Throughout most of his career, Elvis Presley was the highest paid performer in show business. He was managed by an old school flim-flam artist called Colonel Tom Parker, who passed himself off as a kind of Southern gentleman even though he was actually a Dutchman named van Kuijk.
Parker’s managerial maxim was to give the public as little of Elvis as possible, all the while maintaining that The Pelvis was doing everything he could to make his fans happy. It was his habit to load up Presley’s concerts with the grimmest assortment of local comedians, jugglers, barbershop quartets, and bird-callers that his tightfisted budget would allow, let them go on and on, and finally bring out the headliner for as little as 15 minutes. The shortchanged crowd would then be informed that “Elvis has left the building,” and immediately herded out of the auditorium in a collective daze.
I don’t know whether Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has even heard of Colonel Tom Parker, and it’s unlikely that he cares one way or the other about Elvis Presley. Still, he rivals The King (a sobriquet about as accurate as Mayweather’s TBE) when it comes to uniformly providing the least value for the most money, and the degree of contempt he shows his diehard fans.
Floyd Mayweather has a veteran matchmakers’ gift for cataloging opponents’ weaknesses. He got it right with Manny Pacquiao (too small, too depleted), Canelo Álvarez (too green, too plodding), and Miguel Cotto (too slow, too banged-up). He had a near-mishap in his first fight with Marcos Maidana (dismissed as too technically unsound and too inexperienced at the PPV level), when Maidana came into the fight very heavy and paid a fine in exchange for gaining an enormous advantage. Mayweather complained about the tactic, but he couldn’t complain much. The maneuver had come straight from his own playbook: he had done the same thing to Juan Manuel Márquez.
For number 49, Mayweather needs an opponent who’ll make the fight look more exciting and competitive than it actually is, and he needs someone he can knock out. He’s got the right opponent in Andre Berto.
Andre Berto celebrates a win, 2015. Photo via Getty
Mayweather has undoubtedly picked up on a number of his opponent’s weaknesses. Berto suffers from moments of readable self-doubt—something that a shark like Mayweather can spot in an instant. Berto’s jacked-up body is untrustworthy; for whatever reason, be it chemical or simple hard luck, it breaks down in ways that can cost him fights.
These things are important, but probably less important than that Berto got where he is today without really knowing how to fight. He has an exploitably low boxing IQ, reacting to in-ring situations impulsively—and often frantically—rather than strategically. He came to boxing late, after having participated in MMA, and got substandard training from his father. Berto is now guided by Virgil Hunter, a first-rate motivator and a particularly astute judge of what makes his fighters tick, but a limited teacher when it comes to boxing mechanics.
It wouldn’t matter if Berto had Ray Arcel, Jack Blackburn, or Nacho Beristain training him, though. It would still be too late for him to learn much about how to box.
When promoting the fight, the best Mayweather can come up with as a recommendation is that Berto “is always in exciting fights.”
This is true if you take into account that Berto often loses these fights by knockout. In one where he wasn’t knocked out, often regarded as his most exciting fight, he lost to Victor Ortiz.
This fight is instructive because it shows how casual boxing viewers misread what they see in the ring. Ortiz vs. Berto is generally regarded as a well contested matchup of two equally skilled warriors, both of whom showed uncommon heart during the fight. In fact, it was a fight between two vulnerable opponents, each of whom was afraid of the other, but who both figured out, after being dropped, that they weren’t as badly hurt as they feared they’d be. The end result was less professional prize fight than schoolyard tussle; two guys slapping away at each other, faces averted, each hoping the nightmare would soon be over, but neither being hit hard enough to justify dropping out.
If you believe that the fight with Berto will be Mayweather’s last, you have to accept that it will be the most anticlimactic non-loss enforced farewell ever.
If you look at the fight as nothing more than a promotional buildup to the real retirement fight, you are seeing Mayweather at his most cynical and creative.
It ought to be evident to even Floyd Mayweather’s blindest followers that his “last fight”—number 49, the one that will allow him to equal Rocky Marciano’s undefeated record—will be merely his penultimate one, a hastily arranged, poorly promoted sham against a no-hope opponent whom no one is interested in seeing.
It is inconceivable that boxing’s master manipulator will allow himself to go out with such a fizzle. The real fight will be number 50.
Number 50 means everything to Mayweather. The narrative for 50-0 allows him to overtake Marciano as the undefeated champion with the most wins. (Never mind the fact that the narrative isn’t true—see Ricardo López.) 50-0 is the statistic that will reify his claim to be, as he has long asserted, The Best Ever. (Never mind the fact that this not only isn’t true, it isn’t close.)
But where does he go for number 50? He has already beaten his two biggest fellow earners, Manny Pacquiao and Saul Álvarez, decisively enough—and in dull enough fights—that it will be difficult to spin either as a viable farewell opponent. The next biggest choice, Miguel Cotto, was also clearly beaten by Mayweather, if in a way that didn’t look to most viewers as decisive as the other two wins. But Cotto is going to get knocked out by Álvarez in November, which will take him out of the running.
All three opponents could be recycled through the repetitions of promotional storylines: Pacquiao came into the Mayweather fight injured, Álvarez has improved and is a more experienced fighter than he was when he faced Mayweather, and Cotto “pushed Floyd to the limit.” To do this would be a lot of work, and there is no guarantee that any of these scenarios would pay off to the degree that would be hoped for.
Canelo Álvarez, the once and would-be challenger. Photo via Getty
The fight that Mayweather’s fans want, the fight that hardcores want, the fight that casual boxing viewers want, the fight that—were Mayweather to take it and win it without resorting to the imposition of a catch weight—would shut up even his most committed detractors, would be against middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.
It’s a fight that Mayweather will never take. He will point to the weight disparity being the reason for his rejection. It’s an argument that will ring hollow. Golovkin, wrecking machine that he may be, is no giant at 160; like Marvin Hagler before him, he is a smallish middleweight, walking around no more than 10 pounds heavier than Mayweather.
Mayweather won’t fight Golovkin because he understands that it’s a fight he might very well lose. For the first time in his career, he’d come in as an underdog. Additionally, he’ll remember the few genuinely tough fights he’s had, all against guys whose styles were superficially similar to Golovkin’s, and none of whom were as good or relentless, or hit nearly as hard. Mayweather has few weaknesses as a boxer, but physically imposing pressure fighters trouble him a bit.
If forced to place odds on who Mayweather’s final opponent will be, I’d go with Álvarez, whose already soaring career will skyrocket if or after he knocks out Cotto in a couple of months. Of all of Mayweather’s past victims, Canelo will be the easiest to resurrect as a viable threat.
For one thing, the stage was set for this rerun long ago. Although thoroughly outboxed at every turn, Álvarez, through a corrupt scorecard, was gifted with only a “majority decision” loss in the first Mayweather fight. This kind of loss lends itself to creative interpretation when framing a rematch. (“Canelo was just a young kid the first time. Even so, he only lost by majority decision to the best fighter in the world. A little more experience, and who knows?”)
Canelo was also contractually obliged to weigh in at 152. He’s a big kid who is still filling out, and will likely soon be fighting at 168; it’s a legitimate question to ask whether he came into the Mayweather fight drained.
Mayweather effortlessly handled Álvarez in their first fight, mostly by using movement and hand speed, but he was also aided by Canelo’s unimaginative offense. Still, two years is a long time for an aging boxer, and Mayweather has regressed noticeably since 2013. He has to pick his spots more now, he’s not as mobile, and he appears to be more concerned than ever about his always brittle hands.
Could Mayweather’s decline, coupled with Álvarez’s increased confidence and size, combine to produce a different outcome in a rematch?
Probably not. But if I were promoting their fight, I’d sure as hell push the notion that it would.
In preparing to write this piece, I talked on the phone with my editor at Deadspin. He expressed the opinion that Mayweather might continue his career for yet another few fights, using them to transition full-time into promotion and management. He pointed out the business advantages available to Mayweather if he chose to build a high profile stable of boxers. Once he’d finished boxing, Floyd could focus on developing fighters from a power position almost unheard of in the business—a kind of Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy times 10 starting point. He could do it on his own, or he could continue to work with Al Haymon. PBC’s investor money would flood through the turnstiles.
What he said makes sense, but I don’t believe it will happen. There may be a desultory attempt in that direction, but ultimately I think Mayweather’s pathological need to be the number one guy will negatively color his relationship with any boxer he sees as even a potential threat to his hegemony. His fledgling track record as a manager and promoter seems to back this up.
All good fighters can tell you whether or not someone else can fight. The foolishness surrounding a boxer’s image-building that might trick fans, TV announcers, boxing writers, and even managers and promoters won’t work on other fighters. Fighters have tunnel vision when it comes to assessing in-ring performance.
So how is it that Floyd Mayweather, so flawless in his assessment of his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, has such a terrible eye for which fighters to bring into his own promotional stable?
Floyd Mayweather watches Adrien Broner lose to Shawn Porter. Photo via Getty
He has very publicly championed The Embarrassment, Adrien Broner, and manages obvious no-hopers like J’Leon Love, Mickey Bey, Jr., Ishe Smith, and Badou Jack. After shepherding their careers off to good starts, he seems to delight in matching them up in ways that illustrate their various deficiencies in particularly graphic detail, their losses often highlighted by their being knocked loopy.
That’s the point at which Mayweather drapes an arm over their shoulders, puts on the concerned face he employs when discussing a serious topic, and plugs in the lecture about how every fighter is knocked down, everyone has to face losing, and that the real test is how a fighter comes back from defeat. This disingenuous pep talk merely illustrates once again that, although these setbacks happen to every other fighter, they never happen to Mayweather.
That they haven’t happened to him must make him ipso facto The Best Ever, right? It’s a simplistic argument, but one that suits Mayweather well.
The Money Team or The Money Kingdom or The Money Store or whatever name Floyd has come up with for his fiefdom is not a team at all. It’s a monarchy, or a dictatorship. Despite his pious stabs at altruism, characterized by his unendingly pointing out the ways in which he’s “giving something back,” Floyd is a small and troubled king, an insecure man megalomaniacal enough to make all his decisions for his own benefit. As much as he talks about his fighting to secure the futures of his children, and as interested as he is in reaching the billion-dollar earning mark—a figure that categorically places him as TBE—I think his primary obsession is with his place in boxing history as a boxer.
I don’t know whether Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is sufficiently self-aware to understand that he doesn’t enter into any serious discussion of the greatest boxers ever. I suspect that he is, and that it upsets him that history, while not being unkind to him, will wind up placing him among the pile of very good, but not all-time great, champions.
I also think that the manager in him knows how to move a fighter, to keep him from getting beat, to find him the right opponents at the right time, and to maneuver him to a place where boxing fans might start calling him “the new Floyd Mayweather.”
Does that sound like something that Floyd Mayweather, the fighter, would want?
After his boxing career has ended, expect to see Mayweather in the public eye for a relatively short period of time, showing up on Dancing With the Stars or similar TV shows, making appearances at the fights, doing guest commentary on PBC broadcasts. But Floyd doesn’t have the kind of engaging personality that, divorced from active participation in his sport, will create a demand for him. He also has a damning history of violence toward women, which places a sizable enough segment of the population firmly in the anti-Mayweather camp and nearly forecloses his endorsement options. Lacking the stirring fights that cause fans to grow nostalgic, he will soon fade from public consciousness.
Mayweather’s time in boxing will have been a singular one. He will have earned significantly more money from it than anyone else in history, perhaps as much as 100 times what the legitimate all-time greats combined brought in. As an earner, he’s TBE. He’s in the running for the TBE title in the managerial category too. Those are staggering achievements for a poor and uneducated kid from Grand Rapids, Mich.
But when legendary boxing names—or sports names in general—are brought up, his won’t be among them. He will have given his public no significant fights, taken no serious chances, and gingerly moved himself to a well played 50-0. His acumen is impressive and, in its way, admirable. But, in the end, there’s something about him that’s smaller than life.
Charles Farrell has spent most of his professional life moving between music and boxing (with a few detours along the way). He has managed five world champion boxers and has 30 CDs listed under his name. Farrell is currently at work on a book of essays about music, boxing, gangsterism, and lowlife culture; a boxing anthology edited by Mike Ezra and Carlo Rotella; and a TV series, Red House, based on events from an earlier part of his life. He can be found on Twitter at @cfarrell_boxing. Top photo via Getty