Great But Not Good or Good But Not Great? Trying To Figure Out Floyd Mayweather’s Story

Every time a major Floyd Mayweather (43-0) fight approaches, as one against Robert Guerrero (31-1-1) does this Saturday night from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Nevada, there is a lot off looking back on Mayweather’s career. This is usually because during the build up to these mega pay per view events, Mayweather will use any media possible (print, internet, twitter, reality shows, news programs, etc.) to loudly proclaim that he is the greatest fighter ever, that he will put on a great performance for the fans and that he is, inside and outside of the ring, a great person. But if we look at Mayweather’s career and life outside of it, is he great or good or neither or both?

It is well documented that as the son of a fighter who once lost to “Sugar” Ray Leonard and the nephew of fighters who lost to Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr. and Oscar de la Hoya, Mayweather was born to be a boxer. But the great – good issue can be traced back to his amateur days. In the 1996 Olympics, Mayweather was a favorite to capture not only a gold medal, but also the award for best boxer at the games (which included future professional standouts such as Wladimir Klitschko, Antonio Tarver and Fernando Vargas). In the tournament, Mayweather became the first US fighter to beat a Cuban in the Olympics in 20 years yet he only received a bronze medal after a controversial loss in the semi-finals of the tournament. Outside of the ring during his time as an amateur, Mayweather often says that he lived in very bad neighborhoods and never had any money. His father disputes that claim and numerous boxing writers have written over the years that this claim is inaccurate as boxing managers such as Shelly Finkel provided Mayweather and his family with money during this time. In other words, if Mayweather were in the NCAA, he would certainly be guilty of violations. As you can see, good-great or otherwise is a question that starts early with Mayweather.

Great but not Good: vs. Diego “Chico” Corrales, January 20, 2001

Forget the Olympics, the promotional vignettes, the wins over overmatched opponents and the title winning effort against Genaro Hernandez; this is the moment a star was born. Coming into this bout, both Mayweather and Corrales were young, undefeated title holders in the junior lightweight division. Corrales was a feared boxer-puncher with a good amateur background. The oddsmakers listed this fight as a close one and many experts and boxing writers were picking Corrales to hand Mayweather his first defeat since the Olympics. Some even predicted that Corrales would blast Mayweather into unconsciousness.

Clearly, that did not happen. Rather, Mayweather put on a brilliant performance which culminated in five knockdowns of Corrales. Indeed, the HBO broadcasters described Mayweather’s performance of the perfect blend of the defensive style that Mayweather learned as an amateur from his father, Floyd Mayweather, Sr., and the offensive weapons developed by his professional trainer, Uncle Roger Mayweather. Corrales, whose fans say he was weight-drained, was simply unable to deal with the speed, power and varied attack that Mayweather brought. After the fifth knockdown in the tenth round, Corrales corner stopped the slaughter.

Simply put, this was a great performance against a top opponent. Indeed, some will say that to this day, it is Mayweather’s best performance or the most crowd-pleasing he has been. Great is indeed the word,

So what wasn’t good about it? This is Mayweather we are talking about ; so of course, there were outside the ring issues. First, during the lead up to the bout, Corrales was arrested for domestic violence. Never one to let an opportunity to tweak an opponent or get some publicity fall by the wayside, Mayweather immediately dedicated the fight to all battered and abused women. Not long after that, the mother of Mayweather’s children would cite him for abuse and, eventually, Mayweather would plead guilty to charges of violence against the woman which resulted in a stay in jail. The second issue outside of the ring around this time was Mayweather’s relationship with HBO. Although he had an exclusive contract with the network, he was unhappy with the large purses he was receiving. Instead of rationally explaining his view of the situation, he publicly called HBO out for paying him “slave wages.” Indeed, in light of a career making performance in the ring, Mayweather was revealing himself to be a problem outside of it.

Good but not Great: vs. Jose Luis Castillo I and II, April 20 and December 7, 2002

What could possibly be wrong about winning a title in a second weight division in a good fight against Jose Luis Castillo and then dominating him in the rematch? Well, when it sets a completely different tone for the rest of what was looking to be an exciting career filled with incredible fights an performances, that is what could be seen as not so good.

What will always be remembered about the first Mayweather-Castillo fight is the controversy in the scoring. Forgotten is that it was a good fight and Mayweather survived some tough moments to eek out a decision victory to snatch the WBC lightweight title from Castillo. But the controversy will always be front and center. Scoring for HBO, Larry Merchant had it a draw. Many ringside observers felt that Castillo’s pressure and body punching were enough to carry the day. Those scorers will also point to numerous instances in the fight were Mayweather went to the ropes and was ineffective in fighting off the ropes. Regardless, Mayweather should be given credit for a good performance against a prime Castillo and for taking an immediate rematch with him.

The rematch was largely unremarkable at the time. Mayweather boxed, moved, boxed, moved and that is about it He never let Castillo get close to him and won a unanimous decision in a largely unexciting fight. Following the fight though, it becomes remarkable. Mayweather was no doubt shaken by the closeness of the first fight. He must have felt that he was very near losing his beloved undefeated record. As such, rather than use his offense and boxing skills to make an exciting fight or look for a knockout, he simply played it safe in the second bout and cruised to a decision. Not only would he adopt a safety first boxing style in the ring, but he would adopt a safety first style in selecting opponents. Indeed, some of his next few rivals would include the lightly regarded Victoriano Sosa, Phillip N’Dou, DeMarcus Corley, Henry Brusseles and a shot Sharmba Mitchell.

Great but not Good: vs. Arturo Gatti, June 25, 2005

While fighting no-hopers after the Castillo bout, Mayweather and his the-promoter, Top Rank, were angling for a big-money fight against WBC junior welterweight titlist, Arturo “Thunder” Gatti. Gatti, who is to be inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame this year, was a beloved action fighter who had a title, was coming off of the acclaimed trilogy with Micky Ward, was an HBO ratings darling and was a fighter who easily sold out Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey anytime he laced up the gloves. Despite those accomplishments, Gatti was also a vulnerable fighter who lost fights, sometimes by knock out, got dropped by Ward, whose idea of defense was blocking shots with his face and who was known to have trouble making the 140 pound weight limit. Indeed, minutes before the fight, Max Kellerman, on his first televised appearance on HBO, called the upcoming Mayweather-Gatti fight the “biggest pay per view mismatch since Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson.” Mayweather was clearly thinking this was his first step to pay per view stardom.

In order to build to this fight, Mayweather was essentially “Proto-Money.” Stated otherwise, he began using some of the areas of his personality to promote the Gatti fight which are now recognized as staples of his presentation today. For example, Mayweather was relentless in his trash-talking against the beloved Gatti. He called Gatti a “C-Level fighter” and chided the media for focusing on his out-of-the-ring issues while accusing them of ignoring Gatti’s own issues with partying, alcohol and problems with the police. In short, this was not the “Pretty Boy” Mayweather that had been presented by Top Rank before. This was more aggressive, antagnostic and, most notably, materialistic Mayweather that would set the stage for what would to come.

The pro-wrestling villain game that Mayweather played leading up to the fight even showed up on fight night. His entrance to the fight wasn’t a ring walk; rather, he sat on a chair which was carried to the ring. He wore fur trunks. During the first round, Gatti turned to complain to the ref about an elbow and Mayweather did not hesitate. He slammed Gatti with a quick combination which dropped him (it would be very fair to assume Victor Ortiz did not watch this fight).

Following that moment, it wasn’t so much of a fight as it was an execution. Mercifully , Gatti’s trainer, Buddy McGirt stopped the fight after six one-sided rounds.

At the time, it was thought that Mayweather was in line for an epic run at 140 pounds. Ricky Hatton had just won the junior welterweight championship from long-time division champion Kostya Tszyu. Miguel Cotto had just begun his run of main events at Madison Square Garden. Although Mayweather would eventually face Hatton and Cotto, it was disappointing that he avoided them at this time, like he had avoided Acelino Freitas and Joel Casamayor at lower weight divisions, to move up to welterweight. However, the success of the pay per view (it sold 350,000 buys) showed that Mayweather was getting the power to call his own shots.

Good but not Great: vs. Carlos Baldomir, November 4, 2006

Mayweather’s move to the welterweight division initially made no sense. He took on Mitchell in Portland, Oregon and wiped him out in six rounds. Then, he agreed to face 147 pound champion and “frenemy” Zab Judah in a major pay per view event. The only stipulation to the agreed fight was that Judah first had to get through a WBC mandatory defense against an Argentine floor sweeper that no one had ever heard of. But Judah being Judah, he promptly lost a decision in his hometown and gave up the WBC belt to Carlos Baldomir. Mayweather, being the money fighter, had interesting options at that point. He could fight Baldomir for the title; he could face Antonio Margarito, the “most avoided fighter in boxing”; or he could have gone back down to junior welterweight to face the popular fighters in that division. Instead, Mayweather chose to go on with the Judah fight; most likely because Judah took less of a payday and found some way for the IBF to allow him to keep its 147 pound title. The fight between Mayweather and Judah was somewhat interesting as Judah took the early rounds and landed a flush left hand which drove Mayweather back. However, Mayweather slowly took over and dominated the last ¾ of the fight and smartly stayed out of a melee caused by Judah’s mental unraveling.

Following the win, hardcore boxing fans were salivating at a potential match-up between the top of the pound for pound list, Mayweather, and Margarito whose reputation as an avoided fighter grew his legend beyond that of an aggressive Mexican fighter with heavy hands and a granite chin. Amazingly, promoter Bob Arum wanted to make the fight and offered Mayweather a then career-high payday of $8,000,000. Mayweather, with the help of his “advisor” Al Haymon, rejected the offer, bought out his contract with Top Rank and instead took a fight with Baldomir. All of a sudden, Mayweather was all about becoming the lineal welterweight champion.

The fight itself was an utter bore. No one in their right mind picked Baldomir to win. Perhaps because Baldomir was known for having an unbreakable chin and because he was bigger than Mayweather, the pound for pound king was content to pot shot and move his way to winning every round. The boos rained down and celebrities in attendance such as Michael Jordan left the arena during the championship rounds but Mayweather had his win. The most interesting thing about the fight was in the post-fight interview when Mayweather called out de la Hoya and claimed he would retire if he did not get the fight.

Great but not Good: vs. Oscar de la Hoya, May 5, 2007

When the fight between the pound for pound ruler and boxing’s most-popular crossover star was made, it was labeled as some as “the fight to save boxing.” As if one fight could bring a sport which was seen by smaller and smaller audiences due to its marriage with premium cable networks and pay per view back to the mainstream.

To his credit, Mayweather did his part. And boy did he do his “part.” His promotion of this fight, where he relished paying a role akin to a WWE “heel” or villain, was the birth of “Money.” He would no longer pretend to be “Pretty Boy” Floyd, a sort of de la Hoya attempt at major cross-over appeal. Rather, he threw money to the audience at press conferences, repeatedly took shots at de la Hoya and even went so far as to steal one of de la Hoya’s bags. All of this was captured by HBO’s cameras for the inaugural edition of “24/7,” a reality show that was simply a promotional tool for the fight. Mayweather used the show to become a much bigger star than his prior fights allowed him to become. He even had his family and friends in on the deal: trainer Roger Mayweather was shown to be a wise trainer who feuded with everyone and took great delight in talking trash about de la Hoya’s trainer for the fight, Freddie Roach. Rapper 50 Cent joined the fun in riding segways around Mayweather’s “Big Boy Mansion.” The centerpiece of the show was Mayweather’s contentious relationship with his father, who formerly trained de la Hoya.

To say Mayweather’s act was great for the fight is an understatement. The pay per view titled, “The World Awaits,” easily broke the record for the most pay per views ever sold and the record stands today. Beyond that, the “24/7″ style of promoting fights has been used not only in promoting every major boxing pay per view fight since but it has also been adopted in one form or another by Major League Baseball, UFC, WWE and other promotional giants. It says here that Mayweather can take credit for that trend. Indeed, since 2007, boxing pay per views, which had been doing buyrates generally below 1 million buys, have increased and shows like “24/7″ and Showtime’s version, “All Access” are now seen on CBS, ESPN, CNN, various internet sites, etc. With the increased popularity of boxing over the past few years, could it be that Mayweather-de la Hoya really was the fight that saved boxing.

By the way, the fight itself was boring. Much like the Baldomir fight, Mayweather was content to pot shot and keep moving away from de la Hoya. The “Golden Boy” threw a lot of punches but they were largely blocked or missed by a mile. One of the three judges was insane enough to give de la Hoya the fight but this was another fight where Mayweather’s defensive brilliance was enough to win the fight yet not excite.

Good but not Great: the “Retirement,” December 8, 2007 to September 19, 2009

Immediately following the de la Hoya victory, Mayweather said he was done with boxing and would retire. A little over a month later, however, Hatton would knock out Castillo and call out “Money” for a showdown of unbeatens and Mayweather began counting his money. The two quickly agreed to meet. Their version of “24/7″ was arguably the best one as Hatton is/was an interesting personality and Mayweather’s shtick had not yet become tiresome. Then, in Las Vegas, thousands of Brits arrived to support Hatton and created an amazing atmosphere. When Mayweather came out to “Born in the USA,” the electricity was definitely tangible. The fight was sloppy, given Hatton’s style, but Mayweather banked the rounds until landing a nasty left hook on a charging Hatton. Mayweather’s knock out win was impressive and certainly something to build on.

Instead, Mayweather simply went home. He cited being tired of boxing which he had been doing all of his life and other outside interests as his reasons. However, whispers around the boxing community, most likely based on some “24/7″ footage were that injuries and pain to Mayweather’s hands were the likely cause of the retirement.

The retirement became most notable for numerous stories about Mayweather owing the IRS millions of dollars in back taxes. Most cite his tax debt as the reason Mayweather came back to boxing although his love of the spotlight was likely a driving force as well. When word started circulating that Mayweather would come back, fans began clamoring for a showdown with the new pound for pound superstar, Manny Pacquiao. As we all know, that fight never materialized. Rather, Mayweather would take fights with opponents who were much smaller (Juan Manuel Marquez), older/shot (Shane Mosley) or Victor Ortiz (honestly, there may not be a word in the English language to effectively describe Ortiz). Mayweather largely dominated those fights (save for a good right hand landed by Mosley in round two of their May 2010 bout) but fought in a mostly unexciting manner and never pressed the action or turned up the heat in order to get a knockout. Well, except for the “sucker punch” that ended the Ortiz bout. The most notable moment of those post-retirement fights, other than strange finish to the Ortiz bout, was Mayweather’s shouting match with HBO’s Larry Merchant in the post-fight interview following the Ortiz knock out.

Great but not Good: vs. Miguel Cotto, May 5, 2012

As noted above, Mayweather has been great, good and not good. Following the Ortiz fight though, the bad Mayweather was in full effect. He was arrested in Las Vegas multiple times for everything from refusing to provide identification to security at his gated community to assaulting the mother of his children in front of his kids and stealing their mobile phones. Mayweather eventually plead guilty to assault and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. His sentence was supposed to commence in April 2012 but Mayweather negotiated and finalized a fight against Puerto Rican superstar Cotto for May 5, 2012 in Las Vegas. Remarkably, the economic incentive of a Mayweather fight for Las Vegas was so enormous that the Judge overseeing Mayweather’s case postponed his jail sentence until after the Cotto bout! Following the fight, Mayweather did serve his time although his request to be served bottled water in the can was denied.

Despite the ridiculousness swirling outside of the ring, Mayweather’s challenge for Cotto’s 154 pound title was an overwhelming success. Although the “24/7″ was not overly compelling (Mayweather’s schtick has long since become bland and Cotto is, well, bland), the pay per view sold 1.5 million buys making it the second best selling non-heavyweight pay per view of all time. Additionally, and somewhat surprisingly, the fight was much more exciting than previous Mayweather outings. Cotto’s intelligent pressure style blended well with Mayweather’s counter-punching. Moreover, Mayweather’s style has evolved away from one using a lot of movement into one that involves standing in the pocket and making his opponents miss (usually by blocking or shoulder-rolling). Whether it is a designed style change or one necessitated by Mayweather’s age, it seems to have led to a more-exciting Mayweather. During the fight, Cotto’s pressure led to him winning a few rounds which, in addition to producing exchanges, created drama in the late rounds. Mayweather negated that drama by sweeping the final rounds and claiming another title.

Following the Cotto fight and after long negotiations, Mayweather announced that he was moving to Showtime pay per view with a 6 fight deal beginning with the Guerrero fight. The question now is will this deal lead to great fights or just good ones? Will Mayweather be great outside of the ring or will he continue to be not good? Saturday night will go a long way to answering those questions.

Tags: ,