Has there ever been a world champion boxer more unpopular than Floyd Mayweather Jr? I can’t think of one. Ali had his detractors. So did Tyson, Holmes, Bonavena, Jack Johnson, and several others. But none seems to have stirred up the angst in others like Floyd does? The dislike of him, harbored by many, borders on the visceral. Why?
The man is 50-0 (maybe 51-0 if you count the debacle against the Japanese kickboxer, Nasukawa). He broke the cherished 49-0 undefeated record of the incomparable Rocky Marciano. He’s made more money in (and out) of the ring than any fighter in history; so much so, in fact, that his nickname is actually “Money”. He is often regarded as the best defensive fighter in history (although not by this writer; that accolade goes to James “Lights Out” Toney). Yet, the only thing about Floyd that continues to grow since his retirement, is his unpopularity.
There’s a myriad of reasons why this is so. What follows is an examination of those reasons. I’ll start with the whole “money thing.” Even the most casual of sports fans has heard about some excess or another as executed by a sports personality. Whether it’s an absurdly expensive engagement ring for a paramour who will be gone inside of a year, or the purchase of a house so big, it has its own zip code, sports celebrities are always finding ways to spend their excessively large fortunes.
But Mayweather does more than that. Floyd finds a way to not only incessantly brag about his own wealth, but to make others feel less adequate because they don’t have matching resources. I recall during the promotional tour for the Connor McGregor fight, Mayweather showed up for an interview with a satchel. When the topic of how much money was involved in the bout came up, Mayweather opened the knapsack and started throwing bundles of $100 bills on the table while saying, “You want money? I’ll show you money.” As it turned out, he had about $400,000 U.S. in the satchel – and he wanted EVERYONE to know.
This type of behaviour struck most fans and observers as crass, classless, and actually a display of insecurity on Floyd’s part. Worse, it seemed as if he was rubbing the noses of everyone less fortunate, into that stash of money. It certainly didn’t impress the number of people Mayweather probably had hoped it would and it in fact alienated many.
Then there’s Floyd’s “safety first” boxing style. Now this alone isn’t enough to stir up people the way Floyd does, but when viewed in conjunction with everything else about him, Floyd’s battle for public adulation becomes that much more challenging. Floyd never came at you with ears pinned back, looking to wreak havoc – unless he already knew you were ready to go. Fans love the knockout but if you were watching a Floyd win, the odds of that happening were just barely north of 50%. Floyd took the “boxing is a science” adage literally; always preferring not to be hit over opening himself up by being truly aggressive. Really, this is “writer speak” for this fact; Floyd was just a boring fighter to watch except for the purest of the purists.
Defensively, Mayweather was an absolute master; nothing short of brilliant. But defence doesn’t win friends. And if you’re going to play defence all night, then occasionally it’s going to make the other guy look like he’s carrying – and winning – the fight. This tendency of Floyd’s led to his getting the nod on more than one occasion when many felt he had lost. In fact, his unanimous decision win over Jose Luis Castillo in 2002 makes most “Worst Decisions Ever” lists. His wins over De La Hoya and Maidana also had an odour about them for many.
Then there’s his mouth. Mayweather just can’t help himself. He says outrageous things. He acts in outlandish ways. Things got so bad that he almost came to blows with the then roughly 80-year-old, boxing commentator, Larry Merchant, after Merchant criticized him for knocking out Victor Ortiz while Ortiz was trying to apologize to Floyd for an accidental head butt. Now Merchant isn’t particularly popular himself, but next to Mayweather, he’s Shirley Temple. Merchant, on air no less, told Mayweather that he “wished he was 50 years younger because he’d have kicked Mayweather’s ass.” For some, this sadly never came to pass.
But perhaps the ultimate reason for Mayweather’s popularity stems from his breaking of the beloved Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 undefeated record. Marciano is as close to boxing royalty as the sport has ever had. For Floyd to even suggest that he has surpassed Marciano’s achievement, borders on heresy for many – this writer included. The man “broke” Marciano’s record by fighting a non-boxer who was in his first ever professional boxing match. It was ridiculous and most certainly not worthy of being associated with the great Marciano in any way. His 51st win over the kickboxer Nasukawa, took things from the ridiculous to the sublime.
As if this wasn’t enough, Mayweather went on to say after his 50th win, “Out of all these guys in the history of boxing, I have accomplished more than every fighter in the history of boxing. How many world champions have (sic) Rocky Marciano beat? So we already know. I beat more champions that’s going in the hall of fame.” Technically true – but terribly misleading. Floyd fought in the day of seemingly a division for every pound and half a dozen champions per division. So fighting lots of guys with world titles was much easier in Floyd’s day than in Rocky’s. The other consideration, of course, was that as a heavyweight, there were really only two divisions Rocky could have competed in; heavyweight and light heavyweight. Floyd, as a small fighter, had options to compete in many divisions, thus greatly increasing his chances of winning titles and beating other “champions.”
You see, the mistake Floyd made, and continues to make is that he equates an undefeated record as the sole arbiter of boxing greatness. It isn’t. It’s an indicator. There are other considerations: who did a fighter fight, in what era did he fight, did skin colour play a part, etc. I, for one, would not wager on Floyd at any catch weight against Sugar Ray Robinson. Similarly, had he fought prime Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, or Tommy Hearns at any weight, I’d have said “his ‘0’s gotta go”. Let’s not talk about a fight with Hagler. About the only way he’d have had less chance of beating the “Marvelous One” at any weight would have been if he didn’t answer the opening bell in the first place. And what do all these fighters I’ve mentioned have that Floyd doesn’t? Losses…46 of them, to be exact. Yet each and every one of them was arguably a better boxer than was Floyd Mayweather.
I think also that Floyd’s immodest comments about himself and his always favourable self-comparisons to the great Rocky Marciano, speak to his poor understanding of boxing history. I liken it to when well-meaning modern singers cover a classic that no-one else should touch. When Madonna covered Don Maclean’s iconic “American Pie” she received an enormous amount of criticism – not because she didn’t do a good job, but for having the temerity to believe that another version of this anthem was in any way warranted. She misunderstood that the song, “American Pie” was Don Maclean’s gift to all people. It should never have been touched.
That comparison holds true for Mayweather and his assault on Marciano’s record. Not that no-one should ever have broken the record, after all, records are made to be broken; but that breaking this hallowed record should have been done with respect and reverence, not bluster and bravado. Mayweather, to this day, simply doesn’t appreciate this. He is unable to accept that he will never be accorded the respect shown to Rocky Marciano. Better he embrace this and be satisfied with his stellar career on its own terms – alas, he just can’t do it. He needs a little more Barry Sanders, the NFL running back who so respected Walter Payton’s rushing record that when it became apparent he would break it, he retired. He needs a whole lot less Ricky Henderson who’s ungracious speech after breaking Lou Brock’s stolen base record, still resonates with ear jarring phrases of conceit.
Floyd Mayweather was (is?) a great boxer. His record speaks for itself. He should feel no need to compare it and himself to any fighter – never mind Marciano. But his insecurity always gets the better of him. He needs to be loved. He needs to be acknowledged. He needs to be respected. What Floyd Mayweather doesn’t seem to grasp is that the respect he so badly craves, isn’t coming until he shows some to the likes of Marciano and the many other greats he claims to be better than. Floyd is yet to learn that the true greats in any field don’t feel a need to self-declare their own accomplishments. Rather, they allow others to make the claims on their behalf. They understand that their place in sporting history is for others to decide; not them. They’ve grown up. Floyd, we’re waiting.
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