Floyd Mayweather’s ambition has always been an authentic coefficient of his grand talent. “I’m a living legend,” he decreed, then liberally repeated, before his November 5th fight with Sharmba Mitchell, in 2005. Instinctively, the man does understand that hyperbole tends to replicate itself, mediated as an electronic echo, transmitting the desired information as truth, imprinted, imparted, logged into the infinite memory of the continuous moment. Just keep talking, and something aggrandizing will filter, affix to the cultural at large. As almost a rote action, Mayweather projects himself into an infinite future: “I have no limits, except the ones I make.” As a young man – at the turn of this century – on the cusp of great things, if not yet greatness, Mayweather thought of himself as the latest incarnation of Sugar Ray Leonard. Today, even his matured voice, surmising intonations, providing waves of self-confident self-promotion, has unmistakable inflections of the Palmer Park, Maryland great.
And yet, be he bold or be he a brat, surgical in his ring deliveries or bucking up under unexpected pressure, Floyd Mayweather stands more and more as his own man.
Turning down former promoter Bob Arum’s 8 million dollar offer for a fight with Antonio Margarito and his $750,000 contract buyout for promotional free agency was – as everyone estimates – to clear the way for a career showdown with Oscar De La Hoya in September. The final decision rests with De La Hoya, naturally enough. Yes, that is a lot of money to dismiss – no matter the relativism Mayweather advisor Leonard Ellerbe intoned, “We are not turning Margarito down!” Still, little Floyd has dreamed of a De La Hoya fight for, well, the best part of three years, maybe his entire career. Fighting a rejuvenated Oscar De La Hoya would be his Leonard meets Hagler, Ali fighting Frazier. Let us all face the fact that symbolically, financially and professionally Mayweather will likely never again have this kind of opportunity and that fact he fully appreciates. Awaiting De La Hoya’s decision, Mayweather counts heavily on the fact that HBO are almost wet with anticipation to produce this epic fight. Also, the incentive for De La Hoya primarily includes the ‘in-boxing’ reputation Mayweather currently holds as the dominant talent within boxing, as pound-for-pound monarch. And we know Oscar loves the idea just to contemplate then attack superlatives, regardless of the resulting happenings. Those bits of stardust are what Oscar – the ring maestro – lives for.
One must mention that Oscar would have at least the statistical advantages fighting Floyd Jr., when it comes to physicality, something he utilized during his absolute prime championship years. For De La Hoya to fight Winky Wright, to name but one alternative, necessarily means he would have to face the Hopkins factor yet again, i.e. fighting as the smaller man. The Hopkins’ experiment will have taught the keen De La Hoya that’s just simply bad planning, despite the temptations of abstract glorification. And “The Golden Boy” used that word – planning – during his press conferences before and just after his hiding of Ricardo Mayorga. Mayweather represents prestige, youth and budding legend for the taking. Talk about temptation.
Are there dangerous, high yield fights looming out there for Mayweather, aside from De La Hoya? Indeed there are; we need only posit the names Ricky Hatton, and again Winky Wright and Antonio Margarito to create a short list. But it is in the full realization of Mayweather fighting De La Hoya as uniquely historic, economically frontloaded and strategically daunting that one gets closer to the magnetic rationale driving Team Mayweather to make this September showdown happen.
Few in boxing really believed that Team Mayweather were completely serious about making a fight with Winky Wright, when the issue was floated in 2005 by the pretty one himself. At that time he was trying to garner sympathy by showing himself to be this generation’s Mike McCallum, the guy too dangerous to mess with. Of course, boxers today want in a month what fighters of past generations toiled years to obtain. Then the marketing breakthrough fight with Arturo Gatti arrived followed by the inevitable punch up with rival Zab Judah. A funny thing happened on the way to Mayweather’s installment as the consensus best in boxing; he felt unsatisfied. Mopping Gatti and topping Judah didn’t realize the dizzying heights upon which Mayweather longs to reign, omniscient, floating above the other gods in boxing’s Mount Olympus. Along the way Mayweather’s public persona was scrubbed and retailored moving from bling ethic to basic banker, before the mikes, he now calmly states his objectives, decked out in suit and tie, the basic texts of his commentary hitting all the corrected notes of controlled confidence instead of in-your-face punk-speak. Team Mayweather had to turn that public frown upside down and move their young lion upstairs, manners and propriety integrated into his basic verbal programming.
If Floyd Mayweather was going to go all the way and be THE most identifiable championship boxer, heir to Oscar De La Hoya, he was going to have to spruce up his optics. Young, talented, impetuous and impatient only works for so long. What we now realize is that Floyd Mayweather loves to speak his mind, “I basically don’t care what people think of me.” Those kinds of emoting assertions just cannot be bred out of the Michigander, not entirely. If there’s a bit of Mike Tyson mixed in with the Sugar, it’s because for a time the young Mayweather used to trip and train in the presence of mighty Mike. What impressed Mayweather was the zenith of Tyson’s cultural presence, though utterly flawed and fated for self-immolation, Mayweather was intoxicated at the idea of being a transcendent sporting figure. The imprint of that encounter in 1999 became integral in Mayweather’s sense of grandeur and mission as a celebrity in the making.
Many of the analogies to Ray Leonard and the 125 million he made as a boxer came as part of the casual discourse during the developmental Mayweather-Arum years, when “Pretty Boy” was discovering the difference between fantasy and hardcore reality. Arum and Mayweather have parted, for now, as did father and son Mayweather, the trainer and the trained. Remember when Floyd Jr. used to say he and his father, Floyd Sr., might have issues but they never have any real problems? Well, now they do and have had for a while. Though if there’s a rough symmetry to be found in the Mayweather, Mayweather, Mayweather, De La Hoya cycle of intrigue it’s to be found in uncle Roger Mayweather’s suspension following the Zab Judah fight. With one Mayweather suspended and papa Floyd – De La Hoya’s trainer – surely amenable to a buyout deal, the Mayweather logistics for seeing the fight happen certainly could still be realized.
Let us not forget that the proposed De La Hoya-Mayweather blockbuster fight is supposed to be De La Hoya’s last outing. (Can you imagine a victorious De La Hoya fading away into some promotional golden haze of an incorporated semi-obscurity?) If that’s to be the case, then De La Hoya could certainly do what he now assures us he cannot do; “I can’t fight without Floyd in my corner… he’s so important in giving me full confidence in the ring.” Unless papa Floyd wants to be purposefully obstructionist – as intimated by HBO’s point-man Larry Merchant – then the fight could be made, save Oscar’s psychological sensitivities. Truly, it’s all up to how Oscar wishes to orchestrate the closing of his youthful adventures, avoiding the doomed limits of time.
For Floyd Jr. he’s acting like a man trying to will himself into the near term/terminating future of De La Hoya. Generally, he’s acting upbeat, saving the street smack for private conversations and gym junking. Still, he’s come a long way since fighting in front of 1,900 odd fans in Las Vegas against Carlos Gerena; managing to jettison the nondescript James Prince, Mayweather was able to let the music play and the punches ring without the former chief executive officer of Rap-a-Lot Records. Floyd Jr. made 1.7 million crunching Diego Corrales at the start of 2001. He’s looking at the fat end of 7 or 8 million come September, if De La Hoya gives him the nod. Of course, the man’s dreaming – yes, we need to call him a man now – because everything is moving his way, De La Hoya or not. The truth is Mayweather has come of age; his time is upon us.
Imagine De La Hoya fighting Felix Trinidad in the fall; wouldn’t that have the look and the feel of a really bad remake? The Puerto Rican legend had the luster knocked off of his ring presence by our old friend Winky, Ronald Wright. Most fans of boxing also remember that the controversial scoring of the De La Hoya-Trinidad fight was about the most exciting tidbit to do with their stalemated encounter. No knockdowns, no thrilling combinations, not a single highlight reel moment over the full twelve rounds. Only Gil Clancy’s insistence that De La Hoya go to his prevent defense over the last four rounds, effectively seeding the dynamics over to the relentless Trinidad, and thus the victory.
De La Hoya vs. Mayweather couldn’t bore us, not with all the interlocking facets of strengths and vulnerabilities up for grabs for both fighters weighing 154-ish. Or so we suspect. Mayweather thinks “it might be one of the great fights of all time.” Then again, he’s got to say that, mostly, because he means it and because that’s the fight that’s been living so vividly in his imagination all this time. It’s the fight that’s going to make a man out of him, perhaps, the man of his time, at least in his chosen sport.
“I like to look good, to amaze people… I am always myself, even if people don’t want to look at me that way.”
Can you imagine how excited Mayweather must be feeling? Seeing Oscar De La Hoya reinvent himself, at 33, off of his performance against Ricardo Mayorga, no one in the crowd of 13,000 plus at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas was more impressed than Floyd Mayweather Jr. He’s old enough to understand that winning a boxing match does not guarantee him becoming Oscar De La Hoya’s successor. The pay-per-view revenues may spike and general regard of greatness adhering all the same. Being Oscar necessitates an internal resolve to be good and gracious, magnificent and magnanimous; that’s as difficult a combination to master as a boxer can expect. Taking upon oneself a transformative approach, to accept the full measure of being boxing’s ambassador to the culture(s) at large means you have to be something more than just brilliant with the gloves on and well armed with public relations slogan speak. You have to lose the script and be a man, a man caring as much for the integrity of the entire profession as much as your own bank balance. At least you have to be read as larger than your own alternating ego.
To that pinnacle, Floyd Mayweather has pointed himself; breaking the grip of mortal gravity usually does in most mere superstars. Many will want to simply install Mayweather at the summit. Still, the paying public has a way of negating such acclamations. They want rights of passage and very visible proofs. Just ask Roy Jones, the other junior genius.
“I want all the big fights… that’s all I want are the big fights… that’s what brings out the best in Floyd Mayweather.”
Hovering at the limit of possibility for Floyd Mayweather Jr., Oscar De La Hoya’s legend emanates. The aura must seem so close, the illumination so pleasingly brilliant, that Floyd Mayweather could almost reach out and take hold.