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Old 09-21-2009, 08:44 AM
PACHUGGER
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Talking Despite wins, Mayweather’s star not on the rise

Despite wins, Mayweather’s star not on the rise
by Stephen Brunt
Boxer's lack of popularity to break through as a true superstar has less to do with race and more to do with the shrinking presence of boxing in the sports psyche

Floyd Mayweather Jr. says that it is because he is an African American that he isn’t counted among the planet’s most popular athletes, but that’s doesn’t quite ring true.

Race matters, but in his case it’s not what defines and narrows his celebrity. Mayweather’s is really the Norma Desmond problem: He is just about as big a star as his sport can produce, but in the 21st century, boxing has become a whole lot smaller than it once was.

On Saturday night in Las Vegas, he returned following a 21-month “retirement” to dominate Juan Manuel Marquez over 12 rounds, an utter mismatch that few of the fight game’s wise guys predicted.

After the fact, it was easy enough to say that Mayweather was simply too big and too fast, that while he’s grown into a comfortable welterweight, Marquez really belongs at lightweight. The extra couple of pounds that Mayweather was allowed (for a price – reportedly $600,000) to carry after not making the contractual catch weight of 144, were an added advantage, though it would be quite a stretch to suggest that they were crucial.

Truth is, on nearly every authoritative pound-for-pound list Marquez was pencilled-in before the fight at No.***61486;2, right behind Manny Pacquiao, against whom he’d fought to a draw, and lost a controversial split decision. Though there weren’t a lot of people picking him to beat Mayweather, many envisioned a close, tough fight.

It wasn’t that, not by a long stretch. Mayweather dropped Marquez in the second round, punished him throughout, and was largely untouched, happy to stand in the centre of the ring almost flatfooted and block and slip punches before countering. Giving Marquez even a single round on the scorecards was more a tribute to his willingness to absorb a beating than a suggestion that he won any three minutes of the fight.

Mayweather was criticized afterward, as usual, for refusing to take chances that might have allowed him to become the first to knock Marquez out, and there are plenty of people who haven’t warmed to his personality – enmity that Mayweather has opted to exploit by happily wearing the black hat.

What we have here, though, without debate, is a singular talent, the best of his generation, who does just about everything as well as it can be done. And yet, he’s no star – at least not of the break-out sort.

You could argue that Pacquiao is, sort of, though not really for the mass audience, and certainly Oscar de la Hoya was, no small thanks to being handsome and Hispanic, a matinee idol for a certain audience, at least in the United States. But there’s a limit to what any boxer of any ethnic origin can become right now. Without a big-time U.S. heavyweight, without the renewal that the Olympics used to bring, without a unified television and marketing strategy, even the greatest fighter can’t turn into a Ray Leonard or Mike Tyson, never mind a Muhammad Ali – all of them, of course, African-Americans.

(Someone is going to mention MMA here, which certainly knows how to sell, at least under the UFC banner. But there the stars are interchangeable and expendable by design: nobody is bigger than the company, which is just the way Dana White likes it.)

Mayweather will likely fight the winner of November’s Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto bout, and if he triumphs may be lured into the ring against a guy who would provide a much more difficult size and speed match, Shane Mosley.

But even if he runs the table, even if he walks away unscathed and undefeated, even if he turns up the outrageous behaviour another notch in the next edition of 24/7, the adulation he craves just isn’t coming.

Wrong time, wrong sport, even if he’s the very best right now, even if he’s one of the best, period
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