Ultimately, it was unnecessary, a cheap, cold-blooded ending to a fight that was going all his way. Floyd Mayweather Jr. didn't need to tag a defenseless Victor Ortiz with the brutal left hook--righthand combination in the fourth round that put Ortiz down and out of their welterweight title fight last Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Then again, Ortiz didn't need to open himself up to it, either, by apologizing not once, not twice but three times for the headbutt that had split Mayweather's lower lip moments earlier. Was Mayweather's attack unsportsmanlike? For sure. Unbecoming of a longtime champion? Undeniably. Illegal? Absolutely not. "Protect yourself at all times," says eight-time world champion Tommy Hearns, who was on hand. "When you don't, stuff like that happens."
Video of the fight's ugly ending has gone viral. What won't be replayed or acknowledged nearly as often is Mayweather's performance, which was, by any estimation, brilliant. A 16-month layoff means little when your idea of downtime includes two workouts a day, and the 34-year-old Mayweather showed all the rust of a man 10 years younger. The speed, the reflexes, the shoulder-roll defense were sharp, as was his stiff right hand that gave Ortiz a bobbleheadish look. Indeed, if Mayweather-Ortiz were being played out on PlayStation, Mayweather would be the one controlled by the experienced gamer and Ortiz the one in the hands of the rookie trying to bull rush his way to a win.
Nobody would simulate that matchup, of course, because, frankly, nobody cares. Mayweather's abrasively brash persona and unblemished record (42--0) will continue to vacuum in an audience, but the parade of pushovers is getting old. The affable Ortiz was a good-but-not-great opponent, the latest in a line of good-but-not-great opponents that includes Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez and Shane Mosley. The only prospective foe with any meaning is Manny Pacquiao, who would bring a potential three million PPV buys and $150 million in revenue in a showdown that continues to look unlikely.
There are things Pacquiao and Mayweather agree on: the split (50-50), the site (Las Vegas) and the weight (147 pounds). They appear to agree on blood testing too. Though maybe not. Mayweather insists on random, unlimited blood and urine testing. Pacquiao and his promoter, Bob Arum, say that's O.K. Mayweather says their promises are "a bunch of bulls---." Pacquiao and Arum insist they're not. "We agreed to everything he wanted a year and a half ago," says Arum. "What the f--- is he talking about? I have no optimism. He will say we can't use WADA [the World Anti-Doping Agency] when we are in the Philippines. He will say Manny can't train in the Philippines. Mayweather will find some reason for this fight not to happen."
Everybody else, of course, wants it to happen. HBO wants the bout, though privately network executives acknowledge that putting it together will be a challenge on many levels (see above). They thought they'd brokered a deal last year, only to see it fall apart at the last minute and have Mayweather's camp bizarrely deny any negotiations had taken place.
Mayweather says he doesn't need Pacquiao, and, financially at least, he's right. The boxer who calls himself Money made a minimum of $25 million to fight Ortiz and will likely clear north of $40 million once the PPV buys are all counted. Similar paydays are out there. Ortiz says he wants a rematch. IBF welterweight champion Andre Berto tweeted he wants a shot. Promoter Lou DiBella says middleweight titleholder Sergio Martinez will put his belt up at a 154¼-pound limit for a crack at Mayweather.
Poking at Mayweather's pride may be the only way to get him back to the table. Mayweather has all the money in the world but a fraction of the respect he craves. He has an army of sycophants telling him he is the greatest but a public and a media that don't buy it. He unleashed an expletive-filled tirade on HBO's Larry Merchant—when Merchant questioned his tactics—and walked out of the ring on Saturday to a cacophony of boos.
True greatness is measured not by how many wins you rack up but by whom you fight. Robinson fought LaMotta, Ali fought Frazier, Leonard fought Duran. Mayweather-Pacquiao would carry the same weight—if Mayweather ever agrees to it.
Ever the promoter, Arum suggests why he might not. "A southpaw like Manny with a good right hand is the one kind of opponent Floyd knows he shouldn't be in with," he says. "If I was promoting a young Floyd and a young Manny, I would never put Floyd in with him."
Take that, Money.