The power of love is a curious thing
Make a one man weep, make another man sing
Change a hawk to a little white dove
More than a feeling, that’s the power of love
“The Power of Love,” Huey Lewis, 1983
Lewis, front man for the News, the San Francisco-based rock group that had a string of hits in the 1980s, is correct. The power of love is indeed a curious thing. They say it makes the world go ’round, and those in its thrall know that to be the case, perhaps especially in those instances when their affection is unrequited and the world goes spinning off its axis. Even human beings with fragile feelings that have been stomped on in the romantic ring can hope to fall head-over-heels again, with a more fortuitous outcome.
There may not be a correspondingly familiar ode to the benefits of hatred, although an obvious candidate might be whatever in-your-face tune served as Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s entrance music for Saturday’s record-shattering pay-per-view clash with Manny Pacquiao at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. More than anyone who has ever laced up a pair of padded gloves, Mayweather understands the immense profitability in being the arch-villain in a sport where inflammatory words and dubious conduct, when leavened with liberal splashes of actual talent, can make a boxer with something less than a fan-friendly approach almost unfathomably rich and powerful.
The mad stampede for fringe and even non-boxing fans to purchase $99.95 PPV subscriptions for May-Pac – and, in some instances, much more than that for tickets inside the 16,700-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena – is not so much an indication that boxing has regained all of the relevance it has squandered since its most recent golden age in the Huey Lewis-tinged 1980s. A social-media poll conducted prior to the main event, which was jointly televised by HBO and Showtime, indicated that a whopping 67 percent of respondents believed Pacquiao, a 2-to-1 underdog, would win. Was that an indication of a deep conviction in the capabilities of, or widespread hero-worship for, the Fab Filipino? Maybe, to some degree, but more likely it was further proof that significant chunks of the global population are fascinated by the reality and even the perception of evil. Mayweather, and other proudly defiant “bad guys” who flaunt their misdeeds, understand all too well there is gold to be mined from those who profess intense dislike of a fighter, yet shell out for live-action tickets or PPV in the hopes of actually seeing the objects of their scorn receive a bloody comeuppance inside the ropes.
Unfortunately for those who count themselves in that vast and growing number – call them perpetually grumpy members of the “haters gotta hate” club – Mayweather is not temperamentally or stylistically disposed to feed their revenge fantasies by engaging in slugfests at close quarters. All of which makes the deflated expectations left in the wake of the highest-grossing prizefight of all time, another unanimous-decision victory for the man known as “Money May,” so inexplicable. Did anyone really expect Mayweather, one leopard who is never going to change his spots to satisfy the more primal instincts of the public, to be anything other than what he is, has always been and probably always will be? In terms of rip-roaring, two-way action, the No. 1 fight of all time from a bottom-line perspective didn’t come close to cracking the top 100 of fights most fans will fondly file away in their memory banks.
Put it this way: Mayweather (48-0, 27 KOs), who will have made somewhere between $150 million and $180 million when all the financial returns are tallied, not only will be laughing all the way to the bank, he’ll be splitting a gut. When it comes to tolerance and even acceptance of reprehensible behavior, there is nothing remotely comparable to boxing, at once the most exhilarating and most exasperating of all sporting enterprises. The evidence of that is everywhere, like candy eggs on Easter left in such conspicuous places that even a nearsighted kindergartner could find them with ease.
Domestic abuse, such a hot-button topic in the NFL in the wake of the image-tarnishing episodes that led to the suspensions of star running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, among others, was but a briefly mentioned dark cloud that floated over May-Pay and was quickly dispersed. Where Rice and Peterson were barred by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from doing what they do best, in a professional sense, after the news leaked of Rice’s knockout of his fiancée (now wife) in a casino elevator and Peterson’s mark-leaving paddling of his toddler son, Mayweather – who has served prison time for one of several such offenses – has never been suspended or even formally reprimanded by boxing’s sanctioning bodies. It is a double-standard that, to its detriment, sets boxing apart from other sports that at least strive to present a veneer of outrage when its athletes are judged guilty of transgressions against society.
Thus has it always been because, well, boxing is boxing. The late, great New York sports columnist, Jimmy Cannon, once deemed it as the principal come-on in the “red light district of sports,” and that description if as true now, or nearly so, as it has ever been. If sanctimonious reformers were to separate the fight game’s saints from the sinners, the International Boxing Hall of Fame would have a considerably reduced membership, and the next main event coming to an arena near you might be less compelling if one or both of the scheduled participants was deemed to have too many warts on their out-of-the-ring resumes.
None of this is to suggest that Mayweather, so obviously gifted, is undeserving of the acclaim or the wealth he has accumulated. He is the most accomplished fighter of his generation, if not necessarily the most entertaining, and if he chooses to spend millions of dollars on more jewelry than Elizabeth Taylor ever had, or on a fleet of luxury cars, or on the care and maintenance of a small army of fawning yes-men, that is his right. But perhaps it should give John Q. Public pause before he opens his wallet for Mayweather’s next PPV extravaganza. It has been said that we, the people, get the government that we deserve, which in these times is a searing indictment if ever there was one, and that reasoning can be applied to the selection of those athletes we choose as our heroic role models or villainous objects of derision. In most cases, fighters on either side of that imaginary fence probably don’t care so long as the check is large enough and clears.
Boxing has always sold itself in part on the basis of natural conflicts – black vs. white, stylist vs. slugger, one nationality vs. another – and there has been a tendency to gravitate toward those miscreants who frequently veer onto the wild side. Does anyone believe that Mike Tyson would have been just as much a can’t-miss attraction had he been a choir boy in his personal life when not dispatching opponents with fearsome ferocity? We keep up with the Kardashians (although I don’t) because their lives are ongoing train wrecks, not models of domestic tranquility.
Those who are cast in the role of black-hatted villain sometimes do so because, while it may be against their true nature, it suits their purposes to play along. Others are predestined to act out because it is at the essence of their being. Mike Tyson may have owned white tigers, but that didn’t make them – or him – purring kitties disposed to restrict their messes to a convenient litter box.
Ten years ago, before Mayweather brutally dispatched an outclassed Arturo Gatti in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, I wrote that “At 28, he still has the angelic countenance and glowing smile of a cute sitcom kid. Now try imagining Floyd Mayweather Jr. as a fourth-grader. The image that pops into at least some people’s minds is not so much of a rough ’n’ tumble boxing great but of Emmanuel Lewis, crawling onto Alex Karras’ lap during an episode of `Webster.’”
Mayweather’s face is still reminiscent of that younger version of himself, but then, as now, he never was going to be confused with Webster. “Every time I fight I go in there with a chip on my shoulder,” he said at the time, and that chip has enlarged to the size of a log. He is exactly who he wants to be, and that is probably not the person sitcom dad Karras would have wanted crawling onto his lap at any age. Mayweather doesn’t attempt to conceal his colossal ego and he answers to no one but himself. As far as he is concerned, if you don’t appreciate him for who and what he is, well, that’s your problem. As a rejected Kirk Douglas said to Janet Leigh in “The Vikings,” an entertaining 1958 movie about marauding Norsemen, “If I can’t have your love, I’ll take your hate.” And why not? Hate, in boxing, sells just as well as love. Sometimes even more so.
Some of you profess to hate Mayweather because he lacks even the faintest trace of humility. Others hate him because he waves stacks of $100 bills at the camera as he leans against the shiny new Ferrari he has just added to his collection of ultra-pricey rides, still another reminder of the fabulous wealth he has and that you don’t. And, yeah, some of you hate him because he has slapped around “on six occasions” the mother of three of his four children, Josie Harris, who describes herself as a “battered woman” in constant fear of what might happen whenever Mayweather comes around.
But those of you who fall into any of those categories are still apt to want to see his next fight, maybe because he is so skilled at what he does or maybe because you want to witness the night, should it ever come, when the calculating beast is finally brought to heel.
It was almost understandable that Tyson, at his unhinged best, attracted such a following because he was danger personified and that is a powerful aphrodisiac to the masses. We looked and could not turn away because we understood that a knockout – swift, emphatic, devastating – was imminent.
Mayweather is cut from a different cloth, which makes his status as the foremost cash cow in boxing history somewhat perplexing. His thing is as much about making the other guy look bad as about making himself look good, and there were times when his movement, laser-accurate punching and ring generalship reduced the very capable Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs) to whiffing on clumsy lunges, rendering hollow “PacMan’s” protestations that he thought he deserved to get the decision.
“No one can get me to say Sugar Ray Robinson or anybody else was or is better than me,” Mayweather said before his May 1, 2010, bout with Shane Mosley. “No one was better. No one is better. Maybe no one else ever will be better.”
If there is a contemporary fighter to whom I would compare Mayweather, it would be the ageless wonder, Bernard Hopkins, who came to understand that boxing’s subtle nuances can be as or more effective than full-frontal assaults. You just have to know what to look for, and to appreciate it when you are afforded the opportunity to glimpse it. Anyone who can’t appreciate the artistry of either man simply does not understand what they’re watching as they systematically break down opponents. If you prefer Jerry Lee Lewis setting fire to his piano at a honky-tonk bar to Van Cliburn in concert in Carnegie Hall, Hopkins and Mayweather probably aren’t your cup of tea. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t much to admire and appreciate about their level of craftsmanship.
Mayweather gave us another such technically flawless performance, but it was to be expected that many viewers who had hoped to get heaping measures of blood and guts came away disappointed, maybe even angry. As round by round passed into history, there was a creeping sense of “We waited six years for THIS?”
Not that any negative feedback is apt to concern Mayweather. Anyone with a complaint can kiss that part of his anatomy where the sun don’t shine. It is his world, and he figures that it is our privilege to be allowed to occasionally drop in for a visit.
“It’s all about money, power and respect,” Hopkins said in 2003, in a remark about himself that could just as easily have been said about Mayweather circa 2015. “You get the money, you got the power and the respect.”
You also get a fair amount of contempt. But where would boxing be if there was nothing but love and niceties simmering in the cauldron of competition?