Boxing demands from its practitioners a greater degree of self-promotion than any other sport. The prizefighter requires at minimum a rare courage to enter the ring, the squared circle where a man can be killed (but not legally murdered) by his opponent, near-naked; there, the public accounting of his masculinity will be exposed. But the difference between an elite fighter and an attraction is salesmanship, and nobody sells a fight better than Money Mayweather.
Money, of course, is the flamboyant, profane, despicable and grotesque alter ego of Floyd N.M.I. Mayweather Jr., the world’s finest boxer for the entirety of the past decade and the most lucratively wrought villain in the history of sport: an insufferable trash talker who incinerates hundred-dollar bills in nightclubs, tweets photos of his six-figure betting slips and collects Maybachs like they were Silly Bandz. No one in the hurt business can incite more crowd reaction and real-life animosity than Mayweather, who has never been in serious trouble in his professional career. The term in the wrestling industry is “heat”—cheers for the good guy, boos for a villain—a sort of absolute value of passion. Or “relevance,” as Floyd has grown fond of calling it.
The character of Money Mayweather is just that: a character. Or a caricature. Doesn’t matter. What fans think they hate about Floyd the fighter is a calculated business decision, no different than a shrewd viral marketing campaign or the price point of your Extra Value Meal. And it’s worked. Mayweather’s net worth only ballooned after he decided to be the cowboy in the black hat: Since 2006, he’s generated more than $600 million in revenue—mainly because people fork over the pay-per-view price of $59.95 in hopes of watching him lose. For several years he’s been at the top of Forbes’ highest-paid athletes list despite virtually no income from endorsements, which may strike some financial minds as wasted earning potential but which in reality makes him beholden to nobody but himself.
His hard work and dedication to his craft—old-school values too often obscured by the new-school excess and endless posturing his contemptible stage persona typifies—are genuine; there’s no substitute for the commitment, self-sacrifice and mind-turning consistency that have kept him at the summit of the most unforgiving sport for more than a decade. Strip away all the hype, the pomp, the bluster, the racks on racks on racks, and you’re left only with Floyd Mayweather Jr., at once enigmatic and overexposed, insecure and cocky, one hundred and forty-six pounds of fast-twitch muscles and warring contradictions.
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It’s a sunny Tuesday in Las Vegas, five days ahead of Mayweather’s 44th paying fight. When he climbs through the ropes on Saturday night, it will have been 364 days since he outpointed Miguel Cotto in his sternest examination in years—which means he actually lost a few rounds before winning a comfortable decision. [...]