by Tim Harrison
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is arguably the biggest star in boxing. If he isn’t the biggest star outright, he is certainly the highest paid boxer today. He has a large and loyal following willing to hunch over a keyboard and pound out profanity-laced attacks at those who speak ill of their hero. He also has an equally large, if not larger, group of loyal detractors quite possibly more willing to fill forums, message boards, and comments sections with homophobic (and often times racist) attacks on the boxer’s life and career.
Born into what has become one of boxing’s most controversial families and fully engrained in the intricacies of the sweet science from the time he was able to hold the weight of a boxing glove, Floyd Mayweather had the makings of the future face of boxing. He topped off an excellent amateur career with a trip to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. His controversial loss in the semi-finals netted “Pretty Boy Floyd” a bronze medal and a promotional contract with Bob Arum, the top promoter in boxing. A young, fast, and technically sound Mayweather quickly rose up the super featherweight rankings, and eight days shy of the second anniversary of his professional debut, Mayweather beat Genaro Hernandez to capture his first world title.
Mayweather would go on to win two more titles before the train went off the tracks. In 2006 “Pretty Boy Floyd” hooked up with controversial advisor Al Haymon, who successfully negotiated a bargain buyout of Mayweather’s contract with Arum and Top Rank. It was not until after Mayweather’s messy public divorce from Arum that the integrity of his career came under attack. The 29-year old stalwart, who at the time had captured 3 world titles in 3 divisions and was described by Arum as the best fighter he had ever seen, became a target of the media’s ire and campaign to discredit his every move from that point on.
Mayweather willingly poured fuel on the fire, when after a decade of being paid what he referred to as “slave wages” under the masterful guidance of Bob Arum, he dropped the “Pretty Boy” moniker and adopted the name “Money”. He took control of his own career and started bringing in career-high purses while never letting anyone within earshot walk away without knowing how much money he made. As a fan of professional wrestling, Mayweather took a page from the WWE playbook and has happily played the heel, or villain, in each of his fights dating back to his 2005 fight with the late Arturo Gatti. And as the legion of fans that wished for his demise grew, so did his fight purses.
Mayweather was lambasted in the media for ducking meaningful fights with Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito – both clients of Bob Arum. Each opponent, from Zab Judah and Carlos Baldomir, to Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Shane Mosley were discredited – and in a sense, rightfully so. Judah was beaten by Baldomir, who was the man many said Mayweather should have fought. And when Mayweather opted to fight Baldomir after handily defeating Judah, Baldomir was merely a journeyman holding a title. De La Hoya and Mosley were too old. Hatton and Marquez were too small.
As he heads into Saturday night’s title fight with current WBC welterweight champion Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KOs), Mayweather (41-0, 25 KOs) has again had a seemingly worthy opponent torn down before his eyes.
Ortiz is naturally the bigger man, despite having fought many years at the 140-pound weight limit. He is young, powerful, and battle-tested. Yet each and every physical, mental, and technical flaw has been magnified.
Ortiz’s 2009 TKO loss to Marcos Maidana, in which he quit after being battered and twice knocked down, earned him the “quitter” label. In his comeback fights, the dominant theme amongst commentators became Ortiz’s fragile psyche and wavering courage. The hesitance and timidity was apparent in Ortiz as he beat journeymen, club fighters, and faded former champions.
A fortuitous repeat of history may have been just what Ortiz needed to silence those who doubted his heart. In a near-facsimile of that ill-fated 2009 summer night against Marcos Maidana, Ortiz walked into a thunderous counter right hand from Andre Berto in the sixth round and hit the canvas for the second time that night. Rather than quit, he got to his feet and fought back, dropping Berto and outworking him over the remaining six-plus rounds to win a decision and the WBC welterweight title.
For ending the much-maligned title reign on Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz was made into Superman. He showed the heart and toughness we all “knew” he didn’t possess. However, Ortiz was quickly turned back into Clark Kent when it was announced that his first defense would come against Mayweather, the favorite red-headed step-son of the media.
If Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao ever do share the ring and Mayweather wins, I’m fairly certain a win will be discredited by claims that Pacquiao is too small and Mayweather waited for him to get old. Talk about damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
You can’t look at one public figure, be it a boxer, football player, actor, or politician, and not see their supporters and detractors. But there are few who have come to embrace and feed those who wish for their failures. Floyd Mayweather has taken the public’s outright hatred and turned it into a persona that pulls in more money than any boxer in the sport. Mayweather traded in his legacy for riches a long time ago, and he has fed the beast eating away at his legacy.
While criticisms of his time in the jr. welterweight division are valid, the amount of negative press he has received dwarfs any in the sport who have risen to prominence and riches on a similar path.
Rampant negativity and revisionist history, along with the sometimes childish and ignorant actions of Mayweather have made him a lifetime heel, under-appreciated and often loathed. It appears now that Mayweather has taken up the role of villain far too long. The negative public relations campaign masterminded by Bob Arum has achieved its purpose. Win, lose, or draw – and no matter the opponent – Floyd Mayweather Jr. is forever the villain.
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