THIS week Floyd Mayweather, still a villain to so many boxing fans, returns to the ring for a money-spinning playfight with Logan Paul, an 0-1 novice who lost his only professional contest to a fellow YouTuber. Floyd’s ‘comeback’ coincides with the five-year anniversary of the death of the crème de la crème of boxing royalty, Muhammad Ali.
I used to think that Mayweather should stay away from the sport unless he’s going to take it seriously again. The toxic Conor McGregor circus triggered that thinking because it stole the attention from more meaningful bouts. I don’t feel the same way now. Does any sane-minded boxing fan really want to see Mayweather, who was showing signs of slowing down long before he toyed with McGregor in 2017, come back and face a fighter who will likely do him harm? We can say that Mayweather-Paul is a bad look for the sport but I’d strongly argue that a 44-year-old man being bashed up by a fighter like Canelo Alvarez would be markedly worse.
Mayweather’s end-of-career laps of honour are more sensible than Ali’s, it must be said. In the last five years of Ali’s ring life he engaged in a foul-filled affair with wrestler Antonio Inoki that did him no good at all, he took life-changing punishment in sanctioned bouts and he regularly endured gruelling exhibitions against up-and-coming fighters who hadn’t read the script. And that’s before we get to the depressing losses to Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick in 1980 and 1981 respectively. Ali’s love for the sport knew no bounds.
Five years on from his passing we still mourn. When one looks back on his career, particularly his greatest years between 1964 and 1975, it remains impossible not to be wowed by his achievements. The champions he dethroned, like Sonny Liston and George Foreman, were formidable in the extreme. The era he ruled was the greatest in heavyweight history. One naturally yearns for the leaders of today to follow his example and simply fight each other. But Ali’s long and punishing career came at great cost. After the third fight with Joe Frazier in 1975, Ali began to erode at pace.
Floyd, whose uncle and former coach Roger Mayweather died last year after suffering from the effects of brain damage for several years, is taking an altogether smarter route through middle age. He’s earning an obscene amount of money to ‘fight’ someone who will not be able to hit him, much less hurt him. In years to come one hopes that Mayweather will not be rolled out in a wheelchair and encouraged to wave vacantly at his fans. The notion that Ali, when ravaged by Parkinson’s in later life, was a glowing advertisement for boxing is badly misguided.
Mayweather has long been acutely aware of the damage his trade can cause. The manner in which he fought for the last 10 years of his career highlighted that. So too does his decision to humour Logan Paul’s hopes of being competitive with one of the greatest boxers in history. Even at his advanced age, Floyd will likely do as he pleases with the big raw lump.
Muhammad Ali remains “The Greatest”, no question. Many of us will never forget the tears we shed when news of his death broke on June 3, 2016. He was a man of honour and a fighter who never shirked a challenge, even when those challenges were too great for his body to stand. The sport is forever in his debt. But what he also did, while battling with failing health in his later years, was to inspire athletes like Floyd Mayweather to not be so blindly courageous.
Judge Mayweather all you like. He is no Muhammad Ali, that’s for sure. But in being Floyd Mayweather, the filthy rich gazillionaire with a clean bill of health, he’s doing what so many before him failed to: He’s taking more from the sport than it took from him.