by Jeremy Wall
On Saturday, September 12th, Floyd Mayweather Jr. engages in what he is claiming will be the final fight of his career when he faces Andre Berto at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The problem is that almost no one believes Mayweather will retire. And almost no one cares.
Mayweather’s selection of Berto as an opponent has proven to be a misfire. I’m in Las Vegas for the fight (I’ve been here since before UFC 191 on Saturday) and there is no feeling of hype or excitement in town. Articles published on a variety of web sites earlier this week noted that there were more than 2,100 seats still available.
On StubHub, a secondary marketplace owned by eBay for ticket resellers, tickets for the fight could be had for as little as $166 as of Thursday night. That is down from over $300 for tickets in the cheap seats a week ago.
MGM Grand also apparently isn’t showing the fight on closed circuit due to the amount of disinterest in the fight. I’ve been keep tabs on the Facebook pages of popular sports bars on the Las Vegas Strip to see if any of them are having viewing parties. Again, as of Thursday night I haven’t come across a single bar that is advertising a Mayweather viewing party (although there are nightclubs advertising after parties, which isn’t the same thing). Most are advertising NFL parties instead.
I talked to lots of different UFC fans over the weekend that came to Vegas for UFC 191. Many of the people I talked to were boxing fans from the UK and Europe. I think a disproportionate amount of foreigners go to the UFC press events to try and snap photos with fighters because if you’re going to travel that far for the UFC, you may as well get your money’s worth. But even these admitted boxing fans weren’t sticking around for the Mayweather fight, with the feeling it was an afterthought.
Promotion for the bout has been strange. Months ago Floyd told the press that the two frontrunners for the honour of being trounced by him in September were Karim Mayfield and Andre Berto. People thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
Mayfield is a 34-year-old journeyman with a 19-2-1 record. The highest title he ever earned was the WBO NABO Welterweight title. He had lost two of his last three fights and hadn’t fought since November.
Berto, 32, has a career record of 30-3 with 23 knockouts. He is a former WBC and IBF Welterweight champion and currently holds the interim WBA Welterweight title (which is about as meaningless as a title belt can get in boxing these days). But he has lost three of his last six bouts, with his two recent wins coming over unknown fighters Josesito Lopez and Steve Upsher Chambers. In 2012, Berto tested positive for norandrosterone.
Most people will say that the reason Berto was selected as the opponent for Mayweather’s 49th professional fight was to give Mayweather the easy win to tie Rocky Marciano’s record. Apparently among Mayweather’s people there was also the belief that Berto is an action fighter and they didn’t want a repeat of the criticism that Mayweather endured for the Pacquiao fight being so boring.
The reaction of the general public to the quality of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was interesting. A lot of people watching that fight probably had never seen boxing before, except maybe in a Stallone movie. When the pay per view broadcast showed the graphic that the majority of fans thought Pacquiao would win the fight, it became obvious there was a tremendous amount of super casual fans watching the bout. Insiders with knowledge of both fighters had Mayweather as a heavy favourite.
Many fans turned on the bout, due to the enormous retail price of $100 and how dull the fight was. It was the most expensive fight in history, but the price didn’t deter people from buying it. I would have priced the fight the same way if I was Al Haymon or whoever it was that made that decision, because the fight grew into something more than just a fight and became a cultural event that people had to see no matter the cost. No one wanted to be left out when it came to saying that you saw the biggest fight of all time.
But that meant all of the extra people that ordered the fight were people that never watch boxing. People who don’t watch boxing expect boxing to be a fistfight, which it isn’t. I think if you polled many of the viewers of Mayweather-Pacquiao and asked them to name a famous a boxer, probably most would say Mike Tyson or Rocky Balboa. Some might say Muhammad Ali, but have probably never seen an Ali fight.
Of course, this is all speculation on my part, but based on poll results on who would win between Mayweather and Pacquiao and the public reaction to the fight afterwards, my speculation is probably true.
Mayweather-Pacquiao wasn’t a boring fight. It was a typical Mayweather fight. I watch boxing every weekend and I see far duller fights regularly. It was boring if you weren’t a boxing fan, though, and most of the people that bought that pay per view weren’t boxing fans.
So, I think the idea to bring in an action fighter like Berto to face Mayweather was an overreaction to public criticism of the Pacquiao fight.
I don’t necessarily think that Mayweather needs to face a top young opponent at this point in his career. I expect Mayweather to only do things at this point that protect his legacy. But Berto has no name value. His last fight was in March on the debut PBC on Spike show as the co-main event against Lopez. There was no talk at the time of Berto facing Mayweather after Pacquiao. Such talk would have been unbelievable.
If Mayweather were to put someone over on the way out, the choice would probably be Keith Thurman, although Danny Garcia and Amir Khan would also be discussed. He could also do a rematch with Canelo Alvarez, but politically that wouldn’t happen with Mayweather in Haymon’s camp and Alvarez signed to Golden Boy. But again, I only expect Mayweather to do things to protect his own legacy and not create a new star on the way out (like De La Hoya did in losing both to him and also to Pacquiao).
With that in mind, the opponent I would have selected for Mayweather is Shawn Porter. Porter is the anti-Mayweather in a lot of ways. Porter is a devout Christian, a seemingly honest fighter with a clean personal history. His father Kenny is his trainer and is also a devout Christian. Porter has a nice smile, has done colour commentary for PBC, and although he lacks charisma he speaks well and is likeable. A few weeks ago I wrote an article comparing Porter to Ricky Steamboat or Christy Mathewson, the latter being a baseball pitcher who played for the New York Giants from 1900-1916 who was known as “The Christian Gentleman”.
Porter is an ultra babyface, bland but likeable. Mayweather is charismatic and unlikeable. Mayweather is the greatest drawing heel in history. The only people that like Mayweather seem to be people obsessed with his lavish lifestyle and who adorn themselves in “TMT” brand clothing. Mayweather was on a recent All Access show shadowboxing with a huge wad of money in his hand. He calls himself “TBE” and constantly talks about Muhammad Ali and why Ali doesn’t stack up. He has a criminal record for domestic violence, which is a whole other ball of wax.
Mayweather versus Porter would have been a great face-heel matchup. Porter could be sold to a wider audience as a young upstart with wholesome values who is going to get a chance to fight the cocky self-proclaimed best ever.
It’s not a great fight, but it has selling points that are stronger than a fight against Berto. I think Mayweather would beat Porter, but I think Porter is a more lucrative opponent than Berto (who will also lose to Mayweather).
There are two main selling points to the fight against Berto and both are weak. First, Mayweather selecting Berto as an opponent is like a promise that this fight will be more action-oriented than the Pacquiao bout. That’s a weird stance. Imagine going to a restaurant and to get you to return the waiter promises your next meal won’t suck so much and will be less expensive.
What was even weirder was the way this fight was being hyped by Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas during the ESPN broadcast of the Santa Cruz-Mares fight a couple weeks back. Tessitore actually said that the Santa Cruz fight was a makeup bout for all the people who bought the Mayweather-Pacquiao and weren’t happy with that fight. That blew my mind. This was WCW level stupidity. This would be like WCW doing a Ric Flair-Hulk Hogan pay per view in 1998 and then doing Rey Mysterio vs. Ultimo Dragon on Nitro six months later and Tony Schiavone saying that the Nitro match was there to make up for all the people who thought the Hogan-Flair match was awful. And they do this just a week before Hogan is wrestling Kevin Nash or someone on pay per view.
It is incredible that a PBC broadcast team would actually admit that Mayweather’s last fight was terrible just a couple of weeks before Mayweather was scheduled to fight again on pay per view.
The second point is that Mayweather will retire after this fight. I also have a pro wrestling analogy using Hogan and Flair to illustrate why the second selling point of Mayweather-Berto doesn’t work. No one believes it. It is a pro wrestling retirement stipulation. This is once again like WCW in 1994 when they would say that Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair (or both) were retiring after their bout and no one believed that the retirement stipulation would be adhered to.
Pacquiao will be ready to fight next year and a rematch between him and Mayweather will draw money based on the idea that Pacquiao will be fighting injury free. It won’t draw as well as the first one, but will draw better than anything boxing can sell otherwise in 2016.
Also, Las Vegas Arena is set to open next summer. Dana White claims he is getting the first date for a sports event with UFC 200, but who knows. If I owned the new arena, I would want to open it with Mayweather-Pacquiao II.
Mayweather stands to make a ton of money fighting again next year. Does anyone actually believe he will pass all that money up? I mean, the guy’s nickname is actually “Money”. How can you get any more obvious?
There is also the matter of breaking the Marciano record by hitting 50-0, which is a nice fat number to retire on. I don’t know how much that means to Mayweather, but it’s there as a selling point for another fight next year.
I don’t know how to estimate a buy rate for this fight. Will it beat Ronda’s buy rate from August? If it doesn’t, that will certainly give Ronda another talking point in the media about how she outdrew Floyd Mayweather. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine that would please Mayweather and might motivate him to try to milk the box office for one more fight with Pacquiao.
I think there is also some degree of burnout by the general public on Mayweather, in a way that it doesn’t really matter who Mayweather faces. I get the sense that maybe the public is tired of him. The public seemed to think (for whatever reason) that Pacquiao was the man to beat Mayweather, and when Mayweather beat him handily, the public might feel that no one will ever beat Mayweather, or that Mayweather has so much power in picking his opponents that he will never face someone who stands a chance of winning.
What I find especially bizarre is PBC’s poor use of their network television slots to create an opponent for Mayweather. One would think that PBC would have Berto fight on NBC instead of on Spike in order to get as many people familiarized with his name as possible. It is obvious that when Berto fought on Spike earlier this year that no one was counting on him as even a possible opponent for Mayweather after the Pacquiao fight. Another advantage to having Porter fight Mayweather is that Porter earned a high profile win over Adrian Broner on NBC a couple of months ago.
Errors like this make PBC look like such a waste of money. They have a massive amount of television time they can use to create new stars and build pay per views and they are completely squandering it. The whole thing with PBC is to use network and cable TV time to build new stars and then have these stars fight on pay per view. But they didn’t even build a new star for Mayweather’s opponent in September, which would have been so easy to do given how many millions of people watch PBC.
If this is the best PBC can do, there is a problem.
All I can say is that the fight will likely draw poorly on pay per view, but what constitutes poorly for Mayweather after the Pacquiao fight is anyone’s guess.
Besides the negative press regarding the fight being a box office bomb at the MGM Grand, there has also been the matter of the Thomas Hauser article published by SB Nation (http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2015/9/9/9271811/can-boxing-trust-usada) regarding the USADA and how Floyd gets preferential treatment. Hauser writes with great clarity, which is probably the nicest thing someone can say about a writer. In his article both Floyd and the USADA come off terribly and if there is ever a BALCO type investigation into the USADA and Mayweather, then Floyd’s image could be irreparably damaged even years after his retirement.
No matter what happens in the next eighteen months or so, even if the Berto fight draws poorly, Floyd is the greatest drawing heel in history. But unless a federal investigation into the USADA or something of that sort happens and tarnishes Mayweather’s image, years from now I think the general public’s attitude towards both Floyd and the Pacquiao fight will change.
History is kind to people and fights that the public decide are legendary. Here’s a pair of examples. Mayweather was convicted of domestic violence and served time in jail. He’s a reprehensible human being and plays that role up as much as possible in order to build hype for his fights. Years from now, unless the general public are smacked in the face with evidence of doping (as in the case of Lance Armstrong), he will be loved, not because he’s a good guy, but because he’s a legend.
Few people care about Mayweather’s history battering women. Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist and now he has a cartoon. Tyson was a bigger draw after he got out of prison than he was before, even though it is generally agreed that Tyson was already past his prime before he went to jail. Tyson is a household name. People don’t mind that he is probably a psychopath.
What could damage Floyd’s image isn’t beating up women, but the general public finding out he beat up women while on steroids. It seems to make no sense, but these are the priorities of the general public. If I were Mayweather’s people and I could dictate to the USADA how drug testing works, I would want to make sure any frozen samples from Mayweather were destroyed. It’s obviously unethical, but based on what Hauser published about Mayweather and the USADA, what they are doing is obviously unethical anyway. Being caught cheating is the main thing that will destroy Mayweather’s career and get people to go from paying to see get beat up to just wanting to see him go away, like Lance Armstrong or half of the people that played baseball in the ‘90s.
I also think history will be kind to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. The Ali-Inoki fight in Japan was a debacle when it occurred, but subsequent history in Japan treats it like the first real major mixed fight in history. Even if you ask American fans about that match, the people who are aware of it wouldn’t be able to accurately describe what happened, but would probably talk about it in terms of being a legendary match.
History tends to be kind to fights that people don’t actually have to watch, but just have to hear about how legendary they were. Mayweather-Pacquiao is like that and it will be interesting to see how history treats both Mayweather and that fight.
What history won’t treat well is Mayweather’s forgettable bout this Saturday against Andre Berto. We’ll see if the box office treats it any better.
Jeremy Wall can be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @jeremydalewall.