Clown Vs. Clown
9:24 AM EDT on June 6, 2021
Ordinarily, you’d just pay the old guy to fall down for huge money. But you can’t do that with Floyd Mayweather. No matter how much money you put up, it’d be chickenfeed compared to what he throws around at strip clubs. And he’s too good a fighter—and too paranoid a man—to ever be done in by a boxing scam perpetrated against him. Eventually there will be a 400-pound, 18-year-old reality-TV star who’ll be allowed to bring his pit bull to the match, and Floyd will still knock the guy out whenever the mood strikes him.
Mayweather needs to be able to do that since his sole identity—mostly self-identity—is as the best fighter who ever lived. If he were to lose now, he would no longer be losing to a fellow great, a champion, a worthy contender, someone in the top 10 ratings, a dangerous journeyman, or even an “opponent.” He’d be losing to a novelty performer with only the flimsiest of connections to boxing. The only thing more humiliating to him would be if one of the women he used to slap around came back to beat the shit out of him on PPV.
As he was moving toward the stardom that in time would become superstardom, Mayweather started out as the B-side of his highest-profile fights. He won them all, developing and honing his line of bullshit along the way, and winding up the sport’s top moneymaker. Now, for the second time in a row, Mayweather is the B-side again. The other guy is the draw. Everybody knows what to expect from Floyd. All the intrigue centers around what Logan Paul will do.
Before beginning this piece, I had to do a little homework. I needed to look up the name of the guy Floyd Mayweather would be fighting Sunday night. (I actually had the date wrong when I first looked; I’d never heard of a PPV boxing match taking place on a Sunday.)
Out of a misplaced sense of due diligence, I watched a few Youtube clips of Logan Paul. He’s a youngish white guy who lifts a little weight, does a little cardio, etc., etc. He grimaces while throwing punches and kicks so that you can see his intensity. Logan Paul has got very white teeth. He yawns on camera without covering his mouth.
He’s also an asshole; I watched him join in—eyes closed in devotion—with another asshole singing a terrible rendition (though is there any other kind?) of The Star-Spangled Banner.
If this were a piece of journalism, I’d now start doing a little more homework on him. But it isn’t, and I won’t.
Logan Paul is nearly interchangeable with a lot of white jocks his age. He’s probably no more or less talented than most of them. His fellow jocks know he’s one of them, so a lot of hopes are riding on Logan Paul’s semi-wide shoulders. If he beats Floyd Mayweather, they’ve each beaten Floyd Mayweather. Or at least it proves that they could if they cut out the booze and weed for a little while, went back to the gym four days a week, took a few classes there.
Fantasy speculation has always existed in boxing—as it has in all competition—but, as the sport’s long-term history fades away, the source material for mythical what-if is no longer deep. People are now willing to travel back only as far as their personal memories will take them. Iron Mike is now the outer edge.
Boxing, losing viewers and in decline for a couple of decades, was starting to make a modest comeback before COVID-19 shut down the whole game. With no good matchups in the offing, relative newcomers to the sport cast their imaginations in a few strange directions. What would happen if Mike Tyson fought Evander Holyfield fought Roy Jones fought Oscar De La Hoya fought Pick a Name? That morphed into the name game of what would happen if Mike Tyson—now 54 years old—fought current heavyweight champion Tyson Fury? Things devolved into speculation over what would happen if Social Media Star A fought Social Media Star B to settle their online squabble. Once promoters figured out they could make money with this nonsense, they started repeating the mantra “you’re a real fighter” to any of the Instagram heroes who’d get into the ring.
After that, it was a hop, skip, and jump to where we are today: Floyd Mayweather versus Logan Paul (0-1 as a professional).
As Floyd Mayweather’s reputation grew, his risk-aversion stayed neck and neck. An unequaled matchmaker for himself—less talented with others—in the last eight years of his career he fought 11 times, most of the fights coming against high-profile opponents who were too old, too small, too inexperienced, or too shopworn to present him with any genuine threat. He nearly made a mistake once, underestimating the size, power, and ruggedness of Marcos Maidana, eking out a majority—and in some corners questionable—decision, but learning enough in the process to sail through the rematch against an opponent who now had one foot out the professional door.
Mayweather only knocked out two of those last 11 opponents, but those two are the ones who taught him that it would no longer matter who he fought. More correctly, it taught him that fighting clowns brought greater rewards than taking on pros.
The seed for this epiphany may have started when Mayweather threw a sucker punch that knocked out a semi-fighter named Victor Ortiz, a timid novice with a big smile and a La La Land back story. Ortiz was starting to unravel against Floyd, so, in desperation, headbutted him. Referee Joe Cortez took away a point, brought both guys to the center of the ring to hug and make up—which they did cordially, Mayweather wearing a look of sympathy—and Ortiz, thinking everyone was buddies again, briefly turned away. He’ll never remember what happened next.
After taking a couple of years off, Mayweather spiraled down to the non-fighter Conor McGregor (0-0 as a professional), and has now gone into freefall with Logan Paul. The hope is that eventually, as Mayweather ages and stays out of boxing rings, as his opponents get bigger and bigger and their age disparities with the self-proclaimed TBE grow wider and wider, that Great Day of White Redemption will arrive when one of them will beat him.
There are reasons why a generation of marginal boxing fans—they’re mostly transplanted MMA fans—will buy Mayweather’s claim to being the best ever. Accepting the hype does two things: it provides an out when he beats Logan Paul—how badly he beats him defines how big an out that will be—and gives them hope that sooner or later it will turn Mayweather into the laughingstock they’ve been waiting for him to be for the last decade or more.
Mayweather isn’t the story anymore, even if he’ll always be higher-paid than the guy who is. Now he’s just the engine that powers the story. He’s not flesh-and-blood Floyd Mayweather—a very serious professional boxer—but the undersized old guy who, if beaten, will become the symbol for what can be attained by someone who “wants it enough” or “who dares to dream.” It goes without saying that the someone in question is white; the demographic makeup of both the live crowds and PPV audiences for Mayweather’s recent fights bears this out.
It’s not as if the improbable never happens; I learned that the hard way. When I was managing the 40-plus former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks, I put him in with John Carlo, who had never had a professional fight. Leon was knocked out in about a minute. But there’s a big difference between Leon Spinks and Floyd Mayweather. And the Grand Canyon stands between John Carlo, who’d spent years in the gym training professional fighters and was a serious tough guy, and Logan Paul, a fool fueled by internet daydreams.
Authenticity matters. It’s the thing that online tough guys can’t have, no matter how much time they spend with celebrity trainers, no matter how many ringside commentators gush that they do.
Before a fight actually takes place, when none of what you see is founded on bedrock, anything can happen. A collective wish projects the reality, so anything is as believable as anything else. Until the moment it isn’t.
I’ve done a lot of things in the boxing business that some people think you’re not supposed to do. I’ve fixed fights, I’ve faked fighters’ medical records. I’ve done favors for the Italian, Irish, and Russian Mobs.
But I’m starting to become embarrassed to be associated with boxing. I shouldn’t care. And, mostly, I don’t.
Afterthought: I’ve written about this fight as if there will be a winner and a loser despite the fact that no “official” decision with be rendered—there won’t even be judges at ringside. Trust me: There will be a winner and a loser here.