Back Pew Hero Worship: Three Things I Learned About Perfection from Mayweather vs. Canelo

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When Floyd Mayweather routed Saul “Canelo” Alvarez a couple of nights ago in a majority decision victory — the less said about judge CJ Ross’ hilariously unjustifiable 114-114 scorecard, the better — it wasn’t necessarily the result that had everyone talking. Most boxing insiders, talking heads, and armchair pundits predicted a clear Mayweather victory, but most of the analyses in the days leading up to the fight were dotted with bullet points like Alvarez’ youth, size and strength advantage, Mayweather’s uncharacteristically quick turnaround — he beat Victor Guerro just this past May — and his dogged use of the Philly shell defense, defined by shoulder rolls and distance command, typically a younger man’s M.O.

No, what set mouths agape this time around was the unexpectedly breezy affair this turned out to be for “Money.” One radio host likened it to a “midnight snack” for Mayweather, and it’s not hard to see why upon re-watching. It was, in short, another singular performance in what has proven a singular career in boxing history (accusations of Pacquiao-ducking notwithstanding). Here, then, are three takeaways regarding perfection from the “fight:”

1. It is Achievable

Mind you, I’m not speaking in mathematical absolutes. To do so would be an impossibility, and would require more hyperbole than even I’m willing to dish out. The laws of our universe are comfortingly predictable — the outcome of this fight, natch — but the framework that makes such laws a reality is infinitely complex, and thus perilously fragile.

Much has been made about the two monster, albeit flukey, right hands that Shane Moseley landed on Floyd in their fight a couple of years back, the rare split or close decisions over Oscar de la Hoya and Jose Luis Castillo, the early-rounds trouble encountered with the likes of Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto; hell, I certainly have, and they’re all valid and worthy of discussion, if for no other reason than to enjoy the always intoxicating sensation of the “almost.” But their true purpose, much like how the pre-fight buildup for every Mayweather bout is characterized by the fresh dangers a new opponent poses, is to underscore the relative perfection of the man by highlighting his closest near-failures.

Legacies, when they are kinetic, are defined by the perceived danger, the possibility of their tarnishing. With a true fall, ironically, that legacy becomes cemented; see Anderson Silva, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. So powerful, so nascent is our susceptibility and desire to witness the toppling of a giant, that even Foreman fell victim, predicting that “Canelo” would KO Floyd in the later rounds. Foreman, perhaps, should know better, but it is so very human that he does not.

2. Eyes Fixed on the Horizon

Many fighters have built Hall of Fame careers on doing one or two things really freaking well: Joe Frazier’s bully-bob-and-weave combined with a left hook that would fell a god; Chuck Liddell’s otherworldly takedown defense and seemingly unstoppable overhand right; Mirko Filopovich’s left high kick. Opponents ranging from scrubs to former and future champions have all fallen victim to such techniques. But once that fighter encounters a foe who can neutralize their most feared weapon, they are done for: George Foreman responded to Frazier’s fearless charges with a blunt force trauma still as yet unmatched; Quinton Jackson cracked Liddell’s chin with a well-timed counter, and many fighters thereafter found it an easy mark; when Mirko got taken down, controlled, and himself Mirko’d at the hands of Gabriel Gonzaga, he turned into a gun-shy shell of his former self, and future opponents took advantage.

Mayweather has avoided such pitfalls by constantly evolving. Yes, the primary tenets of his success still rest primarily on his preternatural defensive skills, ability to gauge distance and speed. But he has become more and more difficult to prepare for from an offensive standpoint. A few years ago, he was a frustratingly, though still incredibly gifted, jab-heavy fighter, content to sit back and peck away at his opponents until they began to unravel. The other night, he beat Alvarez almost exclusively with lead right hands and uppercuts.

Floyd Mayweather is so good, he finds a style that works perfectly for him, then abandons it to find another. He has done this at least twice, and if he continues at this pace, it’s very likely he’ll defeat Danny Garcia using the hand jive.

3. You Don’t Want It

Floyd Mayweather is one of the few people who discovered what he was meant to do on this earth, and early enough so that he could continue doing it at the highest levels. He was a 1996 Olympian and, though he was robbed of a gold medal, emerged from those games as the hottest boxing prospect in decades. He won his first world title just two years after turning pro, and has proceeded to make everyone who dares stand across the ring from him look even sillier than we expect. He is what griffins dream of being.

And yet, he is also a rather tragic figure (as tragic as you can be when you make $42 million per fight, but whatever). To be that good at something, you have to be a special, single-minded kind of crazy; for proof positive, read accounts of Gene Kelly’s treatment of Debbie Reynolds in “Singin’ in the Rain,” or any of the horror stories associated with Stanley Kubrick on his productions (most notably “The Shining”). The line between the “real” Mayweather and the manufactured, thug-on-a-throne “Money” persona has infinitesimally, though increasingly, blurred in recent years, culminating in a three-month stint in jail for domestic violence. He is caught in the middle, straining against two skins.

For someone like Mayweather, there is no room, no time to be a renaissance man. He has perfected his gift of gab, but only in service to his legacy; he has dabbled in music, but only to such a sophomoric degree that it must be self-aware. Nobody, not now and not for years to come, will ever come close to attaining such bafflingly, unsettling flawlessness. We should, in a way, be grateful: he leaves more life for us to live.

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