Floyd Mayweather Plays Media Masterfully

BY Michael Woods ON September 16, 2009
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You think maybe some of the folks associated with Floyd Mayweather’s return to the ring wish that maybe he wasn’t working quite so hard on drumming up interest in the Saturday bout with Juan Manuel Marquez?

Floyd’s rant on Wednesday, which featured slaps at our nation’s race issues, Oscar De La Hoya, US sports fans, US fight fans, HBO’s Larry Merchant and Manny Steward, has made the rounds on the web, and if Mayweather’s aim were simply to get people talking about him, and training their eyeballs on him, then he has certainly succeeded.

The most incendiary portion of his remarks were his comments on his perceived status as a black man in America. "If you're rich, you're a rich n-----," he said. "If you're poor, you're a poor n----. If you're smart, you're a smart n-----.  At the end of the day, they still look at me as a n-----."

The notable sports-snark websites The Big Easy and Deadspin both synopsized Mayweather’s rat-a-tat rant at multiple targets, and concluded that the fighter’s launch misfired.

“You know you’ve worn out your crazy card when those comments fall flat,” the Big Lead’s Ty Duddy wrote.

Over at Deadspin, Barry Petchesky riffed on Floyd’s comment that: "I wouldn't change my life for nothing in the world. There's nothing like being young, black and rich. But there are certain things you think about. If Floyd Mayweather was white, I'd be the biggest athlete in America. The biggest, the biggest. I know that for a fact."

“That's funny, because the biggest athletes in America are Tiger Woods and LeBron James,” Petchesky wrote. “And the last time a boxer was the biggest name in sports, it was Mike Tyson.”

A thoroughly unscientific sample of friends, neighbors and Facebook pals found most writing off Floyd’s chatter as pre-fight hype. Does he believe what he’s saying? Sure, most seem to think. Is he putting it out there because he knows how to make us keyboard tappers take notice? Sure thing. And it leads one to wonder, how much longer will some of these boldface names that Floyd has taken to task put up with it? You’ll recall he laced into HBO in July 2008, during his hiatus, to the Grand Rapids Press.

"Even a guy like Jim Lampley, he praises Kelly Pavlik -- who has won some good fights, he beat Jermain Taylor twice, we have to give him credit for that -- but they talk about Kelly Pavlik, a white fighter, like he's the second coming,” Mayweather said. “Or they go crazy over Manny Pacquiao. But I'm a black fighter. Is it racial? Absolutely. They praise white fighters, they praise Hispanic fighters, whatever. But black fighters, they never praise. I've noticed it for a long time but I couldn't say anything because I had to do business with them. I'll still do business with them, but I'm done holding my tongue."

He did hold his tongue for awhile during his comeback. At his Empire State Building press conference in May, I asked him about that shot at HBO, and wondered if he still felt the same way, or had he buried the hatchet and gotten over it? At the time, in deft political fashion, he refused to re-enter that charged milieu, and threw the question back at me. (I actually do believe that perhaps Floyd does get a slightly rawer deal from media members, particularly Caucasian ones who have trouble identifying with some of his behaviors and pals and such, for the record.) But now we know that the fighter does still hold a grudge against HBO, or at least the announcing team. Till now, Mayweather has been able to minimize his distaste, so he can continue doing business with them, and allow them to play their part in attempting to sell a million pay-per-view buys to his comeback tussle.

So..how much longer will “they” put up with it? Easy answer--as long as Mayweather is a viable pay-per-view attraction, a certified personality who exhibits enough charisma to guest star on “Raw,” and land a national cell phone commercial. People he’s verbally tasered will hold their tongue, as Floyd said he’d been doing, and swallow their pride, and not blast back as some of them must want to. Because it is all, or virtually all, about MAKING MONEY. We all make choices daily, trading our time, energy, effort and yes, sometimes, our pride in exchange for a check. Some just do it in more public fashion, and for more zeroes on their checks.

I have to think Oscar De La Hoya may well be at the top of the blast-back list. You might not have heard what Floyd said about him. No, not at the Wednesday press conference, when he said anything negative Oscar does gets swept under the rug. (Er, Floyd must’ve not seen the NY tabloids having a field day with Goldie photos during that flareup. No under-rug-sweeping was going on…) I’m talking about the night before, on E’s “Chelsea Lately,” the late-night talk show featuring comedian Chelsea Lately. On Tuesday night, Floyd chatted with Handler. She wondered if he might like to put up his leg, and place his foot next to his tush, as she was doing. No thanks, he indicated with a limping of his wrist, people then might think I’m not hetero. Handler assured him that nobody thinks he’s not straight, and then she asked about his trash talking, especially before he fought Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.

“You didn’t like Oscar De La Hoya at all,” she said.

“You wouldn’t like a man who wears fishnets,” Mayweather said.

“I don’t like men who wear fishnets, unless they’re gay and out of the closet,” she said, “then I can support that.”

“Then he hide, he hide,” Floyd said, chuckling.

Just maybe Oscar is cool with Floyd using the allegation of marital infidelities to stir the pot, get us tappers talkin,’ maybe get a few hundred buys tacked on Saturday night. All’s fair in love, war, and publicizing your pay per view, perhaps.

Something else Mayweather said on Handler’s show got me thinking. Kanye West the day before had wrested the spotlight from award winner Taylor Swift in a boozy defense of his pal Beyonce, who didn’t get the award Swift was holding. “It made him bigger. The whole show’s been about Kanye West,” Mayweather noted. Truth. Kanye was on everyone’s lips. The President, even. So what if the consensus was that he acted like a jackass. At least people are talking about him. That’s a short leap to buying his merch. Same deal for Mayweather. People are talking about him. Borges wrote about him. I wrote about. We are hyping his event.

Do I accept or embrace the substance of Floyd’s Wednesday rant? No. Most glaringly, I think his theory on race affecting his popularity is significantly off kilter. A black cabbie pal of mine thinks a good number of black fans will backlash on Floyd, pissed off that he’s whining about his place, while the rate of unemployment among blacks is at 20% in many parts of the US. Most crucial to his lower-than-he-likes-level of acceptance, fight fans don’t take to his style of fighting. Fight fans pay to see compelling, dramatic combat. That’s the bottom line. They will overlook a boring persona, or a tendency towards excessive bragging, or clashes with law enforcement, if you satisfy their desire to see spirited, aggressive combat. But if your style is geared towards defense first, then you can’t expect to be universally beloved, as Floyd apparently does.

It ain’t about race, it’s about punching in the face, basically. Do it hard, and fast, and frequently, against worthy foes, and they will tell you they love you, with their wallets.

But, let’s be clear about this. Floyd doesn’t care what I think. He just cares maybe a bit that I’m spending a little time, and devoting a little space to him. He has a fight to hype, he knows how me and my type operate. He gave us red meat, we took the bait, chewed on it, shared some with TSS U. Did it work? We will know authoritatively when we see those buy rates. In the meantime, I predict his targets’ tongues will be held, because Floyd holds massive sway as the game’s first or second draw. Man’s no fool, he knows he has a free pass to talk some smack, and the HBO crew and Oscar have to grin and bear it to an extent. Or…I have a conspiracy theory brewing in my brain…Suppose Oscar is itching to fight again, and he and Floyd have discussed this, and Floyd’s reference to fishnets is round one in the road to their rematch. Yikes. There I go again, proving at least one of my points, that if Floyd’s aim on Monday and Wednesday was to get his name on peoples’ tongues, then he has succeeded.

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