by David P. Greisman
There was only one direction to go after the huge financial success that was Floyd Mayweather’s win over Canelo Alvarez this past September: down. Barring a bout with Manny Pacquiao — which at this moment is still highly unlikely — whatever Mayweather pay-per-view that follows “The One” is destined to seem like a distant No. 2.
Despite that, Mayweather’s next appearance (which is expected to be on his usual date of the first Saturday in May, coinciding with Cinco de Mayo) will still be a big event. He will still sell more pay-per-views in the United States than any other boxer will in 2014. He will still add tens of millions of dollars to his bank account. But the numbers for his next card won’t come close to approaching the records that the Alvarez fight set.
With that in mind, it’s hard for Mayweather’s next conquest not to seem like a comedown. After all, he remains the best boxer in the world today. Though he’s approaching 37 years old, he remains superlatively skilled, so much so that it’s understandable if you look at a list of his potential challengers in the welterweight division and picture Mayweather emerging victorious against them all.
Though Mayweather bested Alvarez in a fight held at a catch-weight of 152 pounds, we likely won’t see Mayweather face other competitors in the junior middleweight division, not unless the promised financial rewards match the potential physical risks. A move to middleweight also seems a long shot, though there’s always a chance that Mayweather could be tempted if, say, Miguel Cotto tops Sergio Martinez this June, or if Martinez looks particularly vulnerable while winning. That would set up a rematch with Cotto, or a challenge against Martinez, for the lineal middleweight championship.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The immediate future concerns a pool of contenders and titleholders in the 147-pound division or moving up from the 140-pound weight class. That list is narrowed down when you consider that some of those names are with promoter Top Rank, which Mayweather and his business partner, Golden Boy Promotions, will not work with. And while Mayweather is the star of the show, he still needs an opponent that the public can be sold on.
All of which brings us to the question of which man will be sharing a ring with Floyd Mayweather Jr. on May 3.
Mayweather posed that question himself, putting up a poll on his website asking the public to weigh in on their preference between two candidates: former junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan, and current 147-pound titleholder Marcos Maidana.
As of late Sunday, with less than an hour remaining in the weeklong poll, more than 35,500 people had cast their votes — and had their social media information and email addresses captured in the process. Khan held a firm lead, receiving 57 percent of the votes, and bringing in about 4,600 more votes than Maidana had.
The poll was a good publicity move, and perhaps a negotiating tactic as well. One way to gin up interest in something is to create a debate about it, getting people personally invested in the argument and getting them to anticipate seeing the result (both in the poll and in the ring).
And one way to get someone to lower his contractual demands is to send a message that there’s another perfectly viable option out there that can replace him.
Khan has been the seeming frontrunner for a Mayweather fight for months. On multiple occasions, news outlets in Khan’s home country of the United Kingdom have reported that Mayweather-Khan was official. Those reports were thinly sourced or not sourced whatsoever, and they have not been true. With less than three months until the presumptive fight night, no announcement has come yet from Mayweather or his team.
I have no inside knowledge of the negotiations or of any contractual demands. But if Khan felt he could get more of what he wanted back when he was the frontrunner, then that perceived leverage changed once Maidana’s name entered the conversation.
Maidana, after all, is coming off a rousing victory over Adrien Broner, earning a decision win and knocking Broner down twice in the process. He is riding high after giving Broner the public comeuppance that Broner’s detractors desired.
Khan, meanwhile, is fast with his hands and feet but flawed defensively. While there is little shame in who his back-to-back losses came against in 2011 and 2012 — he dropped a close split decision to Lamont Peterson, then suffered a fourth-round technical knockout against Danny Garcia — the facts are that he lost those bouts, and lost them because he can be hit and hurt. It didn’t help Khan’s cause that he looked so shaky last April against Julio Diaz, who Khan outpointed in a bout that was too close for his comfort.
Maidana seems more deserving of this big fight, though there are some who see Mayweather-Maidana as the less desirable pairing. Those observers note that Maidana is a slower pressure fighter, and recall that Mayweather knows how to handle that sort of challenge. A Khan clash, however, seems more interesting based on the possibility, however small, that his speed could trouble Mayweather.
It’s no surprise that Khan has been publicly lobbying for the Mayweather fight, particularly after the poll went up.
“Why would Mayweather even consider putting Maidana in the mix?” Khan wrote on Facebook last week in a post that I’ve edited only for the sake of capitalization, punctuation and spelling words correctly. “Slow hands, slow feet. Only thing he brings to the table is power. I agree he beat Broner. We’ve seen how Mayweather deals with power, e.g. Canelo. Let Broner have his rematch on the undercard of Khan vs. Mayweather. I bring speed, explosiveness, power and footwork to the table. Look back at quick opponents Mayweather has fought in the past: [Zab] Judah, Oscar De La Hoya both had speed and were close fights. Floyd did say he needs fans want to see him knocking someone out because his fights are boring. So no wonder he's now wanting to fight Maidana.
“I'm ready and been in [the] gym for [the] last 6 months. At 147 you will see a different, stronger Amir khan. OK, let's talk about the chin, which I always laugh about. Killing yourself making weight makes your punch resistance poor. I’ve been killing myself making 140 pounds and should have moved up. Day before weigh-in, I’ve been 12 pounds over. Not good. I’ve taken the biggest shots from likes of Maidana, with 30 KOs under his belt, who people say is the biggest puncher and didn't go down — but then Diaz puts me down with a little shot. Even though my balance [was] off and I was on one foot, it's cool. I’ll take it. So this proves weight making is the problem.
“Another example: [154-pounder Alfredo] Angulo and [168-pound champion Andre] Ward have hit me with big shots and I've stood in front and not gone down They carry 25 pounds over me and are big punchers. This is because I'm at my natural weight. It's in the fans’ hands who they want to see me fight. If it’s not me, then good luck, whoever it is.”
Ward responded last week that he’s never sparred with Khan. Their shared trainer, Virgil Hunter, clarified that Khan has sparred with Angulo and one of Ward’s sparring partners, a 160-pound prospect named Antoine Douglas.
Khan’s claims that his chin problems are related to weight may very well be true. Yet sparring stories cannot convince his doubters in the same way that wins against other top welterweights would.
As for Maidana, it’s amusing that his team had turned down an immediate rematch with Broner for April 19 or April 26, saying that Maidana wanted to spend time with his girlfriend and their soon-to-be-born daughter, resting and then returning for a full training camp. It’s amusing, because a fight with Mayweather would be just one or two weeks later than the Broner bout would have been.
Of course, it’s easier to change your mind when there’s a significantly larger payday available. And Maidana’s reasoning, while completely understandable on the surface, may also have been another case of contractual posturing.
Maidana and Khan were the only two names on Mayweather’s poll. Not listed was the top 140-pounder, the aforementioned Danny Garcia, who topped Lucas Matthysse on the undercard to “The One.” Garcia has spoken of moving up to welterweight; alas, he has a March 15 fight with Mauricio Herrera.
A number of boxing fans took to Twitter to call for “none of the above” and to cast a protest vote for Manny Pacquiao, returning to the mega-fight that has failed to come to fruition dating back to the end of 2009.
It was an understandable gesture, even if the allure of a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight has diminished somewhat thanks to Pacquiao’s two losses in 2012.
Mayweather-Pacquiao could still be a remarkably lucrative fight. Pacquiao does have an April rematch with Timothy Bradley, though, and he remains under contract to Top Rank through the rest of this year. Even were Pacquiao to jump ship from Top Rank in 2015 in order to seek a fight with Mayweather, he would still have to drop many (if not all) of the contractual demands that had helped prevent that bout from being made before.
And so it will be Mayweather vs. Khan or Mayweather vs. Maidana this May, barring a dramatic last-minute twist. The promotional team will know that the pay-per-view won’t match the overwhelming success of Alvarez-Mayweather. The more realistic goal is to work to surpass the numbers brought in by Mayweather’s win over Robert Guerrero in May 2013.
Given Mayweather’s two potential opponents, his next pay-per-view won’t be a huge, huge event. Given that Mayweather’s involved, it will still be quite a major one. We fans and observers should want these big events to bring good fights — and barring that, for them to bring remarkable performances.
The biggest boxing matches will have everyone talking beforehand. The best nights, however, are those that have everyone buzzing afterward.
The 10 Count will return soon.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]