By Robert Jackson – The NFL has T.O., Major League Baseball has Barry Bonds, Allen Iverson has stepped up in the NBA to be the bad guy of the day, then there’s that kid in the NHL who beat up a cab driver over a $2 fare, and boxing…well there’s one guy we can all agree plays upon the emotions of many boxing fans and aficionado’s alike, Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather.
Before discussing the merit of the man called “Money May”, let’s talk about the history of boxing and it’s ‘not so loved’ heroes. In the early 1900’s there was a heavyweight who defied the status quo, refusing to be denied his shot at the worlds most coveted trophy, boxing’s Heavyweight Championship. When he got his chance ‘The Galveston Giant’ wrested the Championship away from Canadian Tommy Burns and further cemented his hold on the title by defeating former undefeated champion Jim Jeffries in ‘The fight of the Century’ on July 4th 1910. African Americans rejoiced Johnson’s victory even while race riots were going on all around the country sparked by Johnson’s victory.. Johnson flirted with and around the norms of ‘the day’, was flashy and boisterous, and always had something to say that many did not like or agree with. Filmmaker Ken Burns while producing a documentary about Jack Johnson noted that “For more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on Earth.” Joe Louis who succeeded Johnson as a black Heavyweight Champion in the 1930’s followed a different set of rules during his tenure as heavyweight champion and even refused to allow Johnson to become his trainer and opted instead for former fighter Jack ‘Chappie’ Blackburn himself a Johnson contemporary.
Fast forward to the 1940’s when the up-and-coming lightweight soon-to-be welterweight prospect Ray Robinson hit the boxing scene. As Robinson ascended the boxing ladder going undefeated in his first 40 fights, his flashiness, outspoken demeanor and hard bargaining at the money table for fights branded him a troublemaker and many did not like him. Promoters looked for opponents who could wipe that smile off of Robinson’s face, shut his mouth, ‘ugly him up a little’ and reduce his asking price which around that time was $300K a fight! Carmen Basilio a Robinson foe from the 50’s was very upset with Robinson as were many fight fans for him failing to fight Basilio in the rubbermatch. As much as Robinson is loved and revered now he was disliked then because even though it wasn’t the norm during those times he stood up for what he believed in and didn’t bite his tongue or clench his teeth while doing so, he also drove a pink Cadillac.
In the 1960’s a young kid from Louisville came along to grace the squared ring his name was Cassius Clay. This brash, outspoken kid followed Johnson, and Robinson to become a loathed figure in boxing. Clay even said that Jack Johnson was a better heavyweight champion than Joe Louis and that he would be also. Statements like this, his taunting of opponents and predictions of the rounds when he would end a fight had many seeing him as cocky and boastful making him a hated figure. The final straw was his conversion in 1964 to the Muslim faith and membership in Elijah Muhammad’s-himself a hated figure, Nation of Islam; he also renamed himself Muhammad Ali. Most refused to recognize Muhammad Ali as his name and continued to refer to him as Cassius Clay. His refusal to be inducted in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam era further alienated Ali from boxing fans, Americans in-general and the American Government. Ali commented on his refusal to be inducted into the Army by saying “ain’t no Vietnamese ever called me nigger”!! For this Ali was stripped of his titles and refused a license to fight in any state in America.
Winston Churchill once said “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Much of the dislike for the boxing’s current ‘most hated’ comes from his going against the grain, his self-confidence, his flashiness and outspoken views, sound familiar?? Everything from the opponents he chooses to fight and his personal life are topics of debate and criticism from without. No matter whom he faces and defeats it is NOT enough, there is always a disparaging viewpoint, this opponent is too small, that opponent was past his prime, he ran from this guy, he’s afraid of that guy. While other guys who fought the same opponents are praised! Mayweather’s upcoming fight against Mexican star Juan Manuel Marquez has been panned as another ‘big man picking on the smaller man’ fight! I wonder what would be said right now if Mayweather had REFUSED Marquez’ challenge?? Or Hatton’s?? America has to have a bad guy and I guess that it’ll just have to be ‘Money May’ until someone else comes along.