As with any sports article written by a pretentious goon, I'm going to start this column with an overused poem. At least I've picked a good one: Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias.
I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed: And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away."
The message, delivered beautifully but with all the subtlety of a gigantic stone monument to one's own greatness, is that nothing lasts forever. Time destroys even the planets and the stars, cold and merciless and unstoppable. Just because works don't last forever, though, doesn't mean they can't echo for far longer than their sources' brief lives.
When you look through the history of combat sports, the purest form of competition, the works of the greats still dominate the landscape.
Roberto Duran, the brick-fisted mad dog of Panama, defeating Sugar Ray Leonard, then doing the same to the towering Iran Barkley more than twenty years later and almost forty pounds heavier than in his debut.
Thomas Hearns, the ultimate glass cannon, smashing his broken right hand into Marvin Hagler's unbreakable head with furious abandon.
Salvador Sanchez's five years of absolute, destructive dominance. Willie Pep's savage bouts with Sandy Saddler.
Sugar Ray Robinson, stepping back and blowing away the iron-jawed Gene Fullmer with perhaps the single greatest punch the sport has ever seen.
What these men accomplished goes far past themselves. Their moments stand as monuments to the sort of reckless disregard for self in the pursuit of greatness that we love because it is so wonderfully human. Their works are not just their names, not just their records, not just their opponents, but their glorious embodiment of a competitive drive that even decades of corruption and brutality have failed to fully tarnish. When I look back at them, I see more than just the aged, fractured faces and failing bodies that gave up everything to reach such heights for so short a time.
When I see Floyd Mayweather and look to the future, I see only the colossal wreck, the broken pedestal screaming to a world that does not hear.
This is not, by any means, a condemnation of defensive boxing or an implication that Floyd is a "runner." He boxes beautifully.
But so does Guillermo Rigondeaux, and Guillermo Rigondeaux unleashed Hellfire when Nonito Donaire and Hisashi Amagai had the gall to knock him down.
The sad thing is that, at one time, Mayweather had that kind of vicious streak. He utterly stomped the brass-balled Diego Corrales with no visible effort, scoring five knockdowns, and his dissection of Arturo Gatti was so destructive as to possess a perverse sort of beauty.
Now, with the announcement of Andre Berto as his "final" opponent, what once held the allure of artistic violence is now suffused to the bone with weary cynicism. There's no more "could this be the guy," no more risk, and not even the tantalizing prospect of a knockout that often accompanies such a gross mismatch.
Floyd is going to walk in, control the fight for twelve rounds, and walk away with a pissed-off audience with no sense of pattern recognition and a whole boatload of money. The presence or lack thereof of a knockout is grossly over-valued when discussing a fight, but to see someone so transcendentally skilled with not even a hint of desire to destroy where once he devastated all comers is disheartening.
That said, Floyd is under no obligation to change his ways. He has an undefeated record and he's doing just fine for himself without trying to be "entertaining." If he doesn't care about being fun to watch, that's his prerogative.
But I can't help but be disappointed.
When Hearns, Hagler, Robinson, Ali, Louis, Moore, Charles, Walcott, Duran, Leonard, Chavez, and others untied the gloves for the final time, they left behind indelible marks. What they built with their fire is inseparable from the history of boxing, not as a sport or business but as a uniquely intimate competition.
Floyd Mayweather built Floyd Mayweather, and one day, when we look back, we will see only the vast and trunkless legs that could have stepped so much further.