Mayweather faces Maidana and a helluva dilemma
As February threatened to bleed into March, Floyd Mayweather still hadn’t announced an opponent for his scheduled spring bout, and the anticipation drove some fighters out of their Twitter minds.
Amir Khan was once so sure he’d get the Mayweather payday he cancelled a December showdown with Devon Alexander, but as he tired of waiting for Mayweather to make a decision he shared his dread and disappointment and insecurity with 1.4 million Twitter followers.
Mayweather running scared from a guy who barely solved Julio Diaz his last time out?
Meanwhile, Cuban champ Erislandy Lara dedicated the first part of the week to a last-minute social media campaign aimed at persuading Mayweather to take him on. Between Saturday night and Monday afternoon the WBA interim 154-pound champ authored just one tweet, spending the rest of his online time re-tweeting followers’ calls for Mayweather to face him.
In the end, of course, neither Khan’s gamble nor Lara’s online posturing landed them the rainmaking bout with Mayweather. Khan has no belts and no credibility among American fight followers, and Lara, for all his skill and heart, has no fans. So the fight Mayweather announced Monday night — a title unification against Argentina’s Marcos “Chino” Maidana — had to happen.
While Khan was postponing his December date and waiting for Mayweather money to roll in, Maidana was busy battering Mayweather acolyte Adrien Broner around the ring at the Alamodome, taking Broner’s belt and positioning himself as the front-runner in the competition for the richest bout in boxing.
The May 3 fight marks the half-way point in a record-breaking contract with Showtime that will see Mayweather fight up to six times while collecting at least $200 million. But it also represents a turning point for the Mayweather-Showtime relationship and the biggest challenge the fighter has faced since he became boxing’s biggest star.
I don’t mean in the ring.
Maidana has heart and power and underrated skills, but he has slow hands and slow feet and nowhere near the ring IQ needed to make Mayweather sweat. When I say Mayweather could have beaten Maidana after he beat Canelo Alvarez in September, I mean right after he beat Alvarez. That same night. The skill gap between Maidana and Mayweather really is that wide, and if Mayweather is healthy heading into the fight look for him to cruise through 12 lopsided rounds.
But how do you sell this fight to a public that may have reached Peak Mayweather, and who knows little and cares even less about Maidana?
It’s not Mayweather’s fault his air-tight defense and calculating, counterpunching style turn most of his bouts in to one-sided boxing clinics. It’s not his responsibility to make his opponent’s task easier, and in a sport where brain trauma is all but assured in the long term it’s certainly not his job to invite further damage in the name of entertainment.
Still, when his critics argue that his bouts don’t captivate audiences, they have a point.
But the bigger point is that if you’re bored by the main event of a card that just added $60 to your cable bill, it means you’ve already paid for the bout. And because Mayweather’s style doesn’t appeal to fans who crave action, if you’ve purchased the pay-per-view it means Mayweather and Showtime have sold you the storyline.
A million people bought the May 2013 dismantling of Robert Guerrero because Mayweather has a lot of fans who were genuinely curious about how he’d return from a 12-month layoff that included a summer spent in county jail. Nothing on Guerrero’s CV indicated he’d give Mayweather headaches, but he held the welterweight title Mayweather had vacated, providing a built-in subplot about a champion returning from exile to reclaim his crown.
And why did Mayweather’s September bout with Alvarez shatter records for revenue at the gate ($20 million) and via pay-per-view ($150 million)?
Not because it offered promise of a Castillo vs. Corrales- style shootout, but because Canelo brought a critical mass of paying fans that complemented Mayweather’s following. Beyond that, the 23-year-old Alvarez’ edges in age and size made him — on paper, at least — a credible threat to Mayweather’s undefeated record.
None of those factors helped Alvarez in the ring, where Mayweather taught him a hard lesson in the subtle skills the sweet science requires. But they added a ton of muscle to the promotion, which culimated in 2.2 million pay-per-view buys, a figure eclipsed only by Mayweather’s 2007 bout with Oscar De La Hoya.
He has Alvarez’ command of English — meaning he speaks none — but lacks Canelo’s following. A good translator can help him participate in the fight’s media tour, but can’t give him the U.S. fan base that would add eyeballs to this fight. Alvarez could at least sell out the Alamodome before he got the call to face Mayweather.
So, if Maidana can’t bring a pool of paying customers to this promotion how do you use him to sell this fight?
Look for Showtime to play up the Broner angle, and tell fans Mayweather is out for revenge against the fighter who laid a savage beating on his “little brother.” And because Maidana just manhandled a guy who “fights just like Mayweather,” you can sell him as the first fighter since De La Hoya who has “The Blueprint” to defeating Mayweather himself.
Except Broner doesn’t fight exactly like Mayweather. He just uses the shoulder roll. Big difference.
And Maidana doesn’t have “The Blueprint.” He has heavy hands and a big heart, and neither one guarantees success against the most skilled boxer of his generation.
They have a proven draw in Mayweather, who could sell 1 million pay-per-views whether he’s fighting Maidana, Amir Khan, or a cold virus. But beyond that they have a shrinking list of B-sides who can help push pay-per-view and gate numbers anywhere near the standard Mayweather-Alvarez set in September.
Which means Mayweather is about to start earning those record-breaking paydays from Showtime, because essentially he’s selling this fight on his own.
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