All in all, last night’s HBO boxing presentation was filled with enough solid fights from start to finish to deem the night a success for boxing fans.
Of course, I’m not including what happened towards the end of the fourth round when former WBC welterweight champ Victor Ortiz deliberately delivered a head butt to pound-for-pound great Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who retaliated minutes later with his own “cheap” left-right combination that won him the fight.
I’m especially not including Mayweather’s immature verbal spat with legendary boxing figure and commentator Larry Merchant during their in-ring post-fight interview. Merchant repeatedly asked Mayweather about his controversial TKO victory, provoking an earnest response while still insinuating less-than-sportsmanlike intentions.
For someone who constantly reminds everybody—without fail when in front of cameras—that he “keeps it real” no matter the subject, Mayweather instinctively gets defensive or elusive when fingers start pointing. But once his diversion failed to get Merchant off the scent, Mayweather snapped and started yelling obscenities at the 80-year-old.
That’s when I started getting nervous about the possibility of Mayweather trumping an already unfortunate end to an enjoyable night of fights by thumping Merchant right there in the ring. As unlikely as that seems now, I was on the edge of my seat while it was going down.
We also have to quantify “cheap shot” into perspective. Ortiz’s headbutt was more intentional than Mayweather’s shots—neither move was commendable. But the difference was that Ortiz seemed overly excited, caught up in the moment—unlike Mayweather, whose opportunistic act should paint a worrisome picture for his fans.
Was he feeling enough pressure from fighting a game Ortiz to immediately jump at such an undignified opportunity? Was that the only way Mayweather could have won by TKO?
It begs another important question: was it more than just a little cowardly retaliation?
However the interpretation, the way that fight ended has caustic repercussions for Mayweather and the sport of boxing.
These types of antics—not surprisingly coming from the undefeated 34-year-old—is exactly what boxing does not need right now. For better or worse, Mayweather is a polarizing figure in a sport currently combating mixed martial arts for Pay-Per-View buys while trying to regain its integrity and creditability.
Where does last night’s result leave “Money” and boxing?
Arguing against Mayweather’s boxing talents would be foolish, but if he keeps ducking his only true peer, Manny Pacquiao, he’ll have a difficult time erasing last night’s mishap from people's minds. His talent and undefeated record can only do so much for his legacy.
Up until the end of the fight, Mayweather looked far from dominating against the lesser-experienced underdog Ortiz, who had no problem engaging and being offensively aggressive. My perspective would have been less critical of Mayweather’s antics had he put Ortiz through a vintage clinic throughout the four rounds.
Instead, boxing enthusiasts are left with an unimpressive performance, a questionable victory, and a childish post-fight interview.
For everything “Money” Mayweather does as an entertainer for the sport—especially shining as the colorful antagonist during all the HBO 24/7 series and in pre-fight interviews—he does an equal amount of damage to its integrity by letting his selfish arrogance roll over into the ring.
Boxing seriously lacks respectable champs who draw huge numbers—a position that is a long-term liability. I’m not sure how much longer fans will be “invested” in Mayweather PPV’s without Pacquiao’s name on the bill.
As Mayweather’s flare and shock value fade—along with his career—boxing promoters will be forced to retool their strategies with some fresh faces with media staying power. I think that search had better start soon.
Hopefully, the next generation of champions will offer as much respectable personality as they do talent and skill.
If boxing wants to avoid getting lapped by the UFC’s growing popularity and draw, the short-term goal should be cashing in on Mayweather vs. Pacquiao before it’s too late, because unfortunately, boxing and Mayweather’s reputations supersede them both—and not in a good way.