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Mayweather-Berto press conference emphasizes history over substance

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

With barely more than five weeks before the opening bell, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Andre Berto formally announced their Sept. 12 fight at a press conference in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Turns out we were in for a gentle scolding.

More than once people came to the podium and used the word of the day – “historic” – to bookend the complaint of the day – “negativity.” Virgil Hunter, Berto’s trainer, without naming any names, suggested that people who have criticized the fight are people who aren’t really involved in boxing and don’t understand that “being 48-0 is not an easy job.”

Yes, that was Berto’s trainer telling us to ease up on Floyd. But what about his guy?

Speculation had circulated for weeks that Berto was the Chosen One to face Mayweather at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas but a mix of incredulity and lack of an official confirmation kept the boxing world off balance until Tuesday, when Floyd dropped the news via Twitter and Instagram.

One question answered immediately was the broadcast format. It was rumored that Mayweather might use the inroads carved by adviser Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions to land the fight on CBS for free. No, it will be Showtime Pay Per View.

“No one is forced to buy the fight,” said Mayweather. To be fair, he didn’t say it with any arrogance. He’ll be grateful to anyone who does buy it, he said, but he focused — like everyone else — on the claim that this fight is about “history,” the conclusion of a “remarkable career” against a “tough competitor.”

But the question was still, “Why Berto?” To say that he is an unpopular choice would be a kindness to the man from Florida, who has gone 3-3 in his last six fights with the most recent loss a TKO at the hands of Jesus Soto Karass, who’s tough as hell but not generally considered a threat to top-tier fighters. Once touted as the heir to Mayweather in the welterweight division, Berto has now attracted words like “past his prime” and even “shot” alongside words like “joke” and “wtf” in reaction to this fight being made.

Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza said, “I’ve seen (Berto) fight round after round barely able to see … fighting one-armed … As long as I’m at Showtime fighters like Andre Berto will always be welcome. No one fights like Berto.”

It was the closest thing to an explanation given. Mostly the message was just: Relax. Don’t criticize. We respect you, you should respect us. Don’t worry about who the opponent is. You’re seeing something historic (that being the last chance to see Mayweather fight).

Berto himself was characteristically humble, listing some of the difficult times he has endured and his belief that those trials hit him for a reason. For this fight, he said, he’s “dialed in.” Grateful, certainly. Confident, though? It was hard to tell. Hunter didn’t help much when he said, “We’re coming to win, but … still gotta recognize what (Mayweather) has accomplished.” Which sounded one step short of “we’re screwed.”

There was a definite sense that Berto is the sideshow to Mayweather’s alleged retirement. Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe even appeared to forget to introduce Berto for a moment and began to introduce Floyd instead. Mayweather caught his shoulder as if to say, “Hey, what about him?”

That rumored retirement is a major factor in the criticism. Mayweather (48-0, 26 knockouts) has said that he plans to call it a day following this fight, so delivering this as his “grand finale” has been seen as a complimentary slap by many fans who already felt cheated by Floyd’s unanimous decision over Manny Pacquiao on May 2. Those 12 rounds netted the winner about a quarter of a billion dollars but earned little approval from a general public who had been lured into the experience by mainstream-media hype blowing it up as “The Fight of the Century.”

“You guys put all the hype in Manny Pacquiao,” said Mayweather. “This fight is a very intriguing matchup.”

Why? Not much time spent on that.

In fact, the choice of Berto (30-3, 23 KOs) has also thrown fuel on the longstanding theory that this will not actually be the last we see of “Money.” One reason cited for that would be an attempt to break Rocky Marciano’s record of retiring unblemished at 49-0. Mayweather beats Berto (and then retires), he equals the mark, but “equaling” is not something that “TBE” is interested in, say those who support this theory.

Mayweather tried to distance himself from Marciano (whose name didn’t come up at the press conference) before the Pacquiao fight, saying, “My daughter can’t eat an undefeated record.” Making money is the goal. And he has proven himself to have no peers in that regard, having topped Forbes’ “highest-paid athlete in the world” list three times. Those are the kinds of records he and Ellerbe are interested in.

He’ll get paid to fight Berto, regardless. The fight is the final installment of a six-bout deal with Showtime guaranteeing Mayweather $32 million even if a single person doesn’t buy the pay-per-view. The amount goes up with each one who does.

Ellerbe said he knew that people have doubted the retirement angle, “But trust me … better take a good look at him.” (He then threw in a scold of his own, suggesting that Mayweather’s historic accomplishments had facilitated all those “pay raises” for the media. Enjoy that one, media friends.) It was again this idea of creating a hallowed atmosphere around the event — the last chance to see Mayweather fight — that appears to be the main marketing angle.

And a large portion of Mayweather’s time at the podium was used for what sounded like goodbye. He thanked everybody close to him and just everybody within earshot, saying that he “wouldn’t change a thing” about his career. It would’ve added a lot if Mayweather’s raspy voice was due to emotion, but he said it was just because he “was up late last night.”

Perhaps the only moment with any real substance in an otherwise somber press conference was when Mayweather concluded his speech by saying, “This dream all started with just two people. Just two. Me …” and then turned to his father, Floyd Sr., who had been sitting quietly at the back of the stage, “… and him.”

So will the “dream” continue after Sept. 12?

Actually scratch that, because the best moment came when I was typing this story up in the Marriot lobby. The TMT entourage suddenly came through, a crowd of lights, cameras, hats and bodyguards, and the woman sitting across the coffee table from me says, “That’s the guy who cursed me out last night! Mayweather!”