By Jake Donovan
It didn’t carry even a smidgen of the impact of the last time he made a major announcement to confirm his next fight, but Floyd Mayweather has finally broken silence on boxing’s worst kept secret.
The World welterweight champ and pound-for-pound king will return to the ring on September 12, when he will face former welterweight titlist Andre Berto (30-3, 23KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event will air live on Showtime Pay-Per-View, marking the last of a six-fight deal Mayweather inked with the network back in 2013.
A Mayweather-Berto matchup has been rumored for weeks, picking up steam after the unbeaten welterweight ruled out previous frontrunner Amir Khan as a potential candidate for the date. Mayweather had once suggested Berto and Karim Mayfield were in the hunt to land the assignment, with few fans taking such claims seriously at the time.
Nobody is laughing now, as Mayweather confirmed Berto as the official opponent through his verified social media accounts on Tuesday afternoon by posting a photo of the match and advising his millions of followers to book their travel arrangements.
"September 12, 2015 for number 49. Come be part of the history. Book your hotel and flights now,” wrote Mayweather (48-0, 26KOs), born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich. before moving to Las Vegas, where he will perform for the 25th time in his career.
The upcoming headilner will mark his 12th straight time at MGM Grand.
Mayweather is coming off the biggest win of his Hall of Fame career, a 12-round decision over Manny Pacquiao in their long-awaited clash this past May. The event destroyed all box office records – including live gate, PPV revenue, PPV units sold, with Mayweather clearing well north of $200 million for his landslide win over the Filipino legend.
Following the historic win, Mayweather insisted that the fight in September will be the last of his incredible career. Next to nobody believes it to be true, with wild speculation that he will at least stick around long enough to purse win number 50, providing he is still unbeaten by the end of the night.
Having represented Haiti in the 2004 Olympics, Berto—a Haitian-American with dual citizenship—was once viewed upon as one of the sport’s future stars. The closest he came was a welterweight title reign which began in 2008, defending five times before conceding the crown to Victor Ortiz in one of the best welterweight fights in recent memory.
Berto was actually in the running at the time to land a Sept. ’11 showdown with Mayweather. With the changing of the guard, the assignment eventually went to Ortiz, whom Mayweather knocked out in four rounds in a sequence that sparked much debate about the spirit of fair play in the ring, including an exchange between Mayweather and former longtime HBO analyst Larry Merchant.
The loss to Ortiz began a running joke that the path to Mayweather ran through Berto, a cycle that was repeated when Robert Guerrero outpointed the Floridian over 12 rounds in Nov. ’12. The bout was Berto’s first fight back following a suspension for a banned substance discovered during pre-fight testing for his eventually scrapped rematch with Ortiz.
Guerrero went on to face Mayweather, who had just made the blockbuster announcement of leaving HBO after a 14-year relationship with the cable giant to instead bring his services to Showtime.
The event wasn’t a blockbuster, but wins over Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and of course Pacquiao put the network well in the black in terms of money dished out for the deal in exchange for what has come back. The two aforementioned events rate as the two highest grossing boxing PPV telecasts in history, with the Sept. ’13 win over Alvarez setting the mark—previously held by Mayweather-Oscar de la Hoya in May ‘07—before being destroyed in his win over Pacquiao this past May to forever establish himself as the best of his generation and the most lucrative draw in boxing history.
As for what Berto has accomplished between the Guerrero loss and now… well it’s not exactly the traditional road to landing a super fight. In fact, eight months after his defeat to Guerrero came the lone knockout defeat of his career, when he was stopped in the 12th and final round of a war with Jesus Soto-Karass.
Two wins have followed for Berto, including a 6th round knockout of veteran welterweight spoiler Josesito Lopez in March.
However, it wasn’t necessarily what he accomplished in the ring—at least in recent times—that preserved the upcoming payday. Rather, it was rewarded to him simply by not doing—and more importantly in the buildup, not saying—anything at all while waiting for his name to be called.
It was a lesson not learned by Khan, who has functionally twice talked himself out of landing a showdown with Mayweather. He was believed to have the assignment last May, even foolishly passing on an opportunity to face then-welterweight titlist Devon Alexander the previous December for fear of anything happening—a cut, injury or even a loss—to ruin his chances of collecting a career-best payday.
For months Khan talked about the fight as if his pen was hovering over the final contract. Instead, the opportunity went to Maidana, who was coming off of a dominant 12-round win over then-unbeaten Adrien Broner. Khan landed on the undercard, scoring a landslide win over Luis Collazo, which was followed by an eventual clash with Alexander, whom he outpointed over 12 rounds last December.
The win over Alexander was followed by a waiting period, as Khan was the realistic frontrunner to face Mayweather in May. That theory lasted until late January, when Mayweather and Pacquiao just so happened to be at the same event in Miami and seated across from one another—an NBA game between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks.
Once Mayweather and Pacquiao met at mid-court at halftime, the foundation was laid for their long-awaited showdown. Khan saw the writing on the wall, but waited out the process before moving towards an intended stay-busy fight with Chris Algieri in late May. The bout turned out to be more competitive than most had anticipated. It still resulted in Khan coming out ahead in the end and once again playing the waiting game.
It turned out that he didn’t play the game well enough. Berto did—and well enough for Mayweather to finally release the news of what he claims will be the final fight of his career.
Whatever your feelings are on the main event, there's no denying that the undercard is a major step up from recent PPV shows.
A pair of title fights represent the evening's supporting cast, including a sequel to one of the very best fights of 2015.
Roman 'Rocky' Martinez puts his 130 lb. belt at stake against the man from whom he claimed the crown earlier this year, veteran Orlando Salido. Their first fight in April was a terrific war, with Martinez claiming a 12-round decision in front of a rabid crowd in Puerto Rico, kicking off his third 130 lb. title reign in the process.
This time around, Martinez could be conceding what amounts to home crowd advantage. While mid-September kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 - Oct. 15), most boxing promotions on this particular weekend are geared more towards celebrating "El Grito de Independencia" (Mexico's "Independence Day"). The targeted crowd will likely be pulling for Salido, who has been a pro for more than half of his life and in search one more title to add to his remarkable (even if not Hall of Fame) career.
Also facing a potentially hostile crowd is George Groves, who travels abroad from jolly old England to challenge Badou Jack in his first title defense.
Jack is a Swedish boxer who currently fights and trains out of Las Vegas. He won the belt in late April, claiming a 12-round decision over Anthony Dirrell in their Spike TV-televised bout live from Chicago.
Original plans called for this bout to take place on August 22 in Las Vegas, on what would have headlined its own card on Showtime. Those plans were altered when it was decided that the bout was better suited for this show.
Groves will make a third attempt at a major title. His previous two title losses both came at the hands of recently retired and future Hall of Fame slugger-boxer Carl Froch. The pair of Brits first met in Nov. '13, with Groves commanding an early lead before Froch rallied, only for the referee to intervene and provide what was universally regarded as a horrible premature stoppage.
It was enough to pave the way for a rematch, which came last May in front of 80,000 strong at the famed Wembley Stadium in London. Froch provided a highlight-reel knockout in the eighth round of what became the final fight of his illustrious career.
Groves has since won two straight, including a 7th round knockout of Denis Douglin last November.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox