“You’re the good good guys. We’re the bad good guys.” Whitey Bulger
Floyd Mayweather, Jr., squeezes in another Powerball-sized paycheck before he heads off for a short bid at the Clark County Detention Center when he faces veteran Miguel Cotto tomorrow night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. Will Mayweather look back in anger when the cell doors close behind him? Or will he be ready, as usual, with a knowing wink for all four admiring walls?
No matter. For now, he still has a pretty fair piece of business to take care of before his next act. After months of hoopla and multi-part HTML sagas written in the worst blogese imaginable, the master of negative appeal finally gets into the ring to do what, after all, he ought to be most famous for in the first place: fist-fighting.
Coast-to-coast “Ring Kings” junkets—complete with prop thrones not fit for a treehouse production of Macbeth—kicked off overkill coverage the likes of which is usually reserved for Lindsay Lohan. For the E! Online, Gawker, OMG! crowd tired of blinking at blinkering posts about Octomom, Drag Race Superstars, and Kourtney, hot Kim, and Khloë (with an umlaut), there is Floyd Mayweather Jr. to give the sporting crowd its ADD fix. These days who needs the antiquated ballyhoo of P.T. Barnum, Doc Kearns, or even Bob Arum circa 1974, when he let Evel Knievel shoot himself across Snake River Canyon in a haywire rocket ship far less stylish than Space Capsule X?
It goes without saying, of course, that Mayweather generates a disproportionate amount of media coverage. Never mind the fact that probably somewhere around 6 million people in the U.S. saw Mayweather bushwhack peaceable Victor Ortiz last September. Compare that, say, to the night Ken Norton faced Duane Bobick on NBC in 1977. This fight, aired on a Wednesday evening in prime-time, earned a 42% audience share and was estimated to have been viewed by 48 million people. (Source: International Boxing, October 1977). Well, it is probably unfair to compare Mayweather with Norton—or even Bobick, for that matter—but if we want to pretend that more than a few million people care about “Money,” we have to keep listening to penny-click addicts and websites obsessed with celebrity cellulite and tanorexia. Hell, it takes a lot of hard work to hit the Alexa G-Spot.
And, between Face Off, Floyd Mayweather Speaking Out, 24/7, a live weigh-in, and 1 hour of prefight coverage, HBO has done more than its share to create the illusion that Mayweather is some sort of cultural touchstone. There is something cynical about all this in-house hype. Think about it: You pay X dollars a month for a premium network and are forced to sit through hours of infomercials designed to get you to buy extracurricular programming. It suggests one of these quarterly PBS or NPR pledge drives, except the motivation is far more calculating. Why Time Warner would hitch itself to a star recently convicted of domestic violence and on his way to doing points in a jail cell instead of scoring points in the ring is another puzzle altogether. It is one thing to produce Mayweather pay-per-view outings, but another thing to make a convicted criminal some sort of network flagship week after week. One can only assume that branding is important…until branding is no longer important.
Like most fights, Mayweather-Cotto has to undergo a “Ruse or Reality?” test to determine its competitive merits. Does Cotto really have a chance against Mayweather, or is this just another celebrity boxing match?
Miguel Cotto, 37-2 (30), has become the third biggest attraction in the United States by being the exact opposite of Mayweather: quiet, low-key, industrious, and always willing to reach for the big fights. A stone cold pro, it was Cotto who fought all the hard cases at welterweight when Mayweather seemed reluctant to do so over the years: Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, and Manny Pacquiao. Cotto would have faced Mayweather, too, but somehow—cue the Theremin—that fight never materialized. And Cotto, Caguas, Puerto Rico, was willing to fight Oscar De La Hoya, as well, but the tarnished “Golden Boy” offered perhaps the lamest excuse in history for avoiding another fighter. It went something like this: “My wife is Puerto Rican, and I promised my wife I would never fight another Puerto Rican.” That was one vow to his wife De La Hoya actually managed to keep.
Now, at 31, Cotto gets the biggest fight of his career and, with it, a whopping $8 million guarantee. And Cotto deserves the payday, since Mayweather will be the first live opponent Cotto has faced in over two years. After all, since being broken down by Manny Pacquiao in 2009, Cotto has faced a smoke and mirror gauntlet conjured up by the abracadabrant Bob Arum. First, it was budding rabbi-cum-track-and-field-aspirant Yuri Foreman; then came the human piñata to the stars, Ricardo Mayorga; and, finally, ramshackle Antonio Margarito, who squared off against Cotto last year with an eye that threatened to pop out of its socket from the moment he entered the ring.
A charmed life inside the ring—if a rather charmless one outside of it—has left Mayweather a physically well-preserved 35. Even past his peak, Mayweather, poised, intelligent, disciplined, remains a master technician, with moves as precise as those of a watchmaker. Slightly less mobile than he used to be—and far more judicious with his punches—Mayweather still has the tools to beat a fading veteran. Cotto has slowed down visibly over the last few years. He no longer switch-hits, no longer digs left hooks to the body, and no longer defends consistently against right hands.
Against Mayweather, Cotto will likely box more, moving from side-to-side on the outside, similar to what he did against Margarito last December. But, these days, Margarito moves like a wino through a peat bog. But a distance fight is probably the best way for Cotto to neutralize that lead right Mayweather relies on so much. If Mayweather, Las Vegas, Nevada, gets Cotto to open up in close, he should be able to score heavily, since Cotto remains mediocre defensively.
In the end, Mayweather, 42-0 (26), simply has too many edges going into this fight. Mayweather is still faster than Cotto, still a better boxer than Cotto, and still more defensively sound than Cotto. Perhaps the only variable going into this fight is the 154-pound weight limit. Mayweather, moving up from welterweight, did not perform particularly well the last time he fought there in 2007, when Mayweather scored his defining but dull win over Oscar De La Hoya. (Despite the difference in weight, Mayweather still retains edges in height and reach over Cotto.) Add 10-ounce gloves and you have the possibility of a less effective Mayweather in the ring tomorrow night. This is a possibility, yes, but a major factor? Maybe not. Look for Mayweather to score a unanimous decision or a possible late stoppage if Cotto breaks up as he has in the past.
With the win, Mayweather will have even more opportunities to compare himself to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali. And when Mayweather is released from the Clark County Detention Center a few months from now, he will no doubt have something to look forward to as soon as he steps onto South Casino Center Boulevard: TMZ, maybe, or a carload of paparazzi.