NEW YORK -- Maybe it really happened, maybe it didn’t. But, the oft-recited and perhaps apocryphal story goes, Muhammad Ali was seated on a jet airliner when, just before takeoff, a female flight attendant reminded him to fasten his seat belt.
“Superman don’t need no seat belt,” Ali replied.
“Superman don’t need no airplane either,” the quick-thinking flight attendant retorted.
Like Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and a precious few other gods of boxing, Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was here at the Marriott Marquis on Monday to kick off a five-city, four-day press tour to hype his Sept. 13 rematch with Argentina’s Marcos Maidana, is so exceptionally gifted that it sometimes might appear that he arrived from another planet for the express purpose of dazzling mere earthlings. Ali and the original Sugar Ray knew -- or at least found out when their aura of invincibility was finally threatened -- what the creators of Superman did when they began to run out of story ideas for a character that could fly at incredible speeds, had unimaginable strength and was impervious to any sort of physical pain.
Whether it’s in comic books or inside a roped-off swath of canvas, there has to be conflict and a reasonable amount of danger faced by the protagonist to maintain interest from a public constantly expecting fresh thrills. Thus did writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, who in tandem conceived Superman in the 1930s, decide that he needed to occasionally deal with strength-sapping kryptonite and an expanding cast of super-villains that included, among others, General Zod, Kryptonite Man, Metallo, Mister Mxyzptik, Ultra-Humanite and Ultraman. There was even an issue of DC Comics in which Superman tangled with, yep, Muhammad Ali.
It remains to be seen whether the 30-year-old Maidana (35-4, 31 KOs), can match or even exceed his performance against Mayweather (46-0, 26 KOs) of May 3, when the “Money” man was obliged to settle for a more-difficult-than-expected 12-round majority decision at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he again will take on the Argentine brawler. It marks the 10th straight bout for the Grand Rapids, Mich., native to fight in his adopted hometown and at his preferred venue.
To hear Mayweather, who will defend his WBC, WBA and THE RING welterweight championships, what Maidana did that night as a 10-to-1 underdog was an illusion, a juxtaposition of dirty tactics allowed by the referee (Tony Weeks) and the inflated expectations of those who see anything other than absolute domination on Mayweather’s part as some sort of failure. And Mayweather is correct, in one sense. The higher you continually set the bar, the more difficult it is for even the most exceptional of flesh-and-blood human beings to clear it with the ease of Superman leaping over a tall building in a single bound.
So, has Floyd Mayweather Jr., at 37, become too good for his own good? Has he reached the point where mere victories on his part no longer are considered satisfactory by fight fans paying top dollar for seats in the arena or pay-per-view subscriptions?
“The perception out there is that Floyd’s been the best,” said Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions. “He didn’t just become the best; he’s been the best. Any kind of success anyone has against him, people tend to gravitate toward that.”
Mayweather, looking relaxed and very fit in a black T-shirt set off by shiny, expensive jewelry, agreed that he is frequently held to a higher standard than other fighters, thus the somewhat perplexing scorecard 114-114 scorecard submitted by judge Michael Pernick, whose colleagues, Burt Clements and Dave Moretti, had him defeating Maidana by comfortable margins of 117-111 and 116-112, respectively. It wasn’t the first time, he believes, that he’s been given less than his due. In the bout prior to his matchup with Maidana, when he stepped up in weight to challenge WBC and WBC super welterweight champ Canelo Alvarez, Craig Metcalfe and Moretti had him cruising by respective scores of 117-111 and 116-112 while the third judge, C.J. Ross, like Pernick, accorded him only a 114-114 standoff.
“I think we need to get some young judges,” said Mayweather, still amazed that he has had to come away with back-to-back majority decisions in fights he is convinced he clearly won and with no hint of controversy. “I think it’s just about being fair. As a fighter, Maidana know – he know – he didn’t win that fight. Even with (Jose Luis) Castillo in that first fight, if I felt like I lost, I would have said, `Yeah, I lost.’ Because I’m fair. But I know I beat him. I know it for a fact.”
It is notable that the rematch with Maidana marks only the second time Mayweather, who generally abhors the notion of do-overs, has grudgingly consented to swap punches with a previous victim. There are those – quite a few, actually – who are of the belief that the then-27-year-old Mayweather was the beneficiary of a gift decision as a challenger against WBC lightweight titlist Castillo on April 20, 2002. Castillo, outboxed in the early rounds, was to a degree able to bully Mayweather down the stretch. Mayweather, however, won a unanimous decision with scores of 116-111 and 115-111 (twice), which ran counter to the unofficial tabulations of HBO’s Harold Lederman and Larry Merchant, both of whom had Castillo retaining his championship.
Maidana, looking very much like a mild-mannered and bespectacled Clark Kent during his session with the media, said he and his team studied the tape of Mayweather-Castillo I at length and incorporated some of what they saw into their game plan against Floyd.
“We did look at and analyze that fight,” Maidana said. “It was a very close fight. We tried to implement a lot of the same things that Castillo did. But Mayweather is a great fighter. He has great defense and he’s not very easy to hit.”
And his repeat shot at the consensus No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter?
“I think our plan of attack (the last time) was great,” he said. “I just got to add to it.” Added Robert Garcia, Maidana’s trainer: “(Marcos) thought—I thought – that Mayweather was going to be something different, something special. He isn’t, not really.”
Mayweather, who maintains that he never watches tape of upcoming opponents because he can adapt to anything he might encounter on the fly, gives the impression that any tinkering by Maidana is certain to end in disappointment. The guy he’s fighting always has to adjust to him, not the other way around. Hasn’t Maidana ever read a Superman comic book? The flying man from Krypton always prevails, as does the man from Grand Rapids with the fancy footwork and rapid-fire hands.
“Maidana’s a tough competitor, but I’m really not worried about nothing,” Mayweather said. “I don’t worry about no fighter. They’re all the same to me.”
So, is there anything that Maidana did or does well, that might prove nettlesome this time around?
“Fight dirty,” said Mayweather, who figured that Maidana won three rounds, tops, the first time around. “Is he a better fighter than Canelo? No. Is he a better fighter than (Miguel) Cotto? No. Is he a dirtier fighter? Yes. That’s safe to say. That’s the only thing that sets him apart. He wants to hold with one hand, he wants to elbow. I didn’t get a deep gash from a punch, I got a deep gash from a head-butt. Low blows all night. Twenty of them, at least. We can go on and on.”
But Mayweather, who will be fighting for the fourth time as part of a six-bout pay-per-view deal with CBS/Showtime that will yield him upwards of $200 million, is enough of a businessman to understand that having a close call against Maidana, or what passes for a close call, is apt to produce higher gross revenues for the rematch. That’s enough reason for him to consent to a Part II, which has unimaginatively been dubbed “Mayhem,” as did Stephen Espinoza, Showtime’s executive vice president and general manager of sports and event programming.
It has not gone unnoticed that Showtime did not release the number of PPV buys for Mayweather-Maidana I, which some contend is proof that Mayweather, whose fights have produced a record $700 million-plus in PPV sales, is losing some clout as his sport’s foremost can’t-miss attraction. That could owe to generally soft sales for all PPV bouts in a saturated market, and it might owe, at least in part, to the growing feeling that Mayweather is blowing through a procession of no-chance opponents who might as well be shooting rubber bullets at the Man of Steel. Some have pegged the PPV buy rate for Mayweather-Maidana I at 850,000, which falls below the threshold of a million buys believed in some quarters to be the break-even point for any PPV fight involving Mayweather in his current deal, which guarantees him a minimum of $32 million per outing.
“Those numbers (for Mayweather-Maidana I) have not been released,” Espinoza acknowledged. “There’s a very small circle of people that know what the numbers are. But the May 3 fight was the most exciting and entertaining bout of Mayweather’s career, certainly the toughest of his career. Yet, in the aftermath, all people wanted to talk about was pay-per-view buys. I think it’s negative for the event, negative for the sport, negative for our company, when people draw conclusions that aren’t merited and thus spread misinformation.
“There’s only one fighter in history that’s done over two million PPVs twice, and that’s documented. (Mayweather did 2.5 million buys for his fight with Oscar De La Hoya, and 2.2 million for his fight with Alvarez.) There’s no question Floyd is the No. 1 pay-per-view star, regardless of whether we released numbers for Mayweather-Maidana 1 or not. There’s no question he does bigger gates, he does more buys and he generates more attention than any other boxer in the sport.”
And Espinoza’s prediction for Part II?
“I’m expecting it to pick up right where it left off,” he said. “What we have typically seen in the past is Mayweather cruising in the later rounds, when he establishes dominance and kicks into rhythm. That wasn’t the case in the last fight. Some people felt that Mayweather won comfortably. Others thought it was a slimmer margin. Probably a minority felt that Maidana won. From a business standpoint, it is a major advantage to have a thrilling, very competitive fight to sell as a rematch. We’ve made no secret of the fact it is a challenge to market some of these events because, given Floyd’s history, there is a presumption he’s going to dominate anyone who’s in the ring with him.”
The one fighter who continues to offer the most intriguing option is, of course, Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao. But Pacquiao is aligned with Top Rank founder Bob Arum, whom Mayweather despises, and with HBO, twin obstacles that have proved insurmountable in the past and might continue to be too much to overcome. Should Mayweather get past Maidana again, and easily, that leaves a comparatively skimpy menu of entrée items that might include Amir Khan, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Kell Brook and Lucas Matthysse. All would be significant underdogs against a Mayweather that is even a reasonably close approximation of his familiar Superman persona.
Mayweather, who more and more is dropping hints that he is tiring of the demands placed upon him, is certain of only two things until he hangs up his gloves for keeps. One is that he remains the closest thing to a sure thing we have seen in boxing in some time. If he fulfills these last three bouts of his contract and remains undefeated, he’d be 49-0, and likely to be satisfied with that. He professes to have little interest in taking an additional fight, to go to 50-0 and surpass the record of the late, great heavyweight champion, Rocky Marciano.
“I never seen Marciano fight,” Mayweather said. “I seen some highlights. But this is the Mayweather era. All I can do is focus on the guy in front of me. Marciano had his time. Right now it’s my time. If my career was over today, I’d be happy with what I’ve accomplished. My job is not to go out there and break records. If it happens, it happens. If it don’t, it don’t.”
And that other certainty?
“You done seen this a thousand times,” he said. “`This guy is going to beat Floyd, he’s a young, hungry lion. He’s got power.’ But he’s not going to win, no matter who he is or who his trainer is. Each fight is the same result, and the same excuses. There’s so many excuses that they use. When I fought (Juan Manuel) Marquez, he was over the hill, washed up. Then he comes back to knock out Pacquiao and he’s pound-for-pound one of the best. They said I fought Cotto at a bad time for him. Now he’s the middleweight champ.
“I say this: Line ’em up like bowling pins so I can continue to knock ’em down.”