By Elliot Worsell
IT is easy to believe that Floyd Mayweather, having spawned from a fighting family to become the sport’s biggest money-maker, was a bona fide star from the very beginning. However, that is just one of the many misconceptions people have when it comes to the five-weight world champion.
The truth is, long before he became known as “Money” Mayweather, Floyd was known simply as “Pretty Boy”. He was, around that time, no less dominant in the ring and no less an artist, but the key difference between “Money” and “Pretty Boy” would become noticeable in the passing time.
Essentially, the difference was this: “Pretty Boy” was an acquired taste, a convoluted jazz tune whose nuances were understood only by true aficionados, whereas “Money”, on the other hand, was a full-blown pop song, with lyrics easy to digest and remember and a melody likely to get stuck in your head after just one listen. In other words, only once “Pretty Boy” became “Money” did Mayweather start to get the attention and recognition from those outside the boxing world.
This was of course due to factors beyond just the change in name. In fact, rather than the spark for it, the name change merely came as a result of his newfound popularity. It was, to some extent, a celebration of his money-making ability and a way for Mayweather to flaunt his pulling power and remind people, if they needed reminding, that all roads – financially – led to him.
The nickname, in the end, was inconsequential. What instead made Mayweather go from being one thing to being something else was not a change in marketing approach, nor a change in style, but a slightly different approach to matchmaking and the selection of opponents. He had, by 2005, beaten many of the best super-featherweights and lightweights around, some easily and some with more difficulty, and was respected as being a fine technician and an incredibly tough fighter to beat. Yet it wasn’t until he decided to fight Arturo Gatti that year, and go on to stop the popular Gatti in six rounds, that the the shift with Mayweather started to be felt. Then, when a couple of years later he met Oscar De La Hoya, boxing’s other big non-heavyweight cash cow, the transition was as good as complete. Now Mayweather, in not only fighting De La Hoya but beating him (albeit contentiously), had arrived on the biggest stage as something more than just a technician to be respected and admired. Now, in drawing the eyes of the De La Hoya crowd towards him, he had graduated to something closer to a sporting icon and would, for the next 10 years, exploit this brighter spotlight to the very max.
All of a sudden Mayweather, having once yearned for superstardom, understood the game. He understood that to succeed in the sport with a style like his – a style that didn’t necessarily translate as easily to some as it did to others – he would need to rely on opponents to share some of the heavy lifting both on fight night and in the weeks preceding it.
For instance, just seven months after beating De La Hoya, Mayweather found himself getting ready to fight Ricky Hatton, another man whose fame was on the rise and whose popularity, particularly in Britain, had never been higher. Fight him, Mayweather knew, and the same thing that happened against De La Hoya and Gatti would happen again. Using an opponent’s popularity against them to some extent, he would be able to dazzle on the biggest stage in a collaboration and then, once it was all over, be the only one of the two stars left standing; therefore, free to continue and make even more money elsewhere.
That, as an approach, sounds easier written down than it is in reality, of course. In reality, Mayweather was only able to exploit the fame of other fighters by virtue of being brilliant enough to entice them into a fight and then beat them when it really mattered. It took him time, and he no doubt travelled the scenic route, but Mayweather’s rise to superstardom was orchestrated only by him and his excellence (both at the negotiating table and in the ring on fight night). It also laid the foundations for others, especially boxers, like Mayweather when he started out, who weren’t the most entertaining to watch or perhaps struggled putting together the highlight reels so many knockout artists take for granted.
Boxers like Devin Haney, for example. He, in the Mayweather tradition, is an artist more admired than enjoyed and has now gone the 12-round distance in each of his last eight fights. That’s not a negative by any means, for Haney has been fighting top-level opposition of late and winning well, but still it is true to say that fans will look elsewhere when wanting either action or excitement.
As with Mayweather, Haney is, for now, a man more concerned with winning fights than getting fans out of their seats. He does everything correctly, he often bamboozles opponents with speed, and he has so far won 31 pro fights as well as world titles in two weight classes.
Better yet, there is a growing sense with Haney that he is following the Mayweather path to stardom and that he realises the importance of the opponent in this quest. Indeed, since travelling to Australia to beat George Kambosos not once but twice, there has seemingly been a concerted effort with Haney to work on his popularity and to target opponents who can help him with this. The first of those was Vasiliy Lomachenko, whom Haney defeated in a surprisingly entertaining fight last May, and then came Regis Prograis, a man whose ability to sell, both himself and his fights, has never been in question.
Together, these two opponents moved Haney a little closer to the hearts of fans. They also suggested that Haney and his team were aware of the need to pick his opponents cleverly, which is something that became all the more apparent on Friday (February 9) when it was announced Haney’s next fight, scheduled for April 20, will be against Ryan Garcia, a fellow 25-year-old who, unlike Haney, has had little difficulty grabbing the focus of fans.
In fact, if Haney can be considered “Mayweather-lite”, one could be forgiven for calling Garcia “De La Hoya-lite”, particularly where this fight is concerned. For although it’s unlikely Haney or Garcia will ever match the achievements, or fame, of those two iconic trailblazers, there is no doubt this fight on April 20 hearkens back to Mayweather vs. De La Hoya some 16 years ago.
It could, for Haney, be the fight that makes him; the ideal opponent with whom he can collaborate and showcase his talents to a larger audience. It could be the night he graduates, going from one thing to something else.
Some will suggest that he has already had tougher fights, of course, and gone up against better opponents than Garcia, yet, while that can be debated, one thing is certain at this stage in Haney’s 31-fight career: no opponent is more important than the one he faces next.