Criticism comes with superstar status, a pedestaled perch that elevates the greats above the herd, while often making them an easier target. For every MVP, for every playoff series, for every championship LeBron James wins, someone will always be there to remind him that he did it in Miami, not Cleveland, that he needed to form, as Kobe Bryant so colorfully put it, basketball Voltron to reach the top. So it is with Floyd Mayweather, arguably the greatest defensive fighter in history and on a list of one of the greats of all time, whose career has been indelibly stained by the belief that he avoided some of the toughest fights.
Not now though, not today. When Mayweather steps into the ring with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on September 14th -- a fight that was announced late Wednesday night on Twitter -- he will stare down one of the biggest, baddest boys on the block, a sculpted 154-pound champion fast emerging as one of boxing's biggest stars. Mayweather will fight at an uncomfortable weight (a 152-pound catchweight) against an accomplished, unified titleholder in a Las Vegas arena where, over Mexican Independence Day weekend, his supporters will be drowned out by the raucous pro-Alvarez crowd that will take over the building.
"If there are still some Floyd Mayweather haters out there," Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer said, "they won't have much to say after this."
Indeed, Mayweather could have passed on Canelo, could have instructed Schaefer, Al Haymon and Leonard Ellerbe to move on. There would have been little shame in it. Few cries of ducking from most of the informed masses. Mayweather has fought twice at 154-pounds, once, in 2007, against Oscar De La Hoya, because he had to and again, in 2012, against Miguel Cotto, because he wanted to. Mayweather won both fights, but took an abnormal amount of punishment along the way. Floyd Mayweather Sr., back in his son's good graces, back working his corner, was among the most vocal opponents of Mayweather moving up again, and the physicality of an opponent who could balloon into the 170's on fight night is the reason why.
Make no mistake: Canelo is a dangerous opponent. He is far from a finished product, not at 22, not with so few formidable opponents on his résumé. But he wiped out Shane Mosley a year after Mosley fought Manny Pacquiao, he crushed Josesito Lopez after Lopez knocked out Victor Ortiz and he outpointed undefeated Austin Trout months after Trout walked into a hostile Madison Square Garden and picked Cotto apart.
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A prime Mayweather would befuddle Canelo, would frustrate him by stinging him with right hands and disappearing before Canelo could counter. But this is an aging Mayweather, a more stationary Mayweather, a fighter whose legs have betrayed him, a fighter still elusive but unquestionably a more hittable target.
Canelo is the division's money man though, which is ultimately what kept everyone at the table. Mayweather earned a guaranteed $32 million in his last fight with Robert Guerrero, thought it's doubtful he earned much more. For all the preening Showtime has done over the Mayweather-Guerrero pay-per-view numbers, several officials involved with the pay-per-view industry swear it won't crack one million buys, and Showtime, part of a publicly traded company, has yet to issue any formal statement declaring it did. For years, Mayweather has prided himself on being the one-million man, on being the biggest draw in the sport. Canelo, who stuffed 38,000 fans into the Alamodome, who has eclipsed one million viewers in each of his last three regularly televised fights, will help him stay there.
Accusations of cherry picking opponents will chase Mayweather into retirement, into the Hall of Fame, into the history books. Some will wonder why he never fought Antonio Margarito, why he waited so long to fight Mosley, why he and Manny Pacquiao deprived the sport of the mainstream injection it sorely needs. They will remember that, but they will remember this, too: In September, 2013, Floyd Mayweather stepped up to the biggest challenge, demanded the toughest test.