Imagine a professional prize fighter who escaped a life of desperate poverty but still hasn’t quite been able to escape his past. A man who spends time with his city’s most notorious crime lord and has sung the praises of cockfighting, at one point owning a thousand birds for the brutal competitions.
A man of faith, he’s talked openly about limiting access to birth control—but is also a known philanderer, unfaithful to the point marital strife actually began affecting him in the ring. He’s a millionaire many times over but allegedly unwilling to share his great wealth with the people of his country, supposedly dodging the tax man when he comes calling.
Popular, despite all this, he uses his influence to ensure every wish, even the most absurd ones, is fulfilled. At 5’6″, he dreams of becoming a basketball player. And so he does, becoming the coach to boot. When another player suggests, rightfully so, that the boxer isn’t actually very good at basketball, he’s fined, fired and sent packing.
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Taken together, it’s not just a picture of villainy—it’s cartoonishsuper villainy, a curling mustache away from being comical. And yet, the man I’ve just described is very real. His name is Manny Pacquiao, and on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he’ll be the hero in amorality tale broadcast to millions around the world.
There’s a nervous energy enveloping Manny Pacquiao, even in moments most people are totally at ease. Watch Pacquiao as he engages in conversation. His eyes never quite make contact with anyone else’s, darting around like he expects, at any minute, for his whole world to come crumbling down.
Manny Pacquiao is a man whose threat level is always orange.
In boxing, a fight of this magnitude demands a narrative. Putting two fantastic athletes in the ring is not enough. Not when you’re asking fans to part with $99.95 for the pleasure of watching on television.
Whether exploiting racial and ethnic tensions or linking a bout toworld events, a mega-show demands more than mere athletic excellence. It needs characters. And, whether they fit the mold or not, Pacquiao and Mayweather will be forced by circumstance to play their roles.
As you can see, however, Pacquiao being cast as a hero requires a villain of extraordinary stature. Luckily, Floyd Mayweather is the man for the moment.
This is a man who, in the midst of an ongoing recession, made a great spectacle of his wealth, casting it as his co-lead in a series of buddy films meant to promote his fights. He lives in a 22,000-square-foot mansion in Las Vegas. His conspicuous consumption renders the adjective “crass” wholly insufficient.
Unsatisfied as boxing continued its plummet from mainstream to niche sport, Mayweather, through power of will alone, made himself into an A-list celebrity. He put himself out there, risking the boos in unfamiliar territory to be seen on Dancing with the Starsand WrestleMania.
“I did what I had to do to get to a certain point in my career. It was a brilliant game plan,” Mayweather told the media during a conference call. “It took a game plan to me going out there on my own. It’s just me speaking out with a very, very loud voice. Having a lot of personality.
“But as you get older, you mature. After trash-talking for 17, 18 years and constantly saying, ‘Look what I’ve done. Look at me. Look at me.’ You know what I’m saying? I’m the best. Look at me. And everybody they’ve put in front of me I’ve beaten.”
Love him or (more likely) hate him—Mayweather matters.
If that was all there was to this story, it would actually be an uplifting tale. Bringing reality television into the sports space was a fairly brilliant move. So was creating and nurturing a pro-wrestling-esque character called “Money,” designed to infuriate many of boxing’s most loyal fans. His insight into his audience’s psyche has made Mayweather the most successful boxer, financially, of all time.
But the truth, unfortunately, is more insidious. Mayweather is a villain—and deserves all the ire he receives and more—but for reasons that have nothing to do with his brash persona and immense wealth. Money is just a mask Mayweather wears in front of the camera. The real-life Mayweather is much, much worse, as Deadspin‘s Roberts explained:
Floyd Mayweather’s history of misogyny, expressed—as he is wont to do—through violence, is well-documented and reprehensible.
It extends over a dozen years and includes at least seven separate physical assaults on five different women that resulted in arrest or citation, as well as several other instances where the police had to be summoned in response to an actual or perceived threat from Mayweather.
Nearly three years removed from his prison term, it appears Mayweather has learned very little. He’s defended fellow batterer Ray Rice. He’s argued he did nothing wrong, no matter what he may have admitted in court. Women, seemingly, are nothing more than possessions, a view he made explicit in a self-produced documentaryabout his life.
Mayweather’s dismissive attitude toward women is so ingrained, he can’t even be bothered to try to hide it.
“When it comes to females, even though you can’t drive 10 cars at one time, you got people that got 10 cars,” he said. “So if you’re able to keep up maintenance on 10 cars, I feel that, as far as when it comes to females, that one thing should apply. If you’re able to take care of 20, then you should have 20.”
Boxing exists in its own world, one where unapologetic convicted rapist Mike Tyson can exist as a beloved elder statesman and fighters are discouraged from exercising even the most basic forms of self-preservation, despite all we know about chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the dangers of chronic brain injury.
It’s in this world that Mayweather, despite his history, can survive and even thrive.
But we’re all culpable and complicit, even media heavyweights with the voice and platform to make a difference. Katie Couric sat down with Mayweather for a patty-cake interview, hugging him when she wasn’t tossing softballs right down the middle.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith seemingly doubles as Floyd’s media bodyguard, earning a suspension for victim-blaming and suggesting women “make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.”
People everywhere roll out the red carpet for him, even at last year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. We’re willing to ignore his reprehensible actions essentially for no better reason than the fact that he can entertain us.
Even my hands aren’t clean—I’ve written thousands of words paying tribute to a serial abuser.
On Saturday night, there will be no heroes on display. Instead, there will be two men, both darkening shades of grey, who happen to be very good at boxing. Whether you watch or choose to honor someone or something more worthy of your time and money, that’s worth remembering.