What to make of Floyd Mayweather Jr.? Well, at the moment, he is boxing’s last remaining superstar.
Mayweather steps into the ring on Saturday night at the MGM Grand for a title defense against Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. Mayweather is unbeaten at 43-0, with 26 knockouts; Guerrero is 31-1-1, with 18 KOs. Mayweather is a solid favorite, and all the pre-fight woofing from Guerrero, his dad and his camp aren’t going to cause Mayweather to shrink in stature.
Boxing has no Mike Tyson, just Wladimir Klitschko. Manny Pacquiao is indeed a star, but he hasn’t fought Mayweather; it’s both their faults, really, but if Pacquiao had relented and taken the drug test that Mayweather demanded, they might have made history by now. Adrien Broner, Sergio Martinez, Andre Ward, Juan Manual Marquez, they all have caused movement in the ranks in their careers, but none is moving the needle on the “It” meter.
Mayweather will be remembered as the closest thing this era has to a Sugar Ray Leonard. All that’s missing is titanic bouts against a worthy rival. But he has that potent mixture of boxing tools and personal charisma that results in a memorable prizefighter for the ages.
Of course, he did his best to ruin all that. Brushes with the law, and a recent incarceration after a domestic abuse charge—he was sentenced to 87 days and served two months in Clark County Detention Center, most of it in isolation—contributed to yet another outlaw image created by a fighter. It’s almost as if the sport has a manual for its practitioners on how to screw up a good thing.
Mayweather’s anger issues still threaten to tarnish his long-range reputation. He claims he’s a changed man after spending time in the slammer. He says he now appreciates the value of freedom. Yet did that realization come too late to prevent harm in the public’s eye? Or will the Guerrero fight mark the start of a quick repair job?
The answer is that fight fans for the most part tend to assume that their heroes will have some significant personal flaws. Boxing isn’t a haven for altar boys. Most rabid enthusiasts just want to see brutality in the ring; any ugliness that happens outside of it usually is quickly forgotten. Tyson was quickly embraced after spending time in prison on a rape conviction, for heaven’s sake.
Mayweather is boxing’s last superstar because he excites people. He’ll draw eyes to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas because he promises drama. His excellence is a room divider: half want to see him face down and out cold, half want to see him remain undefeated. And all acknowledge that he possesses greatness.
Guerrero could pull off the upset. But it’s unlikely. And even if it did happen, Mayweather’s star won’t be replaced by the guy who defeated him. Muhammad Ali remained The Champ even after he was surprised by Leon Spinks late in Ali’s career. The same thing would happen with Mayweather if Guerrero somehow found the juice to prevail.
Boxing isn’t what it used to be, thanks to MMA and a host of other sports and entertainment options that pushed the sweet science to the undercard. But the name Floyd Mayweather Jr. promises more excitement than just about anybody else out there.
Will Mayweather go down in Saturday night’s fight? Tell us in the comments section.