Floyd 'Money" Mayweather: Is He the Most Polarizing Figure in Sports?

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2012

You either love him or you hate him. It doesn't matter to him either way as long as you buy his fights.
You either love him or you hate him. It doesn't matter to him either way as long as you buy his fights.Al Bello/Getty Images

When it comes to "Money," you either love him or you love to hate him.

He's brash. He's extravagant. He's rarely humble. But as he said, he goes out there and backs it up every single time.

And that separates him from his competition. Sure, LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez and Kobe Bryant are polarizing. But they haven't backed it up, day in and day out, in the way that Floyd Mayweather has done for the better part of the last 20 years.

It's almost hard to believe that the man known as the best pound for pound fighter in the world has been a fixture in the American boxing scene for 16 years now.  Mayweather burst on the scene at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

It was there that he won a bronze medal in the featherweight division, after losing a highly controversial decision against Bulgarian Serafim Todorov in the semi-finals. Even at the age of 19, Floyd would demonstrate the brashness that would come to define his career.


Floyd Mayweather would turn pro the same year and would go on to win his first 17 fights, most by KO or TKO before stepping up to his first world title challenge in 1998 against the late Genaro Hernandez.

Mayweather would dominate Hernandez, stopping him after the eighth round and winning the first of many world championships to come.


And here we enter the dual-nature of the man who is Floyd Mayweather Jr. A man who's lack of humility can be maddening at times, but who shows flashes of true understanding and compassion in the toughest situations.

Genaro Hernandez passed away after a battle with cancer in June of 2011. It was a loss that Mayweather, who was preparing to challenge Victor Ortiz in September, took very personally.

He reflected, to The Ring Magazine's Lem Satterfield, that he remained close with Hernandez over the years, and during his bout with cancer.

"I told him that 'anything I can do to help you while you're in that situation, you know, let me know," said Mayweather. "I said 'I don't care what it is.' And then, you know, a few months later, he passes away."

Recently, and thanks to Floyd's own efforts, his gambling addiction has been shown front and center through social media sites Twitter and Facebook. Floyd is known for flaunting his money and lifestyle in the public eye.

Something that's not well known is that he paid for Genaro Hernandez's funeral. And he did it quietly. And without public spectacle.

These are the things that are little known about the man. Things that perhaps would temper, in some eyes at least, his public persona. Things that, dare I say it, could make him a more likable guy. 


But for Floyd Mayweather Jr. it isn't about likable. It's first and foremost about marketability. The people who love him, love him. They will buy his pay-per-views to see a brilliant fighter, a fighter for the ages even, do his thing against another in a long line of people who claim they know the way to beat him.


The people who love to hate Floyd Mayweather, well, they also buy his pay-per-views. But they do it in the hopes that they'll be sitting on their couch with their buddies when that one fighter lands that one punch that literally shuts his mouth.

That's why, to this day, Floyd Mayweather remains the most polarizing figure in sports. And he understands the nature of the criticism against him, and he easily turns it right back on those leveling it. It's the exact reason why he has become the star he has in recent years.

“You all think I’m scared, I’m a coward? Well guess what? I’m a rich, scared coward," Mayweather told The Associated Press earlier this year. 

“And if that’s the case, why the hell would you want to watch me? I don’t want to watch no coward."

And he's 100 percent correct. On all counts.

After defeating Hernandez, Floyd went on to defend the belt several times. One of the notable defenses, against former featherweight champion Gregorio "Goyo" Vargas produced one of the many Mayweather moments that you love or hate.

Well ahead and dominating the fight in the 10th round with about 30 seconds left, Mayweather overhears HBO commentator Jim Lampley comment that he has switched to a southpaw stance for the second time in the fight.


Mayweather then proceeds to turn his head from the action, look at Lampley, and tell him it was the "third time" he had switched during the fight. A dangerous idea for most fighters, but apparently not for Floyd Mayweather Jr.


This is just the type of moment that a fan of Floyd Mayweather would stand up and cheer, but would make his detractors shake their heads in disgust. You can't argue about the man's natural talent. But you can argue over his character, and these types of incidents add fuel to that fire.

Floyd Mayweather then moved on to what can only be described as a featherweight super fight with undefeated power-puncher Diego Corrales. This fight provides another odd look into the personality of a man that is often at odds with itself.

In the lead up to the fight, Mayweather was highly critical of Corrales' history of domestic violence. After the Mayweather fight, Corrales would serve 14 months in prison for abusing his wife who was pregnant at the time.

"I want Diego because I'm doing it for all the battered women across America," Mayweather said. "Just like he beat that woman, I'm going to beat him," he told Tim Smith of the New York Daily News in 2000.

In retrospect, while many fans certainly appreciated this sentiment then, these words seem to read with a diminished impact today. 

Of course Mayweather would go on to dominate Corrales, knocking him down five times en route to a tenth round corner stoppage. Unfortunately for Floyd, he would also share another experience with Diego Corrales, when he spent 87 days in prison this year for misdemeanor battery against his ex-girlfriend.


And there again is shown the conundrum that is Floyd Mayweather Jr. The man who willingly took up the mantle of "all the battered women across America" in 2001 and then became a woman batterer a decade later.


Many of us who tuned into his bout with Corrales did so with a clear mindset. We wanted to see Mayweather beat him and beat him good. Every time he landed a shot, every time Corrales winced in pain, every time he hit the mat we got a sense of pleasure.

This was a guy who abused a pregnant woman getting what he deserved. And it felt good to watch it.

These are the moments that make Floyd Mayweather polarizing, not just as a sports personality, but as a person.

When he stepped into the ring this May against Miguel Cotto, and likely in all his fights to follow, many tuned in, no longer just in the hopes he'd lose, but in the hopes he'd get the beating he dished out to Corrales. 

As has been his trademark in life, Mayweather discussed his impending jail sentence candidly after defeating Miguel Cotto on May 5th of this year.

"It's just an obstacle that's in my way," Mayweather told David Mayo of MLive.com "The only thing I can do June 1st, when I go away, the only thing it will do is make me strong as a person, and next time I'm faced with that situation, approach it in a different way."

We all make mistakes, and while assault is not acceptable, Floyd did his time. He took a fair amount of heat, and rightfully so, for trying to skip out early and serve his sentence from his lush Las Vegas mansion.

It all comes down to this when it comes to Floyd Mayweather. He does things that elicit very different reactions in different people. To some his brash, arrogant style is why they tune in to see him fight. To others his brash, arrogant style is why they tune in to see him fight in the hopes he gets knocked out.

But one thing that isn't in dispute, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is one of the best boxers ever. He's allowed to be brash because in 43 professional fights he's never tasted defeat. He's never even really come close. 

The polarizing label is one that "Money" embraces. He doesn't hide from it. Polarizing is good. It gets people to tune in and that sells tickets and makes money. It's good for boxing and it's good for Floyd Mayweather Jr.