Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s legacy hinges on Pacquiao superfight
Floyd Mayweather Jr. may go down in history as the smartest boxer, both inside and outside of the ring. He has manipulated his foes and rivals with equal aptitude at the negotiating table and on fight night.
Since turning professional 19 years ago, he has been the quintessential winner in boxing. Call him shrewd, call him Machiavellian, just don’t call him a loser.
At last Wednesday’s press conference to announce his biggest bout yet, against Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather left the trash talk and intimidation tactics at home. There was no need for any of it; after five years of intense fan and media pressure, the two already have the fans’ money to the estimated tune of a quarter billion dollars.
There was little of interest said between the two that would create sensational headlines, but the one notable quotable that Mayweather did impart to the more than 700 credentialed reporters on hand was directed towards the one element that most separates the two fighters’ careers: perfection.
“One thing I do know about any sport: When you lose, it’s in your mind,” said Mayweather. “If you lost once, it’s in your mind. If you lost twice, it’s in your mind. From day one, I was always taught to be a winner, no matter what.”
Though it sounds like he’s trying to convince Pacquiao that his losses have affected him mentally, he brings up valid points about Pacquiao’s shortcomings.
Through 47 fights the 38-year-old Mayweather has yet to register a defeat while Pacquiao, regarded as his greatest rival this decade, has the wantonness of his style indicated in a 57-5-2 (38 knockouts) record.
At 36, Pacquiao is fighting on borrowed time. The knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, which many felt at the time killed all hope of a Mayweather clash, put an expiration date on the Filipino boxer’s career.
The fight had to happen now, not only for Pacquiao’s sake but for Mayweather’s as well.
For all of his accomplishments, which include world titles in 5 divisions, the highest-grossing boxing event of all time (Mayweather vs. Saul Alvarez) and the highest-selling pay-per-view fight of all time (Mayweather vs Oscar De La Hoya), there have always been detractors who have said he doesn’t belong in the class of Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Whichever opinion you take on that matter is a matter of personal biases and preference. But the one name that has been used to diminish Mayweather more than any other has been Pacquiao.
Mayweather has said this fight is “just another fight” for him. His words at the press conference tell a different story: “I never wanted to win a fight so bad in my life.”
Mayweather said that he hadn’t focused on Pacquiao until this year, but even back in 2007, as he was preparing to face De La Hoya, Pacquiao was on his mind. When asked at the time by this writer what he felt about some reporters suggesting that Pacquiao deserved to supplant him as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, he reacted with indignation.
“When he got beat by (Erik) Morales, I was world champion. When he had that draw, when he knocked [Marquez] down three times in the first round and still got a draw, which means he really took [a loss], I still was world champion. Before he became champion, I was champion. When he won the belt, I was champion. When he lost the belt, I was champion. When he won it again, I was champion.”
Mayweather knew that a win over De La Hoya would make him the crossover boxing superstar he was always destined to become. But perhaps even at that time he knew, despite being separated by 5 divisions, the unconditional respect he sought would come by beating Pacquiao.
The first sentiments from Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe at the press conference credited the two fighters’ meeting at an NBA game in January, and their meet-up discussion at a hotel later that night, with helping break through negotiations on a complicated deal involving rival promoters and advisers, plus both the HBO and Showtime networks.
But perhaps Mayweather saw an opportunity in Pacquiao, who was once the most feared finisher in all of boxing but hasn’t scored a knockout in six years. In Pacquiao’s most recent fight against Chris Algieri this past November, Pacquiao scored six knockdowns against his relatively inexperienced foe, but also failed to cut off the ring at times, allowing the New Yorker to survive the 12-round distance.
Pacquiao’s failures in ring generalship also caused him to walk into more lead right hands than he should’ve.
The Pacquiao-Algieri fight may have been Mayweather’s “Marvin Hagler vs. John Mugabi” moment, referring to the night that Sugar Ray Leonard realized Hagler had slipped to the point where he could beat him on certain terms.
In either case, this is a fight that Mayweather should win, as indicated by the opening betting odds that installed him as a 3-to-1 favorite to be 48-0 on May 3. He’s got the advantages in technical ability and size, and hasn’t taken the same punishment that Pacquiao has.
How important is one fight to a fighter’s legacy? If you had a time machine and could travel back to May 14, 2004 – the day before Roy Jones Jr. was knocked out in two rounds by Antonio Tarver – and compared the way he is perceived today, you’d understand just how much one fight can change everything.
Mayweather has insisted on being viewed as “TBE,” or “The Best Ever” which brings with it a higher standard of performance than it does for others. Not only will Mayweather have to defeat Pacquiao on May 2, he’ll have to do so clearly and definitively.
“The world will stop,” as Mayweather said, and a close fight under such a spotlight would open Mayweather to criticism, both fair and unfair. A loss would be catastrophic, as it’d validate the years of claims that Mayweather had avoided Pacquiao because his style was disadvantageous.
“I have nothing to prove,” Mayweather told a select few reporters on Wednesday.
He couldn’t be further from the truth.
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.