Writing about the emerging news that Andre Berto had been selected as Floyd Mayweather’s September twelfth opponent, the Sweet Science’s own Frank Lotierzo deemed anyone who buys the fight on pay-per-view “a complete and utter fool.”
Lotierzo, always forthright and never dull, has the courage of his convictions. I admire that.
But I did not agree with him and I thought, with the date looming large as does each and every Mayweather combat, I might say so, and say why.
First though, I would like to get the obvious out of the way.
I would most like to see Mayweather fight Gennaday Golovkin, a mission impossible worthy of a p4p #1. Failing that, I would like to see him in a rematch with the victor of the fight between Miguel Cotto, the lineal middleweight champion, and Saul Alvarez, still the #1 contender to Mayweather’s lineal light-middleweight claim. Barring that, a rematch with Pacquiao would be reasonable (and remains a distinct possibility) most especially as Manny remains Mayweather’s #1 contender at welterweight. Failing that there are good matches to be made at welterweight against Amir Khan or Kell Brook, or against the perennially ignored potential Mayweather opponent Timothy Bradley. Bradley actually reads like a perfect Mayweather opponent– he can’t punch, he comes to fight, he has a high profile in America based upon decision he did not deserve – but is hamstrung by promotional issues.
Whatever the details, Mayweather hasn’t delivered us any of these fights for his last, second-to-last, or latest fight depending upon which version of the truth you prefer, he has instead delivered us Berto. It is not a decision which has been well received by either press or, judging by the weight of objections groaning from various internet message-boards over the past few weeks, the public.
I was immediately reminded of Roy Jones Junior’s 1995 match with the ordinary Antoine Byrd.
Jones was, like Mayweather, coming off a disappointingly one-sided contest with fellow pound-for-pounder in James Toney. A case can be made for these two being, like Pacquiao and Mayweather, the two best fighters on the planet at the time of their confrontation and if it was so, that may have been the first time since Billy Conn’s 1941 confrontation with Joe Louis that the p4p top two climbed into the same ring. Note that if we do not acknowledge the claim of Toney and Jones to be pound-for-pound numbers one and two, Mayweather-Pacquiao may have been the first such contest in more than seventy-five years. In the wake of his enormous confrontation with Toney, Roy Jones did not select as his next opponent the brutal and direct Englishman Nigel Benn, nor his prancing stylistic pole and countryman Chris Eubank, his #2 and #3 ranked contender respectively. He didn’t leap up to light-heavyweight to take on Virgil Hill, nor did he invite to step up the killing puncher that was Gerald McClellan. He instead matched Byrd.
Byrd had lost three straight in 1991 and 1992, decisioned by Lindell Holmes and Tim Littles, knocked out in just four rounds by 12-8-3 journeyman Larry Musgrove. He did stage a recovery of sorts in 1993 and 1994 but if the truth is told there was little to qualify him for his shot at Roy outside of an inexplicably high ranking bequeathed upon him by one of the alphabet mafia. Just as Berto is inexplicably ranked #1 by the drunken WBA, so Byrd was stationed for a title shot by IBF who for some reason thought it was important that the man who vanquished the 9-4 Eduardo Ayala get in the ring with Jones immediately.
What Jones did essentially was this: he fought one for the industry, against Toney, and then he fought one “for himself” against Byrd. What I mean by that phrase is that he fought a fighter who posed no real threat to him, for easy money, having earned that rope with the earlier contest, that monumental pound-for-pound confrontation with Toney. Beating Toney was easy for Jones. He didn’t really get hurt, he won any round he chose to contest and he had “Lights Out” sitting in his corner between rounds staring blankly into the middle distance as Bill Miller offered up the best he had. Nevertheless, in the parlance of the sport he had earned a soft one. Byrd proved just that, buckling under pressure and punches in less than a round.
Instead of complaining, the crowd was ecstatic. This, briefly, is why Mayweather-Berto is going to do very good business. Mayweather, like Jones, is brilliant. He is the best fighter of his generation and has spent the majority of the past ten years sat atop the pound-for-pound list, a fighter who, despite a defensive style generally anathema to great financial success, has crossed over to become the single biggest dollar machine the sport has ever produced. People love him, hate him and love to hate him. Just as seeing Jones beat an overmatched opponent was of huge appeal to a 1995 fight crowd, so seeing Mayweather outclass Berto is going to be of huge appeal to the 2015 fight crowd. In what remains the last bastion of pure capitalism in modern sport, the bottom line will speak very loudly in defence of this fight (for all that it will not be as successful as Floyd’s other more recent efforts).
Of course, there are differences between the Jones-Byrd situation and this one. Jones was a relative newcomer to the upper-echelons of boxing and there was still a great deal of curiosity wedded to that expectation, and while the expectation remained unsatisfied, the curiously was fulfilled. His fistic youth spared Jones the increased scrutiny Mayweather is suffering. Second, Byrd was ranked; he was ranked at #10, but he was ranked. Berto isn’t ranked, not by anyone with any good sense. In fact he doesn’t even make it into the Fightnews top fifteen at the weight, although he does appear in one or two fan-driven rankings systems available online, and has since before the Mayweather fight was made. I personally would be given to arguing that Berto is probably more prepared for Maywether than Byrd was for Jones. Furthermore, Berto has lost only to solid opponents; Byrd managed to lose to a journeyman. But it must be acknowledged that an argument can be made for Byrd being a better fighter than Berto. Fortunately, boxing history is awash with examples of the one-for-you, one-for-me culture that there is no particular pressure on this example.
Muhamad Ali followed his monumental confrontation with George Foreman against a fighter who had the word “Bleeder” in his nickname, Chuck Wepner. Ali was all but wrapped up in a deal to take on #3 contender Ron Lyle but reneged to take on a fighter who had had his face transmogrified into loose lamb’s liver by the bones of Sonny Liston five years previously. Ali was to be paid $1.5m, around $6.6m adjusting for inflation. When he was asked why he had selected Wepner as an opponent he answered “because he’s white.” But there was no torches and pitchfork assault upon Ali; nobody pointed and laughed at his opponent. There was a tacit understanding that having just settled completely the matter of who the best in the world was, he was entitled to a soft fight for pay, despite the fact that the Louisville Lip was already talking retirement.
Joe Calzaghe rewarded himself for his excruciatingly difficult victory over Bernard Hopkins with a pancaking of a shot Roy Jones, Roman Gonzalez spoiled himself with Rocky Fuentes after annexing the world flyweight title against Akira Yaegashi, Wladimir Klitschko gift-wrapped the chanceless Alex Leapai for his own consumption after a one-sided but crucial encounter against Alexander Povetkin; this is a list almost without end.
Where it does end, is with a group of fighters so unusual and singular in its pursuit of tough competition that we even have a name for it: we call it “old-school.” Guys like Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao and Carl Froch who, up to a point, seek out the toughest challenges available. These guys eschew the one-for-me one-for-you model in favour of determined domination. It is this type of attitude that we are demanding of Floyd Mayweather.
Is that reasonable? I think, probably, yes. I don’t find it unreasonable. Nevertheless, only a blind man could fail to see that the anonymity in debate provided by the internet in combination with Floyd Mayweather’s disgusting behaviour outside of the ring has created something of a perfect storm of criticism; still, it is fair to point out in return that he is, for better or worse, the flag-bearer for our sport and the best paid athlete in history. That he is fighting Andre Berto, a fighter rather less good than previous Mayweather victim Robert Guerrero, is not satisfying to me. He is an unsatisfying opponent, but I do not defend him as an opponent – what I defend is Mayweather’s right to fight an unsatisfactory opponent. He’s a one-for-me one-for-you guy. Trace it back:
After taking on and stopping Victor Ortiz, a soft defence for pay, Mayweather stepped out of his weight-division and his comfort-zone for a difficult fight against Miguel Cotto up at light-middleweight. He then gifted himself Robert Guerrero to pick up a few million, perhaps to fund his gambling habits, before taking on Saul Alvarez in a fight that generated much hype. Devon Alexander victim Marcos Maidana was supposed to be a soft one, but when Mayweather was unexpectedly run close – and we must never forget that that can and will happen – he re-matched the Argentine in a fight that happened to discharge his responsibilities to boxing. Then, he fought Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao was a universally recognised pound-for-pounder who was also Mayweather’s very clear #1 contender for the lineal title in his possession. Winning was easy, but this was a fight, despite the fact that it came several years too late, that boxing was crying out for. It was very much an industry match.
What astonishes me about the bitterness aimed at Floyd Mayweather is the lack of historical perspective. Yes, the fight is poor, but people seem to expect some sort of retrospective punishment to be inflicted upon Floyd for the temerity of having made it. That will not happen, and it won’t happen because Mayweather hasn’t done anything odd. He’s done what Joe Louis did after knocking out Billy Conn in that desperate 13th round all those years ago and found a Lou Nova to play patsy for him next time out. It is no more his fault that Pacquiao couldn’t extend him than it was Louis’s fault that Billy Conn could. That is what happens in boxing when styles mesh and abilities clash.
What is key is not what Mayweather is doing now, but what he does next. A second soft defence would be inexcusable and not in keeping with the normality of boxing’s recent history. But if he fights Pacquiao, then Berto, then the winner of Cotto-Alvarez or Pacquiao again, people in fifty years will understand absolutely what they are looking at: a fighter who mixed the good opposition with bad, the same as almost every fighter who has ever lived, regardless of their standing.
Lotierzo is right to peg the number of pay-per-views bought in America as being a significant in influencing Mayweather’s next move, though I suspect an unlikely failure will induce a huffy retirement and inevitable comeback rather than any change in matchmaking policy, a policy which is likely to come to an end sometime soon anyway. Should a visitation from Marciano’s ghost render this fight Mayweather’s last, he is one of a multitude of champions to go out on a soft one. If the great Italian-American’s bones remain undisturbed and Mayweather pushes for 50-0 against a second chanceless opponent, this will be a break with that matchmaking policy and then you can hand me a pitchfork because I’m in.
In the meantime, I don’t think we should treat this as anything other than what it is: