Note: This is a Crunch Time column I wrote
If you think boxing world champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. couldn’t irate boxing fans any more than he did before, during or after his lackluster bout with Manny Pacquiao in May — dubbed the “Fight of the Century” — think again.
Mayweather is preparing for what is supposed to be his final professional boxing match, Sept. 12. After he announced that WBA interim welterweight champion Andre Berto is going to be his opponent, many boxing fans and writers threw their arms up and asked “This guy? Really?”
Since making his debut in 2004, Berto has racked up a 30-3 record and acquired a few world championships. At one time, he was viewed as the next star at 147 pounds. Unfortunately, he’s gone 3-3 in in his last six bouts, losing to Robert Guerrero and Victor Ortiz — both of whom have lost to Mayweather — and Jesus Soto Karass, who finished Berto in the 12th round of their fight.
After his fight with Karass, Berto rebounded with a decision over Steve Upsher Chambers, followed by a sixth-round finish over Josesito Lopez to win the interim WBA title. Berto went through a short slump like most great fighters do at various points in their careers. However, fans would have rather seen Mayweather face British star Amir Khan, International Boxing Federation champion Kell Brooks, or Shawn Porter. My pick would have been Timothy Bradley, who was promoted to World Boxing Organization welterweight champion after the WBO stripped Mayweather of the belt, as well as being one of six men to defeat Pacquiao.
According to Mayweather, his reason for choosing Berto was “he’s exciting,” but many speculate what he’s really saying is “he’s an easy payday for me.” It’s a shame because Berto is preparing for what is the biggest fight of his professional boxing career and you have critics and fans saying, “he’s not good enough” or “we wanted someone else.”
I think the issue is that fans are more upset because Mayweather opted to face Berto rather than a more challenging opponent for what should be his last foray in the boxing ring. Combat sports are viewed as a young man’s game and logically older fighters have to lose to the younger, more hungry competitors, who will more and likely achieve the same success as the more experienced athletes they defeat. It’s the young lion vs. the old lion. It’s a passing of the torch.
It’s not like in past years with more famous boxers, who will typically face tougher and younger opponents. The legendary Joe Louis lost his fight to Rocky Marciano before he decided to hang up the gloves.
The great Muhammad Ali was 1-3 in his last four fights. After he split a two-fight series with Leon Spinks, he lost to Larry Holmes via a 10th-round TKO. One year later the three-time heavyweight champion dropped a unanimous decision to Trevor Berbick.
Mike Tyson was also 1-3 in his last four fights, which included an eighth-round KO to Lennox Lewis.
Not all of the young guns who defeat legends go on to have great careers. After he defeated Ali, Berbick held the World Boxing Council heavyweight title for eight months before losing it to Tyson. While he went on to have success in Canada, Bebrick never achieved the iconic status that Ali did.
Some boxers have success even late into their runs. Although his career was shorter than most fighters, Marciano retired as the heavyweight champion with a 49-0 record. In his last fight he knocked out Archie Moore, who despite having 20 losses, managed to give “The Brockton Blockbuster” a worthy challenge.
Lewis fought Vitali Klitschko when the Russian fighter was making a name for himself, handing Klitschko a second loss. He later vacated the heavyweight title, despite wanting a rematch with Klitschko.
But Mayweather doesn’t seem to care much about tradition, nor what his critics really think. He knows fans will pay to see him fight, whether it’s because they like him or they want to see him lose. His fight with Berto will probably generate less buys than his bout with Pacquiao, though it will be the talk of sports for several months.
But sports is unpredictable and maybe there’s something in Berto that Mayweather sees — besides an easy win — that we do not. Maybe Berto will give Mayweather a good challenge — or even win.