Floyd Mayweather and the science of spinning garbage into gold
It was supposed to be the end. But deep down inside, we all knew he would be back. The question was what would it take to bring boxing’s biggest financial force back into the squared circle.
After Floyd Mayweather collected his 49th victory against Andre Berto in September in 2015, the man who calls himself “Money” stated that he had nothing left to prove and retired. He cited fatigue and wanted to get out of the game while his senses were still intact. After all, this has been the master of high reward/low risk and he had reached a point where it made little sense to put himself through training camps against opponents that couldn’t yield a pretty penny. His bout with Berto brought in an estimated 400k buys, the lowest for Mayweather in a decade. Granted, his 400k was still more than a majority of his peers. For a comparison, both of the PPV bouts between Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev, two of the top 5 pound-for-pound fighters in the world, couldn’t yield 400k PPV buys … combined. But Mayweather doesn’t do good, he does great and after his box office-busting bout with Manny Pacquiao, there weren’t many great options.
But then came a brash Irishman from the UFC who, like Mayweather, thought outside of the box. He wasn’t invincible, but he had a mouth that spewed golden words and hands that put away some of the MMA’s best fighters. UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor dared to be great and put it into the atmosphere that a fighter with no professional boxing experience could challenge one of the greatest of all time.
But because combat sports are something that tend to be misunderstood in the age of social media, the notion began to take off. Hardcore fans from both sides knew better, but the appeal of both Mayweather and McGregor was bigger than hardcore fans. And the financial windfall began to creep toward Mayweather-Pacquiao levels.
Did you really expect Floyd Mayweather to turn down what was essentially free money? If you are a retired acoustic guitarist and some guy who is a master at Rock Band challenged you to an acoustic solo competition for an absurd amount of money, would you turn it down? Exactly.
So, here we are, right back where we weren’t supposed to be. It’s sweltering in the Mayweather Boxing Club and can be likened to hell multiplied by the Sahara desert and put in a red brick oven. But the atmosphere on August 10 was even more claustrophobic than the usual media day that accompanied Mayweather fights. This time, joining the boxing media would be the MMA media, who got their first taste of what it is like being around Mayweather before a big event. Many of them showed up early, which immediately showed how naive they were to the process. It was a unique air, as the worlds of MMA and boxing share minor similarities, but the intricacies are, obviously, worlds apart. And the MMA media did their best to acclimate themselves in this world, where even they expect the first UFC fighter to simultaneously hold world titles in two weight classes to drown.
“Don’t get mad at us, we didn’t ask for this!” Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe said regarding the criticism that has been lobbed toward everything from the matchup to the perceived slow ticket sales. “That’s what’s wrong with boxing right now: Nobody wants to think outside of the box.”
You can’t really blame Mayweather for taking the fight. But you can blame the casual fan that has bought into the spectacle of it all. This shouldn’t be remotely competitive, but talking heads on sports stations have managed to create an atmosphere of doubt and intrigue. Ellerbe recognizes this and cites how the spectacle on August 26 is driven primarily by those casual fans who can be likened to the individuals who show up for the Super Bowl party, root for a team but couldn’t tell you who will be under center.
“The general interest from the casual fan who is very excited is what makes this massive,” he says while citing that this fight is expected to break the box office record for a boxing event, which Mayweather currently holds at $72.2 million for his fight with Pacquiao. Mayweather-McGregor is already at $60 million despite not being sold out.
As for the other boxing promoters who have scoffed at the idea of the fight, Ellerbe has a message for them as well.
“The same guys that were hating on this are the same guys who wanted to be a part of it,” Ellerbe said, visibly agitated with the criticism. “(Bob Arum) wasn’t saying this when he openly said that if the Mayweather deal couldn’t come together he’d love to put Pacquiao with him. And then the other idiot, Oscar (De La Hoya). And, yes, I did call him an idiot because that’s what I think of him. When he says that he’d love to promote Conor McGregor but doesn’t see any other fight for him but Canelo. It was okay when they wanted to be a part of it. But now that they aren’t involved, they want to trash it.”
Love it or hate it, it’s an event that’s going to make a lot of money. But rest assured that it won’t be competitive.
Surprisingly, Mayweather enters the gym at a reasonable hour with a fleet of luxurious cars following him. This is a far cry from the Mayweather that would show up an hour or two late for the media sessions. But you get the feeling that he really would prefer to get this part over with. He changes, takes a seat in the front lobby area where the media are awaiting his arrival and fields questions about the fight.
He addresses his age (“I need more rest”), his comments that McGregor has advantages (“I said that on paper everything leans toward Conor McGregor but I never said that he was going to beat me”) and the fight not being a sellout (“We’re doing crazy numbers. Forget what y’all hearing”). To be completely honest, if you’ve seen one Mayweather interview, you’ve seen them all. He’s ready and well rehearsed. He’s done this over and over to the point that a seasoned boxing writer could write their story before interviewing him and be correct with about 75 percent of the things said.
Mayweather wraps up and heads over to the virtual conveyor belt of video interviews. He knocks them down just as quickly as they are lined up and darts to the ring to begin his workout. Shadowboxing with weights, heavy bag work, speed bag, medicine ball, abdominal exercises and more come in succession despite the gym having unruly levels of heat. Most media members who arrived as middleweights will leave as junior welterweights by the time Mayweather is done with his marathon workout.
At 40 years of age, Floyd Mayweather is in phenomenal shape. While some aspect of this is genetics, a great deal of it is the work he puts in. Unlike many other fighters, Mayweather puts himself through these grueling sessions that have become second nature to him. Media chase after him like TMZ hawking Kim Kardashian as Mayweather moves swiftly through the gym. It’s evident that the MMA media members are in awe of the previously retired boxer’s conditioning.
It’s frightening to think that Conor McGregor has only fought in a few 25-minute bouts, where his conditioning was in question, while Mayweather has routinely gone 36 minutes in the boxing ring. Which leads many to believe that given his athletic prowess and boxing IQ, Mayweather is perfectly capable of scoring a late-round KO. While McGregor has boasted of finishing off “Money” in four, Mayweather uncharacteristically predicts that he’ll send home McGregor before the judges are involved.
“He believes that it’s not going past four rounds and I believe that it’s not going the distance at all,” he says.
As the gym empties, the reality sets in that this will probably be Mayweather’s last rodeo. Whether you love him or hate him, Floyd Mayweather has brought attention to the sport like few others have. There will always be questions about who he didn’t fight and why. But he’s unparalleled as a businessman in this sport. Yes, the real boxing match takes place on September 16 between Canelo and GGG, but the event is on August 26. None of us are being forced to watch it but a vast majority of us will because of the magnitude of it all.
Mayweather is no perfect human being by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s become the consummate businessman that has laid a unique blueprint that won’t likely be followed by another boxer anytime soon.
Floyd Mayweather (49-0) vs. Conor McGregor (0-0) at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, for nothing in particular but a ton of money to both fighters.
Who else can pull this off?
Photos by Esther Lin / Showtime