“I make it look so easy.” — Floyd Mayweather
For the 49th time in his illustrious career, Floyd Mayweather walked away a winner on Saturday night, defeating Andre Berto by unanimous decision. The victory was clear. The performance vintage, with Mayweather landing 56 percent of his punches and Berto only 16 percent.
The criticism about the lack of action was expected. At 38 years of age, Mayweather remains undefeated, the pound-for-pound champion, and reaffirmed his intention to retire not only with more money than any other boxer before him, but with more big-money opportunities still left on the table unexplored. Because Mayweather has carried his incredible defensive abilities, speed and boxing IQ into the twilight of his career, he seems more villainized for his decision to retire from the sport than any other athlete, or at least boxer, in recent memory.
Mayweather is a victim of his own success. If he’d succumbed to a cliched story line about excessive partying that leads to losses, personal tragedies or a general decline that the boxing world has seen countless times, no one would question Mayweather’s decision to retire. If he’d gone the way of athletic marvels like Roy Jones Jr. who couldn’t carry his once-in-a-lifetime reflexes and speed into the final act of his career, there’s no doubt fans and pundits would be more accepting of Mayweather’s retirement.
But Mayweather has barely lost a step. At 38, against a former two-time world champion with fast hands, popcorn muscles and in the prime of his youth, Mayweather isn’t supposed to be able to land video-game style punches like a leaping left uppercut lead. Actually, that’s damn near impossible against any top-tier talent in the sport. But Mayweather seemed to do it easily against Andre Berto.
And there’s the rub. Mayweather’s skills continue to make everything in the ring look far too easy. That narrative doesn’t fit the story line that fans and pundits are used to seeing. It goes against everything they know about the sport and makes them hyper-critical of anything Mayweather has brought to the table.
Would a final fight against Amir Khan been more palatable for most boxing fans? Sure, although it’s difficult to concede that he would have fared any better against Mayweather. Chris Algieri reminded everyone that despite the tutelage of Virgil Hunter, Khan remains an inconsistent performer who just can’t seem to grasp the potential that always seems just out of reach.
As surely as night follows day, however, had Mayweather fought Khan and defeated him as easily as he did Berto (which is a very likely outcome), there’s no doubt in this writer’s mind that many pundits would be just as loud and critical as they are now. They would have said Ramadan got in the way of a full training camp for Khan. That Khan had been knocked out before and out-boxed for several rounds by a guy that Manny Pacquiao knocked down six times, so he couldn’t have been a real danger. Why would these critics act the same even if the opponent had been different? Because Mayweather has long ceased competing against other fighters. He’s been competing with perceptions of what “fighting” should be.
Everyone understands, admires, and tips his or her hat at brawlers in a back-and-forth, toe-to-toe match-up like James Kirkland vs. Alfredo Angulo. It’s exciting and raw. When matches are more one-sided, as in the drubbing Manny Pacquiao handed Oscar De La Hoya on his way out of the sport, no fans scratch their heads wondering if they saw a good fight. The violence is plain and easily digestible.
When Mayweather potshots, shoulder rolls, pivots away from the ropes and routinely keeps his opponents to less than a 20 percent hit percentage, even longtime fans of the sport ask themselves if they’ve been cheated of “action.” What these fans and pundits don’t seem to really appreciate is just how damn hard it is not to get hit in the ring. It’s not that Mayweather hasn’t given viewers “action” — it’s that he’s given them defense.
So people are now calling for a (pipe) dream match-up against Gennady Golovkin, not just because they believe Golovkin can challenge and beat Mayweather, but also because they believe/hope Golovkin can transform Mayweather into a different kind of fighter. They expect that to win, Mayweather will magically transform into a scrapper for one night. Ludicrous. Golovkin would have no more success at doing that than Wladimir Klitschko would have with the same task.
In a fight, the heavyweight champion would undoubtedly win and probably knock out Mayweather (if he could catch him), but he would not transform Mayweather into something he’s not. Golovkin, although much closer in weight and height to Mayweather, would present a number of great challenges for Mayweather and possibly even dethrone him, but Mayweather would either live or die by his defense. No matter the onslaught that Golovkin brought, Mayweather wouldn’t transform into Henry Armstrong for the night.
Some believe that a victory against Golovkin would do much for validating Mayweather’s claim to the best ever status. In order to entice Mayweather to move up in weight, they say that even a good performance would improve his standing. Unlikely.
Many rightfully praise the great Roberto Duran for fighting at several weight classes and taking on big men like middleweight destroyer “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, but Duran lost to Hagler. Many casual fans don’t even know these two great men fought, much less how the fight unfolded. More serious fans know that Duran gave a valiant effort, showed his skills could almost tame a bigger man, but that ultimately, Hagler’s late-fight urgency won the night. Even more critical students of the fight game know that as much credit is given to Duran for stepping up against Hagler, Duran’s legacy was elevated more by destroying Davey Moore (capturing a belt in a third weight class) in his fight before facing Hagler and then capturing the welterweight title against Iran Barkley after suffering a brutal knockout at the hands of Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns.
Facing Golovkin wouldn’t be enough for some critics. Even winning wouldn’t do the trick. Mayweather would have to out-gunsling the biggest knockout artist the middleweight division has seen in years to earn the respect, or begrudging praise, of some fans and pundits. Instead of that, Mayweather has opted to leave the sport, rich and while he’s ahead. He might not be the greatest of all time (he’s definitely not), but he’s better than most of the criticism levied against him. And for those who didn’t appreciate his ring generalship, his slips, his parries and the shoulder roll that iconized his defense, don’t worry, you’re not going to see those skills wrapped up into one boxer again in your lifetime.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.