You have to hand it to Floyd Mayweather. He’s not just the best boxer of the 21st century. He’s also sport’s most shameless hustler.
When Mayweather last caught serious attention, he was coming out of retirement (again) to put the dimmer on mixed martial arts’ brightest light.
The consensus was that Mayweather’s boxing match with Conor McGregor was a lucrative last hurrah. It hadn’t exactly burnished his image, but image burnishing was never Mayweather’s strong suit.
After that fight, he was 40 years old and had a promotions business to keep him busy.
That didn’t last long. It quickly became clear that the only really promotable commodity on Mayweather’s roster was himself. So now he has returned to teasing his own fights.
There is the confusingly on-again, off-again match with a Japanese cage fighter whom no one on this side of the Pacific has heard of. The fight – if that’s the right word for it – against Tenshin Kasukawa will go on New Year’s Eve. Mayweather’s referring to it as “an exhibition.” There will be no kicking. It’s only three rounds. The result will not be marked on either man’s record.
The only motivation to do it is money, which Mayweather keeps telling people he has so much of he doesn’t know where it’s all kept. Either he loves money more than anyone ever, or he has a lot less of it than he claims.
You don’t ever want to get high and mighty about the purity of sport, but this is too much. It’s unseemly.
More than any other sport save chess, boxing is an art. An expert works decades to perfect the craft. Mayweather is the closest thing we’ve got to van Gogh.
And now he’s out there throwing buckets of paint at a wall in return for a paycheque he doesn’t need.
If this is Mayweather’s late-career ouevre, he’s got out of the masterpiece business and into the creation of cheap happenings.
Now he’s wandered back to the Ultimate Fighting Championship in search of an ego boost.
UFC boss Dana White would like Mayweather to fight his bright young thing, Khabib Nurmagomedov. You will best remember Nurmagomedov from his recent disassembling of McGregor, and the subsequent line brawl that ended that fight.
“These guys are in big trouble,” White said after that farce. I suppose that’s White-speak for “One guy of these guys is going to get super-rich.”
Before Mayweather agreed to fight McGregor, there was a long period of flirtation via public insult. We’re in the early stages of that again.
“If Mayweather wants to fight, come fight. We fight in the UFC. We’re not boxing again,” White said recently in his favoured press pose – standing outside a five-star hotel being taped by paparazzi.
In a similar environment – street-side, surrounded by his crew – Mayweather shot back.
“If you guys want the fight to happen, you must come my way,” Mayweather said. “My way, my rules.”
Then, as he tends to do, Mayweather wandered off on an unrelated tangent about a house he’d just bought in Los Angeles (he lives in Las Vegas).
“I think its somewhere upwards of – they keep throwing different numbers out there – I think it’s, like, 30,000 square feet, 17 bathrooms, 11 bedrooms, five laundry rooms, three kitchens.”
(Who needs five laundry rooms? Why not one laundry room and five washers? But I digress.)
This fight makes no sense. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boxing match, an MMA bout or a couple of guys playing tiddlywinks on pay-per-view. However they set it up, it’ll be a pointless gong show because one or the other will be doing something it has not been trained to do.
It’d make just as much sense to have Tom Brady and Tiger Woods compete at log rolling.
We’ve entered a period in which the ridiculousness of an endeavour is an argument against it, but the very reason to do it. One of the signs of decline in great empires is the debasement of their arts.
You may or may not care about boxing, but it has a richer tradition than any other sport. It’s the Shakespeare of athletics – it translates well around the world.
You don’t need to be middle class to be able to afford to learn how to do it. You don’t need to be unusually large. You don’t need to understand the finer points to appreciate the courage it requires. It’s elemental.
And though it has declined massively in popularity over the past 40 years, and was always riven by corruption and politics, it has remained largely as it was. Two guys of the same weight get into a ring and hit each other with their fists until one wins.
A generation ago, no one in boxing – especially someone as great at it as Mayweather – would have wanted to sully that tradition.
Now, led by the best fighter of his generation, there has been a broad freedom granted to pursue jackpots at the expense of greatness.
One wonders if the sport’s current best – Anthony Joshua, Canelo Alvarez, Vasily Lomachenko, et al – are taking notes and planning for their own retirement. They can end it off with a little MMA-lite barnstorming.
That is probably the inevitable direction. Boxing is a job. Doing a bowdlerized version of it for five times the money makes good financial sense.
But, if so, what a disappointing end. The one thing boxing still had going for it was its resistance to progress. Years passed, but it didn’t change.
Mayweather is trying to drag it into a future that exists beyond dignity. He’s already succeeded in diminishing his own.