The welterweight division—the one with the 147-pound limit, for those non-boxing readers throwing me a click—is among the deepest in boxing. There are established stars (Timothy Bradley, Amir Khan), rising stars (Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia) and compelling young talents (Errol Spence Jr.). So, of course, Floyd Mayweather picked one of the least qualified of them all.
On Tuesday, Mayweather pulled back the curtain on one of the worst kept (and most mind-numbing) secrets in boxing: That he would face Andre Berto on September 12th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, on Showtime pay per view, in what he claims will be his final fight. On the list of recent Mayweather opponents, Berto ranks among the worst, a has-been ex-champion who is 3–3 in his last six fights and has not been relevant since a grueling, Fight of the Year-type brawl with Victor Ortiz in 2011. Some early odds have Mayweather a 40-1 favorite. Even that may be too close.
So why pick him? Your guess is as good as mine. Frankly, it’s probably as good as Showtime’s, too. Mayweather has clearly been a sound investment for the network. He fought Canelo Alvarez on Showtime pay per view and brought the network into his record breaking win over Manny Pacquiao. Still, Mayweather’s resolve to avoid the toughest challenges has to be maddening to Showtime executives. They aren’t stupid. They know Mayweather-Thurman, Mayweather-Bradley or Mayweather-Khan rakes in bigger pay per view numbers. But they made this deal knowing overmatched opponents could—and most likely would—be a part of it. This is one of them.
It’s maddening. He could fight anybody. Mayweather is the one fighter unaffected by boxing politics. If he wants an opponent outside Al Haymon’s stable, he’s got it. He’s the money man, he dictates terms. He got Pacquiao to swallow a lesser deal; he could get Bob Arum and Tim Bradley to swallow a far worse one. Instead, he takes the path of least resistance (allegedly) one final time.
About that: Mayweather says Berto will be his last fight, that he will walk away from the sport after 49 trips to the ring. Only nobody believes him. For starters, 49-0 is an awkward number. It represents the same mark the legendary Rocky Marciano retired with. But that’s about it. Mayweather is 38. The end is coming. The end of his six-fight contract with Showtime is here. But Mayweather still has plenty left, as evidenced by his dominant win over Manny Pacquiao last May. The MGM Grand has a sparkling new arena opening up next spring and, privately, hotel officials have been optimistic Mayweather will be one of the first attractions to make use of it.
Mayweather fans—and they are legion—often throw Twitter tantrums at copy like this. They accuse writers of being anti-Mayweather, of being biased against Floyd because of his villain persona. Haters, they say. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most reporters (myself included) actually like covering Floyd. He’s a terrible interview subject, but if you are looking for a good scene to describe, he’s one of the best story subjects of all time. He’s walking, talking material. And he sells. Mayweather stories generate coveted Internet clicks. Sports Illustrated sent Greg Bishop and I to Las Vegas for a month to cover his fight with Pacquiao, and then we slapped him on the cover.
But we, like so many of you, are exasperated. Mayweather is a living legend. He’s not the best of all time, but he is somewhere on the list, a rare talent we may not see the likes of again for generations. But he steadfastly refuses to properly show it. Personally, I think Mayweather destroys Thurman. I think he outboxes Bradley. I think he flattens Khan. But since beating Oscar De La Hoya in 2007, Mayweather has bobbed and weaved away from top opponents he would have been heavily favored against and signed on to face ones with glaring flaws. He’s Pedro Martinez, if Pedro in the late ’90’s said to Boston, ‘You know what, I think I’m going to go pitch in the Independent League.’
Ultimately, Mayweather is getting what he wants. He will pocket another win, collect another $30 million or so and burnish the self propelled narrative that he is invincible. This could be the most negative promotion of Mayweather’s career, and he couldn’t be more indifferent to it. Legacy be damned, public perception, too, he’s (allegedly) going out on his terms, his way. The easy one.