Though he may be the greatest boxer of his generation, the real pleasure in viewing Floyd Mayweather is watching him avoid boxing.
You will doubtless have heard by now that mixed-martial artist Conor McGregor would like to fight Mayweather. Very badly. He believes he has about a hundred million reasons to do so.
The Irishman has spent years desperately goading Mayweather, and most of the past 12 months chasing him around the world waving a contract and a pen.
Mayweather, 40, has been at his teasing best throughout. In February, he told ESPN the fight was "very, very close." Shortly thereafter he announced, "I am happily retired and enjoying life at this time."
This week, McGregor engaged in the charade of signing a contract to hold the fight. Mayweather's signature wasn't on it. This deal was between McGregor and his own promoters, including Ultimate Fighting Championship boss Dana White. This is like me showing up with a Photoshopped deed to your house, and then asking when it would be convenient to move into your living room.
White, a man who mistakes bluster for gravitas, said, "I've got one side done. Now it's time to work on the other."
Well, I've got one side of my Microsoft takeover done. Now I just need to talk to Bill Gates.
If you want a sense of how well those back-and-forths are going, White has already made the mistake of publicly offering Mayweather a $25-million (U.S.) purse.
Asked what he thought of the number, Mayweather said, "He's a [expletive] comedian," and pulled up his coat sleeve so that everyone could see his $300,000 watch.
Nonetheless, the fight will probably happen. Pay-per-view suckers will rain money down on these two like Niagara Falls. Like the banks, ideas this profitable are too big to fail.
But it will definitely be done entirely on Mayweather's terms. He'll set the financial terms, the date and the venue. He'll make more and get a chunk of the concessions. He'll get top billing. He'll pick the gloves.
Mayweather has proved again and again that his ego is so large it finds space to obsess over the smallest detail. It took Manny Pacquiao five years to get Mayweather into a ring, and only after caving on every point. That was an ongoing process. Whenever Pacquiao thought he'd buckled enough, Mayweather bent him some more.
This may seem pointless, but it is the soul of the flaky modern fight game. The public – that is, the once-every-year-or-two boxing fan – doesn't care about a match until they've been told repeatedly that it cannot happen, or should not happen, or oh-my-god-how-did-this-happen. Those gullible schmucks are the ones who take you from big-house rich to own-a-private-island rich.
Nobody understands better than Mayweather that this – all this will-he-or-won't-he nonsense – is the main event. The fight itself will be a dog wrestling a bear at some third-rate carnival. It's a guaranteed dud.
McGregor has never boxed before, but proposes to start off against the finest ring tactician in modern history. I don't care how tough you are. Tough is not synonymous with hand speed or smarts or experience. Mayweather will take McGregor apart like an Ikea bookshelf.
The mismatch is so ridiculous that Floyd Mayweather Jr. has not bothered to do any of the taunting himself. He lets Floyd Sr. handle that angle.
"I'm a 64-year-old man and I'll beat [McGregor's] ass," the elder Mayweather said recently, already sounding bored with the idea as he said it.
That feeling's going around. There may never before have been a fight that so many people agree is so hopelessly one-sided, and yet so many still want to see. McGregor's been the one doing all the talking, but he's not the reason why. It's Mayweather's haughty silence that provides most of the allure. This is where he's at his best – playing the reluctant object of desire.
Having watched him in his declining years, it's becoming clear that the courting stage is the only part of the sport Mayweather still enjoys.
He was alive in the leadup to that Pacquiao fight in 2015, arrogant and imperious at all the preliminaries.
The match itself was a dreadful slog. Though Las Vegas is Mayweather's hometown, the audience inside the MGM Grand Arena booed him as it ended.
An hour after what was supposed to be the crowning achievement of his career, Mayweather emerged surly and out-of-sorts.
He busted into the middle of Pacquiao's presser without apology. He said he'd just been handed a hundred-million-dollar cheque (the absolute minimum he will accept to fight McGregor). He said he'd fight once more, in order to equal Rocky Marciano's 49-0 record, and then quit. Though he'd won, he looked defeated.
Mayweather's become a promoter since. This week, he was in London pushing his protégé, Gervonta Davis, who'll defend his IBF junior lightweight title on Saturday night.
Davis is a hard young man and a promising fighter. He tried to pull the spotlight to himself, but the boss kept stealing it back. Mayweather taunted Davis's opponent, a soft-spoken fellow named Liam Walsh, calling him a "super-cold bum." He called Walsh's brothers "leprechauns" and offered to fight them during a protracted screaming match.
Walsh tried to defend himself in part by saying that, unlike Mayweather, he isn't interested in the money. He has his family, his happiness and his health.
Mayweather scoffed, "One thing I learned, when it's time to cut the lights off when the bills are due, you can't go tell the bill man 'I love you' and they'll keep the lights on. So remember that."
Floyd clearly does.
Boxing is easy for him, but evidently gives him little pleasure. He likes the money, the prestige, and the sense of physical superiority. However, his real thrill is the sensation of being pursued – whether by Pacquiao or McGregor or some guy's brothers he's never even heard of. He can play that game all day long.
But eventually Mayweather must allow himself to be caught. And then the fun ends.