Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Why We Watch Floyd Mayweather - It's All About The One

By Shane Thomas

CONTENT NOTE: This post will contain discussion of domestic abuse.

Sometimes the anticipation of a thing matters more than the thing itself. It's no surprise that a high profile boxing match can capture the imagination like few other things in sport. It's the duel, acted out in front of us; it's Hamlet and Laertes. Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Achilles and Hector.
So, as Floyd Mayweather faces Manny Pacquiao this weekend, the hype, the money, and the possibility of what may happen has fostered what will be one of the biggest sporting events of 2015. While the PR machine can be tiresome, there is valid reasoning for this fight being so significant.

Beyond the natural interest in seeing the two best in their industry collide, the presence of Mayweather makes this - as the man himself put it - a "can't miss" occasion. The Michigan born boxer is the sport's cause celebre and bete noire. He has made much of his career from his persona out of the ring, rather than his achievements inside it.

A man supposedly puffed up by his own sense of importance, with a propensity for garish displays of behaviour. Living up to his moniker of "money", he is the personification of neoliberal individualism, where ones's success is defined by the amount of things one can attain. Much like a pro-wrestling villain, hubris is Mayweather's oxygen.[1]

However, the fireworks stop when Mayweather enters the ring. For him, a best attack is a strong defence. One of the most elusive boxers in history, Mayweather is a master at closing off any avenues to hit him, before picking his opponents off on the counter. He is boxing as performed by an algorithm. Trying to lay a glove on Mayweather is like to grip a bar of wet soap. His display against Shane Mosley in 2010 was one of the most impressive I've ever seen from a fighter.

If styles make fights, sometimes personalities can do the same. Pacquiao is seen as affable as Mayweather is prickly. The Filipino is known for largesse, donating substantial amounts of his fortune to charitable causes, and is further engaged with his home nation by being elected as a Congressman in the Philippine House of Representatives, if at times functioning much like an absentee landlord.

Pacquiao's fighting style is one that thrills fight fans. Despite often being the smaller man in his contests, he has an aggressive approach, that teemed with lightning speed and vicious punching power, makes him one of the most exciting boxers in the world.

The narrative is set up with Pacquiao as the hero to Mayweather's villain. This paradigm is ossified by Mayweather's egregious past conduct for domestic abuse, further exacerbated by his largely unrepentant public statements for his behaviour[2].

This isn't to paint Mayweather as a pantomime villain. His comments about receiving criticism due to being an outspoken, rich, black man have merit, as anyone with a decent knowledge of American sport will know. Also, some love to demean him as a dolt, due to his lack of formal education. However, in the ring, he's one of the smartest fighters there is. It may not be credentialed intelligence, but few can match him for boxing intellect.

So, while some dislike him for what he is ostensibly like, my opinion of him starts from the following place; he's a domestic abuser who's shown little remorse. That's why my hope for the outcome of the fight is somewhere in line with this.[3]

But how can Pacquiao get the "W"? Mayweather has won 47 fights from 47 contests. He is damn difficult to beat, if not impossible. It's fire versus the firefighter.

Despite the Filipino's explosive style, this is a fight that may require more pragmatism. Mayweather has made a career out of absorbing an aggressive approach, before outthinking his opponent. While high energy is important, you can't outhustle Mayweather if you can't outsmart him.

Pacquiao's best chance may be to make it a dull fight, and counter the counter-puncher. Former world champion, George Foreman also had some incisive analysis, He observed Pacquiao has to take it one round at a time, and incrementally build a lead that forces Mayweather to leave his comfort zone. Because if Pacquiao boxes with the handbrake off. Mayweather's likely to do to him what he did to Ricky Hatton.[4]

Here's the truth of this contest. It's why much of the world will be watching. We're not tuning in to see Pacquiao win. We're tuning in to see Mayweather lose. It's why we watch him. We want to see the one, who becomes the one, to put the "one" in the loss column on Mayweather's record.[5]

In a rum way, Pacquiao could use that to his advantage. Because this isn't a fight that both men have to win, and neither can afford to lose. A defeat for the Filipino won't cause much damage to his legacy. But for Mayweather, the victory is everything. As his career is coming to a close, he doesn't just want to be one of the best of his era. He wants to be the greatest.

It's probably an impossible aim, but Mayweather can put himself in the conversation alongside Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, and another undefeated legend, Rocky Marciano. But it can only happen if he wins in the early hours of Sunday.

To have to put Mayweather among those names is an emetic thought for many boxing lovers, so while Pacquiao may not need to win, boxing needs him to. "Is there no-one else?!" roars Brad Pitt's Achilles in Troy. To prevent the stain of an undefeated Mayweather on boxing's crib sheet, Pacquaio is probably our best hope. If he loses, then there really will be no-one else.


While my fandom of Arsenal has long been a subject of posts to come from this blog, it's probably less known that I'm also a fan of the Chicago Bulls.

Since Michael Jordan departed the Windy City, success was predictably conspicuous by its absence. However, the drafting of point guard, Derrick Rose was meant to change that. A Chicago native, his enthralling and high-energy style saw him awarded the NBA's MVP in 2011, before elimination at the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat. But Rose was only 22, so surely there was more to come.

But the following season, Rose suffered a serious knee injury, and has had subsequent injury problems since then. Head coach, Tom Thibodeau was forced to change tack, turning the Bulls into a side that was light on stardust, but heavy on industry, physicality, and an obdurate defence, To use a football analogy, the Bulls were much like Everton under David Moyes.

While it was good management of resources, the only hope of winning the NBA Championship comes in the form of Rose, who is currently fit, if not at his explosive best from 2011.

Rumours abound that this will be Thibodeau's last season in Chi-Town, and he's struggled to shake the feeling that his coaching is too heavy on perspiration, while lacking the sufficient inspiration to beat the best. Rose may not be the supernova of years past, but the Bulls have a strong supporting cast of Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, and Pau Gasol (who brings the experience of having won two NBA titles with the L.A Lakers).

And while the team doesn't seem to have struck the right chemistry to give them the requisite consistency needed to be champions, the Eastern Conference is definitely weaker than the West. The ever improving Cleveland Cavaliers will likely get better next campaign, as may the season's surprise package, the Atlanta Hawks.

For Chicago and Thibodeau, it has to be now. The NBA title isn't a must, but they have to do better than the Conference semi-finals[6]. Anything less than an appearance in the NBA Finals, and this season will probably go down as a failure.

[1] - It's no surprise that Mayweather briefly turned his hand to WWE, with surprising proficiency in 2008.

[2] - With the odd exception, the press are complicit in this, and Mayweather has shown that he's willing to exploit the issue of domestic abuse for his own ends in the past.

[3] - But let's not think along simplistic straight lines of good and evil. Recent footage has shown Pacquaio's trainer. Freddie Roach to have made racist remarks in the past.

[4] - Or what Juan Manuel Marquez did to Pacquiao back in 2012.

[5] - I may owe royalties to Paul Heyman for that sentence.

[6] - They also need to do a better job of swatting aside the Milwaukee Bucks, who are currently giving them problems in the 1st round of the playoffs.

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