POSTED BY KELEFA SANNEH
Floyd Mayweather is the biggest American boxing star since Mike Tyson, although he tends to have a very different effect on the people who see him fight. Tyson was mesmerizing because he scarcely seemed like an athlete: in his prime, he wasn’t merely a competitor, he was a myth come to life, the personification of something very cruel and very powerful; step into the ring with him and you were likely to suffer something much more catastrophic than a mere loss. Even as he unwound, in the nineteen-nineties, he affirmed the sense that a boxing match wasn’t merely a competition but a real-life drama, a big stage where bad things happened. This was true even before that night, in 1997, when Tyson bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear.
This weekend, millions of viewers spent as much as $74.99 to order the pay-per-view broadcast of the latest installment of Mayweather’s years-long effort to undo Tyson’s hard work. Mayweather now ranks among the most skilled boxers of all time, and the combination of his excellence and his prominence is re-athleticizing the sport: reminding fans, especially casual ones, that a boxing match need not be a spectacle or a slaughter. It can be, instead, a contest between two great athletes, with nothing, really, at stake besides winning or losing.
That doesn’t mean that Saturday night’s fight wasn’t compelling—it was, in much the same way that any dominant athletic performance is. Mayweather fought twelve rounds against Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, a big and strong young Mexican who never really got a chance to show how hard his punches were, because he barely touched Mayweather. According to one report, Mayweather threw fewer punches than Álvarez, but landed nearly twice as many; he is a precision puncher, secure in the knowledge that he need not knock his opponent down, or even hurt him, in order to win. At the post-fight press conference, Álvarez had a few red marks on his face, and some swelling under his right eye. But he didn’t look like a man who had been beaten half to death, the way boxers sometimes do. He looked like a man who had competed in a contact sport, and lost.
As soon as Mayweather-Álvarez was announced, most observers predicted exactly this: a relatively easy victory for Mayweather. (The appeal of the fight had more to do, probably, with Canelo’s enormous popularity, especially in his native Mexico, than with his chances.) The one moment of controversy came after the fight was over, when the judges’ scores were announced—a formality, it seemed, given what had come before. Two of the three judges had Mayweather winning, but they saw the fight as a surprisingly close one. The third judge, C. J. Ross, had scored the match a draw, which meant that Mayweather won by what’s known as a majority decision, instead of a unanimous decision. It was hard to look at Ross’s scorecard without being reminded of an article, from before the fight, in Los Angeles Times, about an “onslaught” of bettors laying money on the fight ending in a draw. The article suggested that bettors believed a draw might be likely because it would be good for both fighters (who might get to fight a lucrative rematch), as well as the promoters and the casinos. The article quoted Jay Rood, who is in charge of sports betting at the M.G.M. Grand, where the fight took place. He said, “It’s boxing, it’s always shady.” But he also said he wasn’t worried enough to shut down betting. “I don’t think there’s anything sinister happening,” he said. After some boxing matches, controversies and conspiracy theories are the main stories. But on this night, the case of the inexplicable scorecard was merely a footnote to a fight that was, for better or for worse, rather straightforward.
Among some boxing fans, the most anticipated match of the weekend was the main undercard fight, between Danny García, from Philadelphia, and Lucas Mathysse, from Argentina. Because García is known for toughness and Mathysse is known for punching power, their meeting seemed likely to be full of action, and possibly blood. Instead, García, the underdog, was both clever and brave, slipping some of Mathysse’s punches and withstanding others; his punches caused swelling that nearly closed Mathysse’s right eye, which allowed him to land even more of them, and he won a unanimous decision. The win put García on the short list of the world’s best boxers, and he is now widely recognized as the champion of the junior welterweight division, which has a weight limit of a hundred forty pounds. He has said he wants to move up to welterweight (a hundred forty-seven), where Mayweather often fights, and now García, having beaten Mathysse, looks like a plausible Mayweather opponent—plausible, that is, to get the fight, not to win it.
At a post-fight press conference, Angel García, the fighter’s father and trainer, was asked about the possibility of his son fighting Mayweather. “If that was to happen, I would called it ‘The Holy War,’” he said. “It would be ‘The Holy War,’ because it would be two gifted fighters—spiritual fighters—that God put on this planet to fight.” Maybe so. But if Mayweather has taught us anything, it’s that fights don’t have to be wars—sometimes, a boxing match is just a match.
Photograph by Mark J. Terrill/AP.
KEYWORDS BOXING; CANELO ALVAREZ; FLOYD MAYWEATHER