Above the Fray
Even a briefmidfight melee didn't upset a newly calm, genial Floyd Mayweather as hedelivered a pounding to Zab Judah
Floyd Mayweather may have finally turned the corner, settling into adulthoodjust in time to enjoy his stardom. Though long regarded as boxing's best, poundfor pound, he had not, until last Saturday night in Las Vegas, performed withthe grace and maturity that bring as much affection as respect.
And it wasn't onlyin his easy win over Zab Judah, who stood in the way of a fourth title for the29-year-old Mayweather. That title is dubious anyway, given that Judah, 28, hadretained the IBF's welterweight crown on a technicality. (Formerly theundisputed champion, Judah saved this credential only because Carlos Baldomir,who beat him in January, failed to pay a sanctioning fee.) Mayweather's12-round decision win at the Thomas & Mack Center was a near shutout anddid little more than stamp him as a force in yet one more division.
But Mayweather(36-0, 24 KOs) did use the bout as a platform to declare a certain kind ofcitizenship, which had been lacking in almost all his civic and personalrelationships, and which had seemingly doomed him to a career of grudgingpopularity. Even before the fight he had shown the manners of an Etonschoolboy, his familiar churlishness replaced with a graciousness that wasalmost as astonishing as his hand speed had always been. Then, late in the 10thround, when all about him lost their heads, Mayweather, of all people, kepthis.
It was then thatJudah (34-4), suffering a beatdown, belted Mayweather way below the belt andfollowed that with a rabbit punch. Mayweather had been warned by his corner towatch for just such a ploy. But before Mayweather could even get to a neutralcorner for some recovery time, his uncle and trainer, Roger Mayweather, stormedinto the ring. During the mini-melee that ensued, Judah sneakily circled behindRoger and landed a few more extracurricular shots.
Had refereeRichard Steele disqualified Mayweather for his uncle's trespass--as was hisright but not, according to rules, his obligation--a mega-melee certainly wouldhave ensued. And tossing Judah might have escalated matters as well. So Steeleruled wisely to continue the fight, and Mayweather sustained his dominance tothe final bell. What was so remarkable was Mayweather's composure throughoutand his total lack of spite after. "Things happen," he said, addingthat he and Judah had always been nothing but friends and, moreover, it wasonly a business, not something to get all that excited about.
If this formerposter boy for surliness can be that genial in a postfight interview, thenmaybe he really is on his way. Ever since he started winning titles at 130pounds (then 135, 140 and now 147), Mayweather has been projected as the kindof skilled, good-looking star who could save boxing. But he undercut allefforts to promote him, getting into scrapes with the law, lashing out at hispromoter and his father, Floyd Sr., and dissing his network, HBO. As a result,Mayweather remained box-office poison.
Lately, though, hehas shed the chip on his shoulder, embracing the media and anybody else withinreach. His cool reaction to the thuggery that surrounded him in the ring lastSaturday night is particularly encouraging. Perhaps Mayweather could yet be asloved as he's always been admired, and if he doesn't save boxing, he at leastwon't willingly preside over its demise as he once seemed to promise.
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Hurt in recent years by poor draws for bouts featuringAfrican-American fighters, Bob Arum, 74, decided to pitch those fighters as hehas his Latin moneymakers--targeting their fans as a niche market. ForMayweather-Judah, he ignored ESPN and USA Today and directed his ad money tohip-hop radio stations instead. It seemed to work (selling out the Thomas &Mack Center), though there was that confusion in Baltimore when Arum asked adeejay if he had any Sinatra on the playlist.... After Sergei Liakhovich tookLamon Brewster's WBO heavyweight title two weeks ago, there are two Russianchampions in the division. (Nikolay Valuev owns the WBA belt.) Two moreRussians will fight for the WBC and IBF titles later this year.