Fighting Words: Mayweather versus Merchant
David P. Greisman
With a camera in front of him and the satellite feed live, Floyd Mayweather turned away from his interviewer and said, "Larry Merchant is just a commentator. He don't know nothing about boxing."
With that harsh dismissal of Merchant — who was standing adjacent holding a microphone — Mayweather sought to diminish Merchant's credentials while extolling his own, but in attempting to do so he degraded himself, the media and — worst of all — the fans.
Floyd Mayweather does indeed know boxing — growing up in the Mayweather family of fighters ensured that, but Floyd's combination of incredible work ethic and astonishing skills give him an even greater authority on both the sweet and the science. He has captured titles in four weight classes, compiled an impressive 37-0 record and established himself as a pound-for-pound claimant with victories over men like Genaro Hernandez, Diego Corrales, Jesus Chavez and Jose Luis Castillo. For over 10 years, his fists have spoken for themselves.
If only they'd do all the talking for him.
Professional athletes have a right to be brash, filled with the sort of self-promotional self-confidence so integral to success. Mayweather can place himself on the level of Sugar Ray Robinson all he wants, no matter how much Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward disagrees, because Mayweather's version of history isn't necessarily the prevailing opinion.
And "Pretty Boy Floyd" can get upset when Merchant questions him critically following Mayweather's easy outpointing of now-former welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir, a victory achieved via Mayweather's excellent boxing skills and despite an injured and possibly broken right hand. At times, Merchant prefers prolonged excitement over practiced expertise, a two-person brawl over a one-sided boxing match — but then again, so do most fans.
But what Mayweather cannot do is resort to the same tired excuse whenever legitimate criticism is levied, that because a commentator, interviewer or journalist does not box he or she cannot possibly understand the sport — even its maneuverings outside of the ring — nor can one question his infallibility.
For all of the current and former titlists he has faced, Mayweather's toughest opponents remain Merchant, Brian Kenny and logic.
Whether it is Kenny calling Mayweather on the legitimacy of Arturo Gatti's junior welterweight belt and Zab Judah's welterweight trinket, or if it is Merchant questioning Mayweather on his description of the Baldomir fight as "a pleasing performance," Mayweather goes on a defense with far more flaws than the one he uses between the ropes.
"He don't know nothing about boxing."
An interviewer will be a good enough authority on boxing while praising Mayweather or staying on his good side, but anything off message suddenly vaporizes one's qualifications. Mayweather will lecture an experienced video-journalist on how his fight with Baldomir is not for the undisputed welterweight title, despite the lineage of the championship.
Mayweather will ignore Merchant's question about whether the Baldomir fight is entertaining, attempting to render it as ill-informed despite the booing fans and the people leaving before the bout was over. He will motivate himself the same way so many great athletes do, with a "Me against the world" mentality.
"Every time a fighter come out there, I know you keep your fingers crossed," Mayweather told Merchant. "You hoping and wishing that a fighter can beat me."
As if Merchant — who has been working as a color commentator with HBO since 1978, who was so important to the premium cable outlet that Don King moved Mike Tyson to Showtime because HBO wouldn't get rid of Merchant — would want something that would prevent a giant mega-fight with Oscar De La Hoya.
And it is the potential De La Hoya fight that influenced both Merchant's question and Mayweather's answer.
For years, Mayweather has attempted to move beyond the status of an elite, talented boxer to that of a superstar, a household name who earns lasting praise and large paydays. In describing himself as a pay-per-view-caliber fighter, he made himself precisely that, a commodity that people now want to pay for after years of crowd sizes inversely proportional to his ability.
Any Oscar De La Hoya fight will attract hundreds of thousands of pay-per-view buys. In Mayweather, De La Hoya would have an opponent in his prime and a chance to go out on top with one final crowning achievement. And in De La Hoya, Mayweather would have an aging opponent who is vulnerable enough to beat but still good enough and large enough to be seen as a legitimate threat.
Mayweather needed the Baldomir fight to have either an entertaining or a dominating performance in order for both the fans and De La Hoya to yearn for a potential May mega-fight. Though his hand injury changed his strategy and may have prevented a knockout, Mayweather still overcame, losing only two points on one judge's card. But the fans did boo and the fans did leave.
Merchant had a right to ask about it, and Mayweather would have had a right to say that the fans who booed and who left were wrong. My father always shook his head as the seats emptied during a baseball game, especially on nights when the Baltimore Orioles would come back to make it exciting.
It would have been okay to say that those unhappy fans were wrong. Sure, Mayweather didn't stand toe-to-toe like Arturo Gatti did in his third fight with Micky Ward, but Mayweather can't be blamed for not wanting to further injure his hand. He did what was necessary to win by boxing and making Baldomir miss, even if he didn't do what was necessary to win fans over.
He doesn't need those fans.
But Mayweather also doesn't need to insult his fans' intelligence, no matter how unwittingly. For by insulting the likes of Merchant — who has been covering boxing since Archie Moore was an active heavyweight — he also brings down those with less time following the sport, those who nonetheless see Mayweather and think he's an exceptionally skilled star.
They don't all box. How can they possibly know anything about boxing?
But they do know boxing. They know that Merchant will ask tough, sometimes rude questions and that Mayweather should be there to answer them. They know that Mayweather's fists are deadly when accurate — and as of Saturday, they know that while his mouth moves just as fast, it was way off target.
The 10 Count
1. How bad was that Baldomir-Mayweather undercard? The Chris Arreola-Damian Wills bout was quality matchmaking best suited for a "Boxing After Dark" undercard, but while it started off fast, it quickly degenerated into two tired heavyweights who thankfully didn't know how to clinch. Paul Williams' showcase against Santos Pakau was a one-sided bloodletting that went on far too long and would have barely deserved a spot on ESPN2, much less a pay-per-view. And Robert Guerrero's ineffective aggression made him seem like a paper tiger titlist as Orlando Salido pulled off the minor upset.
2. Baldomir-Mayweather wasn't the only major boxing show on Saturday night, though, as Showtime aired a card headlined by the Sergei Liakhovich-Shannon Briggs heavyweight title fight. Those angered by HBO's counter-programming efforts might not complain in retrospect, for Liakhovich-Briggs was boring until the final round.
In the final minute of the 12th round, a Briggs right hand put Liakhovich down to the canvas. While Liakhovich was on the mat, Showtime's clock stopped with 26 seconds left and restarted 15 seconds later, though it appeared to be a network error as the clock continued ticking for those watching outside of America.
Liakhovich got up on legs weakened mostly by exhaustion and took a few heavy punches from a just-as-tired Briggs before collapsing through the ring ropes and onto a table just as the bell was about to signify the fight's end. Though Liakhovich would have been allowed 20 seconds to re-enter the ring without aid, referee Bobby Ferrara called the bout off.
With the second knockdown, the judges' decision would have been a majority draw, allowing Liakhovich to retain the WBO belt. Ferrara, however, felt that Liakhovich was done — and he certainly looked so while sitting on the table for minutes, waiting to return to the ring — but it would have added drama and diminished any minor controversy had Ferrara decided to make the 20 count.
3. On the televised undercard of Liakhovich-Briggs, Juan Diaz successfully defended his WBA lightweight title with a unanimous decision win over Fernando Angulo. Since dethroning Lakva Sim in 2004, Diaz has retained against Julien Lorcy, Billy Irwin, Jose Miguel Cotto, Randy Suico and Angulo, with a non-title fight against Arthur Cruz sandwiched between the Irwin and Cotto bouts.
With the list of higher-profile titlists and contenders between junior lightweight and junior welterweight, it's time for Diaz to move beyond the role of still-developing titlist and start distinguishing himself as a claimant to the lightweight throne.
4. Was it really all that surprising to see that Michael Moorer is once again returning from retirement? This is the guy who, following a stoppage win over Vassiliy Jirov, quit boxing to focus on being a trainer, and then months later went on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" to announce his return. Moorer's former trainer Teddy Atlas, though, expressed his displeasure with his former charge's choice, and before the broadcast ended, Moorer said he would stay retired and work as a trainer. Moorer can't stick with a decision for more than two hours; it was inevitable that he couldn't stay consistent for too long.
5. Sticking with unnecessary heavyweights, a recent press released had Dominick Guinn asking to be a contestant in December's Superfighter tournament, never mind that Guinn's only win in his past five fights came against fellow underachiever Audley Harrison.
Despite all of the legitimate criticism about Superfighter, Guinn is far too gun shy for a tournament that rewards aggression. Guinn's recent loss to Tony Thompson downgraded him to the role of heavyweight measuring stick. Far from the potential he once had, I see Guinn having a long, successful career ... as a sparring partner.
6. Y'all Musta Forgot (to load the gravy train): After ages of multimillion-dollar paydays against often sub-par opposition, Roy Jones will return Dec. 9 for his second straight pay-per-view without former sugar daddy HBO. Jones will face former super middleweight titlist Manny Siaca, a step up from Jones' last foe, fringe light heavyweight contender Prince Badi Ajamu.
Siaca, though, is nowhere near the level of Antonio Tarver and Glencoffe Johnson, two top-tier light heavyweights who Jones nonetheless said he could not "get up" for. Yet Jones will ask potential customers to fork over $24.95 on a night when HBO is offering Jermain Taylor-Kassim Ouma for its version of free.
"If you want to watch that fight, they can," Jones told Bernard Fernandez of the Philadelphia Daily News. "If you want to watch me, you can. It depends on what you want to see. But if you want to see the master, he's right here."
Despite his performance against Ajamu, Jones is further from his former virtuoso self than he is fooling himself into believing. Until proven otherwise against a top-tier opponent, Jones is much closer to the punch line from a classic Far Side comic strip: "The maestro is decomposing."
7. Speaking of decomposing, here's hoping that Friday's pay-per-why-oh-why against Fres Oquendo is Evander Holyfield's final professional fight.
8. In a news item that piqued my interest, Fight News ran a brief last week covering the 30-day pre-fight weigh-in for December's welterweight title fight between Miguel Cotto and Carlos Quintana. According to the brief, both fighters weighed less than the maximum of 169 pounds, with Cotto at 163 and Quintana at 159.
But the pre-fight weigh-in must have been mandated by contractual obligations and not by the sanctioning body or athletic commission. Only the WBC has a policy for interval weigh-ins. Cotto and Quintana are vying for the vacant WBA belt, and though the bout is taking place in Atlantic City, New Jersey's interval weigh-in requirement will not go into effect until 2007.
While the WBC requires — with New Jersey soon following suit — that contestants in title fights to be within 10 percent of the contracted weight at the 30-day weigh-in, the Cotto-Quintana contract allowed each man to be 22 pounds — or 15 percent — over the welterweight limit. Both were under 169, but Cotto must still lose 16 pounds in 30 days while Quintana must drop 12.
Aside from providing the appearance of oversight, how are these weigh-ins improving anything without preventing the practice of rapid, unhealthy weight loss?
9. Meanwhile, more fighters missed their weight limits this weekend, albeit in bouts far less prominent than Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo III and Corrales-Joel Casamayor III.
Originally scheduled for the undercard of Don King's Liakhovich-Briggs show, Luis Perez' IBF title defense against Ricardo Vargas was canceled after Perez weighed in at 120 pounds, five pounds over the junior bantamweight limit. Perez came back two hours later at 118 pounds, but Arizona State Boxing Commission chief John Montano decided that Perez-Vargas was a no-go. By not making 115, Perez was stripped of his title belt.
On the same card, former junior bantamweight contender Luis Bolano failed to make the junior lightweight limit, coming in at 136 pounds. Though he was six pounds too high, Bolano's bout with Elio Rojas still went on, with Rojas shutting out Bolano for an eight-round decision victory.
The missed weight bug struck the Baldomir-Mayweather undercard, too. Former junior lightweight titlist Robbie Peden was supposed to meet Wes Ferguson at a catchweight of 138 pounds, but while Ferguson tipped the scales at 136, Peden checked in at 141 1/2. The bout was called off.
Also under Baldomir-Mayweather, Paul Williams had to face a last-minute replacement after designated opponent Mauro Lucero reportedly arrived in Nevada at 173 pounds, 26 above the welterweight limit.
10. Congrats, Nick Novak, you have your job for at least one more week.