For those who may have missed it but were interested, here's the full episode of "Floyd Mayweather: Speaking Out," in which the controversial superstar fighter is interviewed by author and professor of sociology, Michael Eric Dyson.
Truth be told, and I don't say this as a Mayweather fan or detractor, I thought Dyson really let Mayweather off the hook here, but I only say that with the assumption that Dyson was there to provide some kind of intellectual balance. And that quite frankly may not have been the case, or it may not have been Dyson's intent to go in for an exposé so much as conduct a meaningful interview and let the audience decide how they felt about it.
But let's break down one segment, the opening bit of the interview, and talk about why this show frankly failed completely to live up to the promise that it was an interview with weight.
On why he snapped at Larry Merchant
Mayweather: "Me and HBO had a -- it's been a roller coaster ride as far as our relationship. You got people that is boxing specialists -- how can you be a boxing specialist or a boxing commentator if you've never fought before? You don't know anything about the sport. ... There's a lot of fighters out there that would do a remarkable job, you know, being commentators. But you got guys that's commentating and supposed to be boxing specialists that never even fought before. You know I didn't just wake, and become 42-0."
This is a cop-out answer, easy for his supporters to parrot, hard to argue with because, well, this guy fought and that guy didn't, but let's be real here: Larry Merchant has been around boxing for 50 years and knows a little bit about the sport. He's not my favorite commentator or analyst, but he has been around a long time. He's not some geek off the street, and though he's no longer as handy with the microphone steel as he used to be, he has earned his keep over the years.
Dyson pushes that perspective for a moment, then allows Mayweather to worm his way out by not addressing the actual question, repeating himself, and then going back to all he's really got up his sleeve: He, Floyd Mayweather, is 42-0 and has never lost as a professional. He is great at boxing, and thus his opinion is more valid than anyone else's opinion on boxing. His boxing record doesn't have anything whatsoever to what he's being asked, but it's the hallway by which he escapes moments when he's run out of things to say.
Mayweather says that there are "a lot of fighters" who could be good commentators. This statement probably doesn't hold up all that well to scrutiny. TV commentary is not easy. Enough fighters have sucked at it that I don't think that's any big secret.
Look, George Foreman was not good on commentary, he didn't provide any remarkable analysis most of the time, but he's George Foreman and we all love him. Roy Jones Jr is mediocre. Lennox Lewis was and is an absolute abomination, to the point that HBO let him walk and Epix only had him for one or two shows. Antonio Tarver is very good, and we note this frequently specifically because it's not common for ex-fighters to actually have much value in the booth. Jim Watt on Sky Sports alternates between totally fine and off his rocker. Johnny Nelson adds very little to the Sky team that couldn't be added by a journalist or the like. John Scully, who currently trains Chad Dawson, was very good at the job, but has other things going on these days.
Now, there are a few other current or recent fighters who have done well. I think BJ Flores is very good, and Paulie Malignaggi has shown some talent in a few opportunities, too. Carl Froch, Paul Smith, and Jamie Moore in the UK have been solid on recent boxing broadcasts for Sky and BoxNation.
Mayweather is not alone. There are many who think there is instant value in an ex-fighter in boxing or ex-player in other sports being part of a commentary team, adding "expert analysis." But usually they add more color than any type of expert analysis. Joe Morgan was arguably the greatest second baseman in the history of baseball, but was a lousy commentator, despite the awards he won. (Lots of things win awards.) Tim McCarver is more likeable than Morgan was, and was a fine ballplayer himself, but he's questionable at best quite often. A great number of former football players have added almost nothing, but they're staples of the booths because people like this sort of thing.
And that's fine -- commentary isn't high on my list of things I care about (despite my constant annoyance with it, I don't care as much as it seems I do, except in an extreme case like Gus Johnson or Lennox), and if HBO wants Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman, then whatever. If they want old fighters, then whatever. It doesn't much matter.
But the issue I have with this, which is carried on through the rest of the interview, is that Mayweather as usual doesn't really answer the question. The second time he says "never even fought before," he sounds like he's whining, like he's trying to get Dyson (and the rest of us) to understand his position, because it's right, but no one's listening to Floyd! No one ever listens.
What bugs me about the interview is the belief that Dyson takes it easy on Mayweather, as if because he's an author and professor, we should have expected a hard-hitting interview. That was never going to be in the cards. He comes off like a male version of Crystina Poncher, mostly pushing the agenda and asking the questions Floyd wants to have asked of him. Poncher and Top Rank limit it to YouTube videos. Mayweather gets a half-hour HBO special, with every bit the genuine value of a 57-second clip with Brandon Rios after a weigh-in.
People were expecting fine dining and they got pre-packaged nachos from Wal-Mart, is basically what I'm saying. That's the reason for the disappointment. Dyson came off like a shill, like a fan interviewing one of his favorites. "You've been at this so long and you're still hungry," etc., lines that seem like they were fed to him as Floyd flashes his grin, because, YES!, it's a softball. And if it's not, well, uh, he's 42-0, so let's move on to the next one. (No whammies no whammies no whammies...)
Mayweather is a great fighter. But he has become a dull interview, because what we admire about his ability to slip punches in the ring is mirrored in his ability to slip questions outside of it, and that approach is completely supported by enough people that it keeps things like this coming. The act is stale, and he likely has no more upside in terms of potential audience. The good news for Floyd is he's got enough dedicated fans to carry him into major events as long as he wants to fight. And his performances in the ring have earned that.
I'll say this: Where I believe I'm possibly being unfair to Dyson, and where others may have, is assuming that because Dyson is a respected intellectual, he was going to provide more than this. What I think we wanted was a critic. Critics get a bad rap -- they don't just call things bad, or take things to task. "Good reviews" are written by critics, too. "Critic" and "hater" (ugh) are not interchangeable words. When a new movie boasts a four-star rating, that rating came from a critic. Dyson is not a true critic, though, and to my knowledge has never claimed to be. That's not who he is, and to expect that from him is, in fact, unfair.
I guess maybe I wasn't looking for someone to get into an argument with Mayweather, but at least someone who didn't feel like he was joyed to be there. Someone not so accepting of the usual Mayweather rap. If I'd gone in expecting to see a guy have a conversation with a guy he's personally a fan of, maybe I'd have liked the special more. Maybe seeing it from that angle, it's better than I believe it was.
Judge for yourself, if you haven't seen it, or if you have, and let me know what you thought of the episode. You may have a totally different view of it than I did.