The great A.J. Liebling, the Herodotus of modern prizefighting, lamented the advent of television as bringing forth the “ridiculous gadget” that would kill the sport of boxing. As more people took in the fights on the idiot box, this would in turn suck support from local boxing clubs and less new talent would develop. In addition, television, concerned more with hawking beer and razor blades, again to paraphrase Liebling, would focus solely on those fights and fighters that would generate viewership and revenue and eventually become the sole medium by which modern day pugilists could achieve any success or prominence within the sport. If you didn’t fight on television, you simply didn’t matter.
It appears that Liebling was right, perhaps to a greater extent than the boxing’s greatest chronicler had himself anticipated. Whereas major bouts at one time aired in primetime slots on major cable networks, easily accessible to fans and far more likely to catch the eye of casual and potential fans, the Sweet Science is now all but entirely absent from non-Pay-Per-View television, where only the most prominent handful of bouts are broadcast.
Given the astronomical cost to order a fight on television, it’s more than likely that only the most devoted fans of boxing will be watching from home, usually with a large crowd attending by invitation – no sense in twenty people all forking out sixty dollars for a fight. In other instances, the best option a modern fight fan has is to make their way to the nearest pub broadcasting the event, and finding such a place is sometimes not so simple. From a purely cost-benefit standpoint, this makes sense. Watching the fight while consuming a few pints – I try to consume in moderation so that I can actually digest what’s happening in the ring – one is likely to spend much less than they might have had they ordered the bout on television. This is especially true on those occasions when a fight ends abruptly. My pint had only just arrived and I had barely taken a sip in May of 2009 when Manny Pacquiao dispatched Ricky Hatton in the second round.
So it was that a friend and I made our way up the street and around the corner from my home – again, we were lucky to find a venue so close – to watch Floyd Mayweather return to the ring against Victor Ortiz. The undercard, to say a brief word about it, was absolutely spectacular. Erik Morales claimed the vacant WBC Light Welterweight title from Pablo Cano, taking the place of an ill Lucas Matthyse. Many have validly claimed that the title was bogus given the suspicious circumstances under which the WBC stripped it from Tim Bradley, and that Morales was coming off a loss, albeit a close one, to Marcos Maidana yet was still fighting for a vacant title.
The bloodlust of fans was nonetheless wholly satisfied by the time the bout was called to a stop at the end of the tenth when Cano’s face was too disfigured to continue. Morales, in the hearts of fans, remained a champion and left no doubt that when he and his opponent get close and start rallying, no one throws punches as ferociously as El Terrible, the finest displays of this skill coming in Erik’s first bout with Barrera. Cano was fast, but Morales’ experience and technique was just too much for the youngster.
Saul Alvarez proved that he needs to be on televised bouts more often. As Mayweather and Pacquiao get a little older and the heavyweight division flounders under Klitschko dominance, Alvarez showed that he can bring some excitement to the fight game. Proving surprisingly quick and agile for a junior middleweight, Alvarez was just too precise and powerful, especially with the right hand, on the counter-attack as Alfonso Gomez continually fought forward. Once Gomez was backed up on the ropes in the sixth, Alvarez was hammering too hard, explicitly illustrating his vastly superior power to his opponent, and thus the bout was called to a stop.
The prologue to the main event of the evening was pitch perfect, and with each table being a few pitchers into the night, the anticipation for Mayweather-Ortiz was feral. We know now that anticlimactic would be a generous description of what was witnessed. And we know the story pretty well. Ortiz got dirty in the fourth and hammered Mayweather with a headbutt. Referee Joe Cortez separated the fighters to take Ortiz to a corner and deduct a point from the champion, but not before Ortiz could embrace his opponent with a hug and a peck on the cheek, apologizing for his transgression. As Cortez ordered the action to resume, looking away to the timekeeper to signal time-in, Ortiz seemingly looked to apologize again, keeping his gloves low. Then, in one of the shots that will be fodder for debate for ages, Mayweather threw a sucker-punch, knocking the unguarded Ortiz to the ground and ending the contest in the fourth round.
Better and more knowledgable students of the sweet science then myself have discussed the legality and ethical implications of the fight’s conclusion, so I’ll leave that matter be. What was most striking to me after days of on and off rumination upon this bout was a more symbolic contest of which there was an undisputed winner, and by a substantial margin. I refer to the fight between two sides of Floyd Mayweather, the first being the dedicated and unparalleled technician of the sport and the other being the obnoxious “Money Mayweather” character that we’ve come to love to hate.
The contrast between the two sides of Floyd Mayweather Jr. is so powerful that it’s almost absurd that they might exist in the same individual. The skill and devotion to boxing that Floyd brings to the ring has always made for a complicated relationship with fans, who cannot help but respect his skill as a fighter while emitting vitriol at his obnoxious stage persona. When working out his core, Mayweather repeatedly chants “Hard Work! Dedication!” to set the meter of his training routine. He finds himself in the gym at 1 a.m. in order to pack the day with three training sessions. Floyd leaves no doubt whatsoever that he is a dedicated student of the fight-game and is worthy of every one of the achievements he has accumulated in the ring. When the ring-walk was seconds away on the night of the fight, Floyd was still getting in late pad work with uncle Roger. As a fighter, the man is no fluke.
Outside of the ring and training camp, the other Floyd makes his presence known. This is “Money Mayweather,” the consummate salesman and the king of pre-fight hype. The man who burns $100 bills in nightclubs, buys luxury cars in cash, and never shies away from theatrics, supposedly inviting Victor Ortiz’s estranged father to the fight. He’s also the man who is most present on HBO’s 24/7, documenting the lives of fighters in and out of the ring prior to a bout, where his showmanship is on constant display. Perhaps it’s an act, but it works, and it’s the reason why Floyd can command such respect and disgust simultaneously and most likely why, other than Pac-Man, he can so easily attract casual fans to the sport of boxing.
Whether or not “Money” is an act, the creation seemed to become real in the bout with Ortiz, and in a contest with one of, if not the most skilled fighter of this generation, won decisively. The Mayweather who relishes the opportunity to show is skills and bring a sense of spectacle to boxing, the man who has in past instances entered the ring in full gladiator regalia, was beaten. Floyd was in solid control of the bout throughout the four rounds it lasted, proving that his technical skill was just too much for the inexperienced Ortiz. This is not to say that Ortiz did not have his moments, using his superior size to bomb away at Mayweather when the latter was on the ropes, but Ortiz simply could not keep up. Some gave Ortiz a puncher’s chance, believing that by a fluke he might throw a big hook and knock Mayweather out. This clearly wasn’t going to happen. Floyd was just too good and the bout looked to be heading to a decision, widely in favour of Floyd, or a late round knockout.
Floyd could have won one for the ages, but he went dirty. He stayed legal, but won cheap and walked away without remorse, having collected his paycheque, likely somewhere in the neighbourhood of $30 million. It seemed that winning at any costs and collecting his earnings was more important than the entertainment and dedication to boxing that he has touted previously. “Money Mayweather” took over and ended the fight in a quick and unbecoming fashion, and perhaps some will now question how he really feels about boxing and what he wants his legacy to be. At least in this one instance, rather than being the dominant and skillful fighter who produced an entertaining show for fans that would be talked about for ages and for all the right reasons, he’s just the man who took the money and ran. Perhaps he beat Ortiz, but Floyd was beaten by a certain part of himself.
I’ve been forceful here, but I honestly can’t say that were I Floyd I would not have thrown the punch. I’m not saying I would have, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t. Just thought I should make note of that.