We can’t help ourselves, can we?
No one can deny the extraordinary physical gifts and ring generalship (a term both annoying and never more apt than when used in reference to Mayweather) of the most skilled pugilist of his era.
That being said, most of us sure don’t like him. It’s not hard to imagine why.
There are few more unpleasant people in the modern world of sports than Floyd Mayweather Jr. A loudmouthed, self-aggrandizing, serial abuser of women, he’s hardly an agreeable figure. Oh sure, there are Floyd fans. Some enjoy him for his technical virtuosity, but most are the types who, well, just like jackarses.
The kind of people who love Barry Bonds and have big hopes for Johnny Manziel.
Typically, these are not the sort of folks you would ever want to get stuck sitting next to on a cross country flight, or even stand behind in a line at the supermarket. Jackarses gravitate to jackarses.
So what excuse do the rest of us fight fans have? It’s not like most of Floyd’s fights are all that exciting. Mayweather’s defense-first, low punch-volume bouts do not lend themselves to fan friendliness. It doesn’t help that his skill level is so high that not many fighters can hang with him. The king of the shoulder roll, there have been whole fights where Floyd has hardly been touched.
Yet in a time where boxing has become a second tier, almost fringe sport, Mayweather has remained one of the biggest draws in all of athletics. He has managed this despite being one of the most “play it safe” boxers in the history of the fight game. It’s not just his cautious style in the ring either. For as great a boxer as Floyd is, he’s an even better matchmaker. Very few times in Mayweather’s career has he fought a great fighter at their peak level of performance. In fact, I’m not sure he ever has. Sure, there are a lot of quality names on his ledger, but the best of those were either pre-peak (Canelo, Diego Corrales) or post peak (De La Hoya, Mosley). Are there exceptions? I suppose one could argue Jose Luis Castillo and, well, not much else.
Seldom has Floyd even been tested by this long succession of matchups against ‘not quite there’ and ‘no longer there anymore’ opponents. Sure, Castillo bothered him, the B+ level “Chop Chop” Corley buzzed him, and for one brief moment in an otherwise lackluster affair, “Sugar” Shane Mosley had Floyd holding on so he could hold himself up, but for the most part, Mayweather has spent his career making the notoriously risk averse Roy Jones Jr. look like a base jumping daredevil.
Perhaps there is no better argument of this than Floyd’s almost pathological avoidance of Manny Pacquiao. This, a subject so well-worn and exhausting it’s no longer even painful to discuss, just boring. It must be said though, when the whirling dervish began to come up in weight and started bouncing guys who looked nearly twice his size all over the ring (Cotto, De La Hoya, Margarito, etc.), there was no more obvious or exciting fight to be made than Manny-Mayweather. Both were near-peak and massive draws in their own right. It was the fight that just had to happen that didn’t.
Getting a major fight together in the modern age of boxing is always a perilous endeavor. The egos of the boxers are generally only matched by that of their promoters. In the case of Manny, that means Bob Arum and since Floyd essentially promotes himself, well, you do the math.
That being said, there were and are so many fat stacks of cash on the table, it makes the scene of the Joker burning a tower of money in The Dark Knight look quaint. Still, Floyd always found an issue. First there was his request for Olympic style drug testing. Which Manny agreed to within a year (light speed in boxing terms). Then Floyd balked when Manny wanted the drug testing window to be just outside 30 days before the proposed fight. Of course, money became an issue too. At one point, Floyd offered Manny a flat rate of 40 million for the fight. Which if ever a monetary amount with seven zeros attached to it could be found insulting, this was it. To offer a fighter of Pacquiao’s level no percentage of the PPV money is practically unheard of. Unless, of course, you don’t really want to make the fight at all.
The aggravating thing is Floyd would have still been the odds-maker’s favorite. Manny was and is the naturally smaller fighter and is nowhere near as careful and technical a fighter as Floyd. Still, fight fans deserved this scrap. If anyone was going to press Mayweather, it was sure to be the highly skilled, lightning fast, punches in bunches–and from all angles—Manny Pacquiao who would do the pressing. It’s still the best thing that never happened.
Only it still might. Just recently, there was some noise from Arum that the fight would take place in 2015. Which would suit Floyd perfectly. Now that age, indifference, and a devastating one-punch knockout by Juan Manuel Marquez have left Manny if not withered, clearly diminished. Certainly Floyd is not quite the fighter he used to be, but he has taken so many fewer punches and been in such a small number of truly tough fights, he would now go from being a solid favorite to an overwhelming one.
That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t watch though. Of course we would. Even though we know the outcome is all but certain and the event nowhere near what it could have been. We watch because we want someone to shut this charmless man’s mouth. We are desperate to see it and I fear quite doomed to never. Floyd’s too good. Too clever. Too careful. It is maddening and we wouldn’t miss it for the world. We just can’t help ourselves.