“Character will allow a fighter to beat a man of better skill. It is character that makes a fighter consistent, and therefore predictable.” Cus D’Amato
In his best seller ‘Blink’ Malcolm Gladwell uncovers a world unknown yet familiar in our daily lives. The mystery of rapid cognition and why we ‘prejudge’ and respond to facial nuances unfold in this fascinating read. Amazing Stuff? Not your cup of tea? How the hell does this apply to boxing and what does this have to do with Floyd Mayweather Junior? Everything. Consider the dual nature of Mayweather, how though gloriously gifted and underexposed we as a public are repulsed by what little we’ve seen of him. Recently, while making space in my home I stumbled upon an old stack of boxing magazines from 1997. Two things struck me: one was Floyd’s relative youth when compared to fellow pound for pound entrants; and two, even as far back as 1997 he was often described as “unlikable”. Now Floyd may not give a damn but the truth is “unlikable” is a key ingredient (along with a few other “uns”) in the formula that can banish an otherwise great fighter to pay per view purgatory.
How does rapid cognition and thin slicing apply to Floyd Mayweather in the ring? In his own words, he’s one of the few elite fighters who was practically born in the ring and this contributes to his extreme comfort level. A maestro at the hand-eye part of boxing, Floyd is able to “thin slice” the violent exchange of combat and slow down what most fighters see in microseconds. Thin slicing is being able to take very little information (in Floyd’s case an opponents movements) and make an appropriate response with startling accuracy. In other words, when Floyd says he “sees” your punches coming, there’s no evidence in his resume that refutes the Pretty Boy’s claim.
Many boxing observers find it hard to see how Arturo Gatti can place a glove on Floyd consistently enough to make a dent in his armor. On rare occasions when he is buzzed Floyd does have and underrated chin (sorry Arturo) and a keen instinct that enables him to survive the rougher sequences. Knowing all of this and knowing that his in ring judgment borders on flawless, I have to ask why does he choose to render himself so hard to like?
Boxing, less dramatically than wrestling, thrives on the villain/hero scenario to sell fights. It never hurts the gate if both fighters contrast stylistically as well as psychologically. Floyd Mayweather, despite his ‘disposition’, has all of the trappings of someone we would want to cheer for. A good looking 1996 Olympian with ethereal ring gifts on par with a young Ray Leonard should ideally be able to cash in even in this era of boxing as a ‘fringe’ sport. Even though there has been an almost natural tendency to resent gifted fighters (Clay, Leonard, Jones Jr.) who rarely take punishment, Floyd’s affect on the boxing publics ‘sensibilities’ is almost toxic by comparison. The only way to make sense of it all is to compare him to his predecessors and determine how in a blink what appears pretty inside the ring can come off so ugly.
Let’s take a look at Roy Jones Jr. at the apex of “Roygate” in the late 90’s. Like Floyd, he tossed third person references like potshots and his forays into rap music and hoops were widely chastised throughout the world of boxing. Roy even shared the commonality of family discord; he too broke away from a domineering father/trainer as a young man. Floyd is different from Roy in one critical way. Perceived naïveté. With Roy you always sensed that he was an enigmatic, reclusive sort who in his own stubbornness wanted to control every aspect of his career. Roy could infuriate you with his choice of opponents but we often bore witness to his loyalty to friends and his ‘inner country boy’. Imagine Roy wanting to pit his fighting skill against his own father’s training acumen. You can’t; no matter how rancorous the split with his father was, Roy guarded it with as much privacy as any one of us would guard a family dispute. We can relate to that. Floyd Mayweather’s constant baiting of his dad even in a dirty game like boxing is enough to make me want to take a shower.
Like Floyd, a young Cassuis Clay possessed reflexes that often deemed ring encounters imbalanced and mere performance art. Clay often referred to upcoming opponents as “bums” and even went as far as to predict the round he would do away with them. When it comes to trash Clay pushed the evolutionary ball forward light years making it an almost necessary ritual in big fight buildup. Watching a young Clay closely and you realize that a lot of his trash was an inside joke that even his opponent was in on. On several occasions’ opponents found it hard to keep a straight face when watching the ‘Louisville Lip’ do his thing. What Floyd is entering into with a rough customer like Gatti is easily drifting into that Ali/Frazier territory I like to call “When trash talk goes terribly wrong”. What we don’t like about Floyd is he is completely oblivious to this; Ali and Frazier had a relationship and it desinigrated through there mutual aspirations in the sport of boxing. Floyd Mayweather does not ‘know’ Arturo Gatti and quite frankly Gatti did not have to invite Floyd into the world of pay per view.
One thing is for sure, win or lose or draw Floyd Mayweather is at a point in his boxing career where he will learn a few hard lessons that his talent won’t provide him refuge from. Floyd will learn that Arturo Gatti is a peer; a member of a small fraternity of men who swap leather for pay and at some point in that fight it will be respected. Floyd Mayweather Jr. will learn that dropping names like P Diddy, fighting in clubs and ‘baby mama drama’ hold no currency in his chosen field. He will also learn that pay per view, no matter how great you are, is about mainstream exposure and ‘likeability’, two things that he chooses not to be. He will learn that the boxing public is more tolerant of brawlers exhibiting boorish behavior than ‘cuties’ that shoulder roll. And lastly he will learn that relationships will ultimately sustain him in life after boxing because one day soon it will all be over in a BLINK.
Until The Next ‘Jones’
The Boxing Junkie.
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