Last Saturday night at the MGM Grand Floyd Mayweather Jr. overturned all sorts of expectations. Many assumed his meeting with Robert Guerrero represented a stern test of the aging WBC champion’s mettle, finally challenged by a young, strong, smart—if not elite—welterweight. What actually transpired was a stark rebuttal to that flawed assessment. Floyd showed up ready to box and move for twelve rounds, and after the toll of the final bell, he was not short of breath, bruised, swollen or cut. The only signs that he had been in a fight were the flashy trunks he wore and the laced gloves he hadn’t yet removed.
His performance inside the ring was impeccable, even while fighting with an injured right hand for a portion of the match. His right-hand leads were spot on and snappy, using his arm like a whip, landing the punch from a distance in a split-second through Guerrero’s guard before “The Ghost” even realized he was supposed to react. Similarly the left hooks, which Floyd fired in retaliation to and on top of Robert’s slow jab, punished the challenger for daring to try to steal the spotlight from the “Mayday” star.
A segment of fans inside the Grand Garden Arena felt disappointed at both Guerrero’s opaque performance and Mayweather’s deliberate focus on defense. There were boos profaned from several sectors of the stands at different times during the night, and at least three times I heard a cry from someone sitting in the section to my left demanding his money back. Yet, if both Mayweather and Guerrero failed to deliver a competitive toe-to-toe encounter, “Money May” still put on a brilliant performance.
At 36 years of age, the Grand Rapids, Michigan native was supposed to slow down, not to show off his borderline clairvoyant reflexes and incredible hand-speed. He was supposed to be static, not to move around the ring for twelve rounds like a greyhound. He was supposed to be corralled against the ropes and pushed into a fist-fight, not to counterpunch his opponent into submission from a distance. He was supposed to fight as if his life was on the line, not to control his opponent like a dexterous puppet master.
Still, not all of those at the venue felt cheated out of their money ($1,500 for ringside seats at face value, before service fees and taxes; $200 for nosebleeds). Even when most attendees of the weigh-in ceremony on Friday boisterously expressed their distaste for Mayweather’s presence, a large portion of those at the fight celebrated the return and appreciated the performance of the cash king of boxing. If there was such a thing as an official pro-Mayweather section, I was sitting smack in the middle of it. What looked like hip-hop artists occupied the seats in front of me; sharply dressed high-rollers sat to my left; members of a boxing intelligentsia of sorts, offering running commentary on every Mayweather move, sat behind me; and three mates from Ireland, speaking with an undecipherable accent, were to my immediate right. All of them were there to see Mayweather do what he does best: box the ears off his opponent. Needless to say, that is exactly what they saw.
So no, those of us who expected drama, fireworks, a chance for Mayweather to show his capacity to overcome adversity, or simply for Guerrero to steal Mayweather’s 0 got none of that. We still don’t know what Mayweather will do under adversity because that test never seems to come, either due to careful matchmaking, prodigious talent, speed and skill, or a combination thereof. The closest approximation to that scenario came last year, when Miguel Cotto pressured and beat up Mayweather (relatively speaking) for a round or two. What did Mayweather do then? He adjusted and fought back, he found his optimal distance again, timed Cotto, and reminded him via left hooks and uppercuts he was only the supporting cast on that Cinco de Mayo of a year ago.
It’s a bizarre scene at the Grand Garden Arena when Mayweather fights. Scanning the stands, one gets the impression that many of the people there are not only rich, maybe obscenely so, but also that they are there more to be seen than out of any allegiance to boxing, or even to Mayweather himself. They dress in expensive designer clothes, and they wear watches and eyewear that are worth the sum of at least five of my monthly rent checks. They’re escorted by outrageously attractive women, sexily clad in eye-popping outfits that struggle to contain their curves. It’s a show in itself, at no extra cost, to observe these ladies struggling to keep their balance as they climb the steps of the arena on the impossibly steep stilettos they show a penchant for.
By the middle rounds the tense sense of anticipation of the early moments of the fight had largely dissipated. With Mayweather firmly in control and with the crowd growing restless, it was still possible to hear isolated cries of “Guerrero! Guerrero!” initiated by a lone dissenting voice in denial of what was happening. The fact that these cries failed to gain adherents to Robert’s cause—tied to the challenger’s inability to change the course of the fight—rendered such attempts curiously embarrassing, if not outright comedic. Denial can be a remarkably sad thing, like when “The Ghost” raised his arms after the final bell and no one could tell whether he was facetious or earnest in doing so.
After the scores were read and people were flowing out of the arena and towards the action awaiting them at the casinos, the mood resembled what might be found at a concert hall after a Bach recital. We all knew we had seen an athlete perform at the peak of his ability; after Guerrero failed to draw the champion into a battle, all we could do is sit back and enjoy the Mayweather show. Still, some questions slowly made their way into our heads: how long can he keep it up? will people keep buying tickets to a flawless recital when they were expecting a gritty rock show? Who, if anyone, is worthy of stepping into the ring with him?
A few hours later and many dollars poorer thanks to alcohol-induced bad gambling decisions, I walk through a packed casino trying to make my way back to my hotel through the throng of gamblers. Hard as it is to navigate through the dense mesh of gaming tables and slot machines, the task becomes herculean thanks to my flustered mind and to the tides of humanity that lively sway back and forth everywhere around me. I momentarily acquiesce to the scene, and with a serious buzz on, I take in the kind of action only a big fight night can bring to Las Vegas. But eventually I realize that despite my stupid childlike grin, I’m feeling tired. My wallet is thinning to a precarious degree; my stomach is beginning to growl and there’s writing to be done. It’s time to go back to my room.
There’s still a couple of hours to go before dawn and I’ve had a quick bite and a shower that almost made me want to fall asleep under the warm water. But I make it back to the laptop to watch an online copy of the Mayweather-Guerrero broadcast that a kind soul has uploaded for those who missed it and for those who refused to pay the $70 PPV price tag. I jump back and forth between rounds in search of those perfect right-hand leads thrown from way outside that land flush on the challenger’s face, the equivalent of nothing-but-net three-pointers. I see a counter-uppercut in slow motion, with the champion ducking an incoming jab and coming back up with his own piercing blow, all in one smooth, seamless, fluid movement.
There’s no controversy and no conflict; it’s a monologue and not a debate. But the champion’s moves are like a symphony of motion, pure and accomplished and a work of art onto itself. You bet there’s no drama as to what the end result will be, but I’ll be damned if the execution isn’t elegant and beautiful. It’s like poetry or music, or like the first sun rays of the day touching the Las Vegas Strip as you see them pouring in through your hotel window. –Rafael Garcia Mayweather vs Guerrero