It seems — I can’t be bothered, apparently, to check the save dates on my Word documents — that every other column I write with the “Back Pew Hero Worship” tag involves Floyd Mayweather in some form or fashion. In an intensely microcosmic way — by which I mean that I’m so far on the outside of his sphere of influence and cultural persona as to be a direct result of it, but also nowhere near his periphery — this is what Mayweather intends: pervasive cultural awareness of himself. He talks a fine game, yes; his mention of wanting to buy the Clippers in the wake of the Donald Sterling scandal and his discussion in the lead-up to his fight some years ago with Diego Corrales about winning the fight for “battered women across America” (Corrales had been facing domestic violence charges at the time) exhibit a keen sense of self-promotion and awareness of the current cultural zeitgeist, even if it did not necessarily exhibit as keen a sense of self-judgment (Mayweather himself would be jailed for 90 days in 2010 for battery against an ex-girlfriend).
But all that talk wouldn’t make for much if he didn’t back it up in the ring. Mayweather’s style is predicated upon slickness and defensive wizardry, not blunt force trauma — hence a KO ration that still hovers just over 50 percent, most of which is a holdover from his earlier, can-crushing days — but I would argue that making world-class opponents look like they have no business being in the ring with you is almost more impressive than knocking some poor slob silly.
And it’s not just the execution that astounds; Mayweather’s methods are as confounding. His shoulder-roll technique — which allows him to block and slip punches while simultaneously retaining an advantageous counterpunching position — is an approach that relies on fast-twitch, nearly superhuman reflexes, and is quickly exposed or worked around when attempted by a less-preternaturally gifted boxer (see Andre Berto’s loss to eventual Mayweather B-side Robert Guerrero).
See also Adrien Broner. I’ve written of Broner in the past, of his narrow victory over Paulie Malignaggi, and of his recent demoralizing loss to Marcos Maidana. Broner fancies himself the carrier of Mayweather’s torch into the next generation (at 37, Mayweather is almost 15 years Broner’s senior which, in boxing years, is freaking forever), copping not just the elder’s defensive slickness lightning-quick shots, but his general asshattery to boot.
Broner is not a poor boxer, far from it; based on raw talent and physical gifts, he has the potential to be one of the best in the world, if he’s not already. But so singular is his focus on usurping Mayweather’s throne that everything he does seems to smack of parody; look no further than his self-assumed “About Billions” moniker in response to Mayweather’s “Money” nickname.
Enter, again, Marcos Maidana, a rugged yet calculating slugger who came up off the canvas against Amir Khan a couple of years ago to blitz and nearly KO the young superstar. Maidana, who’d earned this fight off the strength of a KO victory over the game but wild Josesito Lopez, wasn’t supposed to offer much that Broner couldn’t handle, at least according to the mainstream narrative. Though Broner was jumping up two weight classes — a leap even admirers felt might be a bit soon — he was expected to slip-and-duck Maidana into frustration, getting off potshots along the way and hopefully generating buzz for bigger money fights with the likes of Khan or even Mayweather himself.
It did not go according to plan. Maidana, who decided early on that Broner’s power did not carry up to 147 pounds, pressured the younger fighter early and often, bullrushing through his defense and forcing the tactician into a brawl. Broner exhibited resolve and guts in fighting back and landing clean shots, but his inability to hurt Maidana was evident and, after suffering two knockdowns, relinquished his WBA title and the “0” in his loss column via unanimous decision.
With the victory, Maidana swooped in and snatched the Mayweather bout away from the man to whom it was all but pledged, Amir Khan. Familiar narratives were resurrected to help sell what was predicted to be another Mayweather rout, a Money vs. Warm Body clinic that would serve little purpose other than to pad the king’s legacy and generate massive PPV dollars for Showtime. It wasn’t unexpected — Mayweather’s 46 opponents, taken together, have created of his career something resembling an echo chamber of hype-defining doubt: Oscar de la Hoya was bigger, tougher; Ricky Hatton was fearless; Shane Moseley was a wizened, still explosive warhorse; Cotto this, Canelo that.
The potency of the buildup to any Mayweather fight rests solely upon the creation of doubt, of reminding the viewing audience of the opponent’s path to victory, or simply making one up from scratch. Repetition does not make for return viewers; drama is mandatory. Maidana, for his part, seemed to inherit a grab-bag of former Mayweather foe traits: big, strong, gutsy, rugged, not afraid to dirty up a fight. If we’d seen Mayweather before, and thus knew what to expect, we’d certainly heard this before; the furor of the sell, to avoid stagnancy in the narrative, threatened with a new type of stagnancy.
Only this time, it nearly rang true. Yes, Floyd had been rattled before by Moseley, been roughed up a bit by Cotto and Victor Ortiz, but Maidana pushed him like no other before, walking Mayweather down, pressuring him on the ropes, even cutting him up and setting a new mark for punches landed against the pound-for-pound great. Eventually, Mayweather settled in, found his range and outboxed Maidana enough to win a majority decision, but it was the Argentine that came away rosiest. Meanwhile on the undercard, Adrien Broner cruised to a ho-hum decision over Carlos Molina, who might have had more success with “About Billions” if he cared to sit down on his punches and press the action a bit.
Perhaps this is the story of Broner, a man of infinite potential who fights down to outmatched opponents, but never up to his own abilities and, thusly, to the level of true world-class competition. Perhaps this is the story of Mayweather, a man whose style seems almost chameleonic in its ability to undercut whatever gets thrown its way; or perhaps of Maidana, who treated the two men exactly as many suspected, but few truly believed.