotto etc.), one big name clearly before their prime (Canelo), and others simply avoided altogether as the risk:reward ratio was way too high (Casamayor at 135, Tszyu at 140 & both Margarito and Williams at 147).

    Having a 50 – 0 record is meaningless when you’ve been able to orchestrate most of your career, with the aid of sanctioning bodies, the Nevada commission and the USADA. With these advantages it would have been more surprising if Floyd didn’t get to 50 – 0 and “beat” Marciano’s figures on retiring, however even these advantages can’t make up for him lacking the intestinal fortitude that is required by a real ATG never mind the best ever.

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