The Enigma of Floyd Mayweather
“And Mayweather is beginning to operate like a surgeon,” said Jim Lampley. “Fighting Floyd Mayweather is a dose of cold reality…”
History is replete with examples of extraordinary talents that aren’t fully appreciated until later in life. It is easy to forget that the now highly revered and celebrated art of the Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh was not even deemed worthy of commercial value during Van Gogh’s lifetime. Van Gogh never was able to experience the admiration of millions who now clamor to museums to get a glimpse of the prolific aesthetics of his now legendary paintbrush. The now world-famous naturalist and author Henry David Thoreau barely had his work published and read by anyone outside of his local community during the years he was alive. Now, Thoreau’s eccentric naturalist writings are enshrined in libraries and a reference point for philosophical debate amongst intellectuals worldwide. Similarly, the now famous physicist Robert Hutchings Goddard was ridiculed during his lifetime for postulating theories that rockets could fly to the moon. NASA has since named a Flight Center in his honor and his insights have been the foundation for rocket systems built to reach the moon and beyond.
Today, a different type of scientist is receiving widespread criticism from commentators and critics that are so caught up in a negative bias that they fail to see greatness unveiled before their very eyes. This scientist is not a master of physics but a master of the pugilism—and his name is Floyd Mayweather. Fueled by a controversy-hungry media, there is an attempt by journalists and commentators to mischaracterize Mayweather as both a personality and a boxer, which has resulted in an odd consensus amongst too many so-called experts of boxing who always have two or three negative things to say about Mayweather before finally complimenting his vast achievements in a sport where he stands alone as an anomalous, proven champion who still has yet to have his record stained by a single defeat.
Floyd Mayweather is an enigma—and this perhaps contributes to those who misunderstand him. Mayweather traditionally has reveled in the night-life at clubs, yet he doesn’t drink or abuse his body with harmful substances. Mayweather stays up late, but it is often to train and condition his body with meticulous preparation. Mayweather talks trash with the best of them to hype a fight and get into his opponent’s head before they square off, yet there are few fighters who show their opponents more love and respect than Mayweather in post-fight interviews. Mayweather’s nickname is “Money” and many critics will tell you that all he cares about is money, yet he has been one of the more generous ambassadors in the sport of boxing that we have today. Whether it’s providing funding for programs like the National Golden Gloves for an entire calendar year or reaching out to the family of the late Genaro Hernandez (from whom Floyd won his first title) to cover his funeral expenses, Mayweather has continually showcased generosity through his Floyd Mayweather Jr. Foundation (http://tfmjf.org/) that has had a great impact on community development by supporting youth leadership and strengthening family foundations.
While we are accustomed to the prolific trash-talking Mayweather who is a gifted salesman when it comes to stirring interest in huge pay-per-view fights, we often don’t get to see his eyes light up when he talks about the work he does with communities, families, and charity organizations. What is even more bewildering than the criticism of Mayweather outside of the ring is the criticism aimed at Mayweather inside of the ring. Ask a fan of boxing on the street about Floyd Mayweather and you will get a mixed bag of responses. Certainly many will praise him for his proven abilities and the excitement he brings to the boxing ring. But many will also rush to criticize him with poorly supported facts. From ESPN journalists to HBO commentators, it has been all too common to hear recycled criticism launched at Mayweather. You can turn on famous sports-talk shows like “Pardon the Interruption” (PTI) and hear guests and hosts alike dog-piling on Mayweather with criticism, yet rarely do these critics have a solid foundational base for their claims. Consider this: many casual boxing analysts berate Mayweather for fighting Victor Ortiz (whom Floyd faces on Sept. 17th on HBO PPV) and say it’s proof that he’s still “ducking Manny Pacquiao.” Interestingly, if you ask these same “analysts” about Victor Ortiz, in all likelihood they won’t even know anything about him or his career. Those who know boxing realize that Floyd is taking a fascinatingly dangerous fight with Ortiz—a guy who looked like a completely transformed fighter possessed in destroying Andre Berto to win the WBC welterweight title—and a guy who has knocked every single opponent he’s ever faced. For those in the know, after watching the Ortiz-Berto Fight of the Year candidate, the last guy that many would suggest Mayweather fight (from a safe matchmaking perspective) would be Victor Ortiz.
Conversely, Manny Pacquiao is facing Juan Manual Marquez in the third installment of their trilogy in November, a fighter who Mayweather dominated in such eyebrow raising fashion that all of the talk before the fight of Marquez being in consideration as a top-three pound-for-pound fighter instantly vanished into thin air. This has, interestingly, been a continuing occurrence in Mayweather’s career. That is that top fighters who Floyd squares off against are highly regarded before the fight—and then instantly discredited after Mayweather beats them in lopsided fashion. Consider that nobody was considering De La Hoya to be over-the-hill until Floyd outpointed him. Also consider that the boxing world held the ultra-game Ricky Hatton in high-esteem until Floyd knocked him out in brilliant fashion. Or you could refer to the fact that Mosley was considered a supremely dangerous puncher coming off his destruction of Antonio Margarito, but was considered to have turned old overnight when Floyd put on a boxing clinic and beat him in decisive fashion. The bottom line is this: The aforementioned fighters deserved the acclaim they received prior to their respective fights with Mayweather. They were great fighters. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, it’s simply the case that Mayweather is at the apex of the sport and is a once-in-a-lifetime talent that can make even the greatest Hall of Fame first-ballot fighters look somewhat amateurish and surprisingly ineffective.
“And Mayweather is beginning to operate like a surgeon. Fighting Floyd Mayweather is a dose of cold reality…”
Those were the words Jim Lampley uttered after Mayweather moved up to 154 pounds to defeat Oscar De La Hoya in their 2007 superfight. You may be asking, what is the “dose of cold reality” that Lampley was referring to? That cold reality to opponents has to do with a myriad of undeniable facts that enshrine Mayweather as an all-time great who is still climbing on the list of greatest fighters to ever live. One could point to the fact that Floyd is a six-time world champion in five different weight classes. One could argue that his greatness is evidenced by the fact that Floyd owns the record for the highest-gate and highest PPV yield in the sport’s history. One could argue that it’s the fact that since Floyd won his first title at 21 years of age just 12 months after making his pro debut that he has cruised through weight divisions and hovered over opponents remaining unbeaten and virtually unscathed unlike any other fighter in boxing history.
While it would be prudent to be aware of the aforementioned facts that support the widespread claim among serious analysts and experts that Floyd is indeed an all-time great in any era, I posit a different argument for why Mayweather belongs in the discussion as an all-time great: He is arguably the greatest technical fighter in the sport’s history who has truly developed his wide-ranging set of boxing skills through hard work, dedication, and a relentless commitment to excellence.
When I was first introduced to boxing, I like many other fans just loved to see hard punches and knockouts. It didn’t come until I gained a better familiarity with boxing and became more intimately involved with the sport that I started to appreciate the nuance and science behind it. Nobody is a more demonstrative example of nuance and science in the boxing ring today than Floyd Mayweather. However, unless you truly know, love, and study the sport, Floyd’s technical brilliance might fly right over your head. The lead right hand and duck that happens so fast it leaves opponents turned sideways resulting in a counterpunch landing that they didn’t even see. The subtle footwork employed by Floyd that creates the optimal punching angle. The counter check-hook while backpedaling that left Ricky Hatton stumbling into the turnbuckle. The high guard with a lightning quick down-jab flickering off like an automatic weapon. The shoulder roll defense coiling into a counter right hook that has dissuaded opponent after opponent from mounting a meaningful offense. The ultra efficient combination punching that lands with such astonishing accuracy that it has placed Mayweather as the most accurate puncher in CompuBox statistical accounting history in terms of the percentage of punches landed versus punches thrown. Floyd is a boxing scientist who develops layer after layer with each subsequent experiment/fight.
What distinguishes Floyd from most other great fighters is the distinctive way in which he has used his gift of cat-like reflexes and crafted those reflexes into defensive wizardry. In the past few decades, we have seen great fighters like Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. utilize their God-given reflexes and mold them into awe-inspiring offensive skill-sets. With Mayweather, you see a more proportionate distribution of those physical gifts and reflexes that make him a more complete fighter than the aforementioned two greats. Mayweather has paid particular focus to how such physical gifts can be used not just offensively, but also refined into a plethora of defensive skills that beautifully complement his considerable offensive weaponry. It is an absolute marvel to witness the uncanny ability in how Floyd can simply stand in the pocket against legendary fighters like Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Jose Luis Castillo, Diego Corrales, and Oscar De La Hoya and dodge/duck/slip/roll away from punches while standing directly in front of them as if he is channeling Neo from The Matrix dodging bullets before our very eyes. It’s so rare to see Mayweather actually hit with a punch that when it happens people jump out of their seats, perplexed and asking the fan next to them, “Did you see that?!” In Mayweather’s last fight against Shane Mosley, we saw Floyd get hit with a big right hand in Round 2 that had a real impact, causing Floyd’s knee to buckle in a manner that we’ve never seen before. This is indicative of just how great Mayweather has been—that even the mere sight of him getting hit in a sport where everyone gets hit is must-see TV. However, while seeing Mosley land a couple solid right hands on the defensive wizard was intriguing, what was even more intriguing was how Mayweather responded to being legitimately hurt. We are well accustomed to seeing Mayweather out-skill opponents, but here we saw Floyd shift into a different gear that we hadn’t seen before—where he wasn’t just out-skilling his opponent, he was out-willing his opponent. Just seconds after it looked like Mayweather might be knocked down for the first time in his career, he regained control of the fight and never looked back, dominating Mosley in the final 10 rounds of the fight in such a lopsided manner that everyone forgot about the moment of adversity Floyd faced in the second round.
Boxing today is largely dominated by fighters hailing outside of the U.S. One of the most intriguing facets of boxing is that it is a global sport filled with fighters from cultures spanning the globe. Mexican fans live to see fighters like Juan Manuel Marquez, Canelo Alvarez, and Antonio Margarito square off in the boxing ring. Puerto Rico comes out en masse to watch their countrymen Miguel Cotto and Juan Manuel Lopez perform. The entire Republic of the Philippines comes to a halt to watch Manny Pacquiao and now Nonito Donaire electrify the crowd with boxing brilliance. Germany and Ukraine come alive to watch the Klitschko brothers dominate the heavyweight division. The United Kingdom rallies behind the likes of Amir Khan, David Haye, and Carl Froch as their hometown warriors do battle in the modern day coliseum. However, American fans come out to support a bona fide American superstar—Floyd Mayweather—in relatively sparse numbers as he continues to dominate the sport employing such a signature high-level command of the sweet science. In an American era where many long for the ingenuity, hard work, and unequivocal achievement of past generation, Mayweather embodies all of these traits as he furthers his unblemished boxing career.
Despite this, he does not receive the appreciation and acknowledgement from the American media/public that his demonstrated talent warrants. Despite this, Mayweather still is able to command the biggest PPV numbers of any fighter to date, but it’s more because people are itching to see him fail as opposed to those tuned in with bright-eyed enthusiasm and support for the American superstar hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Whether it’s because he employs a highly sophisticated, scientific, and supremely technical approach to the sport that rubs the blood lusting rabid fight fans the wrong way, or because of a biased media that refuses to responsibly cover the career one of America’s greatest sporting treasures, Mayweather is a boxing scientist ahead of his time who is also a throwback to the past. Like many great figures throughout history who didn’t get their just due during their lifetimes, it will be the case with Floyd Mayweather that future generations will be watching film of him in the ring and wondering if there will ever be another fighter blessed with such a combination of innately-derived physical abilities/reflexes matched with a relentless work ethic and tireless dedication to the sport that has produced the present-day craftsmanship of the one known as “Money” Mayweather. The good news is that his career is not finished—and there’s still plenty of time to get a glimpse of this living legend before his career concludes. I contend that you wouldn’t be crazy to consider Mayweather to be the greatest boxer to have ever lived. I further contend that if Mayweather defeats the young lion Victor Ortiz on Sept. 17th and tops Manny Pacquiao (a truly special boxing marvel in his own right) in a potential showdown in 2012, that you would be crazy not to consider Floyd as one of the greatest if not the greatest boxer to ever live.