Floyd Mayweather vs. Michael Eric Dyson: A Professor Is Dealt KO
Boxing is a conversation, ringside commentator Jim Lampley once said—the most direct and honest dialog between two evenly matched opponents. With nearly sixteen years in the ring and millions of tantalized fans, few fighters have spoken this language more fluently than Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
An undefeated WBC Welterweight Champion, the 35-year-old pro has dominated the sport in five divisions and three weight classes and is widely recognized as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. To Mayweather himself the winning formula is simple. “Many fighters are talented,” he often says. “I am god-gifted.”
Indeed, there is something ornate about the way Mayweather flutters around the ring, transforming it into his personal shrine of athletic infallibility. Unlike other boxers who advance with brute force, Mayweather, a markedly defensive fighter, rules by blinding speed, lumbar flexibility, and tactical restraint. Just ask Ricky Hatton, Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, and numerous other boxing superstars who found themselves bruised and baffled by Mayweather’s punching precision and elusive style.
Yet there is little restraint in the way the flamboyant millionaire conducts himself outside the ring—something Mayweather sat down to discuss with sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson on April 21 on HBO’s “Speaking Out,” two weeks ahead of his May 5th bout with the Puerto Rican pugilist, Miguel Cotto.
The face-off between Mayweather and Dyson—a sharp-spoken academic and culture critic who has interviewed Jay-Z and Barack Obama—seemed like a perfect counterpoint of strong personalities. But unlike Mayweather’s conversations inside the ring, this one quickly turned into a pander-bender.
During the half-hour interview, Dyson, an ordained minister, stayed in the corner even as Mayweather’s litany of self-worship culminated in a brazen statement about President Obama.
“I can guarantee you this.” Mayweather said. “I show you how much power I got, if I was to fight Manny Pacquiao, I’d let Barack Obama walk me to the ring holding my belt. Can I make it happen, absolutely.” Dyson never called the boxer on his remark. “I’d pay money to see that,” he chuckled timidly.
At one point, Dyson briefly touched on the boxer’s impending jail sentence in connection with domestic abuse and violence against women but quickly retreated, leaving Mayweather to compare himself to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali.
“I am in the same shoes as Ali,” Mayweather said, adding that he is being prejudged by the public and press in a similar fashion.
Surely, the great heavyweight was as loud and talked as much trash about his rivals as Mayweather does. But he was also one of the first famous Americans to take a stand against the Vietnam War. And, unlike Mayweather, who owns several mansions and drives $500,000 supercars, each for different day of the week, Ali never enjoyed this level of lavishness even at the height of his professional career.
Floyd “Money” Mayweather—his nickname in the ring—insists that he gives lots of that cash to charity. But he also burns it—quite literally—having set hundred-dollar bills on fire before cheering crowds in clubs. After his controversial knock-out victory over Victor Ortiz, he also got into a verbal scuffle with the veteran boxing journalist Larry Merchant, shouting “You aint shit.” Merchant, who is 81, replied: “I wish I was 50 years younger so I could kick your ass.”
In some respects, Mayweather’s flaunting and fuss are a way to speak back to a racially divided America, which often begrudges young black athletes their hard-earned success. Dyson himself compared the boxer’s plight to a Jay-Z song, “99 Problems,” in which police profile a young black man for driving a luxury car. But there is something else, too—a growing trend of blatant narcissism hyped and sold as virtue.
Professor Dyson’s retort?
“You are good looking, you are a brilliant fighter, you are very articulate and intelligent, you are rich and you are confident.”
“I am happy with how many career has went,” Mayweather mumbled before moving on to a mega fight fans want to see more than any other—one with Manny Pacquiao.
Unfortunately, the dream bout with Pacquiao may never take place due to an alleged dispute over money: the hard-hitting Filipino champion—the only boxer who can balance the odds against Mayweather—wants to go fifty-fifty. Mayweather, who runs his own franchise and sets the rules, will not pay more than $40 million, he told Dyson.
But is that the real reason?
Last week, after a twelve-round date with Cotto, the judges awarded a unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather, as expected. But unlike those of the yesteryear, Mayweather’s win over Cotto was hard earned. For the first time in nearly a decade, the ever boyish-faced Money May left the ring with a broken nose and bloody face, courtesy of Cotto’s signature left hook. Conversely, when Cotto confronted Manny Pacquiao in 2009, Pac-Man easily dominated the fight and ultimately knocked Cotto out in the twelfth round.
So is this all just dollars and cents, or is cash-burning Mayweather starting to sense that “god-gifted” skills in the ring are no longer his alone? Time will tell. Meanwhile, a little modesty about it couldn’t hurt.