Floyd Mayweather. You remember him. Whether you loved him or you hated him, throughout the 2000s and 2010s, it became impossible to deny him. People would bristle at his assertion that he was ‘TBE’ (The Best Ever). But time and again, he would come as close to proving it in the ring as was possible without exhuming pound-for-pound spectres like Harry Greb, Sugar Ray Robinson or a version of Roy Jones Jr that didn’t make you profoundly sad.
Well if you were a fan of the precocious peacock they once called 'Pretty Boy', the good news is you can watch him fight this weekend. The word 'fight' is probably doing a bit of heavy lifting there. Floyd will actually engage in an exhibition contest. But still, aren’t you excited? One of the all-time ring greats is gloving up again. Isn’t this brilliant?!
Perhaps it would be if Mayweather was gracing us with a reminder of his exquisite skills against a contemporary. There is an element of curiosity still to be had in watching him hit the old moves on Amir Khan or Kell Brook. A nostalgic thrill available in quasi-rematches with Manny Pacquiao or Ricky Hatton.
Instead, what we are getting is Mayweather taking on John Gotti III, the grandson of late crime figure John ‘The Teflon Don’ Gotti. Savour that nickname, as it’s the closest thing to boxing that is transpiring here.
Amusingly, this is actually a rematch. It’s Mayweather vs Gotti III II, if you will. But more confusing than that tagline are the reasons the first fight even happened at all. Was there really any clamour outside either the Mayweather household or Gambino crime family to see Gotti, a 'fighter' with eight previous contests spread out across the lower reaches of MMA and boxing, fight one of the greatest boxers in history?
But to misunderstand Mayweather vs Gotti is to misunderstand the entire retirement plan of ‘Money’ Mayweather. Since the former five-weight world champion left the sport behind in 2017, he has been an ever-present on the burgeoning exhibition scene. Given the fact his last professional fight, a 2017 10th-round TKO of UFC fighter Conor McGregor, was as close to an exhibition as top-level boxing gets, it makes sense he chose this path.
Retirees are advised to stay active when leaving the workplace in order to improve health and brain function. By that logic, Floyd Mayweather is going to outlive us all and possibly join Mensa while doing so. Because since leaving the ring in 2017, Mayweather has returned to that very same ring seven times. He has a record of three wins, zero defeats, one no contest and three unscored bouts in the exhibition boxing world.
To put that activity into perspective, Floyd has had seven exhibition fights in five years. He had eight professional contests over the last five years of his career. We see Mayweather in a ring just as often as we did when he was an active competitor. But the nature of the fights are very different.
The modern boom of exhibition fights can be categorised thusly. The ex-pros giving fans one last look at their skills. Ricky Hatton v Marco Antonio Barrera, Mike Tyson v Roy Jones Jr and Julio Cesar Chavez v Jorge Arce have all been staged as nostalgic throwbacks featuring Hall of Fame legends. The other category, the most high-profile and lucrative, has been the celebrity exhibition. Jake Paul and KSI have led the way, followed by a parade of reality TV stars, influencers and cam girls. The sporting merit is far below that of the ex-pro circuit, but these non-boxers have made considerable cash by backing their fights with WWE-like narratives.
Mayweather has bucked the trend though. He is an ex-pro but he has parked himself firmly in the celebrity lane of the exhibition highway. ‘Money’ has engaged in contests with Logan Paul and Deji Olatunji, the brothers of Jake and KSI. The former pound-for-pound king has faced Geordie Shore’s Aaron Chalmers and the aforementioned gangster’s grandson, Gotti.
Mayweather has made just the slightest concessions to legitimate fighting during these endeavours. He has faced Rodney Moore, a former sparring partner who would never have been allowed near him in a professional ring. This is his only fight against a boxer, with the record being fleshed out by kickboxers Tenshin Nasukawa and Mikuru Asakura. Each bout has been a one-sided procession of the skills and reflexes Mayweather still has, writ large against opponents not good enough to test them.
So what is the motivation? For the likes of Tyson and Hatton, it was to put a nicer ending on careers that had concluded with knockout defeats against lesser opponents. For Chavez and Barrera, you sense the gladiatorial fires still burn and they missed the feelings of punching and being punched. But what is Mayweather getting from these tepid exhibitions? He is getting the only things he has ever seemed concerned with during his career; money and notoriety.
Mayweather’s continued activity has only really once evoked his glorious prime. That came in the first Gotti fight, when the in-ring mass brawl between each fighter’s camp reminded long-time fans of a similar battle royal between Mayweather’s team and that of Zab Judah during a 2006 welterweight title fight.
Is there a risk of these fights tarnishing Mayweather’s legacy? While his official record sits ring-fenced at 50-0, right now Floyd is creating a facsimile career built on serviceable performances against tame opponents. Nobody will marvel at Mayweather turning on the old magic if a mafioso’s grandson or a YouTuber’s brother is on the other end of it. As the generation that grew up on his complete domination of Arturo Gatti or his matador brilliance against Hatton grows older, they are replaced by a new breed of fan. Combat sports followers reaching adulthood who likely only know Mayweather for McGregor and the parade of non-boxers he has fought since then.
To them, Mayweather is a myth. They are told, rather than shown, that this man was once the greatest fighter on the planet. After all, slapping a kickboxer you outweigh by 30 pounds around the ring proves little other than the laws of physics. All of us arrived in boxing hearing about the greatness that came before us. For me it was my parents extolling Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank while my grandparents idolised Muhammad Ali. Mayweather, along with Prince Naseem Hamed and Lennox Lewis, is one of the fighters I rattle off when talking to new fans today. But the trouble is, Mayweather’s mystique is shattered. Because any young fan I enthuse about Floyd to will only see what he has become. A very rich man in his 40s who turns up a couple of times a year to punch someone who isn’t a boxer.
Floyd’s legacy is not tarnished, but his reputation is. You can never take away those world titles or those wins but the aura is gone. ‘Money’ will say that doesn’t matter, particularly in light of the fact many observers never truly embraced him like they did his forebears. He never smiled on the cover of cereal boxes like ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard or became a cultural touchstone like Ali. Why shouldn’t Floyd make money, knowing there was very little goodwill to burn through anyway?
Mayweather won’t stop. The question of whether these pseudo-fights harm his legacy is not one that concerns him. He’ll tell you he’s done the hard yards, that if he can make seven figures against non-boxers then why shouldn’t he accept the fights? But in its way, watching Mayweather go through the motions against social media stars or reality TV Z-listers is every bit as sad as if his skills had waned in a professional ring. Are these fights any more edifying than Tyson losing to Kevin McBride or Ali closing the book with a limp loss to Trevor Berbick? They probably are, but not by much.
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