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"Money" Mayweather: A Postmodern Triumph

By Bob Ingram

Modern professional athletes are entirely beholden to their corporate masters. Fuck up the brand, and you’re gone. Pete Rose, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson. On and on.

The one name you will never ever see on that list is Floyd “Money” Mayweather. He is as morally reprehensible as any athlete has ever been, but he is also the first truly postmodern athlete. Jack Johnson and Muhammud Ali laid some pipe for him, but their times weren’t right for the kind of chaotic freedom Floyd Mayweather has forged for himself. He answers to no one. HBO and Showtime do his bidding. He is rich beyond compare. He made more in 36 minutes of work against Manny Pacquiao—$200 million—than LeBron James makes in a couple years, and he doesn’t have to do commercials. He doesn’t need to.

Hell, nobody wants Money Mayweather for a commercial anyhow even if he is undefeated in 48 fights after disposing of Pacquiao. Sponsors hate him, too. Big deal. Manny Pacquiao got one ten-second ad—and probably stained fingers—for pistachios before the latest Fight of the Century (albeit a 15-year-old century). And Manny has been no real role model either—women, gambling, the whole nine—but he has a tough wife, cooly-named Jinky, who laid the law down and got him back on some kind of straight track. He’ll probably be president of the Philippines some day, and will have a whole country to answer to.

The Money Mayweather camp before the Pacquiao fight was running around in shirts that had “TBE” on the back for “The Best Ever.” Very wrong. My friend, the light heavyweight Chuck Mussachio, pointed out correctly that Mayweather has never had a truly monumental fight, a la the Zale-Graziano wars or the greatest trilogy of them all, Ali-Frazier. For the record, my Top Five all-timers are: first, the incomparable Ray Robinson, then Ali, Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey, and Henry Armstrong. Ray Robinson would have brushed Money Mayweather aside like a teenaged pest. He would have hit him with a right hand over that shoulder roll and Money’s 100-grand mouthpiece would have been in the tenth row.

Ray Robinson, though, ended up broke in L.A., which is a bad, sad place to be broke. If Mayweather ends up broke, it will probably because of the end of the world’s financial system as we know it.

Until then, Mayweather will continue on whatever path he chooses to blaze for himself. And he is a pathfinder, let there be no doubt. He started out as a gifted ghetto punk in Grand Rapids where jail time was a family tradition, and he made himself into a billion-dollar brand, all told.

At 38, he has the face now of what Tom Wolfe called “a man in full.” He’ll probably never get locked up again. He is beyond so much. And there is a lively and deeply intelligent look to that face now. This is no fool, no matter how much he has played the self-created fool/villain. Warren Buffet doesn’t hang with fools. Fools don’t get all the toys.

The turning point was the Oscar De La Hoya fight. The so-called “Golden Boy” (although another L.A. fighter, Art Aragon, was the original Golden Boy back in the forties and fifties) was the biggest thing going then, and Mayweather originally turned down about 15 mil for the fight, saying it was an insult. Then he changed his identity from “Pretty Boy” Floyd to “Money” Mayweather and became world class obnoxious and the athlete everybody loved to hate and couldn’t wait to see get his ass kicked. Never happened, of course. He kicked Oscar’s ass and got $150 million for his troubles and never looked back, even counting jail time for assaulting women, although he did the time standing on his very rich head.

As the current phrase goes, he’s controlled the narrative every step of the way since then. In the background, admittedly, since 2006, lurked the current Dark Prince of boxing, Al Haymon, a former concert promoter who has quietly displaced Don King as the top promoter along with Bob Arum. But both Haymon and Warren Buffet are Mayweather advisers, at the most. The council he keeps is his own.

In an interview before the Pacquaio fight, Mayweather uttered one sentence that said it all: “I made the fight.”

He did. He was home in Las Vegas and he heard that Manny Pacquiao would be in Miami judging the Miss Universe contest and would be at a Miami Heat game that night. “Pack a bag,” he told his posse, and they flew off to Miami. That night, Money and company were courtside next to the Miami bench. Manny was across the way. At halftime, Money walked over, they shook hands, and he asked Manny to meet him in his suite later. They met and the deal got done. Money made the fight. Nobody else. He cleared away six years of torturous negotiations with a handshake. No fighter has ever done anything like that.

In 1992, Francis Fukayama incorrectly theorized in a jumble of neocon bromides that history had ended. And what Floyd Mayweather has wrought as the accidental champion of a postmodern aberration is no signpost to a new era in sports promotion and management. The system is too cemented into the greed of the times. The corporate masters are too firmly in charge.

Mayweather’s postmodern breakthrough is a one-man revolution that could have only happened in the wild west landscape of boxing. There are no leagues, no commissioners, every state has its own ruling body—or not—and you pays your money and you takes your choice and your chances. It’s as chaotic as the Internet.

And it’s been the perfect milieu for a fighter who is as comfortable with chaos as he is inside the ring where his bloodlines make him boxing royalty. His father and uncle were Detroit hitmen in the Tommy Hearns mold. He creates chaos and feeds off it. He does training runs through the grim Las Vegas streets at 3 a.m.

Mayweather says he’ll have one more fight and then pack it in. So now it’s about his legacy. From here, that will be that he was perhaps the great defensive fighter of all time, was undefeated, like Rocky Marciano, and made more money than any fighter in history. That’s all. He isn’t “the best ever” and has no real business making that claim.

And that’s most likely where the postmodern miracle that Money Mayweather has wrought ends. No matter what he does next, it won’t be the same. Say he goes into promoting like Oscar De La Hoya, who has done well with Bernard Hopkins in Golden Boy Promotions. Unless he can come up with a paradigm that completely breaks the current mold, he will be incessantly at loggerheads with everybody in the boxing “business” as he tries to wrestle out of the tarbaby corporate clutches that he was able to break free from as a fighter. Things are different on the other side of the table, especially when he has left a bad taste in the public’s mouth for decades.

But, with Money, you never know. Warren Buffet might whisper something in his ear that strikes a chord or Floyd himself might find another jackpot path.

But until that happens—or doesn’t—the brief postmodern reign of Floyd “Money” Mayweather will fade into the endless recesses of the intractable modern corporation.

One and done, baby.

From May, 2015

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