Floyd Mayweather’s Pugilistic Encore – Fighters who claim they are irreversibly intent on retiring from the ring are like former chart-topping vocalists who sing a supposedly final song at a concert, walk off the stage for a few minutes but almost always perform for an encore or two after the audience begs for just a little bit extra. The undisputed queen of the long goodbye is Cher, who seemingly was on her “farewell” tour for 20 years.
It is established procedure in sports and in the music business for top performers to edge toward the exit, their pledge to step away possibly genuine at the outset but more likely rehearsed, creating a frenzy among their fans for comebacks made as frequently as those launched by the former bride of Sonny Bono and Gregg Allman. It’s one thing to give the people what they want, and quite another to leave ’em wanting more. The stutter-step is the stuff comebacks, and encores, are made of.
Given the pattern that he himself has helped make into an art form, it should have come as no surprise when Floyd Mayweather Jr. — who announced his third and presumably final retirement as an active boxer eight months ago after scoring a typically dominant unanimous decision over Andre Berto — dropped very broad hints last Saturday night that he is considering still another pugilistic encore.
In Washington, D.C., as the promoter of a super middleweight championship doubleheader in which James DeGale defended his IBF title on a unanimous decision over Rogelio Medina and Badou Jack, Mayweather’s fighter, retained his WBC belt on a majority draw with Lucien Bute, the 39-year-old Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs) made it clear he is leaning toward lacing up the gloves again.
Speaking to Showtime’s Jim Gray, Mayweather responded to a question as to whether he would come back more in a bid to go 50-0, thus surpassing the late heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano’s near-mythic mark of 49-0, or for another huge payday, “Money” laughed and said, “Both. If I came back, of course, it would have to be a nine-figure payday and probably a championship fight.”
Mayweather noted that he has “been talking with CBS and Showtime” about a potential return “for some crazy numbers,” although he did allow that “right now I’m really happy being on this (promotional) side, helping our fighters.”
It has been widely predicted since Mayweather — who set every financial record there is (4.4 million pay-per-view buys, $400 million-plus in PPV revenues and a $220 million payday for himself for his May 2, 2015, unanimous decision over fellow superstar Manny Pacquiao) — easily outpointed Berto that another encore by the 12-time world champion in five weight classes was as certain as darkness at midnight. But there were at least a few who took him at his word when he solemnly intoned, “My career is over. It’s official. I was able to retire from the sport with all my faculties and not let the sport retire me.”
Mayweather said it was his intention to not only grow his promotional company, but to spend more time with his family, which is the standard reason stated by fighters for taking their leave from their time-consuming and health-endangering profession.
Even before Mayweather revealed his wavering commitment to his most recent retirement pledge, however, evidence mounted that another comeback had been set in motion. ESPN.com reported Mayweather Promotions has filed for trademarks to “TMT 50” and “TBE 50” on April 21, “TMT” standing for “The Money Team” and “TBE” for “The Best Ever.” Why seek trademark protection that includes the number 50 when your record is frozen at 49-0?
Few elite boxers step away and stay away forever. Marciano did it, as did Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Lennox Lewis, but the list of such promise-keepers is short in comparison to that of the promise-breakers. Sugar Ray Leonard, the Mayweather of his era, announced six retirements and rescinded five, making him a de facto emperor of the encore.
“You always think of yourself as the best you ever were. That’s human nature,” Leonard, who turns 60 on May 17, said in 2013 when the matter of boxing comebacks was raised for what must have seemed the umpteenth time. “And that’s not just how highly successful people think. Everyone thinks that way. Most guys come back for money. They need another payday, and there are people around them feeding their egos, telling them how good they still are. Maybe they come back because they really don’t know anything but boxing, and they’re apprehensive about entering the next phase of their lives that doesn’t include it.
“But even if money is not an issue (and that certainly would appear to be the case with Floyd), and you have other options, you never lose that belief in yourself as a fighter, particularly if you’ve been to the very top of the mountain. (Being retired) eats at you. It’s hard to find anything else that can give you that high.”
Mayweather no doubt can relate to the gospel according to Ray. He nearly broke down in tears in announcing his first retirement, after he had lifted Carlos Baldomir’s WBC welterweight title on a unanimous decision on Nov. 4, 2006. Sure, Mayweather fought twice more after that, but, to many, the joy seemed to have gone out of boxing for him.
As the then-president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, I presented Floyd with his 2007 Fighter of the Year Award at the 83rd annual BWAA Awards Dinner in Los Angeles on May 1, 2008, and my impression was that he was looser and happier than he’d been in some time. Not long after he’d collected his hardware, he announced a second retirement, in the process withdrawing from a scheduled Sept. 20 megafight with Oscar De La Hoya.
Was Mayweather contemplating such a step when he appeared at the BWAA dinner? He’d branched out with celebrity gigs on “Dancing With The Stars” and a guest appearance with World Wrestling Entertainment, which, if nothing else, allowed him to have some fun.
It was no secret he’d been dealing with tender hands throughout his career. Coping with that discomfort, and the emotional duress of going off to training camp for extended periods of time, which separated him from his children, was said to have attributed to the chipping away of Mayweather’s resolve to keep on keeping on. It was in the perhaps foolish expectation that he would stick to his second retirement assurance that led me to write this for my newspaper, the Philadelphia Daily News:
Most fighters who quit the ring while at or near the top can’t resist the urge to attempt comeback after comeback. For Mayweather – the only world champion to walk away from boxing with an unblemished record since Rocky Marciano in 1956 – walking away now was about finding happiness in his personal life. It’s hard to knock anyone for that.
Fool me once (or twice), shame on you. Fool me twice (or three times), shame on me. Mayweather fought 10 times after I incorrectly predicted he was going to be content taking his kids to Disney World or whatever, so I wasn’t exactly buying into his vow to retire after he cuffed Berto around. Not only had I processed Leonard’s reasons for fighters taking their leave to keep making U-turns, but I remember the scene when Bernard Hopkins, then a spry guy just 41 years of age, had scored a unanimous, 12-round decision over Antonio Tarver on June 10, 2006.
“I’m done,” B-Hop said in announcing his retirement at the post-fight press conference. “There’s nothing else to do. I’ve heard some people say, `What about this? What about that?’ Let’s keep it real, y’all. I don’t need to risk anything else. What am I gonna do, go to cruiser(weight)? Heavyweight? There’s nothing else to do. I want to be able to see my daughter. I want to be able to know who her teachers are, because I’m not home half the time. I’m in camp. So now family is more important than boxing.
“I’m humbled but I’m proud that I got a chance to go out on top. How many fighters go out on top?”
Last I checked, Hopkins was 51 and still talking about taking one final fight, if only the right opponent and adequate compensation for mixing it up with that opponent was forthcoming. And, no, I am not buying WBA/WBO/lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury’s promise to quit boxing forever following his July 9 rematch with Wladimir Klitschko. It’s not that Fury is lying, exactly, it’s just that he probably is a little weak on telling the truth. Most fighters are when the uncomfortable subject of retirement is raised, even when they’re the ones raising it.
There is one way, probably the only way, for another Mayweather encore to come to a screeching halt while still in the discussion stage. “Money” places an extremely high value on himself, which is justified, one supposes, given his unquestioned status as a genius of his craft. But if the “crazy numbers” he said CBS and Showtime are mentioning aren’t delivered in the form of a contract, it’s doubtful Mayweather’s pride would allow for him to accept a steep discount for the provision of his services. The long-anticipated showdown with Pacquiao registered low on the excitement chart, resulting in a PPV drop to a disappointing 550,000 subscriptions for the equally uninteresting bout with Berto.
Would CBS/Showtime, or anyone else, guarantee Mayweather a minimum of $100 million to swap punches a second time with Pacquiao? Or a first time with Danny Garcia or the winner of the June 25 Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter bout (which takes place in Brooklyn the night after the 91st BWAA Awards Dinner, at which Mayweather will receive his third Fighter of the Year Award)? It’s doubtful, even if the ghost of Marciano hovered above the promotion like a supernatural come-on. Would Mayweather perform an encore for a piddling purse of eight figures instead of nine? Also doubtful.
So, until further notice, the return of Floyd Mayweather Jr. is merely an interesting topic of conversation. But it will be talked about just the same, because, whether he’s back in the game or just considering it, the man is a lightning rod for controversy and speculation.
You have to think he wouldn’t have it any other way.