For better or worse — really, for better AND for worse — Floyd Mayweather cast a long shadow over the 2010s.
This is the cultural impact of Mayweather in the decade: Among those who find him generally reprehensible, it’s easy to forget that Mayweather didn’t break all those pay-per-view buy records simply because those who hated him so much wanted to watch him lose. The man has actual fans. Boxing folk do sometimes enjoy a troll, and some people incomprehensibly enough admire a walking, living stereotypical rap narrative: get rich, preferably by way of violence, then brag about it non-stop. (It would be hard to be less obvious and on the nose for someone to change their nickname to, literally, “Money.”) That they can overlook his serial domestic violence speaks, perhaps, to some deluded persecution complex enjoyment endemic to the country today, or maybe instead it just speaks to boxing fans’ acceptance that men who make a living battering each other with their fists aren’t always going to be angels outside the ring.
Is it a bad thing, really, that anyone would make such gaudy mountains of cash in a sport where the participants put their lives at risk for our entertainment? Ostensibly, no, but that’s not so easily answered. Boxing’s economics are such that PPV is the most profitable avenue for its contestants, and yet simultaneously the thing that keeps the sport from ever fully reaching a wider audience, at least in the U.S. In theory, too, Mayweather’s seizure of concession stand sales and everything else could be a “rising tide lifts all boats” thing, except the situation was and remains unique to Mayweather. This ain’t some kinda Taylor Swift/Spotify situation. The only thing Mayweather’s financial success seems to have reaped for the sport at large is to give us far too many clones of him — a much less talented Adrien Broner bragging about the money he made, too, that kind of thing. (This isn’t an uncommon phenomenon in the sport, of course, for its transcendent figures to spawn imitators: Roy Jones Jr. begat a slew of idiots who thought they could fight with their gloves down, while Manny Pacquiao begat a host of Filipinos trying out southpaw.)
Even now, heading into a new decade, Mayweather still casts a shadow over boxing. If the U.S. is always fighting the last war, boxing — or at least, the casual boxing fan — is constantly missing its last star. Canelo Alvarez rules now, and yet when Mayweather blinks he gets more attention, even though he hasn’t been in a real boxing match since 2015 (obviously, the Conor McGregor/MMA crossover hybrid event in 2017 was more of an undercard exhibition headlined by ugly spectacle, and fuck whatever that Tenshin Nasukawa nonsense was in 2018). The prospect of a Manny Pacquiao rematch gets so much more oxygen than stuff actually happening. It’s understandable, to an extent; Pacquiao was the Fighter of the Decade this one before, if not Mayweather, and this just-concluded decade is less disputably Mayweather’s.
But one doesn’t earn an honor like Fighter of the Decade simply on the bank receipts or fame. And while you can argue Mayweather’s 2010s, you can’t entirely deny them, either. Well, you shouldn’t anyway. For those who largely dislike Mayweather the man, or even Mayweather the fighter, Floyd will get zero credit for what he did, because of how and when he did it. For those who worship his one-dimensional schtick, he’s The Best Ever; brand loyalty is such that you have to swallow whatever he’s marketing, apparently. The truth is somewhere in between nothing and everything. And if you set aside your biases, you’ll see it’s a good deal better than nothing.
The asterisks are, certainly, numerous. Or, maybe better said, one kind of asterisk appears numerously. Mayweather didn’t invent the notion of taking a fight only after an opponent’s vulnerabilities are laid bare — see Leonard, Sugar Ray vs Hagler, Marvin, for one prominent example — but he damn near perfected it. Mayweather’s three biggest wins of the decade against Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto and Pacquaio all really should’ve happened in the aughts. It’s unsurprising that an athlete who has no desire to risk being hit in the ring would be so cautious about his choices of foe, although that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. (I can already hear you, Mayweather acolyte, scolding the idea that any of this was Mayweather’s fault, and I’m already telling you back that the common denominator of Mayweather’s lack of timely fight-making is Mayweather himself.)
And yet: Mayweather beat a better roster of fighters during the decade than any other, even if each of them were somewhere away from their peak. Canelo was the rare case of Mayweather fighting someone pre-peak, and the weight limit surely didn’t help a growing boy who is essentially built of rectangular blocks. Even prior to that meeting, though, Canelo was pretty damn good. Throw in some Marcos Maidana and spare change — Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero (we can safely ignore Andre Berto at that point) — and the resume gets better still.
Consider that record against other finalists we selected at TQBR. Roman Gonzalez was utterly dominant at the lower weights — it’s criminal how few boxing writing outfits and organizations had him among the decade’s best — and yet the best opponent he beat is probably Juan Francisco Estrada, plus the decade didn’t exactly end on a high note for Chocolatito, what with the savage knockout loss to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and all that. Andre Ward also has a fine case, as does Canelo, although Canelo losing to Mayweather kinda undermines said case, but both just didn’t hit quite the highs among opponents Mayweather did. Pacquiao, too, suffers from a loss to Mayweather in his decade standings, and there was some seesawing about that didn’t help him either.
Mayweather’s utter mastery of the ring, especially defensively, rendered some of his fights more like a performance and less like a fight. And yet, age and perhaps being a bit undersized at 147 pounds — Mayweather was so incandescent at 130, less powerful in each successive division — might have made his battles with Cotto and Maidana more enjoyable contests than they otherwise might have been. So dock him for action hero credentials if you like, just don’t forget that he didn’t bore every time out this decade ’round.
This writer has a complicated relationship with his Mayweather fandom, or lack thereof. His enormous gifts helped lure me into the sport as a full-time thing, rather than something I paid attention to off and on and earlier even reviled. His intelligence, his speed, his reflexes, all of it was intoxicating as a contrast to the brutality of, say, James Toney vs Vassiliy Jirov, another moment that awakened my interest in the sport — the “sweet science” to the “of bruising,” as the full quote goes.
Unrealized potential, however, remains a constant source of exasperated longing for my taste in performers. Mayweather is a top-20 all-timer, and maybe he sniffs the top-10, too. Just look at what he left on the table, though. He skipped fights against the likes of Joel Casamayor, Acelino Freitas and Antonio Margarito to name a few. He could’ve fought Pacquiao and others when those fights would’ve meant so, so much more competitively. He almost surely would have still won them all, and even if he had taken the occasional “L,” his record against better opponents and better opponents at the right time would absolutely be more appealing than the “0” he likes so well at the end of his line. And, yes, the woman-beating is a darker mark on this record than anything else in my book.
It’s possible to separate these mixed feelings and take a big step back, to look at his decade with a clearer focus. And that look reveals that the 2010s belonged to Mayweather.
(Aug 26, 2017; Las Vegas; Floyd Mayweather Jr. leaves the ring after defeating Conor McGregor in the 10th round during a boxing match at T-Mobile Arena. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)