Last week Floyd Mayweather, Jr., less than a month removed from a stillborn event with Robert Guerrero, announced that he will indeed honor his word and return to the ring in September. To the surprise of many, his opponent is not one of the tarnished names plucked from a dwindling reserve of fool’s gold, but rather the one fighter for whom the collective drum beat: junior middleweight Saul Alvarez. If we are to believe Mayweather—a dangerous proposition when ostentation is not his focus—the fight with Alvarez is at least partly motivated by a desire to please the fans. “I’m giving the fans what they want,” tweeted Mayweather. And though this result could be mere coincidence (since the public does not seem to factor in Mayweather’s deliberation process) the reasons why Mayweather has chosen to face Alvarez is secondary to the choice itself.
While the selection of Alvarez is a surprise, it is not entirely unexpected, as Mayweather, with five fights remaining on his Showtime contract, has exhausted much of his marketable competition. Mayweather, the best fighter, self-promoter, and businessman of his generation, has a history of choosing not only the right opponent, but the right opponent at the right time. Unless the twenty-two year-old “Canelo” is too green, picking a perceived threat like Alvarez is somewhat uncharacteristic. The pressure on Mayweather to create an event after his somnambulistic waltz with Guerrero surely factored into his decision, as did the likelihood that Alvarez is not seasoned enough to produce the first blemish on his record. It is a fight that is open to criticism, and the nearly four months between now and September 14 will provide ample opportunity to identify the asterisks. But the focus here is on the vision of Mayweather he and his most ardent supporters endorse.
The vision of Mayweather as the sport’s greatest participant is supported by the selection of Alvarez. A fighter deserving of the Mayweather vision would have no reason to be selective, to allow age or the fists of another man to ravage an opponent before challenging him. But while Mayweather, 44-0 (26), has promoted that vision of himself, promoting it is not the same as proving it.
In his essay “The Tyranny of Visions,” Thomas Sowell writes that visions are inescapable because of the limits of knowledge (one might argue this limitation holds their appeal as well). The crucial question for Sowell is “whether visions provide a basis for theories to be tested or for dogmas to be proclaimed and imposed.” With Mayweather, the vision has grown as the tests have receded. This is not entirely his fault of course, as he has run through the gamut of realistic challenges and is facing arguably his toughest available test next (barring some overweening request that he face a middleweight). But there are glaring omissions in Mayweather’s impressive record—like Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito—and asterisks abound: neither Shane Mosley nor Miguel Cotto were in their primes when Mayweather agreed to face them. And saying that Mayweather would have beaten these men at their best is not much of a rebuttal—such conjecture only reiterates the vision. The point is that the opportunity to test the vision of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., has largely passed, leaving us with the proclamation of dogma.
With dogma, the message very often supersedes the argumentation that supports it, not only because the message has greater utility, but because the pallet is less captivating than the painting. Lost in the promotion of the vision is the logic and evidence that—often tenuously—supports it; and the more powerful the vision, the less important the logic. From Sowell: “The prevalence and power of a vision is shown, not by what its evidence or logic can prove, but precisely by its exemption from any need to provide evidence or logic.” The strength of the Mayweather vision is borne out not in the facts that support it, but rather by its not having to fit the facts (with the exception of an over-reliance on his record as the root of extrapolation). Joe Calzaghe and Rocky Marciano both retired undefeated, and neither man is regarded as the best fighter ever, yet one of the bedrock claims of the Mayweather vision is that his being undefeated proves his historical superiority. It is a claim that, unknowingly or otherwise, erroneously equates being unbeaten with being unbeatable, and the counterexamples represented by Calzaghe and Marciano are simply not brought up. This exclusion from the facts, coupled with a vanishing window of realistic testing makes the Mayweather vision especially tenacious. And this tenacity has become evidence in itself, a substitute for evidence that is used to condemn alternative views: Mayweather’s historical greatness is now the criteria for truth, not an argument to be settled by it.
But why is the Mayweather vision so powerful? The obvious answer is that he is a remarkable fighter, one of the greatest the sport has seen. But that can be said about a number of fighters who lack his intense support. There is also the role of celebrity in modern society, where people with no discerning ability beyond drawing attention to themselves are paid millions of dollars to simply exist as spectacles. Mayweather, with as rare a skill-set as one will find in sports, is understandably worshipped by a society that falls to its knees before glorified karaoke singers and bankrolls an empire for a woman graced with little more than a huge ass and a sex tape.
Perhaps the answer to the question of intensity, if we are to persist with Sowell, involves “the crucial role of self-exaltation” that underlies how opposing opinions are viewed. The most ardent Mayweather supporters, like their Pacquiao counterparts, interpret criticism of the vision as hostility. This speaks to the sway Mayweather holds over his fans that they take so much about him personally. There is a deep emotional investment there, one that, in the words of Sowell, produces, “desperately ingenuous efforts to evade particular evidence, or to denigrate objective facts in general.” Consider Mayweather’s fight with Miguel Cotto last year. In promoting the fight, Mayweather lobbed another grenade in his velvet assault on Manny Pacquiao, denigrating the fighter’s win over Cotto for its taking place at a catchweight. Mayweather argued he wanted to face Cotto at his best—without the use of a time machine—and honored the 154-pound junior middleweight limit. The fight with Alvarez, however, is being fought at 152 pounds. This hypocrisy, rather than being conceded or rationalized—two process that involve truth, not vision—is simply evaded.
Obstinate yet specious reasoning, revisionist history, and selective amnesia are offered in defense of the Mayweather vision because what is being challenged is not ultimately the vision itself, but the values, knowledge and character of the person—Mayweather included—who endorses it. In celebrating the Mayweather vision, one is making a strong, self-exultant statement about the type of person one is (the type of person who values entrepreneurialism, or an ability to manipulate a long exploitative system, for example). And such valuations die hard. Much harder, for example, than historical or critical perspective, or a respect for reason, because none of these things is necessarily as important as one’s sense of self-worth.
Read about the chaotic career of Roger Mayweather on The Living Daylights. From the producers of The Cruelest Sport!