Borrowing from the classic style and prose of hall of fame sportswriter Jimmy Cannon (April 10, 1909 – December 5, 1973), the writer takes a look at the career of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and discovers that time is not the only vandal.
You’re Floyd Maweather, Jr., aged thirty-five, the preeminent star in the sport of boxing. People love you, and they hate you. They love you because of how great you could be. They hate you because you seem unwilling to prove it. Still, you are the alpha figure in boxing today, and you love it. You make more money than any other fighter in the sport. In fact, you have the fantastic ability to make in one night more than what ninety-nine percent of fighters make for their whole careers. You’re Floyd Mayweather, and you’re the best fighter in the world…maybe.
Oh sure, you’re still undefeated. No one can take that away from you. You wouldn’t give them the chance. Yeah, you’ve beaten some of the very best fighters of your era. The names on your resume are nothing to scoff at. Not at all. Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto. Big names. Huge. But there’s more to a legacy than just “names,” isn’t there?
You started out the right way. No doubt about it. You began your career as good a prospect as any. Your hands were fast; your feet too. You were an exceptional amateur talent with the litany of accomplishments to prove it. You weren’t just another athlete who boxed, you were a real fighter, born and bred. That picture of you in the gym as a tyke with boxing gloves on, it’s legit. That was you. You were born for this. God made you to be a boxer.
You won amateur titles all through your youth, national titles even. Then you went to the Olympics and did your country proud. You earned a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics. Almost everyone thought you got jobbed in your loss to eventual silver medalist Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria. That Bulgarian judge did all he could for the other kid. He did you in. You won it for sure, and you would’ve won the gold medal, too. Impressive stuff. Men have been well reasoned to be prouder for doing less. Not you, though. You aspired for something more. Greatness.
You were a “can’t miss” prospect, and you didn’t. You coasted through the rite of passage palookas and hobos they put in front of you with ease, just like you should. Your handlers did everything right. They lined up marks for you to look good against, and you did. They patted you on the back. Said you’d be champion one day. Told you that you could be the greatest. You ate it up. We all did. You were something special. Everybody saw it. Heck, after your seventh professional fight, Manny Steward said he thought you’d go on to be the best ever. Ever!
You won your first title in 1998 at junior lightweight by obliterating tough guy Genaro Hernadez. You’d been a professional for just two years, and you were already champion. By the end of the year, you started getting listed among the pound-for-pound elites. All you did was win, no matter who or what they put in front of you, and you did it convincingly. You started getting noticed. You said you wanted to be like Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones, Jr. You didn’t just want to be the best in the business, you wanted to make the most money, be the biggest star.
Your junior lightweight run culminated in maybe the most impressive win of your career. When you met undefeated slugger Diego Corrales in 2001, you were sure to be up against your stiffest test. But you weren’t. You beat Corrales like he was an amateur, knocking him down five times en route to the TKO.
After a few more wins, you were ready to move up in weight. You had dreams to chase. And money. Then it happened, the unthinkable. You almost lost. You! Lightweight champion Jose Luis Castillo gave you all you could handle. Kept you on the ropes with punches coming from all angles. Worked you over good. You were lucky. The judges gave you the nod, even though Castillo out-landed you, even though the crowd booed you. It was close. Too close.
You did the right thing. You took an immediate rematch. At the end of it, the official scorecards were closer than last time, but you got the call again. It was a tough test, but you passed. They wouldn’t have robbed Castillo twice, right? You deserved to win. Maybe you learned something there, though. Maybe you learned taking the toughest fights might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe you learned you liked winning more than anything else. Winning and money.
You didn’t let it deter you. Not at first. You moved up in weight again. You potshotted Demarcus Corely to an easy decision win in your junior welterweight debut. By now, you were one of HBO’s bell cows. You were setting up big PPV dates, so they gave you something easy. It’s understandable. You’d earned it. Next up, was blood and guts warrior Arturo Gatti. He had world class heart, but not the skills to match it. Not like you. You destroyed him. Easy money, and lots.
You skipped over light welterweight champion Kostya Tszu and moved up to welterweight instead. People were disappointed, but it wasn’t like you had some kind of history with this type of thing. Not yet. HBO gave you another gimme in Sharmba Mitchell. It was your first fight at the weight, after all. You had big fights to set up. You wanted Zab Judah and you got him, even though he lost the championship in his previous fight against Carlos Baldomir. You beat Mitchell and got what you wanted.
Against Zab Judah, you really showed your stuff. He was just as fast as you. Maybe faster. You found that out quickly. You adjusted, though. You had more than just fast hands. Much more. You had skill. You had stamina. After maybe losing three of the first four rounds, you won the last eight with ease. It was vintage stuff. A glimpse of perfection, perhaps. You showed how great you can be. For good measure, you followed it up by nabbing that linear title from Baldomir. He probably didn’t win a round against you.
Your ship was about to come in. You figured out you didn’t just want to be like Oscar De La Hoya, you wanted to beat him. A fight against the Golden Boy would open a lot of doors for you, and you knew it. You even moved up to junior middleweight to do it. It would be a tough test, but you believed in yourself. Besides, you reasoned, you’d make more money than you had ever made before in your life. It was worth the risk. It had to be. He was passed his best. You were not.
The fight was close. De La Hoya was bigger than you, and it showed. You made the adjustments. You eked out a majority decision win. Most people didn’t see it that close. You were the clear winner. Your undefeated record remained intact. You took De La Hoya’s title, but more than that, too. You took over his mantle as boxing’s biggest draw. You called yourself “Money” Mayweather now, and for good reason. Money became your primary reason for fighting. You didn’t care about titles. Or history. Or legacy. After all, you said you had proved all you needed to prove. What else could keep you fighting? Not the challenge of Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito at welterweight. Let them fight each other, you told yourself. Not Paul Williams. He was too big, a freak of nature. Not anyone that presented too much risk, you told yourself.
You saw an opportunity in Ricky Hatton. The junior welterweight from Britain was undefeated but a little crude. He was a huge draw like you, though, and you knew it. You signed the fight, and had him come up to welterweight to do it. You wanted all the advantages you could get. As boxing’s new golden goose, you deserved them. Hatton came out fast. He knocked you off balance with a jab, but you settled in. He was no match for you. By the middle of the fight, you were dominating. You knocked him out in picturesque fashion in round number ten. He had rushed at you like a bull, and you made him pay.
After defeating Ricky Hatton in December of 2007, you decided to do that thing fighters do where they say they’re retiring from the sport only to resurface a year or so later. Everybody knew it. You wanted some time off. It’s understandable.
That’s when you saw him for the first time really. Everybody did. He was smaller than you. He had all those losses. But he was mesmerizing now. How did he destroy Oscar De La Hoya like that? How? How could he be so fast, so strong, so terrifying? That’s when you decided to come back. Was it that he was taking attention away from you? Did you intend to fight him? It certainly seemed so at the time.
You returned in September of 2009. You picked the guy he had all that trouble with, Juan Manuel Marquez. You needed a tune-up first, and what better way to prove your superiority over him than by using his big nemesis as a tune-up? You made Marquez jump a couple weight classes to do it, but he took the fight. He was no match for you, especially after you didn’t even bother to make weight. You won a wide, unanimous decision victory. You promised to fight him soon.
You decided to go after Shane Mosley first. Mosley was older than you, but he was one of the best of his era. He caught you with a huge right hand in the second round and almost put you down. You recovered nicely though. You still had your legs. His were gone. You out boxed him like everyone thought you would. It was a nice win, but it wasn’t the win people wanted for you. You knew it. You promised to fight him next. You just wanted him to take drug tests. That’s all. You’re cleaning up the sport. He had to be on PEDs, you reasoned. He just had to.
You didn’t fight again for sixteen months. When you decided to come back this time, you chose Victor Ortiz reasoning it’d be good preparation for who you really wanted to fight. At least it seemed that way. Why else would it have been Ortiz? Was he on your level? He had lost to Marcos Maidana. Still, both Ortiz and the one you said you really wanted to fight if only Bob Arum weren’t stopping it, were hard-hitting southpaws. Ortiz was young and strong, but you would handle him. He proved to be dumb in that he let his hands down in front you after he tried to intentionally foul you. You starched him without mercy and won by knockout. It was all set up again.
You didn’t fight again until May of the next year. You decided not to fight him this time because he wouldn’t take the drugs tests or something. People started to lose track of the reasons. You decided to take on Miguel Cotto instead. You didn’t want to fight him at MSG. After all, one of his opponents likened it to fighting the devil in hell. Why would you do that? You took home court in Las Vegas, just like the big money guy should. It was a big event. Cotto wasn’t the same Cotto you didn’t fight all those years ago. Antonio Margarito had suspiciously beat much of that out of him. What was left was demolished by the fighter you said you wanted to fight but never did. Still, Cotto had rebounded nicely of late. He’d won three in a row, including a redemption match against Margarito.
The fight was more than you bargained for. He bloodied your nose. Nobody does that, but he did. He out-boxed you at times. You were winning, but you started to look your age. You seemed slower, more tired. You beat him with grit and determination. It was a good win. You closed the show like you should have. You swept him over the championship rounds. That’s what you do. Those were your rounds, champ. In the last round, you staggered him. He looked like he was ready to fall. But there was that risk there. You saw it. You knew you had the fight won. Why risk losing your undefeated record? You didn’t have anything to prove, you said to yourself. You’d play it safe. It doesn’t matter what that other guy did against him. You were still undefeated. He wasn’t.
Your outside the ring lifestyle may have gotten out of control a little bit. You liked partying with people you shouldn’t be around. You liked going to the club and making a scene. You loved the attention, the worship of the sycophants. The Money Team, you called them. They’re still with you. They’re still your people. They weren’t there when you went to jail, though. You were alone. That’s okay. Everybody makes mistakes. It happens. You had a lot of time to think in there. No one messed with you. They knew who you were. You liked it.
When you got out, you didn’t rush right back into boxing. Why would you? You’d been behind bars for three months. You weren’t in a rush. Your legacy was secure, at least to you. You didn’t need to fight him. Not yet.
He lost that December. That guy you beat easily a few years before, his nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez, knocked him out cold in the fifth round. See? You didn’t need to prove anything against that guy. See?
You’re getting ready for your return now. Time for you to fight again. You’ve targeted Cinco de Mayo weekend. After all, that’s the most lucrative date in the sport, and you’re boxing’s big money star. You have to fight. You’ll make more than anyone else in the world that night, and that’s what it’s all about, you say. You don’t have anything else to prove. You’ve done it. You’re the money man, now. Money Mayweather. And you’ll make plenty of it fighting guys like Robert Guerrero or Devon Alexander, guys who you’ll be heavily favored against just like always, for as long as you want. What else does a guy fight for?
But to some it seems that it should have been for more than just money. You could’ve been the greatest, just like Steward said, but you’re not. And it’s too late for it now. Too late. That’s why you’ve affected people so. You can’t help it if a whole lot of people feel lousy every time you fight now. But they do. They do.