AND SO it will end, the decorated, lucrative and oh-so-controversial 19-year career of Floyd Mayweather Jr., on Saturday, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, against Andre Berto. At least that's what Mayweather would have you believe. While many are convinced that Mayweather actually intends to fight once more after notching his 49th victory, over Berto—a 50th win would eclipse Rocky Marciano's 49--0 mark and would take place in the sparkling new arena the MGM Grand is set to open in the spring of 2016—Mayweather insists his career is over. "I've been pushed to the limit," he says. "There is nothing left to accomplish."
This is an article from the Sept. 14, 2015 issue
That's debatable. No question, Mayweather is a first ballot Hall of Famer, a world champion in five weight classes, the pound-for-pound king for the better part of the last decade and one of the best defensive fighters in history. Inside the ring he has been masterful, a calculating hit-and-don't-get-hit artist with pinpoint accuracy. Outside he has been even more successful: "Money" Mayweather, the villainous persona Mayweather adopted after defeating Oscar De La Hoya in May 2007, has generated 14 million pay-per-view buys and nearly a billion dollars in revenue. His boorishness and even his history of violence against women (a rap sheet that includes three domestic-abuse-related convictions) have not diminished his earning power. He's a WWE-style heel, siphoning cash out of the wallets of fans who tune in hoping to see him lose.
Yet if this is the end, Mayweather's career will be defined less by what was and more by what could have been. His career is divided into two periods: pre-- and post--De La Hoya. Before his showdown with De La Hoya (a split-decision victory), Mayweather was inimitable; fast, powerful and ambitious. He stormed out of the 1996 Olympics and immediately established himself as a star. He outclassed the likes of Genaro Hernandez and Diego Corrales, picked apart Zab Judah and Arturo Gatti. Yet after De La Hoya, Mayweather's priorities shifted. He became more businessman than boxer, more interested in protecting his best marketing tool—his undefeated record—than in taking on the most worthy contenders. All roads lead to Floyd Mayweather, he would sneer, and would-be opponents would accept his terms—or none at all. His unwillingness to face Manny Pacquiao for years was maddening, and though the fight ultimately came off, last May, with Mayweather winning a comfortable decision, fans will always wonder what would have been had the two top fighters of their generation tangled in their primes. Mayweather's choice of Berto is just the latest example of his taking the path of least resistance; with worthy opponents such as Tim Bradley, Kell Brook and Amir Khan available, Mayweather settled on Berto, a once-upon-a-time welterweight contender who has lost three of his last six fights.
Mayweather's reign has come during a particularly fallow period in boxing history. There are many reasons the sport has been pushed to the fringes—the lack of a dominating American heavyweight, the fractured relationships between promoters—but Mayweather's preeminence has played a role. His obsession with a perfect record has been emulated by an entire generation of fighters. And the multimillion-dollar payday that comes with facing him has caused some contenders (Khan, for example) to avoid any opponent who might jeopardize their status.
Maybe it's best then that Mayweather walk away. Boxing will go on, with younger stars like Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin poised to take over. The sport thrived in those eras in which excellence was not defined solely by a fighter's record; Sugar Ray Robinson, generally considered the greatest fighter of all time, retired with 19 defeats, while De La Hoya (six), Muhammad Ali (five) and Sugar Ray Leonard (three) all took losses. Competition determined status then, and a return to that approach could spark a badly needed resurgence in boxing.
Perhaps we will appreciate Mayweather more after he is gone. We will remember the blurring speed and the technical brilliance, the brash personality with the skills to back it up. We will be in awe of a fighter who, at 38, walked away while still at the top of his game. We will remember a fighter who was great—but also one who could have been so much greater.
Faces in the Crowd
The Case for
0, 4, 1
THE NUMBER OF AT BATS, RUNS SCORED AND RBIS FOR THE NATIONALS' BRYCE HARPER ON SEPT. 3 IN A 15--1 WIN AGAINST THE BRAVES. HARPER, WHO WALKED IN ALL FOUR OF HIS PLATE APPEARANCES, IS THE FIRST PLAYER IN THE MODERN ERA TO SCORE FOUR RUNS AND DRIVE IN A RUN WITHOUT RECORDING AN AT BAT.
Goals for Didier Drogba of the Montreal Impact last Saturday in a 4--3 win over Chicago. The 37-year-old Drogba, a longtime Chelsea star, is the oldest player with an MLS hat trick, and he did it in his first start in the league.
Consecutive wins for Rafael Nadal in Grand Slam matches when leading two sets to none. The streak ended last Friday when he lost to Fabio Fognini 3--6, 4--6, 6--4, 6--3, 6--4 in the third round of the U.S. Open.
Consecutive missed cuts for Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters and U.S. Open earlier this season. Spieth shot 75--73 to miss the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship last weekend in Norton, Mass., one week after shooting 74--73 to miss the cut at The Barclays in Edison, N.J.