There has been an outpouring of commentary about an article entitled “Can Boxing Trust USADA?” that I wrote last week for SBNation.com [http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2015/9/9/9271811/can-boxing-trust-usada]. I plan on returning to the issues raised by that article at another time. This article is about Saturday night’s fight between Floyd Mayweather and Andre Berto.
Mayweather is one of the most gifted defensive fighters ever and also one of the most polarizing figures in boxing. He was raised by fighters and has amassed an unblemished record of 49 victories in 49 pro fights.
“Floyd knows everything there is to know about boxing except losing,” his uncle (former WBA super-featherweight and WBC super-lightweight champion Roger Mayweather) has said.
Mayweather is a fifteen-round fighter in a twelve-round era. He tires less than his opponent as a fight goes on. Ray Leonard (who most knowledgeable observers place comfortably above Floyd in historical rankings), acknowledges, “Mayweather is one of the best conditioned fighters I have ever seen, bar none. You have to give him his credit. Sometimes there’s outrageous things he says and does. But when he goes into that ring, he’s always in shape. That’s what I respect about him.”
But there’s a downside to the Mayweather saga.
Floyd has a well-documented history of violence against women.
His conspicuous consumption and constant bragging about how much money he makes appeals to some. But given the reality of economic inequality in America today, it turns a lot of people off.
Recently, Mayweather bought a car called the Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita for $4,800,000. In recent years, he has bought more than one hundred luxury cars.
According to the University of Nevada Las Vegas website, the cost of living on-campus and attending UNLV for a full school year is $20,012. That includes tuition, fees, rent, utilities, food, books, other school supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous personal expenses.
Instead of adding that car to his collection, Mayweather could have taken the money and gifted 240 full-year scholarships to young men and women in his hometown of Las Vegas. And for readers who are saying, “Why doesn’t Hauser donate some money for scholarships,” I’ll note that, several years ago, I had a financial windfall and donated $6,700 to the Arthur Curry Scholarship Fund at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.
Where Mayweather’s in-ring performances are concerned, the most valid complaint has been his choice of opponents. Mayweather has never beaten an elite fighter in his prime. In recent years, he has avoided the best available competition, preferring to fight ordinary opponents or once-dangerous fighters who’ve seen better days.
Andre Berto fit into the Mayweather-opponent mold.
Berto’s father was a Haitian immigrant who competed as a mixed martial artist when Andre was a boy and ran a martial arts academy in Winter Haven, Florida, when Andre was growing up.
“I was exposed to a lot of things early, good and bad,” Berto told this writer several years ago. “Winter Haven is a rough town. Drugs, street gangs, AIDS; it’s all there. A lot of kids think there’s no way out, that there’s no way they can be better than what’s there. You see guys who could have been superstar athletes who gave in to drugs. I had a vision early that I could be great. In school, I was always a little stronger, a little faster, and a little better than the other kids. I wanted to be one of the ones who stood out. And I was living off the example that my father set for me. Self-respect, hard work, stay straight, stay focussed. When I was growing up, my father always told me, ‘The saddest thing in the world is wasted talent.’”
Andre played running back for the Winter Haven High School football team and ran the 100 and 200-yard dash in track. But his true love was boxing. “Running the streets” had a different meaning for him. He was doing roadwork. When he came to school with a black eye and puffed-up lip, it was from sparring, not a gang fight.
By the time Berto was a senior in high school, boxing had taken him to 22 countries. He was a decorated amateur, compiling a 260-and-12 record. He was knocked down twice in the amateurs but never stopped.
The knockdowns came at the 2002 National Golden Gloves.
“I’d won it the year before and was ranked number-one in the country at 152 pounds,” Berto recalls. “I got in the ring with a guy I didn’t know named DeShawn Johnson. I thought it would be an easy fight. He knocked me down twice in the first round and won a decision. I wanted to fight him again so bad. And a month later, he got jumped in a club. Some guys stomped him and shot him and he died.”
Berto turned pro in December 2004 and was regarded as a super-star in the making. At the close of 2010, he was 27-and-0 with 22 knockouts and the WBC welterweight champion.
“My spirit is to try to be dominant,” Andre told the media. “I want to be a superstar. I want to bring it back to the days when Mike Tyson would fight on television, and everybody got off work early so they wouldn’t miss it.”
But in recent years, Berto has regressed as a fighter. Like many Al Haymon clients, he was maneuvered around tough challenges and failed to develop his full potential. Since 2010, Andre has lost four of seven fights, including a knockout defeat at the hands of Jesus Soto Karass.
“The welterweight division is among the deepest in boxing,” Chris Mannix wrote for SI.com after Berto was named as Mayweather’s opponent for September 12. “There are established stars, rising stars, and compelling young talents. So of course, Floyd Mayweather picked one of the least qualified of them all. On the list of recent Mayweather opponents, Berto ranks among the worst.”
The match-up was so unappealing that Showtime entered into negotiations with Team Mayweather with an eye toward moving the fight from pay-per-view to CBS. Sources say that the idea failed for a number of reasons. Mayweather was reluctant to give up his contractual guarantee, and CBS-Showtime financial models predicted that advertising revenue would be significantly less than the projected income from even a diminished number of PPV buys. There wasn’t enough time to market the event to potential advertisers. And given Mayweather’s history of domestic violence, many mainstream advertisers didn’t want to be associated with him.
The odds varied widely. But generally, Mayweather was a 20-to-1 favorite.
The announced fight night attendance was 13,395, well short of a sellout. That number included quite a few complimentary tickets in addition to tickets that were sold at a discount.
From the opening bell on, Berto seemed resigned to his fate. He was a challenger who didn’t challenge. There were two guys in the ring, but it wasn’t much of a fight.
Mayweather isn’t a big puncher. But as Oscar De La Hoya has noted, “Every fighter has a punch.” Floyd’s punches might not stun. But they sting and are hard enough to keep opponents from coming forward with abandon.
Berto looked tight in the opening rounds and befuddled for most of the night. He came forward in a straight line, made zero adjustments, threw few meaningful punches, and fought as though Mayweather’s body was off limits.
Indeed, Andre talked more aggressively during the fight than he fought in it. Mayweather, as one might expect, responded to the verbiage. In round ten, referee Kenny Bayless stopped the proceedings briefly and told the fighters to stop trash-talking.
That led Showtime analyst Al Bernstein to observe, “Let’s be honest. The most interesting thing about this fight has been the debate.”
Blow-by-blow commentator Mauro Ranallo added, “The conversation might be more interesting than what we’re seeing in the ring.”
Mayweather outlanded Berto by a 232-to-83 margin. This observer gave Andre one round. The judges scored it 120-108, 118-110, 117-111 for Mayweather.
Prior to the fight, Mayweather and his team said repeatedly that this would be his last fight. Afterward, Floyd proclaimed, “My career is over. It’s official. You got to know when to hang ‘em up. I’m leaving the sport with all of my faculties. I’ve accomplished everything. There’s nothing more to accomplish in the sport.”
If Mayweather really doesn’t fight again, he deserves credit for standing by his word and leaving at the top (as Lennox Lewis did a decade ago). Most observers, myself included, think that Floyd will fight again.
There have been times in the past when Mayweather’s word was suspect. Time will tell whether or not he’s telling the truth now.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.
Photo Credit: Idris Erba/Mayweather Promotions