Floyd Mayweather is still scared of Manny Pacquiao…right?
FIRST IN A RECURRING SERIES PREVIEWING THE BIG FIGHT Maybe it’s a few years past its stale date but Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao is the biggest one-day sports event on the calendar besides the Super Bowl, and now that both fighters have signed up to square off May 2 the whole sports world is overjoyed.
Hoteliers in Vegas are too. Within 15 minutes of Mayweather’s Friday afternoon announcement that he’d signed the contract the MGM Grand Hotel was sold out. Elsewhere on and off the strip hotels, motels and Air BnB accommodations boosted prices, knowing a big windfall awaited anyone supplying a place to stay on a weekend of unprecedented demand.
Which all makes sense when the two best, and best-known, fighters of our generation finally meet after a courtship that dates back to Pacquiao’s dismantling of Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008.
Their methods varied — Pacquiao’s humble good-guy persona endeared him to fans while Mayweather’s bad-guy antics actively courted their hatred. But together (or separately) Mayweather and Pacquiao did a better job making mainstream sports fans care about boxing than any fighter since a mid-80s Mike Tyson. The upcoming fight won’t just provide a coda to a pair of hall-of-fame careers. On May 2 and several preceding weeks the bout will place boxing at the centre of the sports world.
If there’s a downside to a fight like that, it’s this:
Every columnist, hot-take artist and carnival barker in the sports talk-industrial complex will weigh in on the fight, even though few of them pay much attention to either the sport or the business of boxing. It’s great news if you consume sports media without regard to empty calories, but if you actually want stories and columns to bring you closer to the truth you might go nuts between now and fight night.
Consider, for example, how track and field fans must feel every four years when, in the hours after them men’s Olympic 100m final U.S. sportswriters start speculating about how many NFLers could outrun the gold medalist. Or how they feel this time of year, when football media tries to extrapolate the 100-metre speed of NFL prospects based on dodgy 40-yard dash results. Or how loudly track fans must have screamed at their TVs when Bob Costas declared Michael Johnson “The World’s Fastest Man” — because 2x the 100-metre world record = 19.68 seconds, and Johnson had just run 200 metres in 19.32.
You could explain the fallacy in the calculation — the second 100m comes with a flying start, and that makes all the difference. And folks would laugh in your face because Costas is famous, and sports fans trust his back-of-the-envelope math over your years spent following the sport.
Multiply that frustration by about a thousand and you can imagine what we’re in for between now and May 2.
But that’s why I’m here. Periodically I’ll post blog to help filter fact from pre-fight fiction. Sometimes I’ll post in reaction to myth masquerading as news, and other times I’ll post in anticipation of misleading pre-fight coverage. I realize I can’t stop people from publishing nonsense — haven’t seen a story speculating about how the fighters would fare at the NFL Combine, but I might have just given somebody an idea. But I can use my little corner of the internet to help folks see this fight and the preamble to it a little more clearly.
So while we’re here, let’s start with the stubbornest, most deeply entrenched, most fallacious idea surrounding this match…
ISN’T FLOYD MAYWEATHER AFRAID OF MANNY PACQUIAO?
It’s a popular idea, and one that has dominated conversation on the topic for half a decade. It’s such a common storyline Foot Locker scripted a commercial around it.
That theory should have died when Mayweather signed the contract, but it will likely live on until the fight’s final bell.
I’m stumped. We’re probably best off asking a climate change denier… or a creationist… or a football scribe who thinks Chris Johnson can beat Usain Bolt… or anybody else who clings to a myth long after science or time has made the facts plain.
Setting the date and signing the contract are clear signals Mayweather is no more afraid of this fight than Pacquiao is, but Mayweather-is-dodging-Manny truthers aren’t satisfied. So to them, I’ll concede this:
Courage and cowardice aren’t always clear-cut. They depend heavily on context.
Consider Mayweather’s long and well-documented history of hitting women. These aren’t just rumours. The man spent the summer of 2012 in jail after pleading guilty to domestic violence after an assault an ex-girlfriend, Josie Harris.
And consider that night last year when Mayweather tried to shame his ex-fiancee Shantel (Ms) Jackson by revealing via Facebook that their relationship dissolved because she’d had an abortion, buttressing his claim by posting sonogram photos and forms Jackson had filled out at an abortion clinic.
Those are the actions of a rare species of coward, and if you want to question Mayweather’s manhood on those grounds I’m right there with you. But if you think that brand of cowardice transfers to the ring, remind yourself that this man engages in fistfights for a living.
Remember boxers don’t have health insurance or pensions, and that making a living in the ring depends on getting the better of a guy who has to get the best of you, lest he fail to pay his bills.
Then you repeat the process every damn day until you retire.
Recall the roll call of fighters who finish their careers with brains and bodies damaged beyond repair, and keep in mind that you can win a fight and still wind up in the hospital.
You don’t enter this profession unless you’ve learned to tame the fear of getting beat up. If you think Mayweather is scared go find any of the 45 fighters he’s defeated as a pro, then let that fighter hit you in the face. If you still have your teeth you tell us about who lacks courage. This sport weeds out that brand of coward quickly, which is why a few people fight at a high level and the rest of us cowards watch.
That doesn’t mean fear didn’t factor into the timing of a Mayweather-Pacquiao showdown.
I’m sure each fighter and their team felt uneasy as they awaited the pay per view stats on their recent outings. After averaging 1.1 million buys for his previous three fights, Pacquiao’s wins over Brandon Rios and Timothy Bradley totalled less than 1.3 million. And sales for his November 2014 bout with Chris Algieri barely topped 400,000.
Mayweather, meanwhile has totalled 1.8 million buys over his last two bouts, after three bouts that averaged 1.5 million buys.
Discouraging numbers for everyone involved.
The five-year delay in making this fight owes to a litany of factors, from ego, to acrimony between Mayweather and Top Rank boss Bob Arum, to boxing politics as usual. But when two superstars with slumping sales grow sufficiently scared of irrelevance, complicated contracts come together quickly.
We haven’t seen information yet about guarantees and purse splits, but one reported detail about the deal tells us a lot about whether either of these fighters feels fear.
There’s no rematch clause. That’s rare for fights this size.
This figures to be the richest fight in history. Records for revenue both at the gate and via pay-per-view will fall, and the folks at the Daily Mail say the two fighters will split $250 million. If the fight is competitive, why not reserve the right to pad everyone’s bank account once more?
Maybe Mayweather knows that, win or lose, he’ll suffer such a beating against Pacquiao that 12 more rounds will never be worth the trouble. Or perhaps Pacquiao, the B-side fighter, somehow forced a man with more leverage to bargain away his right to a return bout.
Or we could remember the evening in May 2010, when Mayweather thrashed Shane Mosley, surviving a second-round scare to pitch a two-hitter. Mayweather was several grades above Mosley but the contract for that bout still included a rematch clause — just in case.
But there’s no “just in case” here. There’s just a contract that calls for a single big-money fight with Mayweather’s undefeated record at stake, and no guarantee he’ll have a chance to gain revenge if Pacquiao wins.
If Mayweather is scared to face Pacquiao delaying the fight makes sense, but agreeing to an all-or-nothing showdown doesn’t. A scared fighter seeks all the security he can, especially if he has leverage. Instead Mayweather passed up a guaranteed rematch and placed a massive bet on himself.
You don’t do that when you’re scared you’ll lose. You do it when you’re more confident than ever you’ll win.
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