Mayweather’s latest wheeze shows there’s a sucker born every minute
Undefeated boxer set to take on 21-year-old Japanese kickboxer in latest stunt
Floyd Mayweather poses with Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa after they agreed to fight in Japan on New Year’s Eve, with the format of the bout still to be decided. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters
Evaluating the absurd in boxing is like trying to break open a coconut with a feather: intriguing but pointless – yet Floyd Mayweather manages to take us to that place time and again.
After coming out of retirement to entertain and hugely enrich Conor McGregor (and himself) with gloves in August 2017, the 41-year-old enigma says he has agreed to swap blows of a variety yet to be determined in Japan on New Year’s Eve with Tenshin Nasukawa, an acclaimed kickboxer who is 5ft 4in, 8st 6lb and 21 years younger than a hall-of-fame boxer who won world titles at five weights over 17 years. It is farcical in every way – even if they were trying to crack a coconut.
Nevertheless, Nasukawa can hardly believe his luck. If they box, he will willingly take his lumps, like McGregor, to earn more money than his own sport could ever deliver; if they cobble together a hybrid contest, likewise. It will prove nothing – apart from confirming PT Barnum’s infamous phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute”.
Interested parties will try to generate discussion about the outcome, as if it somehow mattered. It will not be a lot different from an eerily similar and comic crossover fight in Japan in 1976, when Muhammad Ali, his mind and body suffering from the years he gave his sport, crossed legs (painfully) with the wrestler Antonio Inoki, another hometown hero. It has been claimed, retrospectively, that the bout was a precursor of mixed martial arts, which underpins that other profitable offshoot, UFC.
Even writing this lends a form of legitimacy to the Mayweather vs Nasukawa exercise but that is what much of modern sport has become: a rolling stunt.
And, for purists, this is the sad part: Mayweather is one of the all-time great defensive boxers, a master of time and space, a true artist in an arcane medium. However, there seems to be no saving him from his own ego, born of boredom in semi-retirement as he dreams up his next photo-op, nor his propensity to value his worth almost purely in terms of money.
Money defines him. It is the nickname he chose over “Pretty Boy” in his early-career descent into all-out narcissism. Accumulating more money than anyone has ever managed in his sport is, for him, the gauge of greatness. He used to say he rarely needed his “A-game” to win a fight and often that was true. He had more gears than a Ferrari and some times he was up against no more than a pram but he always came away with the bigger purse.
There will always be one comparison that matters, in boxing terms, though: that with Sugar Ray Leonard, to whom Mayweather owes much in style and attitude. And Leonard, whose self-belief was as strong as Mayweather’s, still has no doubt as to who would win had it been possible for them to share a ring.
Asked on Undisputed Live on US television last week (when the talk was still of Mayweather fighting either Manny Pacquiao a second time, or the unbeaten UFC fighter, Khabib Nurmagomedov), “At your greatest, were you were better than Floyd?”, Leonard could give only one answer: “Absolutely. My mindset always told me I could beat Mayweather, I could beat Tyson. That’s what made me who I became.”
Leonard’s further exploration of the Mayweather mystique was more interesting than anything uttered recently in boxing.
How would he beat him? “There’s no one way to beat Floyd Mayweather. He’s that good, he’s that talented. You walk in there with a plan but to execute it takes time – see what he goes for. Nobody could penetrate his defence. He was one of the best guys out there. I would say body shots but it’s so hypothetical.
“I don’t see a weakness – I don’t see him being beaten by anyone. He believes in himself so much, and that’s a major part of being a world champion – like Muhammad Ali. [Floyd] talked trash but he backed it up. He may have been too defensive but I don’t think so.”
And so we are all dragged towards another Mayweather show. Three years after his last proper fight (McGregor was a glorified spar), when he embarrassed an ageing Andre Berto, he is still able to command the attention of everyone in the fight business. He makes money. For everyone. And, for everyone, that is all that matters. - Guardian