Floyd Mayweather 2.0? A Motor City Postscript

Back in Canada and still recovering from 24 hours in Detroit, where the drinks are stiff (the young lady tending bar at Cutters promised her Jameson with a splash of Faygo ginger ale would put hair on my chest), and where rebirth has been a running theme for nearly four decades.

On the banks of the Detroit River stands the Renaissance Center, opened in 1977 as the symbol of a dynamic new Detroit finally rising from the cinders of race riots that exploded 10 years earlier.

The current talk about revitalizing Detroit’s downtown? It’s been circulating since before 1999, when I began my first paid gig as a journalist at the Detroit News.

Meanwhile speculation rages about how the debt-burdened City of Detroit might re-invent the iconic park at Belle Isle, a debate that includes ideas both reasonable (converting it to a pay-per-use state park) and outlandish (the Independent Commonwealth of Belle Isle? Seriously?).

And this past Saturday, as boxer/promoter Floyd Mayweather addressed the media after a fight card at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, I wondered if the Motor City had served as the stage for the reinvention of the fighter who calls himself “Money.”

If so, the folks at Showtime — who just signed boxing’s biggest attraction to a six-fight mega deal — better be worried. They’ve just bet a ton of money on a fighter who breaks pay-per-view records because a large segment of the sports public hates him enough to pay to see him lose.

That aspect of the Mayweather brand works perfectly, and has made him a pile of cash in recent years.

Yet Saturday night Mayweather arrived at the theatre surrounded by four megalithic bodyguards, and greeted Showtime host Brian Kenny with a warm hand-shake hug. The pair are famous for the tense exchanges they shared when Kenny worked as one of ESPN’s boxing analysts, but by all reports their latest interview was the type of warm-and-friendly promotional job Mayweather hasn’t enjoyed since he was “Pretty Boy Floyd.”


And in the minutes after the main event, in which Mayweather sparring partner and promotional protegé Ishe Smith decisioned Detroit’s Cornelius Bundrage to win a 154-pound world title, Mayweather held court at a news conference, opening up in ways he rarely does in the ring.

He spoke of a summer spent at Clark County Jail in Las Vegas, answering fan mail and banging out 1,300 push-ups daily.

He talked up his roster at Mayweather Promotions, touting his ragged collection of prospects and journeymen as future champions.

And he discussed living a less drama-filled life — squashing a long-simmering dispute with his father, working more peacefully with the networks broadcasting his fights, and positioning himself as a mentor for the next generation of superstars, even if they work for rival promoters.

For Floyd Mayweather the man, these developments are overwhelmingly positive. None of us should feud with family members, even the ones we can’t stand. Nor should we be ashamed to show a little humility after a lifetime of arrogance.

It’s called adulthood, and in showing the public his grown-up Mayweather helps prove what his supporters have contended all along — that in real life he’s not that bad of a guy.

That would be a development worth celebrating if Mayweather’s massive personal brand and pay-per-view fortune weren’t built on being detestable.

Before his 2007 bout with Oscar de la Hoya, Mayweather and his advisors made a calculated — and ultimately lucrative — decision to ditch the “Pretty Boy Floyd” persona in favour of the conceited and obnoxious “Money” Mayweather persona, whose trash talk carried the 24-7 documentary series, which in turn drove that bout to a record 2.4 million pay per view buys.

Since then “Money” has dived deeper into character,  spewing steroid accusations and ethnic stereotypes at the beloved Manny Pacquiao, then accusing Victor Ortiz of fabricating his hard-luck backstory before cold-cocking him when they met in the ring.

The act drove Mayweather’s approval rating down and his income up.

Way up.

Last year Forbes placed Mayweather atop its list of the world’s highest-paid athletes, thanks to in-ring earnings of $85 million over the previous 12 months. The “in-ring” distinction is critical because Mayweather, who used to shill for Reebok and At&T, now makes little to no money from endorsements. His income depends on selling tickets and pay-per-views, and that rests on a cockiness that inflames hatred toward him.

The same loud-mouthed brashness that chases sponsors away attracts mainstream fans, who line up behind whoever Mayweather confronts, hoping somebody can finally put marks on Money’s face and unblemished record. You sell the idea of good versus evil, and you sell the idea that good (whichever fighter isn’t Mayweather) can triumph, and you have a foolproof revenue generator.

Mayweather and Showtime may one day regret meddling with that formula.

After Saturday’s fight Mayweather told reporters he hoped for a “positive” relationship with the broadcast crews for his future fights, which is natural.  If rank-and-file fight fans have grown tired of HBO’s pro-Pacquiao slant, imagine how Mayweather feels.

And the retirement of Larry Merchant probably hasn’t made Mayweather any less apprehensive about his next postfight interview on HBO.

But moments like those are great TV. Moments like those sell. They might make mainstream fans hate Mayweather but they prompt those same fans to tune in to see if the next man up (Robert Guerrero, May 4) can silence him. Lose those moments and you risk forfeiting a large part of Mayweather’s appeal.

The fans who find a humbled and sympathetic Mayweather endearing probably loved him already. But if the fans who hated him in the past discover he’s not really a boor they probably won’t grow to love him. They might simply hate him less.

And if those fans, who constitute a large segment of Mayweather’s pay-per-view customers, exchange hate for mere tolerance Showtime is in trouble. Marketing abhors indifference like nature abhors a vacuum.

It’s not a problem for Mayweather, who doubtless received a ton of his money up front. But it’s a huge dilemma for Showtime, which will have to recoup its investment by selling pay-per-views to a public that might no longer hate a made-over Mayweather enough to pay to watch his downfall.


One Response to “Floyd Mayweather 2.0? A Motor City Postscript”
  1. For the time being, I think the public still hates Floyd enough to still watch his fights…until he loses. Then this new attitude will definitely work against him, then. But for now, it’s all about the dollar bill. And yes, this contract is a monumental albatross in waiting.

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