By Scott Christ
Forty-four wins, zero losses, and only a couple of nights where the decision was even remotely in doubt. Floyd Mayweather’s legacy may not ultimately matchup to the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, or the stars of the 1980s, boxing’s last “golden” period, when Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Thomas Hearns all battled and made their marks not just with victories, but with great fights and genuine risks.
It is in many ways hardly Mayweather’s fault that that so few of his work sessions have been genuinely dangerous. If he is the Leonard of his time period — and remember, we’re just speaking on a sliding scale here, so calm down, old people — then did he really even have a Duran, Hagler, or Hearns? For all the talk about how he “avoided” Manny Pacquiao or Antonio Margarito or a prime version of Miguel Cotto, there are legitimate answers there.
The political climate of the sport wasn’t conducive to those fights. His former promoter, Bob Arum, told him he wasn’t a star. Arum was very, very wrong, and whatever you think of old Bob, that was a rare swing and a miss followed by a baseball bat slipping out of his hands and flying somewhere into the upper deck. Margarito was offered, and Mayweather fought Carlos Baldomir. But it’s not as if Mayweather specifically “avoided” Margarito, either. He hasn’t fought anyone promoted by Bob Arum since leaving Arum. He won’t do it. He has his reasons.
Six years ago, after Floyd had ditched Top Rank to seek his fortunes elsewhere, Mayweather moved up to the 154-pound division to challenge the reigning money king of the boxing world, Oscar De La Hoya. In the build-up to the fight, which featured unprecedented promotion from HBO in the form of its new “24/7” reality series, “Pretty Boy” died and “Money” was born, putting Floyd Mayweather on the path to becoming the biggest star in boxing.
The first test, of course, was to beat De La Hoya. Had Floyd lost that night, “Money” Mayweather may well have become a joke. Had he boasted so aggressively, and sold himself so obnoxiously, and then lost to Oscar De La Hoya, who knows what would have become of him? It’s been an ongoing mystery and a source of some debate not so much how Mayweather would handle an actual defeat, but if he could really deal with one at all. Some believe his psyche is so fragile, his ego so big, and his personality so tied to his undefeated record and all that has come with it — the fame, the money, the larger than life persona — that he may not even be able to fight on if he loses just once.
Mayweather got the win that night, but Oscar gave him a scare, losing by split decision, though it seemed clear to most that Floyd had deserved the win, taking over the second half of the bout as a faded, part-time fighter version of De La Hoya lost the jab that had served him so well early in the bout, and tired himself out trying too hard to secure his own legacy-sealing victory.
He didn’t immediately become the face of boxing — Oscar held on to that mantle until he was basically slaughtered by Manny Pacquiao in December 2008 — but Mayweather became a serious money player. Pay-per-view headline bouts with Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, and Miguel Cotto made him the brightest star in the boxing world in terms of pay-per-view revenue, and one of the two leading men for HBO boxing.
This year, Mayweather (44-0, 26 KO) did the previously unthinkable, jumping ship to Showtime, long seen as the distant second-place network in American boxing, immediately giving their boxing brand a dose of big fight credibility that had been lacking save for a single Pacquiao event in 2011.
That said, his May 4 pay-per-view event against Robert Guerrero was lacking in every way. Though no pay-per-view number has ever been officially released, smart money is that it did somewhere around 800,000 buys, Mayweather’s lowest headline pay-per-view bout total ever. For whatever reason, as Showtime’s EVP Stephen Espinoza said just this week to SBN’s Luke Thomas, the Mayweather-Guerrero fight just didn’t pique the public’s interest.
“We thought that Guerrero would provide a good story, and would be a little bit more engaging. Fans quite honestly didn’t fully respond to him in the pay-per-view setting,” Espinoza said. “He put up a good fight and he’s a quality guy and we’ll see him again, but fans were not convinced he was going to put up the kind of fight to make it a credible risk.”
It was certainly easy to feel the lack of normal Mayweather buzz heading into that fight. By really any standards, the fight was still a smash success, but it was far below the sustained aura of Mayweather, who was thought to be an automatic million by his lonesome. That turned out to not be true anymore. Maybe fight fans had just grown tired of paying $70 for a Floyd Mayweather fight with such a completely predictable result. Guerrero was not seen as a risk. He was a tune-up fight for someone of Floyd’s stature; a good fighter, but not good enough, and with enough fights under his belt that fans may have felt even more confident than normal in believing it would be the standard Mayweather rout, which is what it turned out to be, of course.
A new type of opponent was needed. The likes of Devon Alexander simply would not do. Any possible chance at a rematch with Miguel Cotto died in December 2012, when Cotto lost handily to Austin Trout. Something fresh, something exciting, some kind — any kind — of perceived risk had to be across the ring from Floyd Mayweather when he returned, as promised, on September 14, his first two-fight year since 2007.
Saul Alvarez had been a star on the rise in his native Mexico well before he made his way to major U.S. television in 2010. As Mayweather loves to point out, the young man then only nicknamed “Canelo” (which has now become his known first name, like Winky Wright or Razor Ruddock) first made his name in the States on the undercard of Mayweather’s 2010 pay-per-view win over Shane Mosley.
I recall doing a couple of radio shows after that fight, because back then radio hosts still wanted to ask if Maywether-Pacquiao would be next. Before we got into talking about Floyd, the fact that Shane Mosley nearly shocked the world in round two, and the way Mayweather then turned Mosley into a frazzled being that limped to the 12-round finish line, the hosts wanted to know about Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Then just 19 years old, the precocious Alvarez had thoroughly impressed with a display of skill, speed, and power against game veteran Jose Miguel Cotto, younger brother to the man Mayweather would beat two years later. He had been a bit shaken early in the fight, but after that, like Mayweather did on a more significant scale later in the evening, he dominated.
It wasn’t long after that that Alvarez started talking about fighting Floyd Mayweather sooner than later. Just three years and change later, that fight is upon us.
Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KO) is without question a good young fighter. Anyone who denies that he’s a good fighter is going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to being a boxing cynic. But it’s also hard to argue that he hasn’t had more handed to him than he’s earned. Wins over the likes of Carlos Baldomir, Matthew Hatton, Ryan Rhodes, and Alfonso Gomez followed up on the promise we’d seen against Jose Cotto. But after that, the sense was that we should be seeing more than those type of fights, even if he was still very young. Mayweather, after all, had won his first world title at age 21 by beating Genaro Hernandez, a much better fighter than the guys Alvarez was tearing through.
Instead of steps up against legitimate contenders, we got carny-sold “steps up” against the shells of Kermit Cintron and Mosley, a couple of declining ex-titlists who lost to Canelo in predictable fashion, Cintron beaten down in five rounds, and the iron-chinned and iron-willed Mosley taking a sustained beating over 12. His follow-up destruction of the game but woefully undersized Josesito Lopez was exciting in the way that Miguel Cabrera hitting a home run off of a really good college pitcher might be exciting, because he might hit it real damn far, but few were sold on that win, either.
When Alvarez demanded Austin Trout this year, he earned a bit more than he perhaps had in the past. Beating the unbeaten and crafty Trout in front of 40,000 strong in San Antonio not only made some of the remaining Alvarez doubters admit that maybe he was actually pretty good after all, but it also established that he was an A-level drawing card in American boxing, with an enormous, adoring fan base that would pay to see him fight.
Espinoza says that the underwhelming financial results of Mayweather-Guerrero did not play a real hand in Mayweather-Canelo being made, but with a six-fight contract starting on a relative flop, Showtime and Floyd Mayweather needed something real. Something big. Something new that could excite fans, and a fighter who could bring his own army to the battleground.
That is Canelo Alvarez. “”One reason this fight is so big is because the mainstream, the casual fan is responding,” Espinoza said on Wednesday. “Whatever they’re responding to, whether it’s having a fresh face, or credible risk, or whatever it is, they’re responding.”
As for the credible risk, which may be what a large portion of the public is buying, it goes without saying, probably, that few are picking Canelo Alvarez to win this fight, or even to be particularly competitive on Saturday night. So why is this fight intriguing?
Because there is some risk. Mayweather is 36 years old, and has never performed his best above 147 pounds. He’s only fought at junior middleweight twice, and though he got a 152-pound catchweight for this fight, unless Canelo is drained to all hell, that won’t be the difference maker in the fight.
Against Oscar at 154, Mayweather had to dig down and find something special to beat a bigger, stronger man. Against Miguel Cotto at 154, we saw Mayweather struggle in spots far more often than we had in any fight since De La Hoya. The obvious similarity is the weight class.
Roger Mayweather, Floyd’s uncle and former lead trainer, told Fight Hub TV last month that his nephew isn’t even really a true welterweight, let alone junior middleweight, and that any thought of Floyd having grown into the 154-pound class just doesn’t hold water.
“”Floyd ain’t even a 47 pounder. He ain’t a 47 pounder. He makes 147,” Roger said. “But walking around, he walking around at 145. So he ain’t really a 47 pounder. He makes the weight, because he don’t fear what he’s up against.” While that is certainly no condemnation of Mayweather as a junior middleweight, it’s also far from a real vote of confident.
De La Hoya was 34 and had a foot out the door already, as he migrated from fighter to promoter, transitioning wearily from his ring career, full-hearted when he did prepare to fight, but not preparing often enough to be considered a full-time fighter any longer. Cotto was 31 and had taken a heavy amount of damage over the years, and was himself no real junior middleweight.
Alvarez, on the other hand, is 23 years old and rehydrates up to around 170 pounds on fight night. He’s a big, thick-legged, broad-shouldered junior middleweight. He’s not much taller than Mayweather, maybe an inch if anything, and his reach isn’t staggering, as he’s actually officially measured an inch and a half shorter than Floyd (72″ to 70.5″), but this is a sturdy, well-built young fighter who will have some serious physical advantages. Sheer body mass could be a factor in this fight.
Yes, it is a bit dreamful to imagine young Canelo being the man who could conquer the savvy ring genius that is Floyd Mayweather, but that’s the point: boxing fans, all sports fans, all people really, like to dream. We like to put faith into something, even if the odds are against us. This is why people have dream jobs, dream vacations, dream houses. This is why people who live in apartments subscribe to “Better Homes & Gardens.” This is why we fixate on objects of desire, be they material or human, with no realistic opportunity to attain them.
With Robert Guerrero, boxing fans found they couldn’t dream. With Canelo Alvarez, they can. That’s why this is the biggest fight since De La Hoya-Mayweather. That’s why this event dwarfs anything we’ve seen, ever, with Floyd as the A-side. And that’s why the world has plugged in for “The One.”