Lately some quality boxing writers — Michael Woods, Bart Barry, Joseph Santoliquito — have examined seriously in various ways the question of how Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is perceived, and whether he deserves a bad image, partly because Floyd has been complaining lately about how he doesn’t. These are my two cents: Yes he does, basically.
Mayweather’s more devoted fans view his every word as truth, essentially, because there’s such a large contingent of boxing consumers out there who think their favorite pugilist can do no wrong. Mayweather might have earned his bad reputation, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong all the time no matter what, as his more devoted “haters” would have it — my initial reaction to his criticism of Miguel Cotto’s pronounced adherence to loyalty being phony was “Hey, don’t say that about Cotto, you jerk, especially with the way you treat your own father,” but then I realized that, other than one major member of his camp, Cotto has kind of cycled through trainers, has been on-again/off-again with his wife, etc.
But if Mayweather feels, as his adviser Leonard Ellerbe says, that he has a “target on his back,” it’s because Mayweather put it there. You can’t deliberately play the role of the villain, brag about how much money you make off the people who are lured in by your villain act in hopes of seeing you lose, and then expect people to like you. Some people will always like the “heel” character, of course, but by and large if you act the villain, people will think you the villain.
And, of course, there’s so much of what he does that isn’t merely an act. Set aside whether Mayweather recently beat up his childrens’ mother, the subject of a plea bargain that is sending him to jail soon; we don’t know for sure what happened there, even if Mayweather recently had a “tell” on this by pointing out that he would never lay a hand on his children but excluding any mention of his baby momma, as Santoliquito pointed out. We do know that Mayweather has been convicted of assaulting women in the past. That’s ironclad. That isn’t going to impress anyone, if you do that. It’s genuinely loathesome. If people don’t like you for doing that, that’s your own fault.
Then there are the constant racial attacks, like calling Filipino Manny Pacquiao a “yellow chump” and saying he wanted Pacquiao to make him some sushi; he apologized, but then when he downplayed the achievements of Asian American NBA player Jeremy Lin as being an overreaction to Lin’s race, you wonder whether he’s genuinely got some hostility toward people with Asian heritage. And he doesn’t just stop at that minority. He loves calling people “faggot,” even his father during one televised argument. Even if he apologized for that (and he hasn’t), and even if he apologized for what he said about Pacquiao, there are going to be swaths of people who find repeated racist, homophobic diatribes distasteful, and doubt whether it’s coming from a good place. When he throws up his defense that people hate him because he’s black, well, it’s hard to have much sympathy for his claim when he’s constantly being hateful toward other people for their minority status — not to mention that there’s no evidence whatsoever that any significant percentage of people hate Mayweather because of his race.
And, overall, there’s a tendency toward arrogant, self-inflating behavior from Mayweather that is going to turn people off. In this sense and this one sense only, Mayweather’s recent comparison of himself to Muhammad Ali is instructive; Ali was indeed widely disliked, at least early in his career, for the same thing. Guess what? A lot of people don’t like arrogant people, no matter their color. So why should Mayweather be surprised when he talks about how he’s the best ever and people react negatively? Ali became loved later in his career because he stood for something; Mayweather, though, stands for absolutely nothing, other than making money, the subject he discusses more than any other. Oh, and he discusses how much money he makes, and burns $100 bills in nightclubs, at the same time when many people are without jobs and/or struggling — should people like that about Mayweather? And what about when he compares his jail stint for assaulting the mother of his children to the jail stint of genuine heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. — does he think anyone who views him negatively for that is just woefully misguided about the relative heroism of changing our entire country for the better vs. being accused of beating up the women who gave birth to his kids?
When you’re that arrogant and self-inflating, people tend to have an equally inversely negative opinion of you. Mayweather is immensely talented, everyone knows, but there’s not a single boxing historian who thinks Mayweather is as good as he thinks he is. Less objectively, for fans who particularly dislike his arrogance, there is going to be an intense urge to downplay even his legitimate achievements. When you behave the way Mayweather does, you are going to earn this reaction from some percentage of the boxing audience, even if it’s not wholly justified.
The media that Mayweather thinks mistreats him so badly is composed of human beings. It’s not easy for a lot of human beings to look at a character like this and give him a fair shake when he is right, or when he does something kind (as he does, from time to time, even if sometimes the kindness of those acts are intensely tiny, such as with a charity of his that was shown to pay a good deal of salary to its employees but raise very little actual cash). It’s even harder when that person directly mistreats or attacks you, and Mayweather constantly attacks the media and specific members of it. A journalists’ job is to segregate out those feelings, of course, but it makes it harder. When Mayweather’s excellence in the ring is downplayed by reporters, or when his negative traits are played up in news stories, some of that is because Mayweather poked them with a stick.
And this has an inverse, too. Pacquiao is thought of as a “good guy” for many of the ways he is exactly the opposite of Mayweather. He never tells boxing writers “You don’t know shit about boxing” or calls for them to be fired like Mayweather does. He doesn’t brag about his money; he gives so many millions of them away he’s practically poor, by many accounts. He is humble to a fault. He’s never attacked anyone with epithets for their race or sexual orientation. He’s never stood accused, let alone convicted, of abusing women. He doesn’t play the villain at all; he’s almost annoyingly vanilla.
Like Mayweather does good things that get overlooked, Pacquiao does bad things that get less scrutiny, as Ellerbe pointed out about Mayweather’s dogfighting proclivities being subjected to criticism compared to Pacquiao’s cockfighting proclivities getting significantly less attention.
There is a double standard. And it isn’t always right. But Mayweather came by it honestly. If he had the self-awareness to recognize how much he brought it on himself, maybe he could do something about it other than whine about it and rage against it all the time. Instead, all he’s doing with his response to it is making it that much worse. It’s difficult for even the most fair-minded people to get worked up about whatever minor injustices Mayweather suffers as a result of it all.