All things must pass.
So says the title track of a George Harrison triple album released November 27, 1970. It was his first solo effort after the breakup of the Beatles, and as it is with all noble music, the melodious chorus of the album’s namesake moves its listeners towards one of life’s deeper truths: everyone and everything must pass away, even the greatest of us.
Harrison passed exactly thirty-one years and two days after the album’s release. At just 58, Harrison succumbed to something called metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. He was cremated at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and his ashes were scattered by close family in the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers near Varanasi, India. Most famous as the lead guitarist for the Beatles, Harrison made a tremendous amount of money over his career. In fact, he still makes a tremendous amount of money today. Per a Forbes report, Harrison’s estate took in over $5.5 million dollars last year, over a decade since the popular musician’s last breath. It’s an impressive feat. But as time ebbs and flows, the earth revolves around the Sun year after year, the superfluous details of Harrison’s life and death (how much money he made, the kinds of clothes he wore, etc.) seem to take on less and less importance. In fact, I’d venture to say no young music lover discovers George Harrison for the first time because of how much money he made last year, or at any time in his career at all. Rather, it’s all about the music.
So shall it be for Floyd Mayweather Jr. someday, though he makes for us a much different kind of music. Mayweather was the greatest of his era. He still is. Don’t let anyone tell you different. That’s not to say he wasn’t rivaled at one time or another by any of his contemporaries. He was. But the men who rivaled Mayweather’s greatness at one time or another were more akin to the gods of ancient Greece who rivaled Zeus for the attention of mortals. Only one of them carried the thunderbolt.
Mayweather has been the best for years now. But Mayweather’s been the kind of best you wish had been better. Sure, others had done this before him (Roy Jones, Jr. comes to mind). But Mayweather seemed to take that art to the next level: best because there was no one better, but not the best he could have been.
It’s a shame.
Regardless, Mayweather has enjoyed a great career. It’s been a privilege to watch it unfold. If great boxers are truly canonized in the annals of history as saints, as Joyce Carol Oates contends, he’ll surely be among the very best of them.
And what he’s doing in the sport of boxing today is simply astounding. Undefeated at age 36, Mayweather will make more money fighting Canelo Alvarez this Saturday night than every single boxing writer and historian will make in his or her lifetime combined. We are but mere mortals after all, and he is Zeus.
Maybe that’s too easy of an accomplishment. Let’s put it this way. Mayweather will make more money fighting Canelo Alvarez for 36 minutes, or less, on Saturday than just about any other person on the planet could make doing what he or she is best at in the same amount of time. Wow!
That’s the power of boxing by the way. Don’t let anyone tell you boxing is dead. It isn’t, and it never will be.
And good for Floyd. He wants to be admired, and we can all admire him for this. He craves it. He won’t tell you, but it’s what keeps him working as hard as he does every night in the gym. It’s what drives him on fight night, too. It spurs him to adapt to whatever is in front of him when the bell rings, and it’s what keeps him upright and punching on the rare occasion someone lands something flush. In a way, all great men are this way.
Of course, when Mayweather takes on Alvarez this Saturday, none of this superfluous stuff will matter. Oh, it seems to matter now, but it won’t when the bell rings. And it will matter even less in 10 years time. Oh sure, it’s part of the overall narrative of his life, a grain of sand on the beach of his legacy. But when the blood and spit starts flying on fight night, something like how much money one stands to gain after all the goons and goblins get their share of the split falls far by the wayside. What happens inside the ring is less about the abstract future-past, and more about the immediate present.
Mayweather’s immediate present will be trading leather with a man physically larger than him and almost equally fast. In fact, Alvarez will be physically larger than any of the men Mayweather has beaten in his 44 previous outings. And Alvarez isn’t just a brutish lug either. He’s a sweet scientist. He’s quick, smart and a competent boxer, and at just 23 years of age, he isn’t lacking experience in the least. Alvarez has been fighting professionally since he was just 15 years old. He’s already logged 43 professional prizefights on his ledger, a draw its only blemish.
And so in that moment this Saturday night, the one unlike any other in professional sports, after the pomp and circumstance, the parade of nations and flags, the anthems sung aloud while prayers are recited in silence. After litanies of achievements are read aloud by the deep voiced laud giver, the obligatory reading of rights is fulfilled by the referee, the final touch of gloves ends the final useless staredown. After the ring clears of all the yes-men, wannabe beauty queens, hardnosed handlers and just-happy-to-be-theres.
After all of these things, remember that none of it really matters. It isn’t really about the money, the entourages, the glitz or the glamour. It isn’t about who can buy who or which celebrity endorses which fighter before the fight.
For inside the ring on fight night, only two men remain, still in their corners, eyes beaming with discriminate pride. A lone figure stands between them, a referee with arms held to each side. It is all a mystery now, but will soon be revealed. The mirror shall not remain dark long. He is holding the fury of hell at bay, the clashing of fists, the bone and the blood and the gore of the fight game, holding it until he beckons to the timekeeper to begin the most beautiful song in all of sports. It starts with the sound of a bell, that singular reverberation of beginnings that often hearkens something or someone’s end. It is a Siren’s song, a church bell marking the time, a final moment of calm, a funeral, a wedding, a feast.
It is the first note in the music of the ring, and that is what really matters. When time ebbs and flows away from us, when bright-eyed, strong-jawed novices become long-toothed, bald-headed experts, when our mothers and fathers have made their way back into the ground, when what’s new is something old again and time has caught up to us faster than we ever imagined, we will not tell them of Floyd Mayweather’s millions or the company he kept or what he did or said. We will tell them of the music he made and little more.
Except, perhaps, of the night it ended.