Mosley-Mayweather: Classic good guy vs. bad guy
They’ve been sprinkled throughout boxing history, the intriguing hook that lures in not only boxing fans but also those with only a passing interest in the sport. They’ve run along racial boundaries and political beliefs and some have carried historical significance.
We’ve seen a softer version of it the past few months, leading up to the Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley fight Saturday at the MGM Grand. It’s the classic scenario that promoters love, TV executives crave and to some extent fighters relish: The good guy-vs.-bad guy matchup.
You don’t have to reach very deep to figure out who is who in this fight if you’re a fight fan.
“I think the good guy-bad guy images both fighters seem to carry is absolutely selling this fight and it’s the kind of fight people really do love,” said Ross Greenburg, President of HBO Sports. “Floyd’s a very complex dude who loves proving people wrong. He’s the kind of guy who the family man makes sure to put his kids to sleep before he watches 24/7 to see what Floyd will do next while Shane comes across as someone you have to like. Anyone who meets Shane loves him. You can’t not like him. That’s what we have playing out here – and it is the perfect good guy-bad guy matchup.”
But this GG-BG matchup does come with some blurred lines. While Mayweather is perceived as the arrogant, brash, making-it-rain-money punk by many, he has a very strong following in urban areas, whether it’s by design or not.
Most people can’t stand him, it seems, but some identify with him.
“Among the inner-city, there’s a heavy liking for Floyd,” said boxing historian Bert Sugar. “He tries to carry a Muhammad Ali-type persona that sells well, but those outside that community, Floyd can be perceived as a bad guy. It does really fall along those lines, so does the fact that Shane is not perceived as a black man by many. He’s looked at almost as a white man. You had those some racial lines drawn in the first Ali-Frazier fight.”
Mayweather loves the bad guy role and plays it well: Many people really don’t like him. For example, 27 of 30 boxing writers and others in the business interviewed for this story picked Mayweather to beat Mosley. Asked who they want to win, 28 of 30 said they would be rooting for Mosley.
“It is more nuanced than people think,” said one of the respondents to the poll. “Media and the fans have a lot of respect for Floyd, and privately, he can be a really nice guy. But his act is a little stale and people are fed up with it. He goes on about people picking on him because he’s black. Now he’s being disrespectful to the greats, like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson. There’s no reason for him to behave like this and do the things that he does.”
Some compare Mayweather’s brashness to that of Ali and suggest he falls well short of the master. Whereas Ali could pull off a rambling, pompous spiel and be entertaining. Mayweather can give a similar diatribe but come off as insecure, petulant and arrogant beyond his achievements.
Meanwhile, Mosley is invariably a pleasure to be around.
“You won’t come across a more ÔÇª honest, sweet man like Shane,” said Naazim Richardson, Mosley’s trainer. “It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to work with him. He’s not only one of the greatest fighters of his generation, he’s someone everyone in boxing loves and respects.”
But we can’t ignore the fact that Mosley admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs and Mayweather hasn’t, although has had his brushes with the law.
“That’s right, Mosley used PEDs, admitted it, and look at me, clean,” Mayweather said. “You won’t find any PEDs in me. And people like this man? When history looks back at my career, they’ll see I was better than Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.”
So let’s peer into some areas of GG-BG.
No fight in history had a racial element comparable to Jack Johnson’s heavyweight title defense against Jim Jeffries in 1910. It was black vs. white. It was good guy, Jeffries, vs. bad guy, Johnson.
Only the perceived bad guy won handily, sparking riots across a racist country. It got so bad, the film of the Johnson-Jeffries fight was banned in many American cities in an attempt to dissuade the thought of black superiority over the white race. It was something even supported by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Mayweather-Mosley might be better compared to Ali-Frazier, Mayweather being the brash Ali and Mosley being the more-benign Frazier who was portrayed by Ali as the white man’s champion.
“It’s just the way Floyd has been marketed, and the inner-city community is who Floyd’s people have targeted, and they’ve done a great job,” Sugar said. “On the other hand, you have Shane, raised middleclass, raised to be respectful, not arrogant. Yes, some people do view Shane as white.”
Neither Mayweather nor Mosley express their political views. That certainly wasn’t the case with Ali at a time America was engaged in an unpopular war in Vietnam in the 1960s and early-1970s that literally split the nation in half. Ali was drafted and expected to serve in the military but refused induction into the army, after which all hell broke loose.
Thus, Ali was the perceived bad guy in many eyes in Fight of the Century II, in 1971, and Frazier the good guy. What it actually was was a referendum on the Vietnam War. That night, the supposed good guy won, and hardhats across the nation threw up their beer mugs and saluted Frazier.
The Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight in 1938 at Yankee Stadium was the most-historical even in boxing history. The world was on the brink of world war and Schmeling was perceived as a symbol of Nazism, Hitler’s tool to prove the Arian race was superior to all others – including black people.
The fight grabbed the world’s attention. Louis, the first African-American national hero, took on the good guy role. President Franklin Roosevelt grabbed Louis’ bicep and said, “Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany.” Meanwhile, Schmeling was viewed as evil incarnate. So when Louis crushed Schmeling in the first round, the good guys won a big one.
In actuality, Louis motivation was to avenge his only loss at the time, which came against Schmeling in 1936. Schmeling was never a Nazi. His manager, Joe Jacobs, was Jewish, and prior to the outbreak of war, Schmeling, at great danger to himself, hid a Jewish family from the Gestapo.
In time, Louis and Schmeling became friends, and both today are remembered as good guys.
Time does play a strong role in the GG-BG scenario. In time, Johnson became the father of the modern athlete, a swashbuckling trailblazer who’s revered by whites and blacks alike today for overcoming oppressively racial times. Ali is viewed as an international icon whose beliefs and attitude about the Vietnam War are respected. And Schmeling became a beloved figure in Germany and a respected one worldwide.
Will history look back at Mayweather the same way, as a misunderstood superstar who wasn’t embraced by some fans of his time but gradually gained universal respect?
“Who knows,” Greenburg said. “When you’re with Floyd, one on one, he’s great, fantastic. It does bother him if someone doesn’t like him. That’s different. He wants to be a good guy, he wants you and me and everyone to like him. As a group, looking at the larger perspective, he doesn’t mind if you hate him. He said it, ‘love me, hate me, as long as you watch me.’ I mean what other fighter today would come out and say that they’re better than Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson? That’s blasphemy in boxing. Floyd has no sociological backdrop to his career like Ali did, but when you step back and look at his whole body of work, see how special a fighter he is, and if he can achieve all the things he wants to achieve, maybe.
“It could happen that one day we look back at Floyd Mayweather and put him up there with Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.”
Who knows, maybe one day fans will look back at Floyd Mayweather as a good guy. Time will tell.
Joseph Santoliquito is Managing Editor of THE RING magazine.