NEW YORK -- The Paper Champion made his way toward the stage, arms raised, a toothy smile creasing his face. These are the moments Floyd Mayweather lives for and craves, those meticulously planned, carefully choreographed entrances where all eyes lock on him. They feed his ego and reassure the most insecure star in sports that, indeed, he is still No. 1.
Here was Mayweather, back in the spotlight, back in front of hundreds of adoring fans who had poured into Hudson Theatre in Times Square on Tuesday -- the first stop on a glitzy press tour to promote his Sept. 17 fight against Victor Ortiz in Las Vegas -- basking in the moment. He waved to the crowd, glad-handed the media and listened as television, hotel and boxing executives fawned over his skills and thanked him profusely for gracing the world with his return.
They have to, of course. A Mayweather fight means a sold-out hotel for the MGM Grand corporation and a lucrative pay-per-view and a highly-rated 24/7 series for HBO. They have to extol his virtues. They have to smile and nod when Mayweather says he "absolutely" wants a fight with Manny Pacquiao even though, privately, most know he will continue to do everything he can to avoid it.
That's what it all circles back to, isn't it? There's nothing wrong with fighting the 24-year-old Ortiz, a ferocious-punching titleholder who is a rising star. There is a reasonable amount of danger for the 34-year-old in an Ortiz fight because, historically, Mayweather has had trouble with southpaws and even more trouble with fighters who back him up with consistent pressure. But it's not the one fight, the only fight, anyone around boxing really wants to see.
Mayweather says he doesn't need Pacquiao, and too many people are starting to believe him. He says his victories against Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Shane Mosley are enough to elevate him to the level of greatest of all time, while his status as a pay-per-view giant -- 6.9 million buys and counting -- makes him a bona fide star.
The truth: Without Pacquiao, Mayweather is incomplete, a paper champion with a résumé at which Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran would sniff. He is the LeBron James of boxing, an extraordinarily talented phenom who has never lived up to his potential. Whereas LeBron has shrank in big moments, Mayweather simply avoids them. He has had too many chances to fight Pacquiao, far too many to dismiss as bad timing or bad luck. Last summer he dispatched adviser Al Haymon to hammer out a complicated deal with Top Rank's Bob Arum and HBO's Ross Greenburg. When Haymon came back, Mayweather simply told him he wasn't interested anymore. Another adviser, Leonard Ellerbe, bizarrely denied that negotiations had ever happened.
Mayweather is enabled, too, by a boxing press corps that, predominantly, refuses to challenge him. During a 35-minute meeting with reporters, he was lobbed softball after softball, "questions" like why he doesn't get enough credit for elevating the sport or why his past opponents are criticized while Pacquiao's conquests -- several of which appear on Mayweather's list -- are praised. So comfortable is Mayweather in dictating to the boxing media that, while addressing a question about the most recent assault allegations against him, he had the audacity to tell the gaggle that he would "appreciate it if they write the story like I give it to them."
This is the bubble in which he lives, where his boorish behavior is ignored and grossly inaccurate statements are met with nods and "You're right, champ" affirmations. An example: While discussing performance-enhancing drugs in sports, Mayweather wondered why the public has been so quick to jump on Barry Bonds while "some guy from another country" (Pacquiao) can go from "106 pounds to 150-something." Never mind that it wasn't until the BALCO link to Bonds was established and his grand jury testimony was leaked that the embattled slugger came under a microscope. To date there has been no direct link between Pacquiao and steroids and, thus, no reason to lump him into Bonds' category. And never mind that in 1993 Mayweather was a 16-year-old, 106-pound amateur while in '95 Pacquiao, at the same age, was fighting professionally at the same weight.
These are insignificant details to Mayweather, whose opinions have been hardened by the legion of friends and advisers telling him that he is right. His assault on Pacquiao's character is pathetic, from the suggestions of steroid use to the racist, homophobic rant on Ustream last year that has since gone viral. He insists he will never fight Pacquiao without blood testing, but Arum and Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, have claimed that they have agreed to every one of Mayweather's demands.
This fight with Ortiz will be entertaining. It will sell out the arena and probably pocket close to 1.5 million PPV buys. But it will do nothing to enhance Mayweather's credentials, nothing to alter the opinions of anyone who matters. Until he faces -- and defeats -- Pacquiao, he will be a Hall of Fame fighter with a third-ballot résumé, a Paper Champion with great skills but without a truly defining win.
"One year. Give me one year and I'll be ready to fight Floyd Mayweather."-- Junior welterweight champion Amir Khan, who will face Zab Judah in a 140-pound unification fight next month. Khan added that he would be willing to face Tim Bradley in December if Bradley agreed.
"My name is Dr. Klitschko, I am a therapist and on July 2 I am going to give you treatment. It's going to be reality rehab. I will knock you out into reality."-- Unified heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, who has a Ph.D. in sports science, speaking to alphabet champion David Haye, his opponent July 2 in the most anticipated heavyweight fight in years.
"I'll knock him out. No chance for judges. I prefer fight in Germany, Sturm doesn't deserve fight in USA. B Fighter."-- Lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez (@maravillabox), reacting to Felix Sturm's controversial split-decision victory against Matthew Macklin last Saturday. A Martinez-Sturm bout is regarded as one of the few relevant fights in the middleweight division.
"I am planning to put @boxermikejones on a list for @MannyPacquiao to consider for 2012."-- Top Rank promoter Bob Arum (@bobarum), tweeting a week ago about Mike Jones, a rising welterweight contender. In mentioning Jones as a possible opponent for Pacquiao, Arum drew attention to Jones' fight against Raul Munoz last Saturday. Jones knocked out Munoz in the second round.
"Playing Fight Night Champion in hotel, knocked Wlad the f--- out in the 2nd. Its the future."-- Haye, in one of his many taunts directed at Klitschko on Twitter.
Five potentially interesting heavyweight fights that do not involve a Klitschko.
Chris Arreola vs. Tomasz Adamek: Adamek (44-1) outpointed an out-of-shape Arreola (32-2) in 2010. Since then, Arreola has enlisted the help of trainer Ronnie Shields and rededicated himself to boxing. He has come in at career-low weights in his last two fights and looked sharp in both. Adamek has a date with Vitali Klitschko this fall, but a rematch with Arreola in early 2012 is a good possibility.
Denis Boytsov vs. Alexander Povetkin: Povetkin's claim to fame is passing on an opportunity to face Wladimir Klitschko. Povetkin's trainer, Teddy Atlas, made the decision because he believed his 31-year-old fighter (21-0) wasn't ready. Boytsov (28-0) is a heavy-handed prospect who has knocked out his last five opponents. Both men need an opponent, both like to fight out of Germany. What's the problem?
Tony Thompson vs. Eddie Chambers: Thompson, 39, and Chambers, 29, are working their way back from losses to Wladimir Klitschko. To get another title shot, they will have to go through each other. Thompson (36-2) and Chambers (36-2) are participants in the IBF's box-off to determine its No. 1 contender. Look for Thompson-Chambers -- both stablemates under promoter Dan Goossen's banner -- to be made in the United States sometime this fall.
Bermane Stiverne vs. Seth Mitchell: HBO has a vested interest in Stiverne, who picked up an uninspired knockout win over Ray Auatin last Saturday, and in Mitchell, who will open the telecast of the network's Aug. 27 card headlined by Robert Guererro and Marcos Maidana. Stiverne (21-1) and Mitchell (22-0) are considered fringe prospects, but they have plenty of power and interesting backgrounds.
Robert Helenius vs. Sergei Liakhovich: This one is actually on the books. Helenius created some buzz on YouTube with a savage knockout of former titleholder Samuel Peter. The 6-foot-7 Helenius will get his next test in August against Liakhovich, a one-time heavyweight titleholder who has won two straight fights by knockout.
10. Have you seen the video for the "press conference" promoting James Toney's upcoming mixed martial arts fight against Ken Shamrock? For starters, it looks like it's being held in the fitness room at a Ramada. And second, Toney claims that he is the "real" heavyweight champion. Is, not was. Here's hoping Toney doesn't do any further damage to his already battered brain.
9. I like hearing Bob Arum talk about making Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. - Saul Alvarez right now. Who cares if they are both young? Who is to say they can't fight three or four times in their careers? That's what made the Four Kings era so great. Nobody remembers wins and losses. They remember great fights.
8. Smart move by Nonito Donaire, who appears to be heading back to Top Rank. Donaire is hot right now. He doesn't need to be wasting time on the shelf in a contract dispute.
7. Former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, who hasn't fought since being knocked out by Arthur Abraham in 2009, is plotting a comeback. Sources confirmed that Taylor has been medically cleared by the prestigious Mayo Clinic and intends to return to the ring, likely in mid-August. Taylor, who weighs 164 pounds, plans to fight as a middleweight, a division he ruled from 2005-07.
At 32, he is still relatively young and could still make some noise at 160 pounds. And there has been talk that Taylor, who wasn't always in the best shape his last few years, has recommitted to boxing. If he has anything left, he could become a factor in a division desperate for a name fighter.
6. Not sure I like Devon Alexander's decision to move to 147 pounds. He will be a smallish welterweight who likely won't have the power to put down some of the top dogs in the division. Hire a new nutritionist, stay at 140 pounds. That's where the money is anyway.
5. Nice win by Cornelius "K9" Bundrage, who defended his alphabet junior middleweight title against Sechew Powell on the nontelevised undercard of the Alexander-Mattyhsse fight. Bundrage is a legitimate candidate to face Saul Alvarez in September or Miguel Cotto later in the fall.
4. I've heard that HBO's pitch for November's Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight was extremely strong. I'd be surprised if Showtime can steal this one.
3. Tavoris Cloud-Jean Pascal would be a war. Here's hoping that fight ends up on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson.
2.Really pumped up for Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye.
1. There have been many tear-jerking obituaries written about longtime broadcaster Nick Charles, who died last Saturday after a long battle with bladder cancer, including this piece by SI.com's Joe Posnanski. One thing that became clear during Charles' public struggle was how much he was respected and loved. There are too few real heroes left for the world not to stand up and take notice when one of them moves on. Rest in peace, Nick. It is a great regret that I did not know you better.