LAS VEGAS – Well, here we are again. Back in Nevada, back at a Floyd Mayweather fight, back with the same tired storylines. Let’s criticize Mayweather’s opponent -- and really, was there anyone outside of Marcos Maidana’s inner circle who was clamoring for a rematch of a pretty conclusive contest four months ago? -- let’s watch Showtime’s Mayweather-produced infomercials, let’s bait him for the slightest hint that a showdown with Manny Pacquiao might be in the offing.
Let’s do it all and then, on Sunday morning, let’s leave disappointed.
It’s a predictable cycle, yet here we are again, back begging for more. For most, the appeal of Mayweather isn’t watching him fight. It’s wondering when -- or if -- he will lose. A Mayweather win won’t be a bullet point on Pardon the Interruption or a front page (or any page) story in The New York Times.
A Mayweather loss? That would lead SportsCenter.
Mayweather knows this. He is Sylar from Heroes, Ben Linus from Lost, the character you can’t stand but one you tune in to see, just to find out if he finally gets his comeuppance. Worse, really. Those characters were fictional. Mayweather is not only outrageous, he’s a two-time domestic violence offender who insists that the absence of bruising on his victims proves he's innocent. This week, he declared that the NFL overreacted to the disturbing video of Ray Rice flattening his fiancé in an elevator, a comment Mayweather would later apologize for.
That Mayweather still has big brands like Corona and O'Reilly Auto Parts sponsoring his shows and convinces 800,000-plus people to plop down $75 twice a year is a minor miracle.
But they do, which is why Mayweather is free to cruise through the twilight of his career, free to cherry pick opponents who are willing to swallow any deal he offers. Canelo Alvarez wants to fight? Only at a catchweight. Maidana wants to wear a certain pair of gloves? You wear what I tell you. After Bob Arum raised hope that a Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao showdown could happen in 2015, Mayweather was quick to dismiss it.
“Not true,” Mayweather told reporters. “I can't say what the future holds, but Arum and Pacquiao [are] trying to sell tickets for the [fight with the] guy named [Chris] Algieri. Trying to sell tickets for that fight. I don't know where they [are] fighting, I don't know anything about what Top Rank is doing.”
It’s a dictatorship, and a lucrative one at that. Mayweather pocketed north of $75 million for fights with Alvarez and Robert Guerrero last year, and the two fights with Maidana will likely generate $60 million or so more. He is a revenue generating machine, peerless not just in boxing, but in all sports.
Yet there is one thing Mayweather’s money can’t buy: a legacy. No question, Mayweather is a Hall of Famer. He’s not Sven Ottke, an undefeated, longtime former unified super middleweight titleholder who has not come close to earning a spot in the Hall. In his prime-- and even before that -- Mayweather was scary good. He dominated Diego Corrales. He destroyed Arturo Gatti. He climbed up to 154 pounds and outclassed Oscar De La Hoya. He’s the best defensive fighter since Pernell Whitaker. Better, even.
But he is not, as he so often declares, the best ever. Could he have ever been? Truthfully, it’s doubtful. Sugar Ray Robinson is widely regarded as the greatest fighter in boxing history. Muhammad Ali, Henry Armstrong and Joe Louis are also on the list. But what could Mayweather have been had he engaged Pacquiao in 2010 and 2011? Where would he rank if he fought Miguel Cotto when Cotto was in his prime? What would we think of Mayweather if instead of a rematch with Maidana he took on Pacquiao and followed it up with Tim Bradley and the winner of a Kell Brook/Amir Khan tussle next year?
Would we consider him the best? Probably not.
Would we be in awe of his accomplishments? Absolutely.
At a time when Mayweather could be burnishing his legacy, he is choosing to be indifferent to it. At a press conference on Wednesday, Mayweather told a roomful of reporters that “I want to give you the fights you want to see.” But Mayweather’s disdain for Arum -- whose hands aren’t clean in this mess, either -- has ensured that the fights an aging boxing fan base wants to see will never happen.
None of this will impact Mayweather’s bottom line, of course. His six-fight deal with Showtime, a pact that likely will conclude this time next year, has staggering guarantees. He will sit atop the various athlete money-making lists at the end of this year and, barring injury, again next year. He will end his career having raked in more money than any athlete in the history of the sport.
But the greatest? Far from it. Mayweather’s team has often attacked the media for printing less than flattering stories. On Wednesday, Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, chastised reporters for criticizing Mayweather, citing, amazingly, the attacks as the reason boxing nips at the outskirts of the mainstream. "The hating and criticizing, you guys have to stop," Ellerbe said. “So many find ways to criticize and denigrate. We find ways to bring him down. This is why boxing isn't big, like the NBA. Lots of fighters make substantially more money since Floyd put the sport of boxing on his shoulders.”
In truth, Mayweather has not elevated boxing much at all. He has elevated himself. He is a bona fide superstar, recognizable all over the world. But it’s hard to see how the sport as a whole has greatly benefited from it. Fighters' desperate desire to get into the Mayweather sweepstakes has led to many of them avoiding tough opponents (see Khan, Amir) to not risk a loss that could knock them out of the running.
Mayweather says he will retire next year, and if he does boxing will miss him. But just like it moved on from Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, from Roy Jones and Oscar De La Hoya, it will move on from him. The best way, the only way for Mayweather to leave an everlasting impression on the sport is to finish his career matching up with some of boxing’s best. It’s a path everyone in the sport wants, but one Mayweather has yet to show a serious interest in taking.
Andrade moves on
Before the WBO agreed to elevate junior middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade into position to fight Matt Korobov for the middleweight title vacated by Peter Quillin, Andrade’s team made one final plea to the opponent they really wanted to face: Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, had mentioned Andrade, along with James Kirkland and Joshua Clottey, as a potential opponent for Alvarez in December, and Alvarez’s father/trainer, Paul Andrade, wanted De La Hoya to know that his son was ready and able to fight Alvarez.
"It's time for [De La Hoya] to put up or shut up,” Paul Andrade said. “By mentioning us, Oscar is trying to develop Canelo's next opponent but it seems like they are going back to their old ways by fighting blown up welterweights. I have a lot of respect for Clottey and Kirkland, but Oscar can't just throw our name in the mix so Canelo can look good. Demetrius is an undefeated titleholder. Canelo claims he wants to fight the best, well we are undefeated and the best junior middleweight in the world.”
It’s understandable why most fighters would be uninterested fighting Andrade. Despite being a 2008 U.S. Olympian and a legitimate world champion, Andrade is still somewhat of an unknown. He has fought on HBO twice and has yet to fight what would be considered an elite opponent. But Canelo is not like most fighters. Over the last two years Alvarez has actively sought the toughest opponents, from the marketable ones (Floyd Mayweather) to the ones that make network executives cringe (Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara). Of the list of options, Andrade is the toughest and most credible opponent.
Moreover, Alvarez-Andrade is a meaningful fight. A matchup with Clottey, last seen on the big stage taking a one-sided beating from Manny Pacquiao, is irrelevant and, in all likelihood, dull. Alvarez has accomplished much in 2014, beating Lara and Alfredo Angulo. But if he wants to enhance his reputation as a take-on-all-comers star, Andrade is the fight to make.
SI.com’s Pound-for-Pound list
1. Floyd Mayweather
He talks trash. He backs it up. Still the most skilled fighter in the sport.
2. Andre Ward
Ward’s decision to waste time in a futile attempt to free himself from Dan Goossen has already robbed him of a prime year of his career. How many more years will he lose?
3. Manny Pacquiao
Beating Brandon Rios didn’t show me much. Beating Tim Bradley did. The 2009 Pacquiao is gone, but this version is still pretty good.
4. Guillermo Rigondeaux
Have at it, Rigo haters. I don’t want to watch him, but I don’t believe there is anyone in or around his weight class who can beat him.
5. Juan Manuel Marquez
I still believe we will see Marquez-Pacquiao 5. But before then, I’d love to see Marquez go to the U.K. to fight Kell Brook.
6. Gennady Golovkin
Daniel Geale is a former unified champion in the prime of his career. And Golovkin mowed him down like a tune-up fight.
7. Tim Bradley
I've been hearing strong rumblings that Bradley will fight before the end of the year. But against who? The available options are pretty slim.
8. Wladimir Klitschko
Is it just me, or does Klitschko look a little sloppy since the death of his former trainer, Emanuel Steward? Regardless, Klitschko is still the most dangerous blend of skill and power in the heavyweight division.
9 – Mikey Garcia
Robert Garcia, Mikey’s brother and trainer, once told me that growing up, Mikey didn’t especially like boxing. He doesn’t seem all that interested in it now.
10 – Miguel Cotto
Cotto’s one-sided destruction of Sergio Martinez ranks as one of his finest career achievements. The partnership with Freddie Roach has breathed new life into his career.
Five Questions with … Chris Algieri
Algieri, the junior welterweight titleholder, will move up in weight and take on welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 22 in Macau, China.
SI.com: Ruslan Provodnikov came into your fight kind of mad that he had to fight you. He wanted a bigger fight. Do you think you were able to take advantage of that?
Chris Algieri: I think it was more his management. Ruslan is a fighter. He’s a dog. He’s never not shown up for a fight. I thought he looked great the night that I fought him. I think that was more the hype leading up to it. I think his manager was upset with the money that they were getting. I don’t think Ruslan cared. I think he just wanted to fight.
SI.com: When you got knocked down twice in round one, did you know you had it in you to get up and fight the way you did?
CA: Absolutely. I’ve been knocked down before. I was knocked down kickboxing five or six times and I always came back to win. I fought a Canadian national champion once. I threw a left hook and he caught me right on the chin. I woke up with both my hands on the mat. Ruslan never really hurt me. I’ve been hurt way worse in fights. Jose Peralta hurt me worse. It was really just the eye and the damage that it did.
SI.com: Did you follow Manny’s early career, when he was just mowing through opponents?
CA: Yes. My favorite fight of his was when he fought Lehlo Ledwaba [in 2001]. That was an undercard fight. It was the first time he came to the U.S. He fought like he was shot out of a cannon. He was all over that guy. That’s the guy I have in my mind. That’s the guy I’m preparing to fight. Some of the other guys he has fought, they don’t fight my style. [Antonio] Margarito, De La Hoya, they don’t fight like me.
SI.com: How do you handle the perception that if you win this fight it will be in a boring fight?
CA: That’s actually the first I have heard that. Look at all my fights. They are all exciting. Just because I don’t knock guys out doesn’t mean I’m not exciting. My fight with Provodnikov was a good fight. The Peralta fight was a great fight. The [Emmanuel] Taylor fight was a fun fight to watch. I’m fast and I throw a lot of punches. I don’t know how this can’t be a good fight.”
SI.com: You paid off your student loans with the money you got from the Provodnikov fight. What do you have the purse for this fight earmarked for?
CA: I set up a pension plan. I set up a 401K. I got some health insurance. Haven’t had that in a long time. I got some cable services. I’m thinking of a car. I still drive a Honda Accord with 200,000 miles on it. I have to move out of my parents house, too.
There are few boxing reporters I respect more than Thomas Hauser, the accomplished journalist and author who has been immersed in the sport for decades. He is well-connected (just ask HBO) and is often one of the most insightful writers around boxing. But I found myself vehemently disagreeing with a recent story he wrote about The New York Times and its poor boxing coverage.
Hauser believes the Times should cover boxing more. So do I. But I don’t blame the Times for not committing much (if any) resources to covering boxing, just like I don’t blame The Washington Post, The Boston Globe or the Dallas Morning News for not extensively covering it. Boxing has not given these outlets a real reason to. Think about it: Newspapers, and their websites, are trying to draw readers. They want subscribers. They want clicks. If they thought that boxing would attract them, don’t you think they would be rushing to cover it?
The problem with boxing has been and always will be … boxing. Try explaining to the casual fan the alphabet titles. I did. Shortly after Peter Quillin vacated his title, I explained to an SI editor that Quillin could wind up fighting for a minor title, a small piece of one of the four generally recognized sanctioning bodies. I couldn’t finish before his eyes glazed over. Or tell a casual fan that the reason Danny Garcia isn’t fighting Manny Pacquiao in November is because Top Rank won’t work with Al Haymon, because HBO won’t work with Haymon or because Top Rank doesn’t want to work with Showtime. See if they can follow that without a chart.
Premium networks HBO and Showtime are still putting on good fights. But they are not putting on many relevant fights. So Robert Guerrero-Yoshihiro Kamegai was a good scrap. Did that do anything for Guerrero’s career? Adonis Stevenson had more trouble than expected with Andrzej Fonfara. Did that do anything but diminish Stevenson in many people’s eyes? Boxing will never draw the kind of media attention it craves until every main event is relevant. It will never get consistent mainstream coverage until it stops puffing its chest out for making one-sided matches on paper that turn out to be decent stylistic fits.
Danny Garcia fought Mauricio Herrera and Rod Salka this year. He should have fought Ruslan Provodnikov and Lamont Peterson. Pacquiao fought a reasonable rematch with Tim Bradley, but instead of Mayweather or Garcia, he is headed to China to face Chris Algieri. Floyd Mayweather-Marcos Maidana was a good fight. But instead of preparing for a Maidana rematch, Mayweather should be getting ready to fight Pacquiao, Bradley or Keith Thurman.
Not every fight needs to be Ali-Frazier. But every fight should have meaning. To grow the sport, the weekly real estate boxing takes up on television needs to be more meaningful.