Floyd Mayweather on self-preservation and conquering the UK
He is prizefighting's greatest heel since Jack Johnson, the undisputed king of convincing people to pay to watch him lose – even as he never comes close to doing so.
, boxing's pound-for-pound champion and the world's highest-earning athlete, is a master of the salesmanship that is the difference between an elite fighter and an attraction, a craft that demands a vernacular of bombast and braggadocio. Yet his profligate made-for-TV persona gave way to sober, matter-of-fact reckoning this week, when he met a small number of press over lunch at the Vanderbilt Suites in midtown Manhattan.
It was 11 days after , improving his record to 45 wins in 45 professional fights. The promotion was an unqualified success, breaking records for pay-per-view gross (nearly $150m so far) and live gate (more than $20m). Mayweather earned a base purse of $41.5m for 36 minutes of work – a sum expected to balloon to more than $80m after his cut of the pay-per-view revenue and foreign receipts.
He has now generated nearly 13 million buys in his 11 pay-per-view fights, representing approximately three-quarters of a billion dollars in revenue – greater than the GDP of some countries. Yet this week the normally brazen Mayweather came off as secure and subdued, even humbled, as he took scope of his accomplishments.
"Look at my career and say, who's done a higher gate than me?" he said. "Who's done a higher percentage than me? Who took less punishment than me? Who has been dominating for 17 years, a world champion for 16 years?"
He was in New York for a victory lap that includes appearances on The Howard Stern Show, Fox Business's Cavuto, BET's 106 & Park, MSNBC's The Cycle, Comedy Central's The Colbert Report and Live! with Kelly and Michael, with the discussion focusing on his formidable business acumen as much as his performance. In an industry that has conspired to exploit and defraud fighters for as long as anyone can remember, the Grand Rapids, Michigan native has leveraged his success to rewrite the rules for himself.
Mayweather, at 36, seems to derive more satisfaction from being the smartest guy in the room than from being the greatest pure boxer of his generation – a title that is now surely beyond dispute.
With a nod to his exquisite technical skills and subscription to the hit-and-don't-get-hit school of boxing over satisfying popular bloodlust, he said:
"There's nothing cool about taking punishment. Everybody talks about pleasing the fans, but if you don't have all your faculties and all your screws are loose, the fans are going to move on to the next.
"I truly believe I could have banged with Canelo and eventually knocked him out in probably the eighth round, but I could have taken a lot of punishment also, which could have messed my career up to where I wouldn't have been able to fight four more fights.
"It hurts my feelings to look at [Muhammad] Ali's situation. He fought for the people, to please them. You've got to fight to please yourself first. Self-preservation."
Mayweather has four bouts remaining on his six-fight, 30-month contract with Showtime and CBS, worth a potential $250m, yet the supply of credible opponents is running alarmingly dry. Against Alvarez – possibly the biggest puncher Mayweather has ever faced, an emerging superstar nearly a decade-and-a-half his junior – he made it look elementary. He is so far ahead of everyone else, it's embarrassing.
Mayweather acknowledged on Wednesday that he is the dream opponent for everyone "from heavyweight all the way down to 105 [lb]," but said there was no longer a single realistic contender who would stand a chance against him. With Canelo went the best hope. "It's not my fault that in my era I was able to make A-level and B-level fighters look like D-plus fighters," he remarked, dispassionately.
Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather's longtime manager, is confident the sport will continue to produce salable opponents. He noted that Alvarez – now immortalized as the B-side of boxing's highest-grossing fight ever – was barely on the radar until recently. "If I had told you two years ago that Floyd Mayweather would be fighting Canelo and he could potentially make $100m, you all would have called me a liar," he said.
Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports whose signing of Mayweather from HBO represented a coup in the industry, spoke boldly about the fighter's international business strategy, speaking in martial terms about a "territory by territory" approach in Europe.
"The first one to knock down is the UK, because that's the one that's easy to transition to," Espinoza said. "The Money Team, Mayweather Promotions, [promoting] his own fights, potentially. And once we get that base established in the UK, then pick another territory and continue."
Whether those claims intimated a forthcoming fight with Great Britain's Amir Khan - a fight that could fill Wembley Stadium - no one would say. Philadelphia's Danny Garcia, who scored a spectacular win over Lucas Matthysse on the Mayweather-Canelo undercard, is another a popular pick for Floyd's next opponent. The only specifics confirmed are the dates of his next four fights: May 2014, September 2014, May 2015 and September 2015. Mayweather remained non-committal on whether he'd fight beyond then.
"Some days I feel like four more, some days I say six more. I don't know."
In addition to his fighting career and future plans, Mayweather discussed an array of topics:
On being named Forbes' highest-earning athlete without a penny coming from endorsements:
Basically a brand on my back doesn't define my greatness. I don't feel like Nike has to make me, I don't feel like Adidas has to make me. I don't have anything against the companies, but my company is [The Money Team]. I want to be the first. If they want to put a patch on my trunks, it's a seven-figure patch for 36 minutes. I don't feel like I have to be locked in a long-term deal. If I am locked in a long-term deal, there has to be longevity. I have to have some ownership.
On whether college athletes like the embattled Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (on whom ) should be financially compensated:
I didn't get paid when I was an amateur. You appreciate it a lot more. Amateur is nothing but a learning experience preparing you for the professional level. I don't feel like college athletes should be paid. I feel like they should get more per diem, they should have better living if they compete at the highest level.
On walking to the ring with Justin Bieber (again):
I don't think it's really about image. I got love for everybody, not just no certain individual. I'm basically saying just because I'm a black American, the only type of music I listen to is hip-hop, which is not true. I listen to everything. My daughter's a fan of Justin Bieber. If she listens to Justin Bieber, I'm going to listen to him. I have an open mind and i'm not just one-dimensional. When you're the best, you only want to deal with the best and align yourself with the best.
The winter of Mayweather's career offers the promise of cashing out. He has already weathered the most glaring hit to his otherwise bulletproof legacy, as if with one of his instinctive shoulder rolls: that he never fought Manny Pacquiao when that fight still mattered.
Seldom do two boxers considered the best in the sport come from the same weight class – and rarer still are both roughly the same age. That was no dream fight, it was an obligation: a fight the public had made. The details of why it never came together – ego, politics, fear – are not worth recounting here. Suffice to say, Mayweather-Pacquiao would have been the richest fight in history and it's failure to materialize remains the tragicomic nadir of boxing's institutional dysfunction. But the Filipino came up Wednesday only tangentially, with Mayweather never explicitly mentioning his name.
For a figure whose personal life has attracted and often come to embody chaos, Mayweather has done much to subtly rehabilitate his image after serving two months in jail last year, on a domestic violence charge – a topic that was not raised Wednesday and rarely mentioned during the promotion. He casts himself as a family man and comes across, genuinely, as a person who has finally been able to achieve the one thing his riches could not buy: peace.
"Me and my dad are getting along, my mother is happy, my children are getting a good education and I'm healthy," he said. "I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life."