- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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Ride or die.
The phrase is the 'hood equivalent to "for better or for worse." A vow. It means if your person's ship is going down, you are going down with it and them. As the great Bernie Mac would say, it signifies "Who You Wit."
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has always been one of my ride-or-die cats. Regardless of how thick the hate got, I was ridin' with him. 'Til death do us part. Except now I've come to a part in his boxing career where faith begins to fade.
And not just my faith, but the faith of millions of others.
See, the predestined, prematurely determined "Fight of the Century" against Manny Pacquiao is off again. Not going to happen this year. If ever. And this time the reason there will be no fight -- unlike the last time, when the two sides didn't agree on a drug-testing arrangement Mayweather and his camp wanted -- seems to be Floyd.
He's refusing to fight. He's refusing to make a statement (outside of his adviser/promoter Leonard Ellerbe saying that "no negotiations have ever taken place nor was there ever a deal agreed upon to fight Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 13.") in defense of why Pacquiao is fighting Antonio Margarito instead on that date.
He's refusing to do anything more than let live the statement he made last month claiming he's "not really thinking about boxing right now. I'm just relaxing. I fought about 60 days ago, so I'm just enjoying myself, enjoying life, enjoying my family, enjoying my vacation."
How long does a vacation last when the other world-dominating-pound-for-pound title holder puts the ball in your court, throws down the gauntlet in your corner? How long do you enjoy life when philosophically the "other side" is publicly putting your manhood out there to be questioned?
When Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, basically called Mayweather out, claiming not only that Pacquiao's camp was willing to accept the terms of the drug testing provisions but also that there was a deal and deadline in place that Mayweather never responded to, the landscape of blame shifted.
And because Floyd's chosen to stay "on vacation" and remain silent while the most important story in boxing orbits him, for the first time in his career, to me, the greatest boxer of this generation seems scared.
And that's the last thing I want to have to accept from someone I ride or die with.
The last true ride-or-die boxer whose legacy was always in question because of the fights he seemed to be avoiding was Roy Jones Jr. Regardless of who he fought, Jones was one of the greatest fighters anyone had ever seen. He made fans fall in love with him in the ring, even when there were piles of questions and contradictions that lived outside of the ring.
Then he just stopped fighting. He stopped fighting while he was in the ring.
No one in recent boxing history let his fanbase down the way Roy did. Ask Roy Jones Jr. fans; they'll tell you about the emptiness they still feel in their guts about how Roy went out. They'll tell stories of betrayal.
And this is what scares so many of the same people (including me) about Mayweather. We don't want to go through being let down by another boxer who has attained a special place in our hearts. We can't endure or afford going through that kind of pain. Not again.
In boxing we leave ourselves vulnerable. We purposely disregard anything we don't want to hear about the fighters we love. We ignore the peripheral. By Floyd Mayweather Jr. being so non-responsive, saying nothing in return to the allegations of avoidance being thrown at him, he is forcing his fans to do what we hate doing in times like this: Notice the peripheral.
Mayweather is making it seem like he is more concerned about protecting the "zero" on the right side of his record than he is proving that he is what he's said he is: Better than Sugar Ray Robinson. Better than Muhammad Ali. That he's the "best" fighter "ever."
Which, if we are being honest, is the biggest mistake he could ever make.
There are legitimate reasons not to go through with the fight this year from Mayweather's standpoint:
1. The pending trial of Roger Mayweather for battery against a female fighter he once trained. (Mayweather Jr. could say that he doesn't want to go into the biggest fight of his career without knowing whether his uncle will be in his corner during the fight.)
2. The new lawsuit by TDF Investments LLC against Mayweather Promotions LLC for breach of contract and unpaid rent. (He could say that he needs to get this legal matter straight before he commits to another fight.)
3. The seemingly ongoing battle with the federal government over income tax issues. (He could say that although the issue seems settled, he doesn't want to risk his 2010 income exceeding $100M to avoid any future tax problems.)
4. The split of the purse isn't right or fair. (He could argue that he's a bigger draw than Pacquiao and the purse shouldn't be split 50/50.)
5. All of the above and then some.
And all he has to do is say just one of them. But by totally avoiding the issue staring him in the face, he is making some of us believe something about him we've heard but never wanted to believe. To fans of his -- fans of what he stands for in boxing, fans who care and are more concerned about him proving he is the best fighter alive than we are him staying undefeated -- this silence is worse than him getting in the ring and being carried out on his back.
(There's also apparently information coming from those close to Mayweather's camp claiming that a large part of the hold-up on the fight is because technology isn't ready to air the fight in 3D. Seriously?)
Ellerbe said before the Shane Mosley fight, "At this level, for Floyd, it's not about belts. It's about fighting for his legacy and it's about money."
Right now, we can't tell. No one can.
All our hero is leaving us with is the unavoidable question he's forcing us to face about him: What happens when a reason becomes an excuse?
Every morning when I enter my office I walk past an 11-inch-by-14-inch framed image of a boxer. He's throwing a low jab into the midsection of another opponent he was supposed to lose to. Adjacent to the photo are the words "Better Than Ever." The fighters in the pic? Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley, circa May 2010. I'm sure you can figure out whom the words refer to.
To me, Mayweather is one of the greatest who's ever stepped in the ring. And he will still be that whether he ever fights Pacquiao or not. But much like the LeBron James saga, it's not about the decision made; it's more about how the situation was handled.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is losing people -- fans, admirers, loyalists -- because of the way he's going about not making this fight happen. To those of us (yes, I unbiasedly include myself) who hold him down, losing to Pacquiao is secondary. We couldn't care less. With the exception of Rocky Marciano, no true warrior in the history of the fight game has exited without an "L." Talk to any true Floyd fan and they will tell you: Getting in the ring and losing to Pacquiao would be more courageous than allowing the situation to play out the way he is allowing it to play out now.
We just had Jones deceive us. We'd hate to have put our faith in another incredible boxer and have almost the same thing happen. Then we'd be the fools.
From his days as a super featherweight to his addictive quasi-seasonal performances on "24/7" that have made HBO more money than his largest purse, we roll with PBF (Pretty Boy Floyd). But by not saying anything, by not publicly giving a concrete reason why he's not making this fight happen -- by not attempting to make Arum and Pacquiao's people out to be liars -- The Pretty One is making it hard, damn near impossible, to honor him the way so many of us have throughout his career. Even at times when we knew he didn't deserve it.
There's a Roots lyric that gets to the root of where fans think Floyd's mind should be right now. It goes: "I'm inspired by the challenge that I find myself standing eye-to-eye with/To move like a wise warrior, not a coward/You can't escape/the history that you [were] meant to make/that's why the highest victory is what I'm in to take/You came to celebrate, I came to cerebrate/I hate losing, I refuse to make the same mistakes."
But there's no fight scheduled. Maybe my reference above to "scared" is an over-exaggeration. Let's say apprehensive. Or worried, concerned, backed into a corner, a little shook. Whatever.
Whatever the word, Mayweather is coming off looking like he's afraid to make this fight with Pacquiao happen. Not scared that he's going to lose, but scared that he might not win. So worried about a first loss on his spotless record that he's forgetting what champions are made of.
With this strategy of silence, it seems like the excuse has been thrown into the ring as opposed to giving a solid reason why he won't fight.
Which makes it seem like for the first time ever Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- my ride-or-die dude for life -- has run out of reasons. For himself and for those of us that loved him.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has always been one of my ride-or-die cats. Regardless of how thick the hate got, I was with him. Except now I've come to a part in his boxing career where faith begins to fade.