This wasn’t supposed to be a blog post about Floyd Mayweather. The Lucas Matthysse–Lamont Peterson fight on Saturday night at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall had nothing to do with Mayweather. This was a fight between two of the best three junior welterweights (the division below where Mayweather fights) in the world, designed to produce a September opponent for Danny Garcia, the other member of the 140-pound division’s top three.
According to official sources, as of now, that’s precisely what it did. Matthysse defeated Peterson, and Golden Boy Promotions reportedly has September 7 reserved for Matthysse-Garcia.
But money, and "Money," are always the top priorities for Golden Boy. After Mayweather dominated Robert Guerrero in a fight that proved wrong any misguided fools who thought Floyd might have lost a step, Mayweather again finds himself with a short list of potential attractive opponents. Especially given Mayweather’s $30 million–plus guarantee for every fight and widespread doubts as to whether Mayweather-Guerrero was profitable for Golden Boy and Showtime, not just any old dance partner will do. You can probably count on one hand the number of opponents with a shot at getting Mayweather over the million-pay-per-view-buy mark. So when a new name sneaks onto that hand, executives, lawyers, and accountants start scheduling conference calls.
With apologies to Bernard Hopkins, Richard Alpert, and the girls of Lee High School, everybody gets old. The notion of an athlete growing old “overnight" is mostly a myth; it almost always occurs gradually. In the case of boxers, sure, one punch can ruin a man. But typically, that one punch was the logical successor to dozens of other punches, spread over several fights, that the boxer in question would have slipped in his younger days.
Floyd Mayweather is 36 years old. He’s 43 fights and 315 rounds into a professional career that began in 1996, when he already had 90 amateur fights to his credit. And none of those numbers account for sparring, the silent assassin in the boxing aging process. That Mayweather remains undefeated after all this time is remarkable. While his detractors will point out that he frequently found excuses not to fight the most threatening opponents, only a boxer with all-time, stratospheric skills could have run the particular gauntlet that Mayweather has and never once experienced defeat.
If boxing is sometimes stupid and always macho, there’s no better example of the magnetism of stupid macho than Brandon Rios. He is boxing’s early Ironclad, a slow-moving, indestructible and arguably ugly fighter who advances upon his opponents without a hint of subtlety or trickery. When he gets close, he blasts them to hell.
This is not to say that Rios is unskilled or lacking in intelligence, but his plodding feet and his static stance offend the eyes of fight fans who see boxing as a brutal, balletic act. His considerable popularity instead comes from his refusal to engage in anything but a brawl — there isn’t a fighter out there who enjoys getting punched in the face more than Rios. Guys like that tend to have short careers marked by epic bouts against other guys like that. After watching his first fight against Mike Alvarado from ringside, I didn’t think much of Rios's chances as a legitimate pound-for-pound contender — sure, he was exciting and he certainly had the ability to put together tight, powerful combinations on the inside, but I couldn’t see him ever beating a fighter who could dictate the pace and the distance of the exchanges. It seemed that if you could just keep your cool and circle around Rios’s slow advance, you could win a pretty easy decision.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Floyd Mayweather’s ascent to his position as king of the boxing box office is that he’s done it without being an exciting fighter. Rather, he convinces fans to pay for his fights by distracting them from what will actually happen in the ring. He’s a master manipulator, the likes of which boxing hasn’t seen since Muhammad Ali. And with the official announcement on Tuesday of his next fight, Mayweather has done it again. He’s whipped the boxing world into a frenzy despite choosing the modest-profile opponent we assumed all along he was going to choose.
On May 4, Mayweather will take on Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. What makes the announcement worthy of talking-head analysis 10 weeks before the fight is that he’ll face Guerrero on Showtime pay-per-view. After a 15-year relationship with HBO, the network that aired 25 of his last 26 bouts, Mayweather, the biggest draw in boxing, has signed a six-fight deal with the top contender to HBO’s throne. His defection forces us to ask: Is HBO now the top contender to Showtime’s throne?
Rarely does the mere announcement of a fight pack as many angles and sub-angles as this one, but damn you, Floyd Mayweather, you’ve manipulated us into breaking down five questions worth exploring in the run-up to Cinco de Mayweather weekend, 2013:
According to the New York Daily News, “sources” say boxer Victor Ortiz will be among the contestants on the next season of Dancing With The Stars. Does this sound like reputable information that Grantland should be repeating without further confirmation? Not at all. But if it gives us an excuse to discuss the man who attached his initials to a product called FaceLube and who stars in the greatest SNL fake commercial that is not a fake commercial, then the Ortiz-on-DWTS rumor is a true blessing.
Before we go further, here are the 54 glorious, hilarious, confounding, homoerotic seconds that threaten to turn Ortiz into an iconic pitchman:
Gennady Golovkin, the middleweight champion boxer from Kazakhstan, has entered a strange stage in his career. He is still largely unknown to the American audience, but he has been so wildly hyped within the boxing community that one almost expects him to punch a hole clear through his opponent’s head whenever he fights. Anything less is a letdown.
By the end of Golovkin’s seven-round TKO victory Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, he had won every round. He’d made his opponent, Gabriel Rosado, look like he’d just starred in a reenactment of the blood shower scene from Carrie. Golovkin’s punches had opened a deep gash above Rosado’s left eye and had more or less exploded whatever soft tissue had been inside Rosado’s nose. His blows had spattered blood onto the ropes, onto the lenses of HBO’s ringside TV cameras, and onto the side of Rosado’s trainer’s face. Golovkin had handed out so much punishment that moments before the end of the fight, Rosado’s trainer turned to the fighter’s father and said, “I gotta stop it. Your son’s gonna die, man!”
Numbers never lie, right? Well, in boxing, at the very least, they fib. Numbers can misrepresent and misdirect. And that’s dangerous because, in boxing, until you’ve won enough big fights to become a name, all you really are is a number — or, more accurately, a series of three numbers: wins, losses, and knockouts.
All assumptions about an unknown fighter are based on his record. There is no boxing equivalent of baseball’s WHIP or BABIP, so when fight fans need to make a snap judgment on whether a fighter matters, they use these traditional stats. And if the number in the loss column is too high or the number of knockouts doesn’t closely resemble the number of wins, good luck getting people to tune in.
Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia are on the right side of that equation. You might not know who they are, but the numbers tell the story their promoters want you to hear. Golovkin’s record is 24-0 (21 KOs). Garcia’s is 30-0 (26 KOs). They always win and, a collective 87 percent of the time, they score knockouts. What more do you need to know?
1. Does anyone actually know which boxers are good, which are great, and which are fake?
I’m not sure. The sport is so balkanized that there just doesn’t seem to be a reliable way of determining who the best fighters really are. If you tried to make a flow chart of all the competing promoters, managers, advisers, television networks, state athletic commissions, and the fighters themselves, I imagine it would resemble the knot of greasy hair that accumulates in your bathtub drain. On top of that, there’s the very tired but very true old saw that styles make fights — a boxer can look horrible against certain opponents and transcendent against others.
This helps explain what we witnessed Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, when 154-pound champion Austin Trout won a unanimous decision over Miguel Cotto — one of boxing’s real superstars — in front of a mostly deflated Puerto Rican crowd that came to cheer Cotto. After the fact, it’s easy to see how Trout defeated Cotto — he was bigger and faster, with more crisp boxing skills. He fought busier than Cotto, and he proved capable of handling Cotto’s pressure and power. Was it possible to predict this before the fight? Sure, but that prediction would have been mostly guesswork. Just as easily as you could look at Trout’s age, size, and speed advantages, you could point to Cotto’s edges in experience, acknowledged punching power, and demonstrated willpower. And with Cotto, at least, you can feel confident in knowing what he would bring into the ring, since he’d demonstrated it against the best fighters of his generation — Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Shane Mosley, the list goes on. All the skills Trout demonstrated in his 25 professional fights before facing Cotto might not mean anything, since he’d been showcasing them against opponents worse than almost every fighter Cotto has faced in the past six or seven years.
Kendrick Lamar is on a roll. After being anointed the new king of the West Coast by the AARP Cali rapper collective of Dr. Dre disciples, he went on to appear on Drake's Take Care, release perhaps the rap album of the year in good kid, m.A.A.d city (the rare "actually met unfairly high expectations" example), show out in the BET Cyphers, and most recently, hop on the "Who's Who of 2012" posse track "Fucken Problem" with Drake, A$AP Rocky, and Archbishop 2 Chainz.
We'll come back to these accolades in a moment, but for just a second let's talk about basketball. There's an expression in the sport: "heat check." It's used to describe a player taking a questionable shot, just to see how hot he really is. Proven players who tend to already have the "green light" aren't really the ones to worry about with regard to the heat check. It's more the ones who are surprising even themselves and are new to feeling so untouchable.
I bring all this up because this weekend was a perfect example of a rapper heat check, disguised by something seemingly very cool.
Our century-long search for the Great White Hope is over. We found him. Two of him, in fact. And we can’t wait to be rid of him.
The pronouns in play here could probably use some clarification. The “our” of the first sentence refers to a racially charged segment of America. The “we” of the second sentence is the sport of boxing and its fans. The “hims” are Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, the fair-skinned Ukrainian brothers who, together, have ruled the heavyweight division since Lennox Lewis retired in 2004. And the “we” of the final sentence refers to the millions of fight fans who find no pleasure in watching the Klitschkos ply their trade.
Just last weekend, Wladimir took part in the most entertaining fight either Klitschko has had since 2005. He hammered chin-tastic Mariusz Wach for the entirety of 12 rounds, got wobbled momentarily in the fifth to create a rare moment of drama in a Klitschko fight, and spent the eighth round emptying every chamber in pursuit of a knockout. It wasn’t a great fight, but it held your interest for 47 minutes. That alone made it an anomaly in the Klitschko age of heavyweight championship boxing.
It was too late by the time I arrived at the Montgomery County Boys Club — I’d just missed a historic gym war between two boxers who would eventually be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Thomas Hearns was still in the ring having his headgear removed and Matthew Saad Muhammad (then Matthew Franklin) was sitting on the apron unwrapping his hands. Both were scuffed up, breathing hard and drenched in sweat. While I had no way of knowing at the time, there was another future Hall of Famer in the gym that day: Hearns’s trainer, Emanuel Steward.
To the sport I’ve been watching and writing about the last three Saturday nights, I ask this question: Who are you, and what have you done with boxing?
You superficially resemble boxing, with the four-sided rings and the dudes wearing gloves all punching each other and spitting into buckets and whatnot. But where are the two steps back for every step forward? Where is the sound of gunshots as you shoot yourself in the feet taking those backward and forward steps? Where are the horrid scorecards that beget conspiracy theories, the body slams resulting in no-contests, the impassioned press conference trash talk that precedes 12 rounds of passionless mauling?
If you’re incautious enough to spend any period of time looking at online gambling forums, two things will probably occur. Firstly, your faith in humanity will quickly disappear, and secondly, you’ll be amazed by how gullible people can be. Any online claim of extraordinary betting prowess will immediately be met with the challenge “pics or it didn’t happen,” but if you add a photo of a betting slip, the natural skepticism of the Internet’s gamblers will disappear immediately. Have these people never heard of Photoshop? However, there’s one gambler who never needs to be prompted to post a photo of his winning bets, and his bankroll is so huge that there’s no reason to suspect foul play: I refer, of course, to boxing’s undefeated quintuple world champion, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr.
Mayweather is famous for his enormous bets, largely because he’s been tirelessly promoting himself on Twitter as boxing’s answer to Nick the Greek. By my count, between August 2010 (when he began tweeting his slips) and February 2012, Mayweather tweeted photographs of 46 betting slips, totaling $3,890,833 worth of bets, and every single one of them was a winner, netting the fighter a cool $3,938,722 (and 87 cents) in winnings on those bets. Losing betting slips have been conspicuous by their absence. When asked about his losing slips, Floyd responded, “Why would I ever show a losing ticket when I’m 41-0.”
A theory: If you found someone who had never watched a round of boxing, and you made him watch the recent fights of Andre Ward, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Nonito Donaire, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, and anyone else you think might deserve consideration as one of the best fighters alive, that person would choose Ward as the finest boxer on the planet. Of course, several factors go into pound-for-pound designations — a fighter's body of work, the strength of his opponents, and his status in the sport, among others. Because of this, it seems unlikely that Oakland's Andre Ward will be recognized as no. 1 before Mayweather retires, but based on the eye test alone, it's hard to imagine anyone looking better than Ward.
Why? Quality. I admit this is strange, but after I watched Ward dominate light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson on Saturday night, I started thinking about the philosopher-mechanic Robert M. Pirsig and his discussion of "Quality" in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Quality, Pirsig says, cannot be defined. "[It] cannot be broken down into subjects and predicates. This is not because Quality is so mysterious but because Quality is so simple, immediate and direct." Basically, you know Quality when you see it, but your attempts to explain it won't quite add up to a full picture of "Quality."