After the scores were read, Floyd Mayweather fell to his knees and prayed. Like so much of his behavior, there was more than a touch of theatricality to these antics, but something about Floyd's body language read sincere. He was uncharacteristically with Jim Gray, goading as always. I still have my doubts, but Floyd insisted that this would be his final night in the ring. His 49th win would be his last.
It took me a moment to recognize the feeling, but I realized something when he said those words: I will miss this man.
I was reminded of all the other times Floyd was more gracious than I expected him to be. When his father told Robert Guerrero that he was the only worthwhile person on his entire team, Floyd turned to him and quietly told him to cut it out before giving Guerrero--and his team--his sincere respects.
Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but a part of me thinks that maybe this is the real Floyd Mayweather, that maybe he can only be himself in the boxing ring, where he's not abusing women and collecting shallow admirers and being taunted for his functional illiteracy and generally just keeping his name in everyone's mouths for all the wrong reasons. Floyd is the product of a badly broken household and an equally broken society, one that encouraged him to drop out of high school to pursue boxing, likely the one thing that could ever have earned his drug-dealing father's respect. When the young Mayweather was robbed out of a possible gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, you can kind of understand why he immediately moved to professional boxing and swore never to lose again.
Mayweather's a different person in the ring after the fight than he is at any other time. Normally the sole center of attention and an antagonist in every way, post-fight Mayweather has always been soft-spoken--endearing, even. When he called for the crowd to cheer for Andre Berto--the same crowd that had encouraged him to taunt and mock Berto just minutes before during the fight--no one hesitated. They sensed his sincerity and gave Berto their love. Floyd thanked his fans, and everyone else who showed up for the event, lackluster as it may have been from a promotional standpoint. No doubt hundreds of them had only showed up to see Mayweather lose, but he thanked them all the same.
When Floyd complained that Larry Merchant would never give him a fair shake, he may have been more right than we were willing to admit. Sure, his matchmaking has left something to be desired over the years, but then again, there were always going to be more fights we wanted him to take, and there's no way he could've taken them all. Yes, he's been a reprehensible person in his private life, but just look at his background.
It's a shame that the highest levels of the sport will lack Mayweather's brand of slick, defense-first boxing, arguably the true American style of fighting. We've never appreciated it, anyway. Fans turn up for drama, and Floyd's fights have consistently been the least dramatic contests of elite boxing imaginable. Floyd's expertise is in stripping the variables out of the fight, and turning it into something that can be controlled. It's the highest ideal of what we call "the sweet science." Floyd doesn't fight so much as he performs, and that's something we should admire. More than we do, anyway.
I don't intend to whitewash Mayweather's career, or forgive him for some of the truly abhorrent things he's done in his very public personal life . . . but when I watched the man put on an exhibition of skill, and then nearly break down in tears at the though of stepping away from the sport that has been his everything for more than two decades . . . I don't know. Floyd is a difficult guy to wrap your head around. I can't ever say that I like him as a person, but I also can't escape that sense that a lot of us use his acts of cruelty as a convenient excuse to enact some cruelty of our own. Being hated by everyone who isn't paid to love you . . . that can't be an easy life, no matter how much money you have.
In the end, the sport will miss Floyd when he's gone. I think most of us will too, even if we don't realize it. If this is the sweet science, then Mayweather was one hell of a scientist, a man who regularly turned the chaos of combat into something finite. A man who controlled his own emotions in the ring almost as well as he controlled those of his opponents. A man who beat many of the best fighters of his generation, and more often than not made it look easy, even when it wasn't.
I'll miss Floyd Mayweather. It might take some time to sink in, but I suspect we all will.