Defiant Until The End, Floyd Mayweather Goes Out On His Own Terms

Let’s start here first — this is in no way an endorsement of Floyd Mayweather’s reputed swan song, a Sept. 12 Showtime Pay-Per-View fight against Andre Berto. Far from it. Indeed, this writer’s reaction was part of the collective groan the boxing world let out when serious rumors first started swirling about a possible Mayweather vs Berto showdown. Now that the fight is officially going down, there’s no need to argue over the blatant fact that Berto isn’t remotely close to being in Mayweather’s league.

At one point, that point being a very long time ago, Berto was looked at as a possible future pound-for-pound king, with his Sugar Shane Mosley-esque hand speed and combination punching. That kind of talk was abruptly silenced after losses to Victor Ortiz (victim of the infamous Mayweather sucker punch), Robert Guerrero (a guy who lost every second of his own fight with Mayweather), and perennial gatekeeper Jesus Soto Karass. Listing all of Berto’s faults is a pointless exercise. He has many, which is the exact reason he “earned” this fight – after easily defeating the man people accused him of avoiding for years, Manny Pacquiao, Berto is Floyd Mayweather’s victory lap.

For boxing fans, there really is no in-between with “Money;” people either love him or hate him. And Mayweather has played both groups like a fiddle for years. His legions of fans idolize the lifestyle he leads: private jets, mansions, ridiculously expensive cars, jewelry. Floyd flaunts all of it, and folks lap it up. Of course, the people on the other side cite his lavish spending, frightening behavior towards women, and his arrogance-to-the-point-of-caricature as reasons to despise him.

But both groups have had one key element in common over the past decade or so: They all have purchased his fights, against guys he handpicked, because Mayweather does whatever he wants. And with that, he’s become one of the rarest species in a sport that most often swallows men whole — a boxer who can call it quits on his terms, against whom he decides.

That Mayweather has been accused of “cherry picking” opponents is nothing new. Many elite fighters have taken the easy route when choosing opponents. Roy Jones, Jr. was almost as famous in the late 90s for fighting civil servants as he was for his ridiculous skills. Except now, Jones is fighting several times a year, at age 46, well over a decade past his prime. Is it because he loves the sport? Surely, that’s part of it. But the bigger part? He has to fight.

It’s one of the saddest aspects of this sport. Many fighters start boxing out of necessity, in the hopes of overcoming poverty with difficult-to-impossible circumstances surrounding them. Those fighters usually keep climbing into the ring well after their expiration dates for the same reason. A glimpse at some of Mayweather’s peers will reveal similar situations. Shane Mosley hasn’t looked like himself in six years. No one has the heart to tell him that “the old Sugar” is just the old Sugar. Yet he continues on, even as his son forges his own career. Antonio Tarver, the man who famously ended Jones’ pound-for-pound reign in one of the most shocking one-punch knockouts in boxing history? He’s 46 and still fights with the delusional idea of someday taking on heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko.

How many of yesterday’s best fighters went out on top, Rocky Marciano-style, in one last blaze of glory? Very, very few. It always ends, but it almost always ends ignominiously. For every Joe Calzaghe, the Welsh southpaw who retired with a glistening 46-0 record back in 2008, there’s a thousand guys like Sergio Martinez, whose final moments in a ring will be remembered not for the heroic, one-legged stand he made against Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., but for the difficult-to-watch, one-legged beating he took from Miguel Cotto.

It’s hard to envision a guy like Manny Pacquiao, the legendary scrapper whose brilliant battles will forever be etched in boxing lore, simply walking away after one last successful fight. Instead, we’ll probably see him fighting into his late 30s, struggling with guys he would have destroyed in his prime.

And yet here’s the 38-year-old Mayweather, with a record of 48-0, just months removed from collecting the biggest paycheck the sport has ever provided. He cashed in over 200 million dollars to befuddle both Pacquiao and the millions of people watching for 12 rounds. He calls himself TBE, or “The Best Ever,” and while very few pundits would agree on that, they won’t disagree that he is TBE when it comes to self-marketing. He’s an unparalleled genius in that regard.

Somehow, through convictions for violence against women, through a short prison term, through a whole bunch of carve-holes-in-your-eyes-with-ice-picks awful fights (go back and watch him take the lineal welterweight belt from Carlos Baldomir, if you dare), Mayweather is one fight away from walking away an unscathed, undefeated, incredibly wealthy man.

And really, is there anything more fitting for him than fighting Berto? Suddenly jumping up in weight and fighting middleweight boogeyman Gennady Golovkin would be completely anathema to him. When he could have boxed Antonio Margarito, he took Baldomir. When he could have taken on Pacquiao, he took on, er, everyone else. Did he duck? Did he dodge? Did he avoid difficulty to ensure his status and the zero in his record column? That’s for somebody else to argue.

What is unarguable is that there won’t be another Mayweather for a very, very long time, if ever. He had the right combination of skills and business savvy to take over the sport, and then do as he pleased, right up until the sunset. Andre Berto will be his 49th victim, just as assured as his next car purchase. He’ll take heat from writers in the years to come, and maybe deservedly so. We watch superhero movies because the hero can do things nobody else can do. But we wouldn’t watch Thor fight some poor janitor. We watch because we want to see him against shaky odds.

The odds for Mayweather were never really against him. He made sure of it. And yet, whether some stared in awe of the skill level in front of them, or some watched to see if somebody could just land that one big shot against him, we all still watched.