Floyd Mayweather Jr has yet to find the great hero to take his villain act to the next level. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Now four days removed from the controversy-drenched return of Floyd Mayweather Jr to the boxing world, the reverse Fred Flintstone-clad "Money" man gets back to his normal life, and boxing fans are, perhaps in his world, left behind.
He's at home in Las Vegas, celebrating his win, basking in the glow of the sports world paying him so much attention. He's not a sportsman. But he's a sports star, one who can bring the wannabe pundits of an allegedly dead or dying sport out of the woodwork. They're everywhere, and they've all got a strong opinion.
Mayweather has been called boxing's greatest villain, and has been compared to a professional wrestling heel. Floyd has dabbled in that world on a couple of occasions, and despite his presence in boxing, he wasn't a natural there. But as pro wrestling is incredibly stupid once outside of its own bubble (you need no further evidence than a recent boxing press conference appearance by WWE star The Miz), so was Mayweather's comparatively amateur hour, unpolished routine.
But the greatest heel of them all, and one of the great legends in pro wrestling's history, was Ric Flair. At his peak, he asked, "What's causin' all this?"
Ric Flair was the answer, of course. And in the case of boxing's sudden surge in buzz and hype and attention, the answer to the question is Floyd Mayweather. You don't have to love him or hate him, even -- you just have to acknowledge that you know he exists.
There is but one other figure in boxing who can do this in the United States, and now we're less than two months away from the next fight in the phenomenal, unlikely career of Manny Pacquiao.
Mayweather fights are nights of great anticipation for many reasons. For one thing, it's become almost a novelty to see him in action. His great talent has, in some ways, been stolen from boxing fans by the man himself. Mayweather has fought all of three times since sending Ricky Hatton bouncing face-first off of a ringpost on a check hook in December 2007.
When he comes around, he adds a level of volatility to the sport. Instantly, he ups the presence of the sport outside of its normal confines. No matter who he fights, people buy the show. And for three straight fights, for different reasons, it seems that the majority has left unhappy.
Juan Manuel Marquez was too slow, too small, too old, and a grossly hand-picked option. The man Mayweather should have fought in 2009, who had also called him out and was his own size, was Shane Mosley. Mayweather instead fought Mosley in 2010, triumphing with ease after a second round scare on a mother of a right hand from "Sugar" Shane.
In April of this year, Mayweather made afternoon headlines when information "leaked" that he would be attending the HBO main event fight between WBC welterweight titlist Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz in Connecticut. Given that Connecticut is not Floyd's usual stomping grounds, the rumors started: Was Floyd looking to book a fight with Andre Berto?
Well, Floyd found his opponent that night, but it wasn't Andre Berto. It was Victor Ortiz, salvaging his career with an exciting decision win in an action-packed fight. Five months later, Mayweather suckered the naïve goofball with a left hook and an all-or-nothing (it was all) right hand. Seconds later, near the end of the fourth round, the fight was over.
Controversial, buzzworthy, attention-grabbing. Mayweather is a lightning rod.
Then there's Manny Pacquiao.
Manny Pacquiao never leaves the boxing public hanging. In so many ways, the would-be rivalry of Mayweather and Pacquiao is the story of good and evil that every Mayweather fight attempts, in its own way, to be. Floyd is happy to play that heel role, but he's not yet found a truly great hero to be his adversary.
On the HBO "24/7" series, we are always presented with Floyd and a white hat-wearing opponent. Oscar De La Hoya was the professional, the superstar, meant to silence the mouthy rebel. Oscar glared and made sure everyone knew it was "personal," but found himself outboxed by a better man.
From there we went to Ricky Hatton, the British everyman who could be a Bruce Springsteen tragedy if only he had roots in the New Jersey of The Boss' youth. Hatton, a fun-loving, beer-guzzling young man nicknamed "Ricky Fatton" for his copious weight gains between fights, was, thus far, Floyd's greatest press counterpart, because he was truly different. And down he went.
Juan Manuel Marquez was the underdog hope of a proud cultural boxing history in Mexico. He drank his urine like some kind of nutjob, sending an on-camera Mayweather scampering around the kitchen screaming about "pee-pee." Marquez was the quiet type -- a Gary Cooper who urinated in a jar and drank it. He was humble, a family man, a prideful boxer from a country that boasted many all-time greats, and would revel long into the night if Marquez could topple the brash American. He could not.
Shane Mosley was the focused powerhouse, somewhere between Oscar and Marquez. We saw him in quiet solitude, slamming Naazim Richardson's mitts and the heavy bag with thunderous force. He was promoted as a man that Mayweather had so long ducked. In the end, he was another win for Floyd, and left the ring a broken shell of the fighter who came into it.
Ortiz played the role of "young, hungry lion." His personality shifts within a single sentence would be enough to make a junior high drama teacher wince in agonizing pain, and while he was pushed as a threat, it never seemed like too many bought it. Throughout the promotion, he seemed unable to decide exactly who he was supposed to be. Was he cocky? Was he respectful? Was he a trash talker, or was he someone who waited to let his fists do the talking? Was he nice or was he brash? Was he even thinking for himself? Was he thinking much at all? After fight night, he was just back to being Victor Ortiz: Boxing Headcase, and though the ending was a shock, to say the lasting image of Ortiz as the not ready for primetime player was surprising would be going too far.
Floyd loves to say that he's more than a boxer. He's not, really -- that is, he's really, really not. But he is a great boxer. He hypes himself as not just boxing's biggest star, but in his world, its only star. Boxing without him, in his eyes, is sort of like "The X-Files" without David Duchovny. It doesn't matter how good Manny Pacquiao or Robert Patrick are, they're not Floyd Mayweather.
And he may be right. For the time being, Mayweather is rather irreplaceable. There is nobody in the sport who can take the hornet's nest down with the baseball bat quite the way that he can. He comes back to the sport with a vengeance every time, sells his pay-per-view, and exits, almost always leaving both his fans and his detractors wanting more. Either to see him keep winning, or to see him take another chance at losing.
Manny Pacquiao, like Mayweather, exists in his own world. They have few similarities, but this is one of them. Pacquiao is a Congressman in the Philippines, a sports star revered there in a way that absolutely no American athlete could dream of these days. Our star athletes share the stage with one another. Manny, though, is a one-man version of The Beatles in the Philippines. He's it. He's the man.
Pacquiao fights twice a year, always coming to the United States to do so. He is boxing's other big go-to for an attraction. The sport's blindest defenders will point to the money these two men can pull in and scoff at the notion that the sport is in trouble. But past them, there is nobody near that level in the States. This is a bad thing in so many ways, but yes, they are evidence that boxing still has its pulse, and can still connect to a large audience.
When you say "Mayweather," someone will ask you about Pacquiao, and vice versa. Though the general public claims to only be interested in these two fighting each other every time one of them demolishes another substitute opponent, those same people buy the next show.
Those who claim they're done with boxing until the megafight to end megafights comes along will mostly still find themselves needing to see Manny Pacquiao in November when he faces the aforementioned Marquez. They've had two fights that in 2004 and 2008 were among the best of the year. Marquez is the last opponent to give Pacquiao a test. Since escaping with a split decision win over Marquez in March 2008, Pacquiao has barely lost a round.
Unlike Mayweather, his fights aren't productions with the participants cast into specific roles. Manny smiles, he floats somewhere above the ground, and he prepares himself with intensity for the TV cameras. He goes on Jimmy Kimmel's late night show every time before the big fight. He sings, he doesn't verbally spar with his opponents, and he saves the action for the opening bell of that Saturday night.
Pacquiao has had no harsh words for recent opponents like Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey, Miguel Cotto, Hatton and De La Hoya. He retired two (possibly three) of them, broke another one's face, and has managed to stay a hot property in a niche sport, selling big shows even without Mayweather around, which goes to prove that Mayweather's insistence that Pacquiao is only a name because he's attached to Floyd's is every bit as silly as it sounds when you first hear it.
Through it all, the only thing that seems to change about Manny Pacquiao is his haircut. He is a sensation somewhat unprecedented in U.S. boxing. As a Filipino import, he doesn't have the American ties, or even the more common ethnic ties that successful foreign fighters have had. He's the most successful non-American fighter in the history of U.S. boxing in terms of pay-per-view money and buys. No one else is even close. And when he first came to this country to fight on a major televised card, he was a 122-pound underdog, far from the glory divisions of the sport.
On that note, it has to be said that neither Manny Pacquiao nor Floyd Mayweather Jr were ever supposed to be here. They weren't supposed to be the flag carriers for the entire sport of boxing. Mayweather was considered by ex-promoter Bob Arum to lack superstar quality. Whatever you want to say negative about Arum, he usually knows how to sell a fighter, and he doesn't make many mistakes missing an "it" factor. But he was wrong on Floyd. And Pacquiao, the little Filipino warrior, figured to top out at best as an Erik Morales or Marco Antonio Barrera-level star, but after conquering those rivals, he went on to bigger, more stunning feats, and he beat the last face of boxing into a swollen corner retirement in 2008, sealing his status as a superstar.
It's hard to think of Pacquiao and Mayweather as underdogs, but in this case, at one time, both were bad bets. Oscar De La Hoya always had to give way to someone, but Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao probably weren't the odds-on favorites to land the part.
Today, Mayweather is back in Vegas and Manny is starting his training camp. As one exits stage left, the variety show continues with the second star attraction still waiting for his turn on the stage. They have played to sold-out venues, to theater audiences and pay-per-view parties across America. It's still a good time to take that next step, to go from the warm-ups to the grandest stage of them all.
They are now a three-year theatrical trailer with no release date for the feature-length film in sight. So we wait, and we sometimes throw up our hands and say we've stopped caring. And every time one of them fights, deep down inside, we hope that it's just the last time they fight someone else. If the fight is destined, the time must be drawing near.
Their eternal press dance has grown old and tiresome to some. To others, though, it may be the only thing keeping them hanging on with boxing -- this thought that eventually, the two of them absolutely have to meet in the ring.
Now, we move our focus to Manny, as Floyd has left our world again. For how long is anyone's guess. The need to see Manny Pacquiao face Floyd Mayweather Jr is as organic as it is a result of both men being promoted wonderfully. But for the time being, we have only the trailer of what they've done, and what they could be if that Saturday night ever does come along.
They are so perfect for one another that if this really were Hollywood, by now some producer would have paid them anything they asked to do a film together. But this is boxing, and old grudges cause deep wounds. There are a hundred reasons that we'll never see them in the ring together. But to believe in a good versus evil fable is to believe that the forces must eventually collide. Mayweather and Pacquiao may not be on what you'd call a collision course, but whether they like it or not, their ultimate destination is the same, and their stories are inomplete without one another.