So begins our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2010, Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley. Now: the meaning of Mayweather-Mosley. Next: Mosley’s pivotal weapon.
Floyd Mayweather has never fought anyone as good as Shane Mosley in his whole life. Shane Mosley has never fought anyone as good as Floyd Mayweather in his whole life. They comprise two of the world’s three best fighters and two of the world’s three best welterweights, and are two of the 10 best boxers of the last decade, with Mayweather arguably the sport’s biggest star and Mosley one of the few boxing names recognizable outside the hardcore boxing fan base.
Who could ask for anything more than what we’ll get Saturday, May 1, when those two men fight? We’ve been waiting for it for more than a decade, and now it’s mere days away.
As it happens, everything good about Mayweather-Mosley has a significant “but” attached to it. Some of those “buts” are lesser than others, and all in all I could hardly be more thrilled by this fight. I’m even flying to Vegas to watch it in person. Yet it’s worth sorting through what makes Mayweather-Mosley special, and what makes it something less than the sum of its parts.
Mayweather-Mosley is a tremendously meaningful match-up. The knock on Mayweather’s astounding career, justifiably, is that he hasn’t always fought the best opponents he could. He’s only fought two men who were in the pound-for-pound top-10, but one of them was two weight classes smaller (Juan Manuel Marquez) and the other was one weight class smaller (Ricky Hatton). From 2002 and before, he repeatedly fought either the #1 or #2 man in his division, including the likes of Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. He hasn’t done it once since. Mosley’s always sought out the top challenges, repeatedly taking on pound-for-pound types, ranging from Oscar De La Hoya in 2001 to Antonio Margarito in 2009. It’s why he’s ranked so highly on pound-for-pound lists right now — he’s #3 behind Mayweather at #2 and Manny Pacquiao at #1. Mayweather’s current high ranking is based more on his otherworldly talent. It hardly gets better than the #2 man taking on the #3 man, which applies both to the world of boxing as a whole and the welterweight division where Mosley is #2 and Mayweather is #3. We’re talking about world-class fighter vs. world-class fighter to the nth degree here, because it’s not just about what they’re ranked now — Mayweather and Mosley built up a decade of achievement from 2000 to 2009 that ranks them among the best of the last 10 years.
BUT: It is no Mayweather-Pacquiao. Maybe it seems like nitpicking, but I don’t think it is. Mosley against Mayweather or Pacquiao is only the second-best match-up in the sport. The best is Mayweather-Pacquiao, and lest you’ve forgotten, we were right on the verge of getting it around the beginning of the new year before negotiations fell apart over drug testing regimens. Mayweather-Mosley is probably the biggest fight since 2007, when Mayweather fought De La Hoya. Mayweather-Pacquiao is the biggest fight in 20+ years, a once in a lifetime kind of bout. It’s still hard not to be let down by being robbed of that, and I know I’m not alone. It’s a shame that it diminishes what is otherwise an exceptional event, but it isn’t happening in a void. It’s a consolation prize, albeit an excellent one.
Mayweather-Mosley has been more than a decade in the making. For what feels like forever, Mayweather and Mosley crossed paths, never meeting. Sometimes, it was Mayweather who chased Mosley. Other times, it was Mosley who chased Mayweather. It usually depended on who was the bigger star at the time, and sometimes it had to do with the two men inhabiting different weight classes. There hardly would have been a bad time to do it, though, with everyone pretty much agreeing that Mayweather-Mosley was a good fight from the moment the idea was first discussed until the moment it was made. It took Mayweather-Pacquiao falling through, as well as Mayweather-Andre Berto falling through, for us to finally get our wish.
BUT: It is coming later than it should have. Mosley is 38, and has been out of the ring since January of 2009. Mayweather is still in his prime, while Mosley is past it. There’s not much argument that the fight is somewhat diminished by that. My feeling, though, is that it’s not diminished much. If we’ve learned nothing from Mosley’s ageless performance against Margarito or any number of performances by light heavyweight Bernard Hopkins on the other side of 40, it’s that age isn’t the disqualifier it used to be. Certainly, you can point to the favorable match-up Margarito presented Mosley, but let’s not forget that Mosley was a 3-1 underdog in that fight and while Mosley was a popular upset pick in some quarters, nobody envisioned him destroying Margarito so violently. Make no mistake: Mosley is — or was, at last appearance — a vital fighter, although not the fighter he was earlier in his career.
Mayweather-Mosley gives us a nice black hat/white hat clash. If you want to know why so many people dislike Mayweather and root against him, you could do no worse than watching his antics on Mayweather/Mosley 24/7, the HBO series that documents the build-up to the fight. Mayweather has called Mosley all kinds of names, like “stupid motherfucker”; he’s talked about Mosley in a personal way, criticizing his relationship with his father and for getting a nose job (to which I say: I doubt it, because if he did he should ask for a refund); he says he fights only for money, which doesn’t go over well in an age of spoiled athletes who appear to care about their paycheck more than making fans happy or giving their all. Meanwhile, Mosley placidly ignores it all, focusing on the fight and saying what he fights for is to prove he’s the best. Mayweather has his fans, people who relish his bad guy routine. But Mosley is beloved by many of the most hardcore boxing fans, because he’s all we want: A class act who only wants to fight the top opponents.
BUT: Mosley is not all good. I’ve always had trouble fully rooting for Mosley because of his confirmed performance-enhancing drug usage. The cover story for that was that he took them unwittingly, and hasn’t taken them since, but that first excuse was always suspect, and recently released footage from a court hearing on the matter suggests that Mosley knew he was taking EPO all along. Also, Mosley dipped into classlessness recently by wondering whether Mayweather was gay based on his attacks on Mosley’s appearance. Ultimately, for many boxing fans, this fight is a match-up between a jackass and a steroid user. For fans that lack a clear connection to either man, the fight offers less of an emotional impact in the good vs. evil clash that sells the biggest bouts.
Mayweather-Mosley repudiates alphabet sanctioning organizations and embraces strong drug testing. For decades, the WBAs and WBCs of the world have been a cancer on the sport, offering belts willy-nilly, stripping them willy-nilly and showing no regard for the meaning of the word “champion,” which means “first place.”Mayweather’s refusal to pay a sanctioning fee to fight for Mosley’s alphabet belt is the highest-profile repudiation of those sanctioning organizations in as long as I can remember, and it strikes a nice blow against the viability of those organizations. Likewise, steroids are a potential future pox upon the sport. Mayweather has insisted on stricter testing for Mosley and says he’ll do the same for all future opponents. Although the correlation isn’t perfectly clear, it’s probably no coincidence that we’ve seen a wider embrace of stricter testing since Mayweather first demanded it from Pacquiao.
BUT: The motives for doing so are unclear. Mayweather says he isn’t interested in the WBA belt because all he cares about is “legacy” and “cash.” At least he acknowledges that he cares somewhat about his legacy. I still think there’s value in being the champion of the division, but only via the championship policy of Ring magazine. I also still strongly suspect that the drug testing idea Mayweather introduced for the Pacquiao fight was a psychological ploy of some kind, not some desire by Mayweather to “clean up” boxing. So be it. Whatever Mayweather’s motives, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Mayweather isn’t fighting for a trinket, and that there’s a stronger drug testing regimen in place for this fight than others. It’s only a bad thing if it keeps Mayweather-Pacquiao from ever happening. Ask yourself: Would you rather have blood testing widely in boxing, or Mayweather-Pacquiao? If those are my only two options, I would take Mayweather-Pacquiao, noting that Pacquiao has never tested positive for PEDs and that there’s zero zero zero evidence otherwise that he has.
Mayweather-Mosley is a blockbuster fight. I expect Mayweather-Mosley to equal or surpass the pay-per-view buys for every fight since the record-setting 2.4 million purchases of De La Hoya-Mayweather. It is the most significant fight between Americans since then. It is the most significant fight between black fighters since Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson. It’s a fight that really could bring out a lot of fans, hardcore and casual, to the point that lead promoter Golden Boy expects it to break the record set by De La Hoya-Mayweather. A rising tide lifts all boats, and when boxing matches are doing outrageous numbers in the United States, it’s confirmation that boxing still is a force to be reckoned with despite being left for dead by the mainstream media until the last year or so.
BUT: Some of the high expectations could hurt the perception. If Golden Boy had estimated Mayweather-Mosley would do 1.5 million buys, it would be credible. If it had estimated it would do 2 million, it would still be in the range of credible. But as the high pre-fight estimates by Top Rank of how well Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey would do showed, lower-than-expected numbers can lead people to call pretty good numbers a disappointment. (Strangely, if the numbers are better than expected, Mayweather-Mosley could be the final nail in the coffin of Mayweather-Pacquiao because the purse split would be harder to settle; Mayweather wouldn’t take 50-50 if his last fight did so much better than Pacquiao’s last fight, right?)
I don’t think any of these “buts” should much limit our enthusiasm for this fight, though. We all have wanted Mayweather to take challenges that are equal to his talents, from those who hate him to those who defend him, and at long last he has. Mosley has long deserved a fight like this, and now he’s got it. When the best fight the best, it is always a good thing — and Mayweather-Mosley is nothing if not that.