Superfights and the Mayweather Effect

18m - Boxing

Unlike what happened to Franz Kafka's unfortunate protagonist, Gregor Samsa, metamorphosis doesn't normally take place overnight. What we saw inside the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena last Saturday, when Floyd Mayweather outpointed Manny Pacquiao, was the apex of a transformation that has been gradually shaping boxing's current ethos for some time now.

Boxing can never escape its primal origins and innate appeal, but the lens through which it is viewed has a tendency to change with the times. Old standards waffle and values shift. What was essential yesterday is no longer required today, and the previously inconsequential sometimes becomes paramount.

Mayweather's phenomenal success is a product of his time, mirroring the society in which he lives. In some respects, he is the logical heir to Muhammad Ali, the man who launched boxing's "Me Generation" back in the 1960s.

The line from Ali to Mayweather is not a straight one. There are numerous breaks, bends and downright inconsistency between the two. The pertinent factor here, however, is that they are both prime examples of personality being more important than the punch.

In this context punch means more than just the ability to hit hard. Two-way action, drama, thrills and spills are all part of it -- as are miraculous comebacks, frequent changes of fortune and the ability to overcome adversity. A fighter's personality was always part of his appeal, but for a long time the punch came first.

Mayweather's standing as the world's top-earning athlete and boxing's pound-for-pound best is not built on any of the principles listed in the previous paragraph. Splendid boxing skills, a lofty boxing IQ and a ceaseless work ethic are at its foundation, but Floyd's popularity is based on his extravagant behavior and the zero at the end of his pristine record.

Floyd always had the chops to get to where he is today, but it wasn't until "Pretty Boy" became "Money Mayweather" that enough people started to pay attention. Floyd hit the right note at the right time and became the ideal hero for the current zeitgeist of crass commercialism and celebrity worship.

It doesn't really matter if "Money" is the real Mayweather or not. The persona has taken him to the pinnacle of his profession and made him the wealthiest boxer of all time.

There has been no shortage of successful boxers with outrageous personalities before Ali and Mayweather, but none, not even boisterous John L. Sullivan or iconoclastic Jack Johnson, had marketed their mouths to such a significant a degree.

Don't forget the genesis of Ali's fame was his extroverted nature and cheeky sense of humor. Appreciation of his greatness as a fighter came later.

Outside of habitual self-promotion, unearthly skillsets and the adulation of million, there are major differences between Ali and Mayweather.

In the main, Ali went after his wounded prey and tried to finish the job, which added another layer of entertainment. Mayweather usually chooses to coast home when he has the fight well in hand. Ali also had the advantage of a considerably larger number of quality opponents, many of them legendary names that pushed Muhammad to heights he may not have otherwise achieved.

Mayweather has had a thing or two to say about Ali of late, some of which raised a few hackles. But at least he seems to understand that Ali helped pave the way for his own success. Whether Floyd comprehends how, and to what extent, is another thing altogether.

Ali didn't just nudge the prevailing paradigm in a new direction. He showed generations of athletes how to take full advantage of the public's insatiable appetite for novelty.

In pro rasslin' they teach mic skills. Ali, inspired by Gorgeous George, brought the concept to sports like never before. Floyd prefers social media, but the effect is similar. It doesn't matter whether you're for him or against him -- "Money Mayweather" is nearly impossible to ignore.

Some would have you believe that it is appreciation of Mayweather's magnificent boxing skills that have enthralled millions of fans. Don't believe it. If that were true, Ricardo Lopez would have been as popular as Floyd. It's only the cognoscenti, Pearce Egan's "knowing cove," that savor Mayweather's virtuosity for its own sake. And there are not enough of them to make him anywhere near as rich and famous as he has become.

Vicariously attaching oneself to a highly successful public figure such as Mayweather is powerful medicine. As long as he's winning, there's always some part of you that's feels good, regardless of whatever else is going on. Just put on your TMT gear and the world becomes a better place. Pacquiao, unanimous decision loser of Saturday's semi-fiasco, is the standard bearer for the other side of boxing's great divide. They crave all the things Mayweather's fights seldom provide. Worldwide, this point of view might be in the majority, but the other camp currently has the man with the Midas touch.

Without an injured shoulder, which is serious enough to warrant surgery, or with the approved medication he sought, Pacquiao could conceivably have done better. Whether or not the injury was a game-changer is problematic. Along with not fessing up to the injury, Manny and trainer Freddie Roach's biggest mistake was over-thinking the fight.

Roach trained Pacquiao to recognize the traps that Mayweather is famous for setting and how not fall from them, which, along with his bum shoulder, resulted in Manny's stuttering, ineffectual attack.

Out-thinking Mayweather is a losing game. If there was ever a time for the Filipino warrior to go full-on Chief Lapu-Lapu, it was last Saturday when he faced his own Magellan in the biggest fight of his Hall of Fame career.

It's chaos that threatens Floyd, not a premeditated approach. Maybe Manny can't bring the chaos the way he used to, but even if he could only keep it up five or six rounds, it would have been worth a try -- or, maybe not.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache told ESPN.com that Pacquiao would undergo right shoulder surgery this week to repair a "significant tear" in his rotator cuff. He also said Manny altered the way he fought to get through the fight with the injury.

Pacquiao will be out of the ring for six months to a year, so there will be plenty of time to argue about whose fault it was that the fight was tainted by an unreported injury.

Pacquiao factotum Michael Koncz was the first to fall on his sword, claiming it was he who checked the wrong box on the commission's medical questionnaire, pertaining to shoulder injuries.

"It was just an inadvertent mistake," said Koncz. "If I was trying to hide anything, would I have listed all the medications on the sheet that he intended to use? We weren't trying to hide anything. I just don't think I read the questionnaire correctly."

I leave it to the reader to decide if Koncz is being completely candid. What he says has the ring of truth to it, but who can forget Roach saying the worst mistake he ever made was introducing Koncz to Manny.

The Nevada commission's decision not to allow Pacquiao to take the medication before the fight may have been technically correct but was shortsighted, nonetheless. Even though the NSAC claims it didn't know about the injury until shortly before the fight, surely it has some responsibility for doing all it could to ensure a good fight for the paying public.

It's not like they told Manny, if you're injured you can't fight. In the end, the commission allowed a fighter who admitted he had an injury to fight, but without the benefit of approved, non-performance enhancing meds. Where's the logic in that?

Regardless of whom you blame, common scene apparently took the night off, leaving the Mad Hatter in charge of a very exclusive and expensive pugilistic tea party. In other words, business as usual squared.

Much anticipated and highly lucrative fights often turn out to be artistic failures. Felix Trinidad-Oscar De La Hoya and Mayweather-De La Hoya are recent examples of the all too familiar dilemma. Boxing won't die because we've had another, and no, it wasn't the last.

But take heart. The next metamorphosis can sometimes be only one fighter away. Mayweather could have the final fight on his Showtime contract and retire, like he said he would. But even if he fights on we will be looking at a Mayweather-less landscape sooner than later.

The top candidates to become the next pay-per-view superstar are Gennady Golovkin, Deontay Wilder and Sergey Kovalev -- knockout artist one and all. Golovkin has proved the most so far and has the look of something special about him. But it's heavyweight Wilder who has an outside chance of changing the conversation more than any of the others.

The Ali/Mayweather Effect will always be with us and some good fights and fighters will result, but without a blood-and-guts counterweight boxing is thrown off balance. Mayweather has been a wonder to behold, but there can be too much of a good thing.

If boxing's biggest events are going to start living up to advance billing again, the violence that is at the root of the sport's allure must make a comeback.