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With his ‘last fight’ set for Saturday, Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s legacy seems more complicated than ever

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Will Mayweather’s bout versus Berto be his “last fight”?
Photo: Steve Marcus

One of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s first mentions of Andre Berto as his potential final opponent brought chuckles. The small group of assembled media outside the MGM Grand Garden Arena following a Mayweather Promotions card in March figured he was joking. Berto was a middling fighter who’d lost three of his last six bouts.

“When Pacquiao chose the last guy before me,” Mayweather raised his voice, “did you guys say anything?”

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight Saturday, May 2, 2015.

Even if the intended point about rival Manny Pacquiao not bearing the same scrutiny when he fought Chris Algieri in November 2014 were justified—it’s not, as Pacquiao was widely criticized for the squash match—it wouldn’t work based on Mayweather’s long-stated standards. He spent most of the past decade railing against the idea that he had any equal in boxing’s current generation, declaring himself “TBE,” the best ever, and mocking Pacquiao in particular.

After easily disposing of Pacquiao via unanimous decision four months ago in a fight that was every bit as decisive as it was monotonous, Mayweather (48-0) stood unaccompanied on boxing’s summit. His defense-first style has never drawn rave reviews, as fans tend to prefer more action, but he’s a master at his craft. Even those who argue he doesn’t belong among the sport’s all-time greats must concede he belongs in any discussion on fighters most adept at not getting hit. Mayweather blends seamless footwork with whiplash speed to evade opponents and counter their often-helpless advances.

Undefeated WBC/WBA welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, faces off with challenger Andre Berto during a news conference at the MGM Grand Sept. 9, 2015. Mayweather will defend his titles against Berto at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday in what he says will be his final fight.

The 38-year-old could have fulfilled the final leg of his six-fight Showtime contract by challenging anyone from the pack of fighters climbing just below him. Instead, Mayweather gave the journeyman Berto (30-3), whose best career wins are against the likes of Josesito Lopez and Luis Collazo, the assignment for what he says will be his final fight Saturday night at MGM. It’s a curious decision for a fighter who always claimed doggedness in meeting the best possible competition, but not at all out of character.

Mayweather has run rife with contradictions throughout his career, where the only thing that seems to match his brilliance inside the ring is his foolishness outside of it.

*****

Aside from perhaps Pacquiao, the one person who will be most linked to Mayweather’s legacy is his father and trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr.

Mayweather-Pacquiao Fight

Mayweather Jr.’s introduction to a large part of the country came during the 1996 Olympics, where the young boxer tried to petition then-President Bill Clinton to pardon his father from a five-year jail sentence on charges of drug trafficking. Mayweather Jr. ultimately took the bronze medal in Atlanta without his father’s guidance, but got his reunion a couple years later before winning his first world title.

It didn’t last. A dispute in 2001 ended with Mayweather Jr. reportedly evicting Mayweather Sr. from the house where he was living and repossessing his vehicle. The two waged uncomfortably public wars for more than a decade, including in 2011 when HBO cameras caught Mayweather Jr. having to be restrained while lambasting Mayweather Sr. as a poor trainer.

It wasn’t until 2013, after Mayweather Jr.’s own jail sentence when he pled guilty to battery-domestic violence charges, that they fully reconciled. Mayweather Jr. now takes back years of words about his father.

“The world can say anything as long as he knows that I love him and I went out there and when I fought, I didn’t do it just for myself. I did it for the both of us,” he said earlier this year.

*****

The biggest bout over the first half of Mayweather’s pro career came in October 2001, when he met fellow undefeated champion Diego Corrales.

Floyd Mayweather, left, of Grand Rapids, Mich., stands in the ring with his father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., after defeating Diego Corrales of Sacramento, Calif., in their WBC super featherweight championship fight in Las Vegas, in this Jan. 20, 2001 file photo.

Floyd Mayweather, left, of Grand Rapids, Mich., stands in the ring with his father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., after defeating Diego Corrales of Sacramento, Calif., in their WBC super featherweight championship fight in Las Vegas, in this Jan. 20, 2001 file photo.

With Corrales facing a prison term on a domestic abuse charge involving his wife, Mayweather dedicated the fight to “all the battered women in the world.” He knocked out Corrales, but in a sickening irony, pled guilty to a charge of assault on the mother of his oldest daughter less than a year later.

It was the first of many accusations of violence against women Mayweather would face, including a 2010 battery charge against the mother of his three other children that landed him a 90-day jail sentence. He got out a month early on good behavior.

Last year, he described the charges as “just hearsay and allegations” to CNN despite evidence including hospital records and a chilling eyewitness statement from his then 10-year-old son. Mayweather has been so impeccable as a boxer that most criticisms of his career in the ring should soon vanish—but not the history of domestic violence. His criminality appears to be the one thing rightfully sticking with him as tightly as his beloved undefeated record.

*****

Mayweather went from star to superstar eight years ago when he fought Oscar De La Hoya in what was the best-selling pay-per-view of all time (until the Pacquiao bout).

Floyd Mayweather Jr., left, lands a left on Oscar De La Hoya during the twelfth round of their WBC super welterweight world championship boxing match on Saturday, May 5, 2007, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

The transformation occurred largely due to a Mayweather stroke of genius: becoming the ultimate villain. In addition to flaunting his wealth like never before, he antagonized De La Hoya, then boxing’s biggest star. Mayweather stole some of his opponent’s training gear, cursed him out during stare-downs and even brought a chicken he named Oscar De La Hoya to a press conference.

“There can’t be two good guys,” Mayweather famously said on HBO’s 24/7. “There’s got to be a bad guy, so f*ck it.”

The move brought great reward, paving the way for Mayweather to emerge as the richest athlete in the world after he defeated De La Hoya by split decision. But now he disowns the persona. He became increasingly frustrated whenever someone referred to his bout against Pacquiao as “good vs. evil” and swore he had matured beyond what enabled the event such financial success in the first place.

*****

Mayweather contemplated leaving boxing after beating De La Hoya, but didn’t ultimately go through with it until a year later. He announced that instead of seeking a rematch, he would “permanently retire.”

That permanence lasted a little more than a year before Mayweather returned to face Juan Manuel Márquez. “We know that wasn’t nothing but a vacation,” Mayweather laughed in a press conference promoting the Berto fight. And therein lies the problem: How can fans believe a fighter who mocks the trustworthiness of his own words?

Mayweather-Berto Final News Conference

Going into Saturday night’s fight, it’s best to assume that Mayweather is embarking on another vacation, and to continue speculation that he’ll come back and attempt to reach 50-0 next year at the new MGM/AEG arena. His perfect record—and the attention he’s brought to boxing, with a record 4.4 million pay-per-views sold for the Pacquiao showdown alone—entitles him to legendary status. But many are going to remember Mayweather as far less than that fresh off of the fallout from the Pacquiao fight, and going into a bout he should be able to win with one hand.

This is no way to go out for one of the greatest talents in boxing history. The only thing a fight with Berto achieves is complicating the already complex legacy of the era’s best fighter.

Mayweather vs. Berto September 12, 3 p.m., $150-$1,500. MGM Grand Garden Arena, 702-531-3826; pay-per-view, 5 p.m., $65-$75.

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