Is Floyd Mayweather the Michael Jordan of boxing?
According to Showtime boxing boss Stephen Espinoza, indeed he is.
“I think we’re going to appreciate Floyd more several years after he retires than maybe we do now,” Espinoza told The Sweet Science. “We all know, at his level of skill, it’s a challenge to find fighters that we think are going to be competitive. To me, he’s Michael Jordan.”Jordan led the NBA’s Chicago Bulls to six world championships. He was the best basketball player of a generation, earning five Most Valuable Player awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, ten scoring titles, six NBA Finals MVP Awards, and a multitude of other honors during his playing career, which lasted from 1984 to 2003.
“There was a point when no one was going to stop Mike,” said Espinoza. “John Starks wasn’t stopping Michael Jordan. Bryon Russell wasn’t stopping him. Byron Scott wasn’t. Nobody could stop him. But nobody said, ‘We aren’t going to watch him because he’s too good...it’s too easy. We know the Bulls are going to repeat this year.’ No one said that.”
Espinoza said watching a Mayweather fight was akin to appreciating Jordan during his prime years: “This is an opportunity we have to see Jordan before he retires.”
Mayweather’s next bout is against upstart contender Marcos Maidana May 3 at the MGM in Las Vegas, Nevada. The bout will air live on Showtime PPV. Maidana upset Adrien Broner in 2013 to earn the Mayweather gig, and will be a huge underdog come fight night. Still, he was certainly the best choice of Mayweather’s likely options for the fight in that he absolutely pummeled the previously undefeated Broner in a fight very few thought he could win.
Unlike Mayweather, of course, Jordan was forced to face and defeat the best and most deserving contenders of his generation. Among the notable all-time greats Jordan defeated for NBA titles are Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Gary Payton and Karl Malone.
Unlike the NBA, boxing is not set up under one controlling entity. Where the NBA has a play-off system, boxing has a constant churn of competing promotions. Among other things, this has kept Mayweather from being able to face all the best fighters of his generation. Most notably, of course, is Manny Pacquiao.
“I don’t really doubt the fact that both Mayweather and Pacquiao want the fight right now. And to be clear, I know for a fact because of my prior work [legal advisor to Golden Boy Promotions] and my current work [Showtime VP], that Floyd Mayweather very much wanted the fight and has very much wanted the fight to happen since 2009.”
The reasons why the superfight has never been made depends on which side you ask. For his part, Espinoza says he knows for certain Mayweather has always wanted the fight. “Now, he’s also been very clear about certain issues of fairness and propriety and his personal feelings about Top Rank over the years, and these all play a role in this, but fundamentally if you ask me, does Floyd want the fight? He always has.”
Espinoza didn’t lay blame on Mayweather, but he didn’t pass the buck to Pacquiao either. “I can only assume that Manny, for his part, probably feels the same because he is an accomplished fighter. So, I don’t fault the fighters.”
I couldn’t help but ask if Espinoza was as sick of the Mayweather-Pacquiao topic as everyone else in the boxing world seems to be. Honestly, I only asked him about it since I’d never talked to him before and felt it was my duty, in a way, to ask what readers might want to know. His answer was not what I expected. “No one ever asks me about it anymore, so I’m happy to address it,” said Espinoza, surprisingly. “It’s funny, I don’t get too many opportunities to address it head on. Everyone just reprints what Bob Arum says...”
Regardless of the Mayweather-Pacquiao debacle, Mayweather has faced and defeated an impressive list of fighters during his undefeated career, including the late Diego Corrales, Ricky Hatton, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez and Miguel Cotto. Moreover, since he made the leap over from HBO to Showtime, he’s gone 2-0 against two good fighters. The more impressive of those two wins was against previously undefeated junior middleweight titlist Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, one of the brightest young stars in the sport. Mayweather beat Alvarez rather handily over 12 rounds, but the 23-year-old Mexican rebounded nicely by pulverizing tough slugger Alfredo Angulo earlier this year in 10.
Next up for Alvarez is another huge test: southpaw stylist Erislandy Lara, a fighter many have proposed might actually be one of Mayweather’s most dangerous possible future bouts. His Cuban style is not easily solved and he has good enough power to make fighters who choose to walk him down pay dearly.
“One thing that I don’t think Canelo gets enough credit for is his willingness to fight anybody," Espinoza said. "This is the second time in a relatively short period of time that he chose voluntarily [to fight] a guy who no one else is lining up to fight and one that maybe isn’t in his best financial interest. I think maybe because of his popularity, people underestimate his pride and his heart and the fact that he wants to fight the toughest guys out there even if it is not in his financial interest necessarily to do so.”
Thinking of the possibility of Mayweather-Lara, should the latter get by Alvarez, I asked Espinoza if Lara was a hard sell. “I don’t think Lara is a hard sell. When I said ‘not in his financial interest’, I was referring more to the [Austin] Trout fight. Canelo had Mayweather sort of looming in the background [then], and why take that risk for an awkward, left-handed fighter that wasn’t a big money payday?”
So, I reasoned, might Lara work his way into being a viable opponent for Mayweather should he have a good showing versus Alvarez? And could Showtime see Mayweather-Lara as a worthwhile promotion? Espinoza seemed to think so.
“Yeah, I know ‘Cuban’ has sort of, in some circles, become a bad word when it comes to boxers, but I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. Lara was very aggressive and very entertaining in the Angulo fight. That was a fight no one was bored by and it wasn’t just because Angulo was pressing the action. We knew when we made Lara-Trout that it might not be the best style matchup, but it was two top guys and a fight that needed to be made. The styles didn’t mesh particularly well, but that to me doesn’t take away from his long-term attractiveness as an opponent.”
So who knows? Maybe like Jordan’s last great years with the Bulls, two seasons which culminated in two world championships against the Utah Jazz’s John Stockton, Karl Malone and Bryon Russell, Lara will someday soon present Mayweather with a real and difficult challenge, too -- a final test of his greatness.
Jordan prevailed in the end.
Might Mayweather, too?