Why Mayweather Must Lose
Boxing is in need of a seismic event, something to add a legitimate jolt to the power structure, force the sport to reevaluate the way it does business…
“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too.”—Marcus Aurelius
Admitting as much is the most sacrificial act a boxing fan can author—that we, the boxing community, are better off if a fighter that we’re a fan of loses.
I’d qualify as a Floyd Mayweather Jr. fan. Like many others, my appreciation arises from an understanding (self-proclaimed) of Mayweather’s mastery of boxing X’s and O’s. I’ve supported most of his boxing decisions, and lambast the critics who nitpick, post hoc, every victory. I thought he would have made easy work of Manny Pacquiao, at any point. I thought his avoidance of fighters managed by an archenemy, Bob Arum of Top Rank, to be an unfortunate but understandable consequence of a bad business relationship, one where Arum was to blame as much as Mayweather.
But now I think he needs to lose.
This stance would be less controversial if Mayweather didn’t have a 0 in the loss column. He’s never lost, and so a suggestion that we’re better off if he loses is a big deal. After all, you’re only undefeated until you get defeated and a loss can be vindicated, but cannot be erased. And much of Mayweather’s legend is about him not losing just as much as it is his overall greatness.
But the current state of boxing has forced my hand. The two biggest promotion companies, Golden Boy and Top Rank, have cornered most of the elite prospects. This isn’t altogether bad, as it certainly represents an improvement over the Don King era. Such a top-heavy promotion landscape does, however, undermine the thrill of matchmaking—it is infinitely easier for the top promoters to organize fights within a camp than between them, which has ripple effects for who has titles, who is on the pound-for-pound lists, who gets the fights they deserve, and ultimately who gets remembered by fans and writers. Matchmaking in boxing, then, resembles professional wrestling more than any legitimate professional sport; there is no organized merit-based method to decide who is the best at any weight class.
Boxing is in need of a seismic event, something to add a legitimate jolt to the power structure, force the sport to reevaluate the way it does business. I argue that a Floyd Mayweather loss would be that event. Note that this opinion is not a criticism of Mayweather personally, as he caused none of the problems that require fixing. Unfortunately, the problems have festered under his rule, and like any dynasty, everyone is better off if the crown changes hands.
Below I outline my reasoning.
1. His polarizing personality has set boxing conversation backwards
Mayweather is hardly blameless here; just over six years ago (De La Hoya-Mayweather, May 2007) he seized an opportunity to paint himself as a villain, and it made him a fortune. What it also did, unfortunately, is make him so utterly disliked over the years that boxing conversations have regressed in sophistication and now resemble the popular internet name-calling rivalries of our time—iPhone vs. Android, Xbox vs. Playstation 3, Nas vs. Jay-Z.
It’s safe to say that Floyd’s sworn enemies outnumber his diehard fans (or in modern tongue: his “haters” outnumber his “fanboys”). People not only dislike Floyd the boxer, they dislike the person, what he stands for, his family name, his legacy, just about everything. His fans are made of something different—he doesn’t have a national following like a Manny Pacquiao or Canelo Alvarez. He isn’t revered for his physical prowess the way Mike Tyson or Roy Jones Jr. were. His fans admire him because of their love of boxing, while his detractors simply dislike him. The latter has lower membership standards.
Having a villain at the top of a sport isn’t a sustainable strategy for any athlete. We saw this in the case of Lebron James: the bad boy Miami Heat lasted less than a year. Watching James fall apart in the 2011 NBA Finals almost made us feel sorry for him, and his redemption songs in 2012 and 2013 made us (perhaps quietly) root for him. Today, story is over with—most people are either indifferent to, or are fans of Lebron James (even if not the Miami Heat).
Over six years after Floyd signed on to be boxing’s bad guy, it’s now time for a new narrative. Manny Pacquiao was supposed to write that chapter for us, but that possibility was forever vanquished by a Juan Manuel Marquez right hand (Dec. 2012). But even without a rival, the anti-Mayweather leviathan persists. Many still want him to lose. Many still criticize his choice of opponent. The strangest, most unforeseen, and possibly most troubling long-term consequence of Mayweather’s success is the emergence of copycat acts. It makes sense—compare the per fight purse of volatile personalities like Mayweather and Zab Judah to class acts such as Andre Ward and Austin Trout; Ward’s class and respect might have cost him a whole zero on his pay line. Young fighters, unfortunately, have been paying attention.
As an example, enter young Adrien “The Problem” Broner, the first of the Mayweather copycat acts. Broner takes Mayweather’s self-aggrandizement and obnoxiousness act to a new level, but minus the accomplishments that gave Mayweather the leverage to do so. Broner’s early success doesn’t bode well; the last thing that boxing world needs is for this obnoxious behavioral meme to propagate, for a generation of young fighters to feel like Floyd’s egotistical outside-the-ring antics, rather than his legendary training habits, are the way to good paydays.
2. Mayweather’s financial freedom is bad for matchmaking
A suit in a stadium skybox dictates what kind of uniform Albert Pujols swings the bat for. While not ideal, Pujols’ overall physical wellness is hardly at risk when he plays first base. The same cannot be said for boxing. It is the world’s most brutal sport, the one where the fact that non-athletes make all the decisions for the athletes is, perhaps, most problematic.
Floyd Mayweather has compared himself to the greats like Sugar Ray Robinson. This comparison is universally panned by anyone born before 1970, and those born after who have seen recordings of Robinson’s fights—Robinson was probably better, and would certainly have given Mayweather big problems at 147 lbs., as Robinson was physically strong and had a magisterial command of boxing.
While comparisons between fighters and the game of “What if” is mostly useless, we should acknowledge that much of the “Robinson is better than Mayweather” argument arises from the fact that Robinson fought everyone, at multiple weight classes, for twenty-five years. That Robinson fought all comers while Mayweather has been selective is supposed to be evidence for the relative superiority of boxing’s yesteryear. Similarly, students of boxing recall the days of the “Four Kings” of the 1980s—Duran, Leonard, Hagler, Hearns—all-time great who fought each other and delivered some of boxing’s greatest moments.
Those eras are easy to glorify—the best fighting the best regularly, thrilling, competitive exchanges. There were no obvious advantages in the negotiations that biased the conditions in favor of one fighter. And they absolutely created boxing careers that are easy to put in historical perspective. We’re comfortable comparing Leonard to Hagler and Hearns because they all fought each other, and all fought common foes. This is no longer the case.
What happened to matchmaking?
The issue seems to be embodied in the rise of Floyd Mayweather. What defines his rise to stardom is an unprecedented degree of financial freedom; he decides who he wants to fight, when he wants to fight them.
Compare this to his predecessors: Leonard, Hagler, Duran and Hearns had little of Mayweather’s agency over their careers, and none made within galaxies of the amount of money that Mayweather has made (even after adjusting for inflation). All were exploited much more than Mayweather was; all were cash cows for someone else the way Mayweather is not. And therein lays an ethical quandary: few of us would disagree, in principle, with the notion that more input from fighters on their career trajectory is a good thing.
That is, until we realize that this almost certainly creates less exciting fights, less regularly.
As much as we love Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano, and Sugar Ray Robinson, we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t think they’d trade their careers for Mayweather’s. They most certainly would, in a heartbeat: less physical damage, far more wealth and self-determination, even if it meant diminishing their legacies slightly. Robinson fought so often in part because he had to, not because of some mythical-fighter-integrity that made him want to fight the best…just because. Remember: we call them “prizefighters” for a reason; they didn’t do it for free. And Mayweather has mastered the “prize” half of the job better than anyone in the history of the sport.
A Mayweather loss would temporarily suspend this revolution in boxer rights, one where the best feel entitled to fight who they want, even at the expense of the entire sport’s popularity. But I’m hardly suggesting that Floyd’s success is essentially a bad thing. I’m saying that it has certainly prevented the best fights from being made, which is ultimately why boxing’s popularity has waned. Perhaps an optimal tradeoff exists, one that would give boxing fans the fights they want (as in, would pay money to see) and fighters the protections that they deserve. Maybe such a scenario would look like the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) world, which (so far at least) is relatively bereft of the seedy exploitation that defined boxing matchmaking for many years. The fighters in MMA appear to be mostly happy with their compensation, and the biggest, best fights happen almost automatically.
3. The Boxing World Post-Mayweather
Were a Floyd Mayweather loss to happen on September 14, boxing would have a new king and cash cow. Other than his lack of mastery of the English language, Alvarez has all the elements of a global megastar who, unlike Mayweather, doesn’t rely on villainy. Alvarez’s grip on the top of the sport would be, however, far looser than Mayweather’s. While very talented, Alvarez is hardly unbeatable, and most of his recent perceived dominance is a product of him fighting opponents far smaller than him; he won’t be able to bully elite middleweights around the ring the same way he’s been able to the welterweights. Even better for the sport, Alvarez wouldn’t be able to feast on mediocre fighters. While he’d be very popular, he’d still have to fight opponents that the audience cares about in order to generate big pay-per-view purses. This is because, unlike Floyd, we aren’t particularly captivated by his boxing ability or personality.
But the ripple effects wouldn’t end there. A Mayweather-less landscape would mean new competition for the crown. Instead of every fighter between 135 and 170 lbs. calling out Floyd Mayweather, hoping that he selects them as an opponent, they might instead seek to accomplish something of note on their own. Perhaps this would bring out the best in everyone.
In the end, this is all speculation. The boxing world is only guaranteed to surprise us, to undermine our expectations, to give us new reasons to smile and frown.
And I’m indebted to Floyd Mayweather for what he’s done for the sport. I am thankful both for what he taught us about how to stand up to the powers-that-be, and for putting pure boxing ability back in the spotlight. I consider myself privileged to have been able to study him.
But all things must come to an end. And as a fan, I’m hopeful that boxing will continue to give me reasons to care.