By Thomas Gerbasi
Ego. Every fighter has one, and the greater the fighter, the greater the ego. Even the ones who speak softly and humbly outside the ring have that certain something, that belief that when it’s just you and him in a ring with nothing but gloves to speak with, you’ll be the one who talks the loudest.
And while ego may manifest itself in many ways, when it comes down to it, all the bluster in the world means nothing without substance to back it up. For all his talk, Muhammad Ali faced all comers, always putting his money where his mouth was. So when he calls himself ‘The Greatest’, you may not agree, but he certainly earned his way into the conversation.
It should have been that way for Floyd Joy Mayweather Jr., the most gifted boxer of this era and one whose path to greatness seemed to be a given. Unlike Roy Jones Jr., his only real competition for ‘most gifted’ honors, Mayweather didn’t rely strictly on physical talent. He had a solid fundamental foundation, one that carried him through a stellar amateur career and which allowed him to improvise when necessary. He also possessed a mean streak, a Spartan work ethic, and a willingness to test himself early on that bordered on obsessive.
Jones, who ducked and dodged most top contenders during prime years that could have cemented his legacy as an All-time great, saw his career take a nosedive when his reflexes and speed started diminishing. You got the feeling with Mayweather that when he did start to slow down, all it would do was level the playing field a little bit and provide fans with the type of epic battles that all the greats eventually have to survive and prevail in. Because up until then, it was just a series of blowouts, shutouts, and knockouts.
Sure, Jose Luis Castillo tested him, Emanuel Augustus gave him fits for a bit, and DeMarcus Corley staggered him briefly, but when the dust settled, Mayweather always found a way to win. And when you run down his early list of victims, Genaro Hernandez, Angel Manfredy, Goyo Vargas, Diego Corrales, Carlos Hernandez, and Jesus Chavez, it wasn’t a question of if he would eventually end up in the Hall of Fame, but where he would place on the list of greatest ever.
But even then, there were cracks beginning to form in his foundation, and not just in his notoriously brittle hands. When I spoke to him before the Hernandez fight in May of 2001, and addressed the mounting criticism he was getting for his attitude with the media and behind the scenes, he simply said, "People talked about Jesus Christ himself, and he died on the cross for all of us. So do you think I worry about what somebody thinks about Floyd Mayweather? They don't pay my bills."
No, and if anything, as Mayweather became more of an anti-hero, the more people wanted to see him fight. But as his hands became more and more of an issue, so did his desire to fight. Following the Corley fight in May of 2004, he put together a three fight year in 2005 that saw him defeat Henry Bruseles, Arturo Gatti, and Sharmba Mitchell – all by mid-round TKO. He would only fight twice a year in 2006 and 2007 before returning for single bouts in 2009 and 2010.
In and of itself, you can make the case that as Mayweather reached the superstar level and engaged in superfights with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez and Shane Mosley, that the money and hype was too big to fit in more than one or two training camps (as I write that, Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis are laughing in their graves).
But what disappointed fans and pundits is that while Mayweather was dominant in each of these victories, he wasn’t the same fighter he once was, and as he currently stands at 33 years old, age couldn’t possibly be a factor. It was as if his mindset had changed towards the sport. No longer was he the ultra-competitive “Pretty Boy” Floyd who would stand right in front of you, make you miss, and then rip off a five punch combination that would dazzle opponents and observers equally. Over the last few years he instead turned into “Money” Mayweather a still gifted defensive fighter who would make you miss, maybe crack you with one counter in return, and then move around the ring until the next offensive / defensive sequence. His fights were events, but only before the bell rang.
If this is beginning to sound like a post-mortem on the career of Floyd Mayweather Jr., filled with past tense references and all that good stuff, that may very turn out to be the case since the former pound-for-pound king has spent more time as TMZ’s poster child for bad behavior than as a prizefighter. His lone bout in 2010 was a convincing 12 round drubbing of Shane Mosley where the only drama came in the second round when Mosley drilled Mayweather with a right hand that had him hurt and on the verge of hitting the canvas. From then on out, it was typical “Money” Mayweather – make ‘em miss, hit, move, rinse, repeat.
And while it wasn’t compelling stuff, it was convincing, and following the victory, the only fight the world wanted to see was one between Mayweather and the current pound for pound king, Manny Pacquiao. If you’re reading this now, you know that the fight hasn’t happened, and at this point, it won’t until late 2011 at the earliest, since Mosley’s reward for being nearly shut out by Mayweather and then engaging in a pedestrian draw with Sergio Mora is a May bout with Pacquiao. In fact, Mayweather’s biggest scheduled fight in 2011 will be in court as he battles a myriad of legal issues that have kept his mugshot on TMZ, but the rest of him far from a boxing ring.
Before his fight against Corley, Mayweather met with the media in New York City, and he showed off the undeniable charm that he can turn on when he wants to. That early spring day he was honest, open, and seemingly sincere about his life and what he wanted his legacy to be. He was “Pretty Boy” Floyd and despite the turmoil brewing around him even then, you got the impression that he would eventually figure things out and take his place with the Alis and Leonards of the sport.
"I’m not perfect, and all my fights ain't going to be the best in the world, but one thing you can count on – at the end of the day, Floyd Mayweather's hands are going to get raised because Floyd Mayweather is a winner,” he said in March 2004. "A lot of fighters just talk winning. I believe it. Winning is in my heart. I’ll take winning over money. I love to win.”
That was before the birth of “Money” Mayweather. And while a 41-0 record and title belts in five weight classes will reserve him a space in Canastota in 2015 should he never fight again, it’s the ‘what ifs’ that will plague his legacy forever. All the money in the world can’t change that, and that’s the greatest disappointment, both to the boxing world and to Floyd Mayweather’s ego.