Ending A Semi-Silence On Mayweather’s Superstardom

This week has shined a lot of attention on Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s foray into professional wrestling, the success thereof, and what it all means in the big picture. For instance: Said foray by the world’s best boxer into Wrestlemania made Sports Illustrated this week, always a mark of legitimacy. Others have written about how Mayweather’s marketed himself. To which I say: Who gives a damn? I’ve said little of substance about Mayweather since his last fight in December, when I took my own look at his complicated superstardom. I’ve neglected writing about him in-depth despite a commitment to chronicling when boxing seeps into the mainstream, non-boxing fan public, and despite the fact that no one more than Mayweather has crossed over into the mainstream more in the last several months. I’ve done this because Mayweather, by his own admission, isn’t really a boxer anymore. He had a great 2007, to be sure, but he’s wasting all of 2008 on a rematch with Oscar De La Hoya that no real boxing fan has much interest in seeing, and, if the reports are true, he’ll be wasting at least part of 2009 on a rematch with Ricky Hatton that no real boxing fan has much interest in seeing. No, according to Mayweather, he is now an “entrepreneur.” Or an “entertainer.” And while I’m happy to delve at times into the business of boxing, or boxing-related entertainment, there comes a point on the current course where writing about what Mayweather (a non-boxer) is doing is of less interest to me than examining some corporate merger or gossiping about the latest publicity-generating antic of a famous actor. Now, where Mayweather is lifting boxing’s profile at all, this is commendable. But he mostly seems to be lifting himself, generating unhappy comments from an HBO executive about how Mayweather’s flirtation with mixed martial arts was bad for boxing. (Note: I haven’t been able to hunt down the link to the story where this was said, but I recall reading such comments.) And I was heartened when he gave back to boxing monetarily, footing the bill for an amateur tournament in Michigan. Everyone knows American boxing needs to do a better job of nurturing its amateur scene. I hate to denigrate a $140,000 contribution, because anyway you cut it that’s a good thing to do, but Mayweather not so long ago spent several thousand dollars throwing money at strangers on a dance floor. That kind of thing cheapens his charitable contributions, at least until they are more substantial from a guy who allegedly made $20 million for a pretend Wrestlemania match. What galls me about all this the most is how Mayweather is wasting his prime years — prime years of a once-in-a-generation talent, even — getting attention for doing nothing but promoting himself. Mayweather could be enhancing his legacy by fighting real contenders in his welterweight (147 lbs.) division. He could be glorifying his Ring magazine belt by taking on, well, any welterweights, for starters. He hasn’t fought a real welterweight since November of 2006, and if he continues according to plan, there will be at minimum a three-year gap between any kind of welterweight opponents for him, given that Hatton is the Ring champ at 140 lbs. and De La Hoya’s a junior middleweight (154 lbs). He could be signing the most important fight that can be made in boxing, against Miguel Cotto, the division’s top contender and himself one of the ten best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Instead, he’s flirting with mixed martial arts. Or wrestling. Or whatever publicity-generating stunt he has planned just around the corner. There’s a precedent for boxing’s biggest star being semi-retired, and of course the precedent for that is De La Hoya. But he earned a pass, I think, because one, he was getting older; two, he was undeniably giving back to boxing as a promoter via Golden Boy Promotions and not just indulging in some self-promoting; and three, unlike Mayweather, he was, for the most part, legitimately taking on the toughest opponents in his division prior to his semi-retirement — folks like Bernard Hopkins in De La Hoya’s ambitious middleweight (160 lbs.) campaign. The kind of thing written in Slate recently by No Mas/Sporting Blog writer Dave Larzelere is interesting material, or, at least, it was to me when he and I had the same discussion on Larzelere’s website and in my answer to it here. Larzelere originally postulated that anyone who hated Mayweather in December had some kind of racial animus, but it appears he came to my point of view, a few months later, that Mayweather is hated because he’s not likable. Strangely enough, Kevin Iole of Yahoo! made the most compelling case that Mayweather can have a sustained run of superstardom as an unlikable chap. Me, I don’t see Mayweather generating about 900,000 pay-per-view buys against someone of the caliber of Ricardo Mayorga, as De La Hoya once did, until Mayweather stops being “the B-side” villain to another boxer’s “A-side” hero — like De La Hoya and Hatton — and becomes a likable chap. Time will tell. But either way, I go back to this: I don’t care anymore. Per the Slate piece, Mayweather is, after a fashion, following in the footsteps of Muhammad Ali. But when Ali was turning himself into a self-promoting circus, he was also fighting the best of the best regularly. And I won’t care about Mayweather’s stunts until I see him apply his considerable skills in the ring and considerable skills for self-promotion outside the ring toward where they should be focused — in a fight against Cotto.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.