Mayhem or Bust

Despite all the marketing dollars that a Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight naturally generates, there isn’t all that much buzz in the boxing world surrounding this Saturday’s rematch between the most accomplished money-maker in the sport and South American mauler-extraordinaire Marcos Maidana. While there are various plausible reasons for this, what’s a bit disappointing is that Mayweather vs. Maidana 2 warrants more enthusiasm from fight fans than has been shown. Are fight fans so disenchanted with boxing and with Mr. Money May himself that they’re no longer able to spot a good scrap when it’s coming their way?

Alright. Fine, we get it. You’ve been bombarded with way more televised Mayweather content than anyone hoping to hang on to their sanity should endure; you’ve read way too many unnecessary tweets making fun of Floyd’s reading skills; you’ve perused way too many articles highlighting how not even an army of Dr. Phils could possibly help him repair his screwed up relationships with women. Trust us, we get it, we’ve been there too. But if you sit back and focus on what really matters, there are good reasons for you to realize that Mayweather vs. Maidana 2 just might turn out to be a very intriguing rematch.

After all, in a few nights Mayweather will be once again staring across the ring at the guy who just four months ago gave him the toughest twelve rounds he’s seen this side of Jose Luis Castillo. Ever since Maidana’s thrilling knockout of Victor Ortiz—and ignoring his disappointing effort against Devon Alexander—you can count in one hand the number of boring rounds he’s participated in. Let’s give credit where it’s due: it’s no small feat to turn the usual Mayweather counterpunching clinic into a genuinely thrilling contest. If Maidana did it once, he can surely do it again.

Moreover, if Mayweather is all about counting the Benjamins, Maidana is all about earning the Benjamins. Not only does the South American earn his paycheck every time he steps inside the squared circle, but through his fighting intensity, his raw power and his relentless pressure, he makes damn sure his opponent does as well.

Maidana's intensity proved too much for Broner
Maidana’s intensity proved too much for Broner

Remember that scene in Castaway when a severely parched Tom Hanks is trying to open a coconut to get to its precious water after days without a drink? Remember that mix of crazed desperation and unwavering commitment in his eyes as he’s trying his darnedest to pry open that damned coconut because if he can’t drink this coconut’s water right the fuck now, he’ll fucking die? That’s exactly how Maidana feels about punching his opponents. Maidana fights with the belief that if he doesn’t club his opponent into submission right the fuck now, he’ll fucking die. That’s the kind of commitment he brings to the ring, and it is this rare, primordial quality that has propelled him to the top of the sport.

And this is a point that merits further discussion. The intensity and commitment to violence that Maidana brings to the ring reflect not only the essence of his fighting personality, but also a unique characteristic shared by almost none of his contemporaries, but by many greats of the past. When the bell rings, Maidana — just like Roberto Duran and Aaron Pryor before him — throws himself into battle with untampered gusto and fearsome abandon. Maidana’s progress as a boxer — largely brought about by star trainer Robert Garcia — is well documented, but rather than restrain his viciousness, his improved technique has allowed him to better channel his natural aggression. Maidana has always been a hurt machine, but after training with Garcia, he has become a more efficient one, without sacrificing any of the urgency and killer instinct that is the foundation of his fighting self. Patience for Maidana is not virtue, but vice, as time spent doing anything other than throwing bombs at the adversary is time wasted.

This is what made his first meeting with Mayweather so surprisingly entertaining, a fact which has ironically ended up working wonders for Floyd Mayweather. Let’s not forget that in early 2014, only two fights deep into his six fight contract with Showtime, the pool of possible opponents for “Money” looked as shallow as his own made-for-TV personality. Floyd wanted to fight in May to keep the money machine humming along, but no worthy or eligible opponent was available. Thus, a risible online poll was posted asking fans to choose an opponent from two unlikely names; never mind that Amir Khan won the poll, Mayweather went with Maidana. And you’ve got to give it to the man because, in retrospect, the decision was almost genius-like.

Mayweather had a much easier time against Canelo than against Maidana
Mayweather had a much easier time against Canelo than against Maidana

By fighting Maidana, Mayweather got way more than from other opponents: a) he got to keep the lion’s share of the revenue without much haggling from the B-side, since no matter how small the percentage Maidana got, it was still the biggest purse of his career; b) on fight night, Maidana produced a thrilling performance that kept the outcome of the match in doubt and fans’ assess on the edge of their seats; c) regardless, Mayweather emerged as the victor and got to keep his precious 0; and d) the contest proved so entertaining that a rematch was more than palatable to the fighters, the promoters, the TV network and the fans.

So what went wrong then? Why are fans not flocking to Mayweather-Maidana 2 the way they did, for example, to the infinitely less interesting Mayweather-Canelo fight of a year ago? The most likely reason is fans are suffering from Mayweather burnout. And not only “recent” Mayweather burnout as outlined above, but a more generalized sort of burnout in which fans simply do not care about Mayweather the boxer anymore, or not to the same degree they used to. There’s the feeling that Mayweather’s tricks are no longer effective, and people have woken up to the fact that, deficient reading skills and all, Floyd should’ve become a risk manager for some stingy corporation, rather than a boxer.

Just think about it: at the same time that Mayweather has made himself the richest man in sports, he has turned boxing into a WWE affiliate, the outcome of his matches essentially decided the moment his opponent signs the contract. Sure, he and his foe will play to the audience in press conferences, and for the All Access cameras, and even at the weigh-in. But all the plotlines are written in advance, all the marks are hit with choreographed precision, and all the previously-agreed to talking points are covered by the sports media. Needless to say, it’s all for show: fight fans know beyond any doubt that Mayweather will simply never sign up for a fight in which the risk of losing is real.

Which is to the detriment of the sport, no question. Throughout its long history, boxing’s peaks have often come unexpectedly. Fight fans live for the momentous upset, as there are few things more gratifying to sports fans than to see a little guy beat up a bigger guy, especially when the bigger guy is a classless bully used to getting his way. Sports fans do not live for choreography or pre-approved plotlines; they live for drama and the unforeseen. Unfortunately, when Floyd Mayweather’s around, the chances of seeing something unexpected in a sport referred to as “The Theater of the Unexpected” are vastly diminished.

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Indeed, what’s the point of watching the most talented boxer of his generation if he denies fans intriguing match-ups against the most worthy challengers? (And before the apologists get going, please click here and check out the list). This is a question that’s directly linked to fight fans’ sense of ennui regarding everything to do with Money May, including this Saturday’s tilt. As Mayweather-Maidana 2 approaches, it’s hard to find an “expert” willing to predict a Maidana victory at the same time casinos label the Argentinean an 8-to-1 underdog. Alas, Maidana’s aforementioned attributes and his excellent showing in the first fight are not enough to convince people he has a real chance to beat Floyd. And this, of course, only reinforces fans’ belief that Mayweather only ever signs up for fights he knows for certain he can win.

So if there’s a surprise this weekend, it will come despite Mayweather’s best attempts to prevent it, not because he cares one iota about his legacy, much less the fans, or the sport itself. But given all the disenchantment in the air, it’s not far-fetched to speculate that with only two more fights left in his contract, if the Maidana rematch turns out to be a dud, future Mayweather events will be watched by significantly less people than tune in now. And a corollary of this is that Mayweather has painted himself into a corner: he either gives fans what they crave and goes life and death with Maidana, maybe even—God forbid!—losing for the first time; or he thoroughly dominates in the rematch, but sees his viewership dwindle in the future. In so many words, Mayweather can no longer have his cake and eat it. Sports fans, and even many hardcore boxing fans have had enough of his calculations and will heretofore refuse to pay for what they perceive to be exercises in self-promotion and self-aggrandizement instead of fair and competitive boxing matches.

Of course, those who hold hopes for another thrilling fight can always choose to tune in for Maidana, who will be there on Saturday night, across the ring from Floyd, waiting for the sound of the opening bell like a maddened bull awaits the opening of the gates. If nothing else, you know that win or lose, the Argentinean bull will leave everything in the ring. Whether or not he succeeds in prying open Mayweather’s defense like Tom Hanks pried open that coconut is another matter, but at least you will never doubt the fact that there is nothing premeditated in Maidana’s approach to boxing, other than his intense desire to win.           –Rafael García

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM57JIKelk0

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