28.07.06 – By Jon Beloff: Earlier this week, the news came out that following Floyd Mayweather’s reported refusal to face Antonio Margarito in a November 4 pay-per-view matchup, Bob Arum’s $8 million offer was now off the table. According to Mayweather, “He’s not a household name. To get to where I’m at, I had to beat a lot of good fighters. I’ve proven myself over and over again. It’s about business decisions and being smart. We need guys who are going to generate good numbers on pay-per-view, and Antonio Margarito is not known enough to bring in the non-boxing fans. We’re trying to go to the next level.”
An ironic statement, as reportedly the Mayweather camp are now looking at Cory Spinks as a potential opponent – hardly someone you’d associate with being a household name or a big pay-per-view draw. A more truthful response might be that, with a mega-money fight against superstar Oscar De La Hoya on the horizon, Floyd is reluctant to take a fight against arguably the toughest man out there at welterweight. Fair enough, some might say. From a business point of view, a match with De La Hoya is far too big a prize to risk. It could well be the biggest non-heavyweight fight is history, and the revenue it would generate for both men is mind-boggling.
This aside, I can’t help but feel Floyd has made a big mistake in turning down the Margarito fight – for me, the positive sides of the deal far outweigh the negatives. Mayweather might believe that a fighter as talented as himself deserves the right to call some of the shots. However, that isn’t the case and he needs to wake up and realise the reality of his situation. Despite being possibly the most naturally gifted fighter since the prime Roy Jones Jr, he lacks a significant fan base in the sport. He’s not a big ticket seller, and his two recent appearances on pay-per-view were marketed largely off the back of his opponents. The fact is, it is a while since he has appeared in an inspiring matchup which catches the imagination of the public. Since his two meetings with Jose Luis Castillo at lightweight back in 2002, he has fought a string of B-level opposition. A one sided destruction of Arturo Gatti last year did little to cement his status at light-welterweight, and he was largely derided for keeping his April date against Judah, despite Zab’s shock loss of the true welterweight championship to Carlos Baldomir in January. Floyd continued to argue that his fight with Judah would give him the chance to become a welterweight champion – the truth is, Judah only managed to keep hold of a belt on a technicality, after Baldomir decided he couldn’t afford all the sanctioning fees.
Boxing followers have now grown tired of seeing Mayweather chase the easy options, and it seems that his shunning of Margarito was the final straw. They don’t want him to play it safe until next year, when we’ll find out if a challenge against De La Hoya does materialise. Large sections of the fans and media have jumped on the Margarito bandwagon, and are dictating that he is the man Floyd needs to face to prove himself once again. Admittedly, Tony hasn’t done much to deserve this honour. His win over unbeaten prospect Kermit Cintron last year was impressive, but he has yet to show his ability at the highest levels of the sport. He hasn’t had much opportunity, given that just about everyone seems hell bent on avoiding him – he is viewed as a high risk, low reward option. However, the reward is most certainly there for Mayweather. Although you could imagine Margarito’s size and strength would make it a tough night for Floyd, he is undeniably levels above him in terms of talent. I wouldn’t bet against the ‘pretty boy’ overcoming any difficulties he is presented with, much like he did against Judah in his last outing.
For Mayweather, taking a risky fight with Margarito represents the chance to silence his critics and redeem his popularity in the sport. A good win would serve to get the fans on his side again and heighten the anticipation for a mega-showdown with boxing’s ‘golden boy’. In addition, it would be a career high payday, and give Floyd the pay-per-view star exposure that he craves. It is difficult to see why he feels this is one opportunity he can pass on.