Has Floyd Mayweather reached a tipping point?
Have we gotten to the stage of his career where there’s nothing more to gain?
Boxing’s undisputed pound-for-pound king returns to the ring this Saturday night, taking on hard-charging Argentine Marcos Maidana in a welterweight unification clash at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Unlike his last fight, a record-breaking win over then-undefeated Canelo Alvarez, the public has never really warmed to this affair. The hype, anticipation and demand are far below that of the Canelo fight, and much of that—probably most—can be attributed to the fans just not buying Maidana as a threat.
Kevin Iole, a respected boxing voice for Yahoo Sports, decried the match, giving Maidana as much chance of beating Mayweather as he has of dating Scarlet Johansson, and he called the hype about the Argentine's power giving him a chance "all a bunch of bull."
And that's the prevailing opinion. Much different from Canelo, no?
So, does Mayweather worry about being in a no-win situation? Or suffering a letdown?
Not a chance.
“No. You know, I try to always think positive. We always try to think positive. All we can do is dedicate ourselves and work hard and try to get good results. It's the only thing I can really say,” Mayweather said in response to Bleacher Report’s question on a media conference call.
“You had a fighter in Canelo that you rarely see, so that was something that everybody wanted to see, and it was more like a chess match and I was Bobby Fischer. So then, with this fight you have a guy, a rugged guy that comes straight ahead with an attitude of 'I just don't care.' He just dethroned one of the top undefeated fighters, so like I said before, it's a good matchup.”
So, looking at it that way, there is certainly something to gain.
But therein lies the rub for Mayweather. That last sentence is key.
“It’s a good matchup.”
For 99.9 percent of fighters out there between 140 and 147 pounds it would be an excellent, compelling, even dangerous matchup.
Adrien Broner certainly found that out the hard way. Young, brash, undefeated and—at least in his own mind—well on the path to being the next Mayweather, he got thumped and embarrassed by “Chino” in December.
It’s not so much that Maidana isn’t a quality opponent, but that he isn’t up to the lofty standard that people expect from a future Hall of Famer who says he only has four fights left in him.
Most fighters would get credit for facing Maidana. But not Mayweather.
There has become the Mayweather standard, and the everybody-else standard. Call it what you will—maybe he’s a victim of his own success—but it’s a reality.
Now you can weigh the fairness of that, given the available options, but Mayweather for one believes that he doesn’t receive his due credit, and not because he faces subpar fighters.
No. It’s because he makes good fighters look bad.
“Yes. I think that I don't get my credit that's due because I think that I make A-level and B-level fighters look ordinary,” Mayweather said.
“But that comes from just having a sharp mind and just really, really pushing myself in training, pushing myself very, very hard in training and so when it's time to go out there and perform, everything is easy.“
Mayweather has an uncanny knack for making things look extremely easy in the ring. His preparation, dedication and work ethic are legendary in the sport.
For a fighter with such innate talents, he never takes it easy, remaining constantly diligent both inside and outside of the ring.
Nothing catches him by surprise, and while the public perception is that Maidana should be an easy notch on his belt, Mayweather refuses to fall into that trap.
“Adrien Broner's a good boxer and he roughed Adrien Broner up and he got to victory, so we can't say what this guy, what he can or he can't do. We cannot overlook the guy. I can't just say he's going to be an easy fight because he's not going to be an easy fight for me. I don't think so,” Mayweather said.
“What I have to do is I've got to make sure that I'm at my best. So May 3 I've got to go out there and take my time, keep my composure and be me. Everybody thinks he's just going to be a pushover, but I don't think so.”
Much of Mayweather’s remarkable run to the top of boxing has come as a result, not even of his physical gifts, but of his ability to stay one step ahead of his opponents.
He’s got sneaky power, certainly not of the one-punch knockout variety but still enough to keep fighters honest, tremendous hand and foot speed and a boxing IQ that’s on par with the best to ever ply their craft in the ring.
But Mayweather’s biggest strength is his ability to analyze his foe, take mental notes and then put those into practice on the fly.
That’s the hallmark of his dominance, and it’s something he plans on showing Maidana this Saturday night.
“My focus is this guy. I'm pretty sure he's going to be well rounded and ready for this fight because this is at a total different level,” Mayweather said.
“We're going to take our time and go out there and if a guy leaves an opening on his face, we're going to take it, if he leaves an opening on his body we're going to take it, but we can't just say we're going to go in there and everything is going to go to the body. We're going to take our time and pick the guy apart.”
And he already sees the flaw—the Argentine’s power.
That may not seem like a logical statement. After all, the few observers who give Maidana much of a chance of securing boxing’s biggest upset in years do so because of his vaunted punching power.
He has a knockout ratio that sits north of 80 percent (81.58)—higher than any of Mayweather’s recent foes, including both Canelo and Miguel Cotto—felled Broner twice in his last fight, nearly stopping him, and has put 31 foes down inside the distance.
Maidana’s power has been the decisive factor in his recent success, moving him from an exciting but limited fighter to a shot at the top dog in the sport.
But Mayweather isn’t worried about his foe’s power. He’s conscious of it, yes, but plans to take it and use it to his advantage.
“My thing is whatever a guy's best attribute is, whatever he does best, my goal is to take that away from him and make him resort to doing something else,” Mayweather said.
“He punches extremely hard if he has an 80 percent knockout ratio. That's obviously his best attribute, but a lot of times when a guy's swinging a lot of big shots and they're not landing, you get fatigued like that.”
That scenario should be a familiar one to anyone who has followed Mayweather’s career.
Ricky Hatton followed him around for the first half of their fight, trying to land something big but expending a ton of energy with no return on his investment. By the end of the fight, Hatton was completely gassed, and Mayweather finished the show in spectacular fashion.
It doesn’t take a ton of imagination to see this fight going down a similar path.
And if it does, you’ll see a predictable chorus of naysayers decrying yet another mismatch, another overhyped challenger and another money grab by a man who people love to hate.
So does Mayweather have anything to gain from this fight?
Again, that all depends on the standard you assess him with.
But boxing certainly wins. Nobody has done more in this generation to move the needle for the sport. Mayweather isn’t a boxing star, he’s a sports star, and whatever he does to draw attention to boxing is a win for the sport.
He understands the power he wields, the promotional might, the personal influence, and he wants to continue using that to keep the sport thriving.
“Boxing is always very, very important to me and always will be because this has put me in a position to have everything that I have. This has put me in a position to be able to secure my family and secure myself,” Mayweather said.
“Boxing is something I love and that's all we know, is the fight game. But I just want to be a part of the sport. I want to help this sport live on. I want to help this sport continue to grow. That's what it's about.”
Indeed it is, and regardless of the outcome on Saturday night, by that standard, there are no losers.
And certainly not boxing.
Kevin McRae is a featured boxing columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted all quotes were obtained firsthand.