Now that the dust has settled and there has been time for reflection, it’s worth taking a look back at the boxing event of 2013: the much-hyped, enormously successful promotion known as “The One.”
Budd Schulberg once wrote, “I've always thought of boxing, not as a mirror but as a magnifying glass of our society.”
That certainly was true of the September 14th fight between Floyd Mayweather and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Boxing’s first million-dollar gate was $1,789,238 for the fight between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier on July 2, 1921, at Boyle’s 30 Acres in New Jersey. Adjusted for inflation, that number, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, is equivalent to $23,377,744 in today’s dollars.
Mayweather-Alvarez came close. The official gate was $20,003,150, which exceeded the previous mark of $18,419,200 set by the May 5, 2007, encounter between Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya.
The best guess at present is that Mayweather-Alvarez generated 2,200,000 pay-per-view buys in the United States. That would place it second behind De La Hoya vs. Mayweather, which generated 2.45 million buys for a total of $136,000,000 ($153,400,000 in today’s dollars). When all the numbers are in, that $153,400,000 figure is likely to be exceeded by Mayweather-Alvarez.
Mayweather was guaranteed a minimum purse of $41,500,000 to fight Alvarez. That’s more than the entire 2013 player payroll for either the Miami Marlins ($36,341,900) or Houston Astros ($22,062,600). And Floyd’s take is expected to rise significantly once all the pay-per-view buys and other revenue streams are counted.
So let’s take a look at the good and the bad, the fantasy and the reality of Floyd “Money” Mayweather.
It’s starts with Mayweather’s skill as a fighter.
Mayweather seeks to control every aspect of his life. Thus, it’s ironic that his chosen sport is boxing. In baseball, everyone waits for the pitcher. A golfer does what he can do with the laws of physics as his only adversary. Boxing is the hardest sport in the world for an athlete to control.
Over the course of twelve rounds, Mayweather controls the confines of a boxing ring as few men ever have.
The most admirable thing about Floyd is his work ethic and dedication to his craft.
Years ago, Luis Cortes wrote, “A majority of upsets occur when the more naturally-talented fighter forgets that boxing is not just about talent.”
Mayweather doesn’t forget. He gives one hundred percent in preparing for a fight every time out.
“I’m a perfectionist,” Floyd says. “No one works harder than I do. I worked my ass off to get to where I am now. Nobody is perfect, but I strive to be perfect.”
Heywood Broun once wrote of Benny Leonard, “No performer in any art has ever been more correct. His jab could stand without revision in any textbook. The manner in which he feints, ducks, sidesteps, and hooks is unimpeachable. He is always ready to hit with either hand.”
The same can be said of Mayweather. He and Bernard Hopkins have two of the highest “boxing IQs” in the business. Like Hopkins, Floyd shuts down his opponent, taking away what the opponent does best.
“Floyd has man strength and he knows how to use it,” Hopkins says.
When Mayweather is stunned (the last time it appeared to have happened was in round two against Shane Mosley three years ago), he holds on like the seasoned pro that he is. What’s more instructive is what Floyd does when he’s hit solidly but is fully compos mentis. His instinct is to fire back hard rather than let an opponent build confidence.
“Floyd does all things necessary to win a fight,” Mosley notes.
That includes fighting rough and pushing the rules up to, and sometimes beyond, their boundary if the referee allows him to do so.
Against Mosley, Mayweather pushed down hard on the back of Shane’s head and neck as an offensive maneuver seventeen times and used a forearm-elbow to the neck aggressively twenty-three times.
“Winning is the key to everything,” says Leonard Ellerbe (CEO of Mayweather Promotions). “As long as Floyd keeps winning, there’s no limit to the things he can accomplish.”
Mayweather keeps winning. His split-decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya is the only time that a fight went to the scorecards and a judge had Floyd behind. Tom Kaczmarek scored that bout 115-113 for Oscar.
Floyd walks through life with a swagger. He flaunts his lifestyle and wealth. First HBO, and now Showtime, have put tens of millions of dollars worth of time and money into cultivating the Mayweather image. Floyd, for his part, has created and nurtured the “Money Mayweather” persona. “You can't be a 35-year-old man calling yourself 'Pretty Boy’,” he said last year, explaining the change in his sobriquet.
When Mayweather speaks of his “loved ones,” one gets the feeling that Floyd holds down the top three or four spots on the list. He lives in ostentatious luxury (a 22,500-square-foot primary residence in Las Vegas and a 12,000-square-foot home in Miami) surrounded by beautiful women and devoted followers who adore him. The money that he puts in their pockets, we’re told, has no bearing on their affection.
Tim Keown has tracked Floyd on two occasions for ESPN: The Magazine and reported, “This is a man who wears his boxer shorts once before throwing them out. This is a man who keeps his head shaved, yet travels on a private jet with his personal barber; who has two sets of nearly identical ultra-luxury cars color-coded by mansion - white in Las Vegas, black in Miami [“roughly two dozen” Rolls Royces, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Ferraris, Bugattis, and Mercedes].
“Along with gaudy possessions and unlimited subservience comes something far more vital,” Keown continues. “Self-justification. It's wealth as affirmation. A case filled with more than $5,000,000 in watches is not a mere collection. It is a statement.”
Keown further reported that, on a recent shopping trip to New York, Mayweather spent “close a quarter of a million dollars on earrings and a necklace for his 13-year-old daughter, Iyanna.”
One might question how a gift of that magnitude affects a young adolescent’s values.
Meanwhile, tweets regarding Mayweather’s gambling winnings (he regularly wagers six figures on a single basketball or football game) read like reports of Korean dictator Kim Jong-il’s maiden golf outing, when the Korean state media reported eleven holes-in-one en route to a final score of 38 under par.
Sports Illustrated reported in its March 12, 2012, issue that Mayweather had lost a $990,000 wager on the March 3rd basketball game between Duke and North Carolina. Floyd didn’t tweet that.
Working for Mayweather means being available twenty-four-seven. When Floyd says “jump,” his employees ask “how high?”
“They have to be ready to get up and go at four o’clock in the morning,” Floyd says. “If I call and say ‘I need you now,’ I don’t mean in an hour. I mean now.”
Keown confirms that notion, writing, “His security crew routinely receives calls at two or three a.m. to accompany the nocturnal Mayweather to a local athletic club for weights and basketball. On this day, his regular workout finished, the champ tells one of his helpers to beckon two women from his entourage into his locker room. As he showers, he calls for one of them, a tall, dark-haired woman named Jamie, to soap his back while he continues to carry on an animated conversation with five or six men in the room.”
That leads to another issue. The subservience of women in Mayweather’s world and his treatment of them.
Floyd likes pretty women. No harm in that. He’s on shakier ground when he says, “Beauty is only skin deep. An ugly m-------r made that up.” In late-September 2012, it was reported that Floyd spent $50,000 at a strip club called Diamonds in Atlanta. That’s a lot of money,
More seriously, over the years, Mayweather has had significant issues with women and the criminal justice system. In 2002, he pled guilty to two counts of domestic violence. In 2004, he was found guilty on two counts of misdemeanor battery for assaulting two women in a Las Vegas nightclub. Other incidents were disposed of more quietly.
Then, on December 21, 2011, a Las Vegas judge sentenced Mayweather to ninety days in jail after he pleaded guilty to a reduced battery domestic violence charge and no contest to two harassment charges in conjunction with an assault against Josie Harris (the mother of three of his children). Floyd was also ordered to attend a one-year domestic-violence counseling program and perform one hundred hours of community service.
Was Mayweather chastened by that experience? Did he become more aware of his obligations as a member of society and the responsibilities that come with fame?
“Martin Luther King went to jail,” Mayweather told Michael Eric Dyson on an HBO program entitled Floyd Mayweather: Speaking Out. “Malcolm X went to jail. Am I guilty? Absolutely not. I took a plea. Sometimes they put us in a no-win situation to where you don’t have no choice but to take a plea. I didn’t want to bring my children to court.”
That theme was echoed by Leonard Ellerbe, who declared on an episode of 24/7, “All you can do is respect the man for not wanting to put his kids through a difficult process. Things are not always what they seem. I have the advantage of actually knowing what the facts are in this particular case. The public doesn’t have this information. I know that he stepped up and did what was needed to do to protect his family.”
Did Mayweather go to jail to protect his children from having to testify at trial? Or did he go to jail to avoid a longer prison term and protect himself from the public spectacle of his children telling the world what they saw?
Either way, Floyd did his children no favors by claiming on national television that they were the reason he went to jail. The children know what they saw on the night that Floyd had an altercation with their mother. If he was taking a bullet for his kids, he should have done so quietly without exposing them to further public spectacle and the taunts of other children telling them in the playground, “You’re the reason your father went to jail.”
One might also ask why Dyson (a professor of sociology at Georgetown University) didn’t confront Mayweather with the fact that Floyd’s confrontation with Josie Harris wasn’t an isolated incident; that there were two previous convictions on his record for physically abusing women.
As for Josie Harris; she was so troubled by Floyd’s denials after his plea of “no contest” to physically assaulting her in front of their children that, in April of this year, she broke a self-imposed silence and told Martin Harris of Yahoo Sports, “Did he beat me to a pulp? No. But I had bruises on my body and contusions and [a] concussion because the hits were to the back of my head.”
Somewhere in the United States tonight, a young man who thinks that Floyd Mayweather is a role model will beat up a woman. Maybe she’ll walk away with nothing more than bruises and emotional scars. Maybe he’ll kill her.
That’s the downside to uncritical glorification of Floyd Mayweather.
Also, as great a fighter as Mayweather is, there’s one flaw on his resume. He has consistently avoided the best available opposition.
A fighter doesn’t have to be bloodied and knocked down and come off the canvas to prove his greatness. A fighter can also prove that he has the heart of a legendary champion by testing himself against the best available competition.
Mayweather has done neither.
Floyd said earlier this month, “I push myself to the limit by fighting the best.”
That has all the sincerity of posturing by a political candidate.
Mayweather has some outstanding victories on his ring record. But his career has been marked by the avoidance of tough opponents in their prime.
There always seems to be someone who Mayweather is ducking. The most notable example was his several-year avoidance of Manny Pacquiao. Bob Arum (Pacquiao’s promoter) might not have wanted the fight. But Manny clearly did. And it appeared as though Floyd didn’t.
Mayweather also steered clear of Paul Williams, Antonio Margarito, and Miguel Cotto in their prime. He waited to fight Cotto until Miguel (like Shane Mosley) was a shell of his former self. Then Floyd made a show of saying that he’d fight Cotto at 154 pounds so Miguel would be at his best. But when Sergio Martinez offered to come down to 154, Floyd said that he’d only fight Martinez at 150 (an impossible weight for Sergio to make).
Thus, Frank Lotierzo writes, “Mayweather has picked his spots in one way or another throughout his career. Floyd got over big time on Juan Manuel Marquez with his weigh-in trickery at the last moment. He fought Oscar De La Hoya and barely won when Oscar was a corpse. Shane Mosley was an empty package when he finally fought him seven years after the fight truly meant anything. As terrific as Mayweather is, he's not the Bible of boxing the way he projects himself as being. He came along when there were some other outstanding fighters at or near his weight. Yet, aside from the late Diego Corrales, he has never met any of them when the fight would have confirmed his greatness. It would be great to write about Mayweather and laud all that he has accomplished as a fighter without bringing up these inconvenient facts. But it can't be done if you're being intellectually honest.”
“Mayweather,” Lotierzo continues, “wouldn't be the face of boxing today if there was an Ali, Leonard, De La Hoya, or Tyson around. But they're long gone. Give him credit for being able to make a safety-first counter-puncher who avoided the only fight fans wanted him to deliver [into] the face of what once was the greatest sport in the world.”
Three days prior to Mayweather-Alvarez, Floyd responded to those who have criticized his choice of ring adversaries: “If they say Mayweather has handpicked his opponents; well, then my team has done a f-----g good job.”
Mayweather has a following; those who like him and those who don’t. But whatever side of the fence one is on, it’s clear that Floyd has tapped into something.
“This is a business,” Mayweather says of boxing.
Team Mayweather has played the business game brilliantly. Give manager Al Haymon and the rest of The Money Team credit for maximizing Floyd’s income, making the pie bigger and getting him a larger percentage of it. Through their efforts, Mayweather has become the epitome of what modern fighters strive to be. He has the ability to attract any opponent, determine when they fight, and enjoys the upper hand in any negotiation.
“His ability not only to understand but to capitalize on his value is unrivaled in the sport,” Tim Keown writes. Then Keown references Mayweather’s “singular brand of narcissism, ego and greed,” and notes, “It helps to exhibit an unapologetic brazenness that incites allegiance and disgust in equal measure. Indifference, as any promoter will attest, is hell on sales.”
"Love him or hate him,” Leonard Ellerbe adds, “he's the bank vault. Love him or hate him, he's going to make the bank drop.”
Mayweather’s box-office appeal is consistent with other trends in contemporary American culture.
Charles Jay has mused, “There is a constituency that is very attracted to the Mayweather persona. Maybe there is an overlap between that constituency and the one that enjoys the antics of Charlie Sheen.”
Carlos Acevedo opines that Floyd has led “a charmed life inside the ring if a rather charmless one outside it,” and posits, “Being nasty in public under the guise of entertainment is now as American as baseball and serial killers.”
More tellingly, Acevedo argued last year, “Mayweather generates a disproportionate amount of media coverage. Never mind the fact that probably somewhere around six million people in the U.S. saw Mayweather bushwhack Victor Ortiz [and roughly ten million saw him defeat Miguel Cotto]. Compare that, say, to the night Ken Norton faced Duane Bobick on NBC in 1977. That fight, aired on a Wednesday evening in prime-time, earned a 42% audience share, and was estimated to have been viewed by 48 million people. If we want to pretend that more than a few million people care about ‘Money,’ we have to keep listening to penny-click addicts and websites obsessed with celebrity cellulite and tanorexia.”
According to Nevada State Athletic Commission records, all five of Mayweather’s fights between the start of 2009 and mid-2013 (against Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, Miguel Cotto, and Robert Guerrero) were contested in front of empty seats. Even with 1,459 complimentary tickets being given away, there were 139 empty seats for Mayweather-Guerrero. More troubling were credible reports that Mayweather-Guerrero registered only 850,000 pay-per-view buys. That’s a healthy number for most fights. But not for a Mayweather fight. And not for Showtime, which had spirited Mayweather away from HBO and entered into a six-fight contract with the fighter that guaranteed him $32,000,000 per fight against the revenue from domestic pay-per-view buys.
Showtime had heavily promoted Mayweather-Guerrero with documentaries, a reality-TV series, an appearance by Floyd at the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, and numerous promotional spots on CBS Sports television and CBS Sports Radio. Factoring in the cost of production and other outlays, there were estimates that the network had lost between five and ten million dollars on Mayweather-Guerrero. That might have been justified as a “loss leader” to bring Mayweather into the Showtime fold. But it couldn’t be repeated in Floyd’s next fight without speculation that corporate heads would roll.
Mayweather’s fights have been promoted in recent years by Golden Boy, which now has a strategic alliance with Showtime and Al Haymon. The idea that Golden Boy Promotions would crumble once Oscar De La Hoya stopped fighting is now an outdated fantasy. CEO Richard Schaefer has played the promotional game masterfully.
But Golden Boy has little control over Mayweather. According to Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather Promotions pays Golden Boy to handle logistics on a per-fight basis. “If you run a construction company,” Ellerbe says, “you have to hire someone to pour the cement.”
Schaefer confirms that Golden Boy presents The Money Team with a budget for each fight that includes projected revenue streams and costs (for example, fighter purses, marketing, travel, arena set-up, and its promotional fee).
Showtime could have been forgiven for thinking that guaranteeing Mayweather $32,000,000 a fight for six fights would have entitled it to the most marketable Mayweather fights possible. But there was no such assurance.
After Mayweather beat Guerrero, word spread that the frontrunner in the sweepstakes to become Floyd’s next opponent was Devon Alexander. That raised the likelihood of another sub-one-million-buy Mayweather outing and the loss to the network of another five-to-ten million dollars.
There was little point in Showtime appealing to Mayweather to upgrade the commercial viability of his opponent on grounds that Floyd is a team player. Floyd is a team player as long as it’s Team Mayweather. Thus, Showtime rolled the dice and increased Mayweather’s contractual guarantee to $41,500,000 to entice him to fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
If boxing fans in America have a love-hate relationship with Mayweather, Mexican fans have a love-love relationship with Alvarez. Canelo’s resume is a bit thin. But Mayweather vs. Alvarez on Mexican Independence Day weekend was sure to sell out the MGM Grand Garden Arena and generate a massive number of pay-per-view buys.
Alvarez agreed to a financial guarantee believed to be in the neighborhood of $12,500,000. His purse as reported to the Nevada State Athletic Commission was $5,000,000. But that didn’t include the grant of Mexican television rights and other financial incentives.
The thorniest issue in negotiating the fight contracts was the issue of weight. Mayweather has filled out over the years. He’s now a full-fledged welterweight. But Alvarez fights at 154 pounds.
On May 29th, it was announced that the two men had signed to fight at a catchweight of 152 pounds. Schaefer said that there was a seven-figure penalty should either fighter fail to make weight.
Thereafter, Ellerbe stated publicly that the Alvarez camp had begun the negotiations with an offer to fight at a catchweight and declared, “His management is inept. We take advantage of those kinds of things. They suggested it. Why would we say no and do something different. They put him at a disadvantage, his management did. It wasn’t that Floyd asked for a catchweight because, absolutely, that did not happen. Floyd would have fought him regardless. His management put that out there. So if you have an idiot manager, that’s what it is.”
The Alvarez camp responded by saying that Ellerbe was lying.
“Why would I give up weight?” Canelo asked rhetorically. “I’m the 154-pound champion. When the negotiations started, they wanted me to go down to 147, then 150, then 151, finally 152. I said I’d do it to make the fight. But it’s not right that they’re lying about it. I don’t want to fight two pounds below the weight class, but it was the only way I could get the fight.”
“Being the A-side is about having leverage,” Ellerbe fired back. “We’re always going to put every opponent at a disadvantage if we can.”
Part Two of “A Look Back at Mayweather-Alvarez” will be posted on The Sweet Science tomorrow.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.