Monday, December 10, 2007
"There's Only One Floyd Mayweather!!!"
I just wrote this post last week, but here I am writing it again, only this time it's about one of the best individual athletes in the world, rather than the best team. In a lot of ways, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the boxing equivalent of the New England Patriots. I mean, think about it: They're both multiple-time champions. They're both undefeated. They both scored knockout victories over supposedly formidable opponents over the weekend. They've both mastered the art of playing the villain. And nobody likes them.
Here goes another similarity: They're both all-timers. After the Patriots finish off their perfect season with a triumph over the Cowboys in Phoenix this February, we'll crown them not only as the greatest football team of 2007, but as the greatest in the history of the sport. Likewise, it's time to start putting Mayweather's decade-long domination of boxing into a larger historical perspective. Maybe he'll fight again, maybe he won't, but after his vanquishing of Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas on Saturday, it doesn't matter; without question, Mayweather's polishing of The Hitman cemented his status as not only the defining boxer of his era, but as one of best fighters ever, period. Mayweather is Pernell Whitaker with a little more offense; that will be dismissed as boxing sacrilege by many, but it's true. Many more won't even consider it, because even after two incredibly high-profile fights in one year, they still barely even know who Mayweather is, or don't really care. Which is ashame.
You see, the reports of boxing's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Unlike hip-hop, it is not dead. Understand, the heavyweight division has been buried for a few years now, but boxing as a whole is alive and well. I've written it before, and I'll write it again: The little guys are excellent. Not on par with the Hearns-Hagler-Leonard-Duran contingent of the 80's, obviously, but still, excellent. Even with B-Hop and Winky having jumped the shark, and maybe Tarver, too, the middleweight still touts studs like unbeaten champ Kelly Pavlik, unbeaten Calzaghe, and one-loss former title-holder Jerman Taylor, who's only defeat came at the hands of Pavlik in September in arguably the most exciting fight of the year. In Mayweather's welterweight division, we have young undefeated champions Paul Williams and Miguel Cotto, as well as Antonio Margarito, Zab Judah, an aging but still game Shane Mosley, the always lurking Oscar, and Hatton. And then we have the world's most exciting fighter, Manny Pacquiao, in the featherweight division, along with fellow warriors Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. It's a murderer's row of talent in the non-heavyweight weigh classes, they offer great matchups and they usually give you your money's worth. Perhaps the question isn't whether or not boxing is dead, but if it's fans are. And if you only loved boxing for Tyson and Holyfield, you never really loved it in the first place.
I didn't always like boxing, but I love it now, mostly because of the charismatic Mayweather, the undisputed pound-for-pound king. If you followed sports even a little bit, you probably already knew Oscar, but leading up to their Cinco de Mayo bout, not many casual fans were familiar with Floyd. I definitely didn't know who he was. I doled out my $54.95 because I didn't want to miss out on the "Fight to Save Boxing," and ended up becoming semi-infatuated with Mayweather, a boisterous, bratty clinitian with a unique story. Mayweather was born into the sport, the son and nephew of two former boxers who are the very personification of sibling discontent. Floyd Jr. doesn't get along with his daddy, Floyd Sr., who was replaced by his brother, Roger, as Little Floyd's trainer after Little Floyd fired Big Floyd. The two would be estranged for seven years. And Roger hasn't talked to Big Floyd since '97. You follow that? SI and ESPN painted Floyd as foul-mouthed, disrespectful, immature and unabashed about flaunting his success and the riches it's brought him, but also as the most physically gifted and skilled fighter alive.
And all of it's true. Watch any episode of HBO's two seasons 24/7 and you see why many root against Floyd. He depicts himself as a total asshole at all times, the perfect foil to classy guys like Hatton and De la Hoya, the quintessential heel. The difference between myself and those who cheer is that I choose to assume it's mostly an act. I'm sure Mayweather is cocky, but not to the exaggerated extent he portrays in public. And since I believe that this persona is likely more of a marketing/promotion tool to sell fights, which is part of his job, than a reflection of his true self, I have no problem rooting for him. I find him quite entertaining and refreshing, in the vein of Chad Johnson. I haven't enjoyed a villainous character this much since Kurt Angle.
And even those that don't appreciate Mayweather's act outside the ring must respect his work inside it. At 39-0, the six-time world champion in five different weight classes is now deserving of legendary status, or at least consideration for it. Hit up YouTube to check out the best parts of his demolition of Carlos Baldomir, and you see an exhibit on sharpshooting and defense. Watch clips of his beatdown of Philip Ndou and witness a scintialating display of "pocket" power punching. He is versatile and artful. As with Ndou, he stopped Arturo Gatti and the late Diego Corrales, and as with Baldomir he outclassed and easily outpointed Judah. And, of course, he won a clear decision over De la Hoya earlier this year in the most lucrative fight ever.
But he etched his legacy in stone this weekend, against Hatton, the tough Brit brawler with a knockout of Jose Luis Castillo on his resume, something not even Floyd can claim after two fights against the Mexican warrior. Yet that didn't stop Mayweather from putting on a performance that can't be fully appreciated until you reflect on it. Watching the fight live, I thought the first half of the bout was about even, with Floyd too willing too let Hatton back him into the ropes, instead of doing everything in his power to keep the action in the center of the ring. In retrospect, Mayweather was clearly biding his time, feeling out his opponent, before taking over in the latter rounds. Like all of his matches, he was very methodical, and as in his fight with Oscar, he refused to let the style of the fight be dictated by his opponent. And it culminated in a 10th-round TKO that left the previously untouchable Hatton on his back for the first time in his career, stunned and embarrassed in front of his raucous apostles from the UK.
Mayweather's tender hands have discouraged him from going for knockouts in recent years, but when he smelled blood in the deciding round against Hatton, he went for the kill. Mayweather is a coldblooded tactician on par with Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady, the world's third greatest non-team sports star behind Tiger and Federer, and one of the best boxers of this or any other time frame.
Time to take heed.